This past week, President Barack Obama gave a speech at the 66th gathering of United Nations General Assembly. In part, the speech focused on his attempt to deny the Palestinians their right to U.N. recognized statehood. Obama stated, “I am convinced that there is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them, on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”
What Obama didn’t mention is that Israel was created by the United Nations. Repeatedly, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have voiced disapproval of Palestian’s bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. There essential argument has been, only through negotiations can there be a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. While that might be true, why block the Palestinian’s bid for U.N. recognition of statehood? (More on this question later in the series).
Prime Minster Netanyahu repeated Obama’s point about negotiations during his recent General Assembly speech: “The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations. But we must also be honest. So I am saying today something that should be said publicly by anyone serious about peace. In any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated. We will be very generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”
While I agree negotiations will eventually bring this conflict to an end, haven’t the Palestinians and Israeli’s been negotiating, all be it on and off, for decades now? Why has peace been so allusive? Netanyahu asks that same question in his speech: “So why has peace not been achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.
You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews said yes. The Palestinians said no. In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers, to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six Day War”.
Not surprisingly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas believes there is a different reason for the ongoing conflict. Here is an excerpt from Abbas’ General Assembly speech as he explains why peace has remained allusive: “The core issue here is that the Israeli government refuses to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and United Nations resolutions, and that it frantically continues to intensify building of settlements on the territory of the State of Palestine.
Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people that this policy entails.”
So to summarize, Netanyahu claims peace has been allusive because the Palestinians refuses Israel’s right to exist and have “refused generous offers” to negotiate a peace settlement. Abbas, on the other than, states Israel “refuses to commit to terms of reference” and “continues to intensify building of settlements.”
Unfortunately for Netanyahu both of his points do not hold up under close inspection. First of all, ever since 1988, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority have recognized Israel’s right to exist. The fact is the Palestinian Authority, with Abbas as President, is the official representatives of the Palestinians living in the Occupied Territory. Certainly, the shamefully militant religious and political Islamic organization Hamas has openly questioned Israel’s right to exist. That said, there are militant religious and political Jewish organizations, living in illegal settlements that do not believe the Palestinians Arabs have a right to exist. Neither Hamas nor the racist illegal settlements are recognized as the legitimate governments of Palestine and Israel respectively.
The second point is a little trickier. Who is telling the truth? Netanyahu claims Israel have made “generous offers” and the Palestinians have refused. All the while Abbas claims Israel “refuses to commit to terms of reference.”
For decades now, Netanyahu and the pro-Israeli lobby have claimed they have made concession after concession and the Palestinians keep walking away from the table. The truth is, over the last twenty plus years, the U.S. and Israel has done everything they can to stall the “peace process” (which had not resulted in peace) and prevent a two-state solution (which would establish Palestinian statehood).
For example, in 1989, the UN General Assembly resolution titled Question of Palestine, called for “the withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 borders” passed by a vote of 153 to 3. The only dissenting were the U.S., Israel, and the island state of Dominica. Then, in 2004, the General Assembly resolution titled Peaceful Settlement of the Question of Palestine called for “the necessity for a commitment to the vision of the two-State solution” and “the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.” This passed by a vote of 160 to 6. This time the dissenting votes came from the U.S., Israel, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Palau, and Uganda.
Besides the fact that the U.S. and Israel has blocked every General Assembly resolution calling for a two-State solution, the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks and the Guardian have revealed a treasure trove of classified U.S. State Department and Palestinian documents that have exposed an astonishing amount of concessions the Palestinians have offered, over the last twenty plus years. According to the Guardian, the extraordinary concessions the PLO were willing to make included:
“As well as the annexation of all East Jerusalem settlements except Har Homa, the Palestine papers show PLO leaders privately suggested swapping part of the flashpoint East Jerusalem Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah for land elsewhere.
Most controversially, they also proposed a joint committee to take over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – the neuralgic issue that helped sink the Camp David talks in 2000 after Yasser Arafat refused to concede sovereignty around the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.
The offers were made in 2008-9, in the wake of George Bush’s Annapolis conference, and were privately hailed by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as giving Israel “the biggest Yerushalayim [the Hebrew name for Jerusalem] in history” in order to resolve the world’s most intractable conflict. Israeli leaders, backed by the US government, said the offers were inadequate.”
The Palestine papers expose a vast contradiction in what Netanyahu and the pro-Israeli lobby has been saying, and what has actually been going on behind closed doors at the negotiating table. However, the Palestine papers support Abbas’ assertion that Israel “refuses to commit to terms of reference”.
Last week, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, declared, “I support … the statehood of Palestinians, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine. It has been long overdue”. This position seems to be overwhelmingly supported by the general public in both Israel and Palestine.
According to a joint Israeli/Palestinian poll published in the Jerusalem Post, nearly 70% of Israeli’s believe Israel should support the Palestinians bid for U.N. recognition of statehood. The Occupied Territories of Palestine the support for statehood shoots up to over 80%.
This week, the U.S. is putting pressure on fellow U.N Security Council members to reject the Palestinians bid for U.N. recognitions of statehood. The U.S. Congress has been working on several pieces of legislation to punish nations that support Palestinian recognition of statehood. However, a Security Council veto will not prevent the Palestinians from moving forward in their bid for statehood. Going through the motions, if a problem (like a veto) occurs in the Security Council, the Palestinians can evoke the “Uniting for Peace Resolution” which will bring the vote for Palestinian statehood to the full General Assembly. According to a number of polls, including one from the Financial Times, the Palestinians have roughly 170 votes in the General Assembly. This is more than enough to achieve the two-thirds votes needed to win approval.