The UN General Assembly’s resolution granting nonmember-state observer status to “Palestine” – a document drafted by the Palestinian Authority – and the worldwide negative response to Israel’s reaction to it is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s classic 1871 poem “Jabberwocky,” which depicts a world filled with illogic and nonsensical speech.
For not only did the General Assembly’s action plainly violate the UN Charter – even the Security Council cannot create a state, it can only admit an existing one to membership – it also adopted the Palestinians’ narrative concerning their entitlement to all West Bank land won by Israel in 1967. The move compromises the very notion that such entitlement must be subject to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Yet Israel was promptly condemned for allegedly creating roadblocks to a resumption of negotiations with its announcement that it will build new housing on a particular stretch of West Bank land it claims.
Typically, The New York Times captured the anti-Israel moment in an editorial four days after the General Assembly action:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel seems determined to escalate a crisis by retaliating against the Palestinians after the United Nations General Assembly voted to elevate Palestine to observer state status.
Instead of looking for ways to halt a downward spiral, Mr. Netanyahu…defiantly dug in on his plans to build 3000 more housing units in contested areas east of Jerusalem and in the West Bank, and to continue planning a development in the most contentious area known as E1.
Israel also announced that it was withholding $100 million in tax revenues that it has collected from the Palestinian Authority, which is financially strapped….
Mr. Netanyahu’s punitive, shortsighted moves threaten to crush the Palestinian Authority, and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, who has recognized Israel’s right to exist and represents the only credible peace negotiator.
Expanding West Bank settlements makes it nearly impossible to restart peace negotiations….
To be sure, Mr. Abbas continues to maintain that General Assembly recognition can only enhance the possibilities for negotiations by adding pressure on Israel to negotiate. But this is deception. For given the resolution’s blanket acceptance of the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, one wonders what there is left to negotiate. In fact, while there is language in the resolution supporting a return to negotiations, it’s not quite what it seems.
Thus the resolution
Expresses the urgent need for the resumption and acceleration of negotiations within the Middle East peace process, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet Roadmap, for the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinian and Israeli sides that resolves all outstanding core issues, namely the Palestine refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, borders, security and water.
Sounds reasonable, until one notes another part of the resolution calling for “the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.” This is actually a paraphrase of the language in the post-Six-Day War UN Security Council Resolution 242, which called for the “withdrawal of Israel Armed Forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”
Significantly, the word “the” does not appear in the 1967 document. And this was not happenstance. Whether to include or omit that word was the subject of fierce negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The underlying issue was that the word “the” would require a withdrawal from all land seized in the war while its omission would require withdrawal from only some land. The omission of “the” in the final wording reflected the consensus that a negotiated settlement would require only partial withdrawal.
So the seemingly innocuous reference in the current resolution is really a calculated statement that there must be an Israeli withdrawal from all of the captured territory, obviously something fraught with significance. Plainly, in terms of the disputed territories, the only negotiations Mr. Abbas has in mind are those that would culminate in an orderly Israeli withdrawal from the entire West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Nor is the issue of Israeli settlements generally a one-dimensional matter. That is, Israel is being faulted for building on land that Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have generally signaled Israel would retain in any peace agreement. This was the underlying principle of the Wye formulae, the Bush statement that any peace agreement would have to acknowledge Israel’s right to Jewish population centers beyond the Green Line and President Obama’s “1967 lines with land swaps” approach.
While we recognize that President Obama, like presidents before him, has had serious objections to Israel’s settlement construction policies, we hope he will recognize that things are very different now. Operation Pillar of Defense showed that negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority is a fool’s errand. Not only is Mr. Abbas not interested in negotiated borders, he controls just half of the Palestinian population centers, and should there ever be an agreement with Israel leading to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he would soon be eclipsed by Hamas in similar fashion to what occurred in Gaza. The emergence of another center of terror and danger for Israel is surely in no one’s interests.
Moreover, while President Obama demonstrated during Operation Pillar of Defense that, militarily, he did have Israel’s back as he said he would, the General Assembly vote and its aftermath has demonstrated that Israel is largely alone in the diplomatic arena and needs Mr. Obama’s support there as well. Times have changed, and U.S. policy should reflect that change.