Palestinians and the UN in the New York Times

Palestine is reverting to the UN because the negotiations are fundamentally flawed

Today’s New York Times has an editorial opposing the  UN vote concerning Palestinian statehood and encouraging a return to negotiations. The editorial argues that a UN vote would isolate Washington and Tel Aviv while alienating the Palestinians and, therefore, negotiations would be a more productive, less damaging way to move forward – even if that includes an American sponsored plan. The editorial has some good points, but misses the entire reasoning for the Palestinians moving to the UN; rather unsurprisingly, the editorial bases its argument in Israeli logic, completely ignoring the Palestinian point of view.

The New York Times points out four issues that are undoubtedly true:

  1. If the Palestinians brought their case to the UNSC, the United States would wield its veto in favor of Israel;
  2. A UNGA vote will recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 lines;
  3. Even if Palestine is recognized along 1967 lines, there will be no tangible change in the Israeli occupation; and
  4. Any diplomatic effort to recognize a Palestinian state will isolate the United States and Israel.

Despite these truisms (or perhaps because of them), the Palestinians understand that September’s UN vote is unlikely to change anything on the ground. It will, on the other hand, put Israel on the defensive, requiring the Netanyahu government to explain why it will not return to good faith negotiations. It will also set a starting point for any future negotiations (without the blabber about indefensible borders). The move at the UN is not an end in itself; it is one, rather large step in an institutional nonviolent resistance against the occupation.

The author of the editorial seems to believe that the Palestinians are expecting an independent state created by the UN, writing: “After the initial exhilaration [of the UN vote], Palestinians would be even more alienated, while extremists would try to exploit that disaffection.” Abbas and the rest of Palestinian Authority are well aware that the UN vote is simply a symbol and understand that this September will not mark the end of the occupation. There is no reason to believe that the Palestinians will be ‘alienated.’ On the contrary, the UN vote will likely demonstrate the vast amount of support the Palestinians have around the world.

Concerning a return to negotiations, the editorial posits that the Palestinians share the blame for the latest collapse because:

Arab leaders haven’t given the Israelis any incentive to compromise. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, seemed to give up on diplomacy when Mr. Obama could not deliver a promised settlement freeze. We see no sign that he has thought even one step beyond the U.N. vote.

While the Arabs certainly deserve some blame (a divided and feuding Palestinian government is not the ideal peace partner) the argument above is quite Israeli-centric. Abbas has reduced the demands of the Palestinians in negotiations to match the demands of Washington and Tel Aviv, maintained loyalty to the antiquated Oslo Accords that have been an effective tool of the occupation, and used the beefed-up Palestinian security service as an extension of Israel’s occupation forces. If the Palestine Papers are to be believed, the PA was also willing to make severe territorial concessions in land-swaps to ensure most of the illegal settler community remains in Israel proper and was also willing to drop the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.

In other words, short of accepting a fragmented, economically unviable Bantustan state, Abbas has little more he can offer to entice the Israelis to return to the negotiating table. Considering that the Palestinians have already proved themselves willing to negotiate the 1967 borders and thus potentially ceding more territory to Israel (and, in essence, legitimizing the illegal settlements), it is unreasonable to expect Abbas to return to the negotiating table while Israel continues to expand these settlements.

The ideal path set forward by the New York Times editorial board – “a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and guarantees for Israel’s security” – has already been accepted as an appropriate starting point for negotiations by the Palestinians. Until Israel accepts these parameters and stops expanding illegal settlements on Palestinian land, it should not be surprising that the Palestinian Authority stays away from the negotiating table.

Any negotiations that are made with an Israel that continues to build settlements and refuses to agree to 1967 borders will be futile. Without a viable peace partner, the Palestinians have turned to the international community, not as a means to achieve independence, but as a way to pressure Israel. Instead of lamenting about the Palestinian decision to engage the international community, the New York Times should examine precisely why the Palestinians are moving in this direction.

Photo from SMH


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