Palestinians seek UN Moxie

Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a major speech Friday making it clear to the Palestinians that the PA will seek membership in the United Nations at this year’s General Assembly meeting.

The Palestinians (or more precisely the Fateh faction that controls the ever-shrinking Palestinian parts of the West Bank) are not going to the UN, as is often charged, to make an end run around negotiations with Israel. Abbas knows very well, and acknowledged in his speech, that only through negotiations with Israel can there ultimately be a change in the status of the Palestinians as largely stateless persons, a significant proportion of them descended from refugees created by Israel ethnic cleansing campaigns in 1947-48.

The reason for seeking recognition as a member nation of the UN is simply to gain moxie in those negotiations.

The big problem of the Palestinians is that, being stateless, they lack moxie. Even Americans can go tomorrow to the West Bank and steal Palestinian land and resources, aided by an enormous US aid package for Israel and by unthinking, knee-jerk approval by the US government of virtually anything Israel’s rightwing government does, no matter how illegal in international law.

If Israeli squatters move in, claim Palestinian fields, and dig deep wells that cause the Palestinian’s wells to dry up, what recourse do Palestinians have? They mostly can’t sue in Israeli courts because those courts are premised on Zionist principles of appropriating Palestinian land and denying Palestinians statehood.

Since Israel has the strongest military in the region and several hundred nuclear warheads, and since it has the absolute backing for almost anything it wants to do to the Palestinians of among the most powerful countries in the world (the US, Germany, the Netherlands, most often Britain and France, etc.), the Palestinians are helpless.

Israel can conduct the Oslo accords with the Palestinians, and can promise to withdraw almost completely from the West Bank by 1999, but then can double the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land instead. And PM Binyamin Netanyahu can actually boast on camera about having destroyed the Oslo peace process. All this with impunity. Nothing the Palestinians can do about it.

Former Congressman Alan Grayson said during the health care debate that the Republican plan was “Don’t get sick; and if you get sick, die quickly.”

The Likud Party’s (and worse, the Yisrael Beitenu Party’s) