Why are we vetoing Palestinian statehood?

The UN has been petitioned to admit Palestine as a state. The U.S. plans a veto. This is wrong.

One suspects it’s less about the UN vote than the Jewish vote. Obama is already in trouble with Jewish voters (not a big bloc, but influential way beyond their numbers), for perceived insufficient support for Israel. Hence he feels he must back  Israel’s misguided opposition to the Palestinians’ UN bid. But this violates the doctrine that politics stops at the water’s edge. To injure America’s international interests for the sake of political gain crosses an unforgivable line.

This UN veto will seriously harm U.S. relations with the entire Muslim world, undoing much of the remedial work which Obama has creditably attempted. And for what? Why are we opposing this Palestinian bid? We should support it. After all, it has long been consistent U.S. policy to favor an independent Palestinian state. That has been a chief objective of our Middle East diplomacy for decades. A UN vote to recognize Palestine would merely be symbolic endorsement of our own long-held objective, while in no way altering facts on the ground. Even if the UN resolution purports to specify borders or other terms, that will have no practical effect, since the UN has no authority in those respects.

Israel and Obama are right that peace cannot be achieved by a UN vote, but only by hard negotiations between the parties. But the UN vote would not impede those negotiations (which are dead in the water anyway). And in fact, by vetoing the Palestinian bid, America will shred whatever credibility it still had as an “honest broker,” cementing the widespread view that America shills for Israel, and undermining its ability to mediate an eventual settlement.

But America will nevertheless cast a veto because that’s what Israel wants. Or, rather, the current Israeli government, which is not the same thing. Indeed, we are hostage to a minority Israeli government that is itself hostage to a minority within that minority. The fractured Israeli political system gives undue leverage to small fringe parties holding a few seats, and hence the balance of power, in the Knesset (parliament). Thus Prime Minister Netanyahu is forced to march to the tune of Avigdor Lieberman and his extreme hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu Party; and the U.S. has now effectively fallen in line as well.

Both Israel and the Palestinians have been pursuing dysfunctional – no, crazy – policies. Israel acts as though it can indefinitely rule territories inhabited by a hostile people, with no rights, whose population is growing faster than its own. That kind of thing inevitably eventually failed even in medieval times. And those times are over. Even Netanyahu, and indeed Lieberman, actually recognize this, and say they favor a Palestinian state. Yet their actions do everything to thwart it.

The Palestinians were sold down the river by their feckless leader Arafat in 2000 when they could have had a state encompassing Gaza plus 90% of the West Bank, but preferred continued conflict instead. And boy did they get it. Palestinians act as though they can somehow, by sullen “resistance” and agitprop, compel Israel, with vastly superior military power, to give up what is obviously more than its legitimate national interest can tolerate. For this impossible fantasy of a complete future triumph the Palestinians sacrifice what could be decent lives today. Another case of the perfect as the enemy of the good.

Palestinian children, living in the ruins of their parents' utopian dreams

One wants to scream: “Stop it! Stop your fantasizing, and instead of romanticizing ‘resistance’ and wallowing in victimhood, take the state you can get (while you can still get it) and get on with building lives for yourselves.”

But what they can get shrinks the longer they refuse to face reality, as Israeli settlements progressively make swiss cheese of the West Bank. It’s assumed that in a peace deal the Israelis might annex nearby settlements but would have to yank out distant ones – as they did in Gaza – ever harder as ever more settlers dig in. But this assumption may be challenged. Why not just leave the Israeli settlements within an independent Palestine – thus, creating a multi-ethnic state? After all, it works in America. It even actually works, more or less, in Israel itself, with a large Arab population (not disenfranchised).

Anyhow, the two-state solution has been obvious for decades, accompanied by a sharing of Jerusalem and token but not massive return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. That’s the deal. Nothing different is possible. And majorities on both sides want this deal. But they’ve allowed it to be hijacked by extremist minorities (God-inspired zealots). Now America, with its UN veto, is allowing it too. A truly sad day for U.S. foreign policy.

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7 Responses to “Why are we vetoing Palestinian statehood?”

