Sunday 25 September 2011

Palestinian Attempt to Hijack the UN Leads Nowhere

All eyes were focused last week on the opening of the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.  For weeks prior to this event, the Palestinians had dominated the international press with stories of taking a unilateral declaration of independence to the UN for a vote.  Even though the events of last week turned many minds back to the fateful vote by the same organisation in 1947 which paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel as the Jewish homeland, the two situations could not be more stark in their differences.

After the build-up that took place to last week's meetings, it all ended with something of an anti-climax.  There was no vote on the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.  There was not even a vote to admit the Palestinians as full members of the UN.  Ultimately, the best that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was able to do, was to submit his application to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon for full membership of the UN by the Palestinians.  This application will need to be approved by the UN Security Council, and US President Barack Obama has already said that the USA will veto this vote if necessary.  As a compromise, the Palestinians may be able to upgrade their current status of membership of the UN from an "entity" to a "non-member state" in UN speak.  This requires only a vote by the general assembly without the need for approval by the Security Council, and is likely to be approved with some ease.  The benefits of this upgrade for the Palestinians, however, seem marginal.

Despite the fact that all of the hype resulted in very little action, there were a few important results that came out of the events of last week.  The first major outcome was the way in which President Barack Obama behaved when he was truly put on the spot.  Obama has distanced himself from the peace process since assuming office nearly 3 years ago.  He has yet to pay a visit to Israel or to the Palestinian Authority area, and has preferred to focus his time and energies on the many other issues currently confronting the USA.  Despite his statements about the importance of resolving Middle East conflict, and his attempts to set timetables within which this issue should be resolved, he has yet to devote any significant chunk of his time to make this happen.  When he was backed into a corner last week and forced to decide whether the Security Council should approve full membership for the Palestinians, he knew that exercising the USA's veto is the only answer.  This was accompanied by a speech which was one of the most pro-Israeli addresses made by a US president at the UN for many years, and which surprised supporters and detractors alike.  In his speech, he told the story of the terror and hatred that Israelis have been forced to live with over many years, and he recognised Israel's right to exist as the Jewish homeland.  This was perhaps the most critical statement, as it is the point which currently presents the main stumbling block to renewing peace talks.

The address to the general assembly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was equally an important event during the week.  Despite his many faults, Netanyahu has consistently shown his ability to present Israel's position on the international stage.  Once again, he did this with great confidence and conviction.  In particular, he addressed those people who feel that Israel should show greater flexibility in its negotiating position.  There are those who believe that Israel should be playing to the "Palestinian moderates", by making concessions to give them greater position and power amongst their Palestinian colleagues.  In theory, these moderates will lead the peace agreement with Israel, and lead the Palestinians to a more moderate position.  In refuting this position, Netanyahu reminded the general assembly of the many concessions that Israel has already made in the interests of pursuing peace.  The most substantial of these concessions, a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza with all the implications of uprooting the lives of many thousands of people, has served to distance peace rather than bring it closer.  After handing the keys of Gaza to PA President Abbas, he proceeded to lose control of it to the radicals of Hamas.  Israel has been forced to endure constant rocket fire from the areas which were previously under Israeli control ever since.  If this is a model for making concessions, it is not particularly successful and does create much of a precedent for future concessions.

Overall, the right conclusion was reached at the UN.  This conclusion is that the UN cannot act as a replacement for the peace process.  The UN cannot grant a state to people who are unwilling to come to the negotiating table, because they refuse to recognise the most fundamental rights of their neighbour.  Until the Palestinians recognise the rights of Israel to exist, and to exist as a Jewish state, there can be no further discussion.  Without this recognition, there will always be the suspicion (or maybe a confirmation) that the Palestinians seek a state of their own alongside Israel only in order to use this as a springboard to destroy the Jewish state completely.  Hamas, along with their Hezbollah and Iranian friends, have not been shy to make this point clear in public.  Perhaps this is Mahmoud Abbas's little secret.

The difference between the UN vote of 1947 and the UN non-vote of 2011 is perhaps best reflected by the responses of the general public awaiting the outcomes.  Jews were dancing in the streets of Jerusalem, across then-Palestine and around the world.  In contrast, Palestinians lined up across the West Bank with stones which were thrown at Israeli security patrols, and burning posters of President Barack Obama and Israeli flags.  Israeli military was on high alert in the south of the country after a concrete threat of a terror attack in the area.

While the UN has in the past been a very unhappy hunting ground for Israel and Jews around the world, these two occasions stand out as crucially arriving at the correct conclusion.  Each, for its own different reason, will take its place in Jewish history as a critical moment in time.

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