Voilà some links to interesting commentaries and analyses on the UN General Assembly’s vote to admit Palestine as a non-member observer state. As with just about everyone outside Israel and its American (and Canadian) amen corner—plus a handful of Obama administration officials—I was for it. Or, rather, I wasn’t against it. Palestine is not a state at the present time—though maybe in the future it will become one, inshallah—and joining the UNGA doesn’t change that reality. Regardless of the reservations one may have had over the Palestinian Authority petitioning the UNGA at this particular moment, once Mahmoud Abbas decided to go ahead with it and over US and Israeli objections, it was a foregone conclusion that the UNGA would approve it, so one had to take a position. I was pleased when France announced it would vote ‘yes’ rather than abstain. If the French had abstained, they would have lost credit among the Palestinians and in the Arab world—and President Hollande domestically in France—but without gaining a thing in return. And Hollande did display his sympathetic sentiments toward Israel during Netanyahu’s visit last month—the French Socialists, in their majority, have always been pro-Israel to varying degrees—so France can hardly be viewed by Israelis as an unfriendly country. The French thus did the logical thing in supporting the resolution and, in the process, gave cover to the other states of the European Union to vote ‘yes’ or abstain.
The fact that only one EU member state—and not a major one (Czech Rep)—voted ‘no’ is striking. The EU has been very nice to Israel over the years, signing association agreements and then deepening them, admitting Israel as a full member of the OECD, contributing heavily to maintaining the Palestinian Authority—which is totally in Israel’s interest—, and the like. But the Europeans—and particularly France, Italy, and Spain—have close, longstanding relationships with and major interests in the Arab world. The intransigence of the Israelis when it comes to the Palestinians—of settlement expansion and the manifest contentment of the Israelis with the status quo—collides with European interests, and is a domestic political issue for several EU states in a way it is not in the US (where the pro-Israel consensus is total). So 26 of the 27 EU members declining to vote ‘no’ on the Palestinian petition is a very strong signal to Israel that the status quo cannot continue indefinitely.
It was also essential, at this particular conjuncture, to hand a victory to Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, in view of the Gaza flare-up—during which the PA was marginalized to absent—and the temporarily enhanced stature of Hamas in the eyes of Palestinians and regionally. The focus has to shift from Gaza back to Ramallah. As for the Obama administration, I have not yet read a good analysis as to the reasons behind its strong opposition to the Pal UNGA bid—apart from fears over the International Criminal Court—, but figure it was a no cost position for Obama to take. The last thing Obama needs right now, while he’s playing hardball politics on the fiscal cliff, is to get Congress worked up at him over Israel, not to mention another public fight with Netanyahu, who is almost certain to be reelected next month. And by strongly backing the Israelis on this issue—which changed nothing, as the UNGA resolution would have passed regardless of the US position—he has collected more IOUs to hand over to Netanyahu when he re-engages with the “peace process” next year, e.g. in putting the squeeze on Israel in regard to E1 (see below).
One interesting analysis I’ve read is Raghida Dergham’s in Al-Hayat, “The Palestinian goals behind demanding a non-member state.” The UNGA vote is a game changer. In paving the way for the PA to join international organizations and sign conventions—including the ICC—it gives the PA some serious cards to play. As she concludes
It’s a new day. It’s a new chapter. It is a test to choose between the serious implementation of the two-state solution and putting the occupation on trial, and between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as the representative of the Palestinians. Indeed, the legal instruments have changed the foundations of the relationship between the parties to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
Hussein Ibish, with whom I invariably agree, has a nice piece in The Daily Beast on “The death of Israel’s ‘quality minority’,” that “quality minority” being the Western and democratic states that could be counted on to support Israel at the UN and other international organizations, against the “quantitative majority” of Arab-Islamic states and the rest.
Israel’s “quality minority” now consists of the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau. The Israeli argument that the postcolonial world may be pro-Palestinian, but the democratic West is solidly pro-Israel collapsed. The “quality minority,” is dead, at least for now and on this vote.
That the last four of these “states” are even members of the UNGA is further proof of what a joke the UNGA is. Ibish concludes his comment with this
For the Palestinians, the next step should be a pivot toward seeking a rapprochement with Washington, because without American support they are unlikely to be able to make further progress on their goal of independent statehood. The Israelis, however, need to do some immediate soul-searching, for they seem to have convinced many of their former Western allies they are simply not interested in a genuine two-state solution.
Correct on both counts. And in a rapprochement with Washington the Pals need to do something unpleasant but necessary, which is to try to make nice with Congress. They did so in the ’90s and weren’t always treated well, but there’s no choice. Does the PA even have a paid lobbyist in Washington (a real one, from a mainline PR firm)?
Arguing the contrary to Ibish, Paris-based lawyer and past Palestinian negotiating team adviser, John V. Whitbeck, in a
particularly stupid op-ed in Haaretz, “Diplomatic prostitution and disconnect at the UN,” says that the US, on account of its ‘no’ vote, has rendered itself hors jeu in the peace process. The lede:
Representatives of 95% of the world’s population supported Palestine’s bid for enhanced status at the UN. The U.S.’ opposition should be a sign for the world that the U.S. can longer enjoy a monopoly on the peace process, and that its further involvement is no longer needed or wanted.
As one would say over here, Monsieur Whitbeck prend ses désirs pour des réalités, i.e. he is engaging in wishful thinking. More to the point, one wishes to ask what geopolitical planet he is living on. If, for the sake of argument—but which, of course, will never happen—, Mahmoud Abbas were to tell Barack Obama that his peace process services were no longer needed or desired—and assuming the Israelis would have nothing to say on the matter—, whom would he seek as a mediator? Catherine Ashton? François Hollande? (he’ll decline the offer) Vladimir Putin? Mohamed Morsi? Soyons sérieux.
J.J. Goldberg of the JDF asks “Who Stands Against Peace? Palestinians Are Sounding Reasonable as Israel Drifts Right.” On The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog is an informative post by Mark Leon Goldberg on “Who’s afraid of the ICC?” The Israelis certainly seem so—of the Palestinians being able to refer cases to the ICC—, but, as Goldberg explains, this is unlikely to happen and for several reasons, a big one being political, on the part of both the Palestinians and the ICC itself. In point of fact, there is a near zero chance that the ICC will ever indict members of the Israeli cabinet or high-ranking IDF officers. So all the pro-Pals out there—including several FB friends the past few days—who have been salivating at the prospect of top Israelis being dragged to The Hague are going to be disappointed.
One question I have is if the ICC could hypothetically pursue Israel for settlement activity on the West Bank, as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Palestinian Amen Corner (PAC) partisans are saying yes but I need to see confirmation of this from specialists who are not in that corner. If this answer is indeed yes, it will quickly become an issue if Israel makes good on its just announced plan to build 3,000 housing units on E1, between E.Jerusalem and the settlement-city Maale Adumim, that would cut the West Bank in two and render a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible (see the map below, plus the photos I took of E1 3½ years ago). This would be the gravest, most provocative settlement expansion in a long time—even more so than Har Homa in the late ’90s—, and a veritable casus belli for the PA. Quoting the NYT’s report
“This is not just another few houses in Jerusalem or another hilltop in the West Bank,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “This is one of the most sensitive areas of territory, and I would hope the United States will lay down the law.”
If the Israelis do make good on the plan and the US is unable to lay down the law—and the always courageous Europeans issue strongly worded communiqués et c’est tout—, the PA would have no other option than to go nuclear and refer the case to the ICC. Somehow, though, I can’t see the Israelis crossing the Rubicon on E1. They’ll back down, I’m sure of it. Well, almost.
But even if the E1 plan does not come to fruition, there are the daily vexations and worse committed by fanatical West Bank settlers against Palestinians, such as detailed in this post on the blog of British journalist Orlando Crowcroft, “Yanoun, West Bank: Villagers, violence and a quiet takeover,” that I just came across. Yanoun is a village next to the Itamar settlement near Nablus (where the family was murdered in March 2011). If fanatical settlers continue to render life miserable for the inhabitants of neighboring Palestinian villages and the Israeli security forces and judicial system are unwilling to do anything about it, there could be pressure on the ICC to take up the matter, even in the absence of a formal PA referral. The hypothetical prospect of this could possibly prompt the Israelis to take stronger action against the fanatics.