  1. Scott Perlman Says:

    Excellent, well written (of course) entry and I could not agree with your more. I will be passing on a link to this entry to my “conservative” friends who typically walk in lockstep with traditional conservative thinking that anything having to do with the Israel-Palestine issue is a zero sum game.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    The following response was forwarded to me by e-mail, and I am posting it here with permission. The writer has lived and worked in Israel, including in refugee camps:

    Oh man. . . . yes and no (it has been a hard week talking (arguing) with friends here and in Israel about all this).

    One thing Frank doesn’t talk about are the UN conditions for statehood:

    Another very big issue that I think is difficult for a lot of Americans to understand is the whole “Two states for three people.” Meaning: the “Palestinian people” are really two nascent nation-states—the people living under Abbas(Fatah)-leadership, relative order, something of an infrastructure, some socio-economic opportunity/regulation in Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the Hamas-led anarchy, constant violence, seriously compromised infrastructure, black market-run, rocket-shooting, tunnel-digging Hamas government in Gaza. (Aside: I’m not saying the West Bank is an idyllic, utopian little Middle-Eastern get-away. They are both very sad places to live, rife with danger and violence and poverty, and Israel should accept most of the blame and responsibility for perpetuating the misery, squalor, and disenfranchisement of the generations of Palestinians who have lived/live in these places) just that the differences in quality of life, ideological fervor, and attitude towards Jews/Israelis is very, VERY different in the West Bank versus in Gaza). And that the political parties that rule the two regions are completely at odds with each other, and the (relatively) reasonable party, Fatah, is also (relatively) impotent. AND: HAMAS is ideologically opposed to the existence of the state of Israel, and in its charter, among other lovely bits of rhetoric, describes the destruction of Israel and the Israeli people as one of its prime directives (the ol’ “push Israel into the sea” quote that gets bandied around a lot is from their charter). The Palestinian people are splintered ideologically and geographically.

    The fractured nature of Palestinian leadership is, of course, mirrored by political conditions within Israel, which I think Frank describes in basically correct but broad strokes- Nethanyahu is DESPISED by a lot of people on both the left (obvious) and the right (for some of the reasons Frank described). Like he said, the Knesset is a coalition government and has members from like kamillion (okay, like 12) different parties who run the ideological gamut. Netanyahu sort of made a devil’s deal with Lieberman *and* with the ultra-religious fundamentalists (who represent the relatively small but extremely vocal, angry, and protest-veto-boycott loving Haredi Jewish population) to (barely) get elected in the first place in 2008. He is also blocked at every side by the very large “minority” of left-wing Knesset members led by Tzipi Livni, who has made it her mission to thwart Netanyahu rather than to try and achieve some of the goals she set out for Israel when she ran and narrowly lost to him in ’08. To me, everyone in the Israeli government is acting with the UTMOST selfishness, short-sightedness, and cynicism.

    SO: Politically, in both Israel and Palestine, the actual governments are not acting in step with the desires, needs, and SAFETY of their own people. Not a new conclusion or anything, but it is horrifying and shocking to me.

    So, meanwhile, the Israeli people outside of the government, feel very scared, powerless, cynical, and hopeless. I think the consensus amongst the people I knew best in Israel (i.e. college-educated, urban, somewhat left-leaning demographic (for Israel, though they would be seen as extremely conservative/right-wing in the U.S.) is that they want two states, but also that they hold out very little hope for that being accomplished in an expedient, safe manner. Israelis are very scared about being surrounded on all four sides by increasingly unstable, increasingly right-leaning Arab nations. The impact of Turkey and Egypt turning their backs on Israel is ENORMOUS in a way that I think is not written about a lot in the U.S. press and possibly not considered by a lot of Americans. Israelis already live in a lock-down, near apartheid state, with more government money going to the military of their TINY, TINY nation than to any other sector of government. Israelis live with the very real prospect of personally fighting for their freedom/existence, and knowing that their children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, husbands, brothers, wives, will all have to do the same thing (I’m not just talking about the mandatory conscription/military service of Israeli youth, but ALSO of the military draft in times of conflict which affects proportionately a far greater swathe of the Israeli population than in most other nations AND of the ongoing reserve duty of Israeli men between the ages of 24-40, some of whom serve regularly ever 6-8 weeks in addition to leading their lives and working/studying. They also CONTINUE to live under the threat of terrorist violence, which although far subdued by the standards of the first and second intifadas (this relative reduction in terrorist activity/”successful” acts of violence is largely because of the often draconian, human-rights violating actions of the Israeli military and Shin Bet) is still an INSANE condition to live under. The people in the South within rocket-fire range of Gaza are basically high-functioning PTSD cases who CONTINUE to be bombed and shot at a sporadic but constant rate.

