In defence of statehood bid

Despite U.S. opposition, United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state would be an important step towards independence and peace with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds a copy of the letter requesting Palestinian statehood on Sept. 23 at UN headquarters in New York City.
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds a copy of the letter requesting Palestinian statehood on Sept. 23 at UN headquarters in New York City.

On Friday Sept. 23, President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas handed United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon an official application for recognition of Palestine based on 1967 borders.

According to a Sept. 18 BBC-GlobeScan poll, only 21 per cent of countries surveyed oppose the Palestinians’ desire to gain UN recognition as an independent state.

Despite this, almost nothing will come of it.

The U.S. has already stated it will veto the bid in the Security Council. The only positive outcome, then, would be for Palestine to maintain its observer status with voting rights in the General Assembly.

It’s truly remarkable to see apologists for the most reactionary government in Israeli history disparage the Palestinian bid at the UN. The current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, only began to support a two-state solution after Barack Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, Egypt. Obama spoke of his desire to mend U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

The Palestinian state Netanyahu now supports is a fragmented, de-militarized one where the Israeli army will patrol and therefore control Palestine.

It was Netanyahu’s intransigence and the U.S. refusal to be an honest broker of peace that prompted the Palestinians to turn to the UN in the first place. Netanyahu’s settlement “freeze” — aimed at restarting peace talks with the Palestinians — was a complete sham that continued settlement construction in contested East Jerusalem, the future capital of a Palestinian state.

When offered $3 billion in arms — thus doubling U.S. aid to Israel — in exchange for a renewed settlement freeze, Netanyahu refused. In fact, the Palestine Papers — a trove of documents recovered by Al Jazeera in January 2011 that have since been largely forgotten — revealed that Palestinian negotiators were willing to give up almost everything for some sort of peace with Israel.

The hard truth is that this Israeli government will not give up an inch of Palestinian territory. It was Bill Clinton, not an Arab statesman, who told Foreign Policy Magazine last week that “the Netanyahu government has moved away from the consensus for peace” and that it “just won’t give up the West Bank.”

In fact, just after Obama called for a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines in May 2011, Netanyahu came to Washington and publicly humiliated the President during a televised meeting in the Oval Office, citing the 1967 borders as “indefensible.”

Unsurprisingly, there was no outburst by the Republicans who profess to love and stand up for America. Instead, Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations when he addressed Congress less than a week after his Oval Office meeting.

Putting Israeli sentiments aside, the U.S. needs to consider whether a Palestinian state would be in its interests.

The answer would be an overwhelming yes. The Palestinian question is dear to the hearts of Arabs across the Middle East and Muslims generally around the world.

At a time when the U.S. is attempting to rebuild Iraq, win in Afghanistan, navigate a troubled relationship with Pakistan and keep to the right side of the Arab Spring, recognition of Palestine aligns with the American national interest on every level.

In 2010, Gen. David Petraeus, perhaps the most respected military man in America and current CIA Director, said quite bluntly during an address to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “fomenting anti-American sentiment” due to “a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.” In fact, unconditional support for Israel violates longstanding U.S. policies.

It has been official U.S. policy since 1967 that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are Occupied Territories, seized by force and not part of Israel. Under International Law, forcefully acquiring a territory is illegal; thus making East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights inadmissible as part of Israel.

It’s therefore not only unjust and reprehensible that Israel is building settlements in annexed territory but is akin to colonizing these territories — creating “facts on the ground,” as Israeli politicians have called it, to tilt diplomatic concessions that might occur decades into the future. Would backers of Israeli policy support Americans moving to Baghdad and Kabul, creating settlements and displacing Iraqis and Afghans?

Despite some similarities, it’s worth differentiating the policy positions of Israel and the U.S. Israel’s Netanyahu opposes Palestine’s UN bid for statehood simply because he opposes any truly independent Palestinian state that is not under the military control of Israel.

The U.S., on the other hand, opposes the UN vote in good faith because it wants to see real independence come from continued negotiations between Israel, Palestine and other regional stakeholders.

America’s stance raises some serious questions. If the U.S. supports a Palestinian state, why have they refused to take a balanced approach to the region? Why has the U.S. not pressured Israel to accept the Arab Peace Initiative — a 2002 peace proposal put forth by the Arab League that would see every Arab country normalize relations with Israel in exchange for an end to the occupation?

It’s because of the powerful Israel lobby described by political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S.Foreign Policy.

The lobby uses the media, members of Congress, effective lobbying in Washington and support for presidential candidates to ensure the U.S. maintains a completely uncritical approach to Israel and that material support continues to flow.

It’s a shame that the U.S. will veto a resolution seeking self-determination for the world’s last colonized people. I applaud the Palestinians for finally having the courage to act in their own interests and advance their cause for independence.

It took 34 years of occupation to finally seek redress in the UN as a first step towards statehood.

The Arab Spring has finally come to Palestine.


Arab Spring, Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, Palestine, UN

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