No party is in an enviable position in the current battle over the Palestinian state at the United Nations. Everyone is embarrassed, and some even find themselves caught up in a costly dilemma.
The country most embarrassed in this regard, is the United States, while the biggest losers are Palestine and Israel together – if missteps are made here or wagers are lost there. Europe, in turn, is not in an enviable position either, as it teeters on the brink of political and moral duplicity.
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is under strict observation at present, and he must prove that his journey towards truth, justice and freedom also applies to Palestine, particularly when he had made this journey the slogan of his campaign for a second term, when he endorsed and wagered on the Arab Spring. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too, is extremely embarrassed, having taken the baton of the Palestinian Cause into the stronghold of the Arab League this week, outbidding the Arab leaders who wanted to assume for themselves the leadership of the Palestinian Cause for similar reasons, reasons that fall under personal or national ambitions. All the Arabs, in fact, are sitting on a mound of shame, because they are behind many verbal promises and pledges that they have either stopped at, or implemented only provisionally and tactically. But ultimately, it is the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas who may be the man sitting on top of the pyramid of this shame and indecisiveness.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part as well, is not in an enviable position, despite the West’s rush to save him from the predicament of the bid for Palestinian statehood. He has squeezed himself into the corner of his threats to retaliate against the recognition of the Palestinian state, even if through a nominal resolution at the General Assembly. According to the threats he has been leaking, Netanyahu’s retaliation may range from annexing the West Bank through the military, to the possibility of completely discarding negotiations as an option. But in reality, what Netanyahu fears the most is the idea that the state of Palestine may have the ability to resort to international justice, and to confront Israeli military superiority, while the West negotiates at the expense of both Palestine and Israel, with the support and momentum of an internationally-backed Arab awakening.
International justice offers nothing but impunity for Israel at present, while the U.S. Congress seems immune with regard to any moral or political shame, or even to any potential threat to American national interests. This Congress is in such a state of bankruptcy that it does not stop to think about the consequences of its naïve yet harmful policies, and it seems to have completely turned itself into an instrument of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, pursuing a blind policy that serves neither the interests of the United States nor Israel itself. This Congress assumes and persuades itself that cutting off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority would teach the latter a lesson and serve as a deterrent to the Palestinians.
It is time for strategic choices, which are critical for all, to be made. The first of such choices is the two-state solution, i.e. the establishment of the Palestinian state side by side with Israel, through serious and honest negotiations that culminate with this solution. It is time to ascertain the sincerity of the commitments to this choice, because other options have become possible, not in terms of a military option, but rather in terms of the possibility of the Arab Spring spreading towards Palestine and Israel at the same time, again with the support and momentum of an internationally-backed Arab awakening.
It is clear that the Palestinian Authority will be at an important crossroads this week. Its decision to head to the UN entails choosing between continuing in futile negotiations under the broad title of a two-decade old ‘peace process’ that has not succeeded in ridding the Palestinians of occupation, and a new path based on suspended negotiations as a fait accompli. Following the latter option, the Israeli approach would be adopted, whereby only lip service is paid to the negotiations, while measures on the ground that would impose one de facto reality after another are carried out, until the logic of negotiations becomes moot.
The United States is directly concerned with such a choice, as it is the self-appointed chief broker of the ‘peace process’, and the fate of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The fact of the matter is that the United States has always been an intruder in this equation of mediation, because America is a partner and an ally of one of the parties to the conflict and hence, the United States may have always been the problem rather than the solution. Today, there are some who are calling for the United States’ role as a mediator and a sponsor of the peace process to end, because logically, the U.S. is not qualified for this role, always according to the voices advocating this view. Rather, the United States is an obstacle to the negotiations, so long as it is constrained by its alliance with Israel.
The confrontation that may transpire at the United Nations with regard to Palestinian membership to the organization or the recognition of the Palestinian state puts the United States in a tight spot. It is a confrontation against U.S. policy, which places the future of Palestine in the balance of the U.S.-Israeli alliance and that of the U.S. elections where Israel is a crucial local factor.
And because the United States is unable to influence Israel, regardless whether the U.S. administration is Democratic or Republican, or whether the Israeli government is rightwing or is a coalition between Likud and Labor, some say that it is now time for a peaceful strategy that would be built on the premise that the U.S. role is hindering and is not conducive to mediation or to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
If the Palestinians choose to follow this path, this must be coupled with complete awareness for its implications and repercussions, and there must be preparatory measures to live with that and guarantees for the alternative. For one thing, the United States, no matter how strong its alliance with Israel and the impunity it extends to it are, remains a deterring factor that must be taken into account before engaging in military adventures, or coercive measures and mass deportations that some Israelis believe are the sole solution for the demographic problem in Israel proper, as a Jewish state. Dispensing with the American role and American support for the establishment of the Palestinian state is no easy or even necessarily wise decision. Furthermore, it may even strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel, and put America in the same corner of isolation along with Israel.