    Also, another very, very disturbing aspect of living in Israel for a short time, was the constantly deepening sense I got that the Israelis and both the Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians (by which I mean the Arabs living within Jewish-controlled Israel and the Arabs living in Judaea and Samaria and Gaza) really do think about each other in sub-human terms. I mean that not only is there a lively, rich hatred and mistrust of each other (haha) but also that they DO NOT SEE EACH OTHER AS FULLY HUMAN. How can diplomatic progress be made when the two peoples are so hardened to the hearts of the others?

    SO: Politically, in both Israel and Palestine, the actual governments are not acting in step with the desires, needs, and SAFETY of their own people. Not a new conclusion or anything, but it is horrifying and shocking to me.

    I know the bulk of Frank’s post was about the American relationship with Israel and its role in the creation of any sort of nascent nation-state for the Palestinians PLUS its role in brokering peace (or at least a detente?) between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I would like to mention that I think there is a lot of anti-semitism evident in knee-jerk assumptions about the rationale behind Obama allegedly ceding to the will of the Jewish American voting bloc. First of all, American Jews are more ideologically splintered than ever before, AND more anti-Israel and anti-Zionist than ever before, and I think that’s reflected in the dwindling power of the various Jewish-American PACs, etc. I think it’s bigoted to assume that ALL American Jews march in lockstep with the Israeli people and/or that ALL American Jews are even ZIONISTS at all. Second of all, I think a lot of Americans think the U.S. government in general and Obama specifically try to curry the support of Jewish voters/political groups (because that support is SO valuable? Is it?). And that is the main rationale for the U.S. policies towards Israel (and by extension, its enemies). However, people , within and without the government and media, tend to ignore the strategic importance of the U.S. maintaining strong diplomatic relations with the one (TINY) Middle-Eastern nation in the HUGE and largely hostile Middle-East region that has an enormous and innovative military and enormous and innovative internal and external intelligence agencies (Shin Bet and Mossad). Does Israel give as good as it gets, in terms of reciprocal benefits for the U.S.? No, but whether it’s true or not, the American government’s belief in maintaining strong ties with Israel is, at least in (large) part motivated by America’s desire to exploit (in a neutral sense of that term) what Israel can offer the U.S.

    Oh, and one more thing—I take issue with how Frank ended his blog entry with the sort of throwaway aside, “Why not just leave the Israeli settlements within an independent Palestine – thus, creating a multi-ethnic state? After all, it works in America. It even actually works, more or less, in Israel itself, with a large Arab population (not disenfranchised).” I am laughing, not in a mean way. I’m just laughing in an actual hysterical, how can you characterize the Arabs and Jews WITHIN Israel as having an even somewhat harmonious relationship with each other way. And, of course, it’s not actually something to laugh about, but to weep about.

    [A few FSR comments: Gaza is a complication I didn’t get into. Israel basically washed its hands of Gaza, which is now a de facto independent state — and, yes, certainly not the progressive democracy one might hope for. A real shame. But what happens in Gaza now is the responsibility of Palestinians themselves. Those in the West Bank should be given the same opportunity to see what they can make of independence.
    As for Israel as a multi-ethnic state — Arabs and Jews may not love each other, but they do in fact share the country, and without violence. It should be up to the Jews in the West Bank whether they want to remain as citizens of an independent largely Palestinian state. A mature Palestinian leadership would actually beg them to stay. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.
    It’s true that overheated speculations about Jewish influence in U.S. politics can have a whiff of anti-semitism. Nevertheless, the Jewish vote is undeniably of concern to anyone running for President. (My own ethnic background is Jewish.)

