Israelis and Jews around the world are awaiting the Palestinians’ push at the United Nations for statehood with trepidation.
The official response of the government of Israel and American Jewish groups has been to do everything possible to prevent any action at the U.N. and to line up votes against it. Only America and a few other nations have joined Israel’s side. Most European countries are likely to either support the Palestinians or abstain. The current Israeli strategy seems certain to fail.
While the Palestinians are unlikely to get the Security Council’s approval because of the U.S. veto, they will get the support of the General Assembly. Legally a General Assembly vote means little, but it doesn’t matter. As far as the world goes, Palestine will have achieved statehood. The new State of Palestine will be recognized by many countries. And it won’t stop there.
Israel will be accused of establishing settlements in a foreign country, and each time Israel acts in response to a rocket from Gaza or an attack from the West Bank, it will be attacked verbally for threatening the sovereignty of a neighboring country. Israel will find itself embroiled in lawsuits at the International Court at The Hague and in other European countries, accused of violating the rights of a sovereign nation. The new “frontline” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict will be about water, airspace, territorial waters, imports and exports, taxation and more.
Israel cannot win in this battle.
There is, however, an alternative to Israel’s current approach and our community’s wall-to-wall condemnation of the Palestinian plan: Israel should support Palestinian statehood in the strongest manner. This is the right approach on both moral and pragmatic grounds.
As an Israeli and a Zionist, I have a moral duty to support any people that desires national self-determination. This was our dream for 2,000 years, and we began the journey toward realizing that aspiration in Basel 120 years ago. We achieved statehood in 1948, and yet we still struggle to have our right to self-determination accepted.
Today, especially as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement works to challenge Israel’s national legitimacy, we need not only to defend our Jewish state but also to support others seeking self-determination.
Is there any moral reason to deny that right to the Palestinians? True, they have only become a people in recent times, but what right do we have to say that they are not a nation entitled to their own state? Our doomed attempt to prevent recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations will only serve to bolster the cause of those who are trying to delegitimize Israel’s national rights.
Israel would do better by endorsing the Palestinian effort to gain recognition, and it should be the first nation to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood. This should be followed by demands that the Palestinians prove they can fulfill the responsibilities of statehood.
The new Palestinian government must develop an economy that can provide for the well-being of its citizens. It must teach its children to respect all peoples and remove anti-Israel rhetoric from its textbooks and media. The Palestinian government’s police force needs not only to protect its own citizens but also to ensure that terrorism is rooted out.
The new state must embrace democracy and protect civil rights. These have been the demands of the citizens of Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and Syria during the Arab Spring, and the Palestinian people deserve the same. They are entitled to a free press, free speech and freedom of religion. The status of Palestinian women must be advanced and their rights protected.
The new Palestinian government faces an especially difficult challenge in dealing with Jewish settlements. Yet a modern state must learn to live with citizens of other countries and peoples of other faiths in its midst. It will behoove the new Palestinian government to protect the Jewish settlers and guarantee their rights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should call upon Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to fulfill the responsibilities of enlightened government. Netanyahu should offer to meet with the head of the new Palestinian state to negotiate borders and resolve all outstanding issues between the two countries.
I doubt that Abbas will respond favorably. Nor do I expect that the Palestinians will be eager to return to peace negotiations. But their refusal will put the Palestinians on the defensive and expose their current statehood push as just an empty public relations tactic. Meanwhile, by supporting Palestinian statehood, Israel would underscore its willingness to move forward and achieve the ultimate goal of peace.
This approach is a lot better than the one now being pursued by Israel. It is also the morally correct, Zionist and Jewish thing to do.
(Michael J. Weil is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. He lived in Israel for 30 years and served in the Israeli army. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent the policy of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.)