In terms of the alternative to the U.S. role, the Palestinians would have to closely study such an alternative, be it Arab, European, Turkish or even Iranian, should the choice fall on confrontation and dispensing with the United States. Europe, for instance, will not use the cards it holds, i.e. economic sanctions, to put pressure on Israel, nor is Europe adamant today to get ahead of the United States in sponsoring the peace process as it had been in the past. Turkey, meanwhile, will not be able to impose a solution through negotiations, and will not be willing to wage war with Israel for Palestine either. The Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be enjoying his status that some describe the ‘Pasha’ of the Arabs, but he will not gamble his country’s higher interests for Palestine, no matter how much the latter helps his aspirations for regional or Sunni leadership. Moreover, Iran will not go to war with Israel directly for Palestine’s sake, and will content itself with proxy wars through Lebanon whenever this serves its regional ambitions.
As regards the Arab countries contending for the leadership of the Palestinian Cause, they may indeed pledge to provide alternative funding to that provided by the United States – and perhaps even European funding- but they will not include an item for permanent support for Palestine in their annual budgets. Paying lip service is easy and uplifting, but it does not help the Palestinians rid themselves of the occupation nor to confront it with civil disobedience, unless the Arab countries provide enough long-term guarantees and assurances and truly implement their accumulated pledges for funding the Palestinian Authority.
Consequently, the Palestinian Authority has to think deeply as it heads to the United Nations this week, in its pursuit for Palestinian statehood. If priority is given to negotiations, the Palestinians must choose a strategy whereby their position in the negotiations is improved. But if an alternative to negotiations is pursued instead, then a strategy of retaliation and confrontation can then be adopted, starting with heading to the Security Council in a bid for full membership.
In reality, going to the Security Council is a highway to the veto that President Barack Obama has threatened to use and to a costly confrontation for both the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. administration, each for their own reasons. An American veto would reap anger in both the Islamic and Arab worlds, and may feed the desire for retaliation, in a manner that runs contrary to what American circles estimate, based, first on the fact that the recent U.S. veto over the resolution concerned with settlements had passed without much commotion and retaliation, and second, on the assumption that the Arab Spring is preoccupied with local priorities, and not with the Palestinian Cause. So what comes after the emotional storm in support of the Palestinians and in protest of U.S. policy? This is the question that there is no readily available answer to amid these circumstances.
The U.S. administration has set itself a trap when it pledged to oppose the Palestinian quest for recognition of the state of Palestine through the United Nations, despite the fact that the U.S. President himself had addressed the General Assembly last year, promising the establishment of the Palestinian state and hoping it will be welcomed during the present session.
Even merely going to the General Assembly to obtain a resolution that classes Palestine as a non-member State or an observing state at the UN is considered by the U.S. administration to be harmful and it is battled as being no less evil than going to the UN and seeking full membership. As such, the Obama administration has put itself in a position of self-isolation and duplicity, at a critical time in its relationship with Arab change.
While the Obama administration pushes for accountability for the Libyan and Syrian regimes at the International Criminal Court, for war crimes and even crimes against humanity, it provides a protective shield for the Israeli regime from any form of accountability. This is the case even when more than one American and international human rights organization and inquiries have established that Israel and Hamas had both committed war crimes during operation Cast Lead, and even when the Palestinian Authority had called for the ICC to investigate those crimes in 2009. In truth, the Prosecutor at the ICC Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who is known for his enthusiasm when it comes to prosecuting Arab leaders in Sudan, Libya and perhaps even Syria, suffered a fit of silence when it came to the violations of the Israeli leadership.
If the Palestinian leadership chooses its strategy well, it may benefit from ‘going’ to the UN by forsaking all this brouhaha and fragmentation of the Palestinian decision, as well as the Arab, Turkish and Iranian one-upmanship, and build instead a wise strategy.
Such a strategy would build on international interest with regard to what the Palestinian leadership will decide, in terms of the fate of Palestinian statehood. This can be done first by avoiding the Security Council at this juncture, heading instead immediately to the General Assembly to obtain a resolution that would embody the recognition of more than 126 states of the state of Palestine, and pave the way for Palestine’s accession as an observing state to the ICC.
Israel has pledged to retaliate against such an outcome, because it believes itself above accountability and immune from any prosecution. However, the simplicity of such a resolution will embarrass Israel and prevent it from using the resolution as a pretext for measures it may have in mind. And if Israel decides to suspend negotiations because Palestine’s position at the United Nations has been enhanced from that of an observer to that of an ‘observing state’ that has fewer rights than a full member, then so be it. Israel’s intentions would then become clear, instead of continuing to pay lip service to the two-state solution, and the United States will then be left with the burden of matching deeds with actions.
At the end of the day, is issue lies between the Palestinian quest to resort to justice to confront Israel’s military violations, and Israel’s bid to circumvent this justice by carrying out its threats, which include burying the negotiations and reviving the military option.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the London-based al-Hayat on Sept. 16, 2011.