  3. Lee Says:

    The ongoing conflict makes conditions in both Israel proper and the Palestinian territories abysmal. That their current governments cannot lead them to the obvious solution is immoral, but it is not entirely their fault. Counties such as the US and Iran have their own military aims that are not helping. (E.g., the US’s need to support Israel almost no matter what it does, so that we can keep our military bases there, empowers Bibi to do the unconscionable. Also, US’s refusal to acknowledge democratically elected governments. Iran examples too.)

    [FSR comment: I don’t think US military bases in Israel are a significant concern behind our policy.]

    Yes, neither the Israeli government nor the Hamas government is willing to acknowledge the other’s right to exist. They use this reciprocal arrangement to argue the opponent’s sub-humanity and garner their own power. If Obama could step in and acknowledge that both represent people who deserve peace, and then back with real dollars a vision that works for all the people, then there might be a chance.

    [FSR: Unfortunately I don’t think it’s that simple, or that idealistic pronouncements, or even money, can fix this. Not when there’s so much religion-inspired zealotry on both sides.]

    Unfortunately, the best I can say about Obama in this regard is that he hasn’t (yet) started a war with Iran.

    [FSR: Liberal peaceniks are fond of declaring that such-and-such problem does not have a military solution. Quite often that’s simply untrue. But in the case of Iran it does happen to be true.]

  4. Lee Says:

    I completely agree — even with Obama and money and vision it’s hardly simple, and the odds are still less than desirable. The odds would be better if Iran also put money and vision into mutual peace and security. But I fear you are too correct that it will take much to overcome the zealotry on both sides.

    I suppose that I am the liberal peacenik. Perhaps you would argue that now is atypical, but I can’t think of any place in the world that could benefit from an increased war effort at the moment. Can you? Perhaps an armed peace-keeping mission to Somalia would be appropriate and qualify as a military solution. Despite setbacks to the satyagraha process in Syria and Yemen, I am thinking that is still the most fruitful in those places.

    [FSR comment: I’ve just been reading Christopher Hitchens’s review of a 1938 Rebecca West book. She too was the quintessential “liberal peacenik” — but finally concluded in that year that pacifism was pathetic passivity, and some things are worth fighting for. I can think of a LOT of places in the world “that could benefit from an increased war effort.”
    Your “satyagraha” may have worked for Gandhi confronting the civilized British with ethical sensitivities. It will NOT work against the likes of Bashar Assad. The Libyans, to their credit, understood this. The Syrians are beginning to.]

  5. Lee Says:

    The end of the story is not yet written for Libya or Syria. The Libyans’ “understanding” may lead them the same way as Iraq — the deposing of Saddam Hussein rid them of a tyrant but did not bring them peace and security. (Progress is happening, but it is slow.) Hopefully, the Libyans can learn from Iraq, to recover more quickly.

    Nor is peace and security yet achieved in Egypt, where the process was decidedly of the satyagraha type. Whether it resolves more quickly than Libya is hard to predict, but it looks promising.

    Martin Luther King, Jr., was more effective against the uncivilized lynch mobs than was Malcolm X, and that was before the world became even more accessible to the satyagraha approach. I think the Syrians are choosing wisely in avoiding the “understanding” that the Libyans found.

    [FSR: The Libyans got rid of their tyrant. So far the Syrians have not, and I frankly doubt they can through peaceful means which the regime and its goons laugh at while shooting them.
    Violence should be a last resort. But some things are worth fighting for.]

  6. Lee Says:

    For sure, if anything is worth winning, the situations in Libya and Syria do qualify. But violence should be chosen as the route only if it is likely to be superior to the alternatives.

    Today’s paper reports systematic torture in Afghanistan, by people who we had regarded as the good guys. So, in addition to hoping that Libya learns from the mistakes of Iraq, let us hope that it learns from the mistakes of Afghanistan. The goal is more than the removal of a current tyrant; the people deserve peace, security, and democracy.

    [FSR: One thing at a time.]

  7. Lee Says:

    You wrote “I can think of a LOT of places in the world ‘that could benefit from an increased war effort,’” but you didn’t mention any. Which new / increased war effort would you recommend for you daughter to fight in?

    [FSR response: Syria most obviously comes to mind. We “did” Libya but not Syria only because logistically Syria seems much more difficult. Uganda might also be on the list . . . but, ah, we’re doing Uganda now! Bravo!]

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