Adam Garfinkle has a post on his American Interest blog, “Small Calamities,” that is not favorable to the Pal UNGA vote. He says, entre autres, that
As the Obama administration has said countless times both in private and public, this effort by the PA is unhelpful. It said so more than a year ago, and managed to delay the effort, and it said it more recently, as well. And it’s true: It is unhelpful, and the “peace process” really doesn’t need more disadvantages; if it has an abundance of anything, that’s it…
Ah, but so what? It isn’t as though some other route to a revived and successful peace process is in prospect, so the vote could easily be dismissed as a marginal tactical stunt. Besides, everybody knows that United Nations is not a place where problems get solved, but a place where either insoluble or trivial issues go to be talked to death by second-rate diplomats with nothing better to do.
This may turn out to be the case, but it’s not obvious that it will. There are at least three reasons to think that this episode will turn out to be more important and more harmful than that.
Garflinkle’s essay is long and complex but it’s worth the read.
Gil Troy, a historian at McGill University and writing on TDB’s Open Zion blog, also has a commentary that is not favorable to the UNGA vote, “Fear and Suspicion of Turtle Bay,” that gives voice to the negative Israeli view of the UN.
Yossi Klein Halevi, in an op-ed in the Toronto Globe and Mail, writes that the UNGA vote is an example of “How not to create Palestine.” He begins
There is only one way for the Palestinians to achieve statehood, and that is to convince a majority of Israelis that a Palestinian state would be a peaceful neighbour, and not threaten their most basic security. The farcical vote on Palestinian statehood about to be enacted at the United Nations – to upgrade the Palestinian presence to non-member observer state – will only reinforce the fear among Israelis that Palestinians intend to impose a solution that will leave Israel without peace or security.
Vivienne Walt of Time magazine has a most interesting account of Palestine’s experience at UNESCO since it was admitted as a full member last year, and that may be a harbinger of what awaits the Pals at the UNGA and other specialized agencies they may join.
The Palestinians hoped UNESCO membership would be a platform from which to press for diplomatic gains, but in interviews with TIME, diplomats say that the realpolitik of international organizations has turned out to be far different. “It has been an extraordinary year, and there have been some surprises,” a UNESCO diplomat told TIME on Wednesday. For the Palestinians, he said, “I don’t think it has unfolded the way they expected it to.”
In short, the Palestinians at UNESCO, who are now a member like any other, have not been automatically getting their way on issues they’ve been raising. With Palestinian membership came the cancellation of the US’s sizable financial contribution to the organization, which was in the law passed by Congress, about which President Obama could do nothing, and that everyone knew was going to happen if Pal membership was approved. But when the Pals pushed forward with their membership request, the member states were hardly going to reject it. And so now UNESCO finds itself in difficult financial straits, with cuts to programs and a hiring freeze. And, as Vivienne Walt reports, a lot of people at UNESCO are pissed off, and at the Palestinians, not the Americans. Voilà something for the Palestinians and the PAC to think about.
Finally, Edward Said wannabe Joseph Massad—who cannot hold an intellectual candle to Said—has a comment in The Guardian, asserting that “The UN vote to recognise Palestine legitimises a racist status quo,” in which he expresses his extreme unhappiness with the UNGA vote. I would normally not sully AWAV with links to JM—what a scandal that he received tenure at Columbia—but his elucubrations here are not entirely devoid of interest. Noting the “bitter irony” of last Thursday’s vote occurring on the 65th anniversary of UNGAR 181, Massad sees it as a legitimization of Israel as a Jewish state and of undermining the status of the PLO at the UN. I have indeed not seen anything so far on what happens to the PLO observer delegation at the UNGA now that Palestine as a state has attained the status of non-voting member. It doesn’t seem to make sense for there to be two separate Palestinian delegations at the UNGA. So does the new state of Palestine replace the PLO in the eyes of the UNGA? Insofar as the Palestinian state is defined as the WB/Gaza within the ’67 borders, what now happens to the Palestinians in the diaspora, notably in Lebanon and Syria, and for the sacrosanct “right of return”? Good question.
E1, looking toward E.Jerusalem.
Below: Maale Adumim arriving from E1 and Jerusalem.