September 14, 2011
The threatened U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood has pundits and politicians apoplectic.
Me, not so much.
The Palestinian Authority plans to bring its bid for statehood and membership in the United Nations to the 15-member Security Council when the U.N. opens its new session on Sept. 20. The United States has made clear that it will, at some cost to its own international standing, veto any attempt by the Palestinians to declare statehood outside the framework of a negotiated agreement with Israel.
In the face of that veto, the Palestinians say, they will then proceed to take their bid to the U.N. General Assembly, where they will have enough votes to upgrade their status to enhanced observer as a nonmember state, which would entitle the Palestinians to pursue Israel in the International Criminal Court and, I suppose, give them free U.N. gym privileges.
The New York Times editorialized this week that such a vote would be “ruinous.” Ehud Barak proclaimed it would bring on a “tsunami” for Israel. Israeli hardliners and their American doppelgangers are threatening to cut off funds and suspend all agreements and further talks with the Palestinians. It seems I’m the lone voice wondering if this isn’t just a Levantine episode of “Glee,” where all the drama happens in the preparation for the big show, which, when it happens, will be just a show.
Because even after all the votes are cast, even after Israel and the United States, under that well-known Israel hater Obama [ED NOTE: SEE BELOW FOR SARCASM EXPLANATION] , stand alone against the angry mobs, even after the full weight of Venezuela’s and Syria’s shocking “yes” votes are counted, what, if anything, will be substantially changed? Does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seriously think you become a state just because Cameroon and Tobago say you are?
“The Palestinians have oversold what will happen in September,” Middle East expert Robert Malley said in a live-streamed discussion from the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C., earlier this week. “And the Israelis themselves have over-dramatized it, and the U.S. has exaggerated the negative impact of what will happen at the U.N. This obsession with September is its biggest danger.”
In other words, there isn’t quite enough excitement happening in the Middle East these days, so everyone decided to make some more.
Malley heads the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North African program. Its title for their report on the U.N. vote? “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
A near-complete breakdown in high-level relations between Israelis and Palestinians has brought them to the point that the easiest way for next-door neighbors to deal with each other is to travel 5,000 miles and speak through translators.
That wouldn’t be so bad, except that the U.N. vote has provided an opportunity for all sorts of opportunists and ideologues to fan the conflict flames.
Some, like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), are eager to use it as an opportunity to deny the Palestinians all American aid. Likewise, in Israel, many politicians are threatening to cut off critical tax remissions to the Palestinian territories.
Those monies are what have been sustaining the kind of economic progress and security institutions that have been keeping the West Bank relatively prosperous and quiet and Israel relatively secure.
The left will use the vote as an opportunity to call for more sanctions and international isolation of Israel: How dare Israel vote against a people’s independence when the same body granted Israel its own independence in 1948?
Here’s the difference: Back then, there was no state able to sit down to negotiate a conflict-ending agreement, as Israel is now capable of doing — and has put forward offers to do. Statehood without an agreement is a recipe for more conflict and tragedy. The world will be much better served when the two sides sit down face to face.
All the high-pitched predictions and threats, cooked up by people and groups with pre-existing agendas, may be more damaging than the vote itself.
“Whatever happens at the U.N., we can have a hard landing or we can have a soft landing,” Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow with the American Task Force on Palestine, said at the same Wilson conference. “Whatever is secured will be symbolic. The question is, what will life look like on the ground? The key is … not to undo economic progress and security gains. If there is retaliation to punish Palestinians, it will harm Israeli and American interests.”
So let’s all hold our tongues and our outrage and let the September/October folly pass.
The Middle East is undergoing sweeping changes, but certain fundamentals apply: The Palestinians can’t have freedom at the expense of Israeli security, and the Israelis can’t have security at the expense of Palestinian freedom.
At some point, the two sides will have to sit down and work out how this truth translates into a common future. The sides aren’t ready for that yet — it’s an ongoing shame, but it’s also the truth. In the meantime, there can be small gains in institution building, security building and even trust building.
“The best we can hope for is to avoid a train wreck,” Malley said. “But the train wreck has been staring us in the face for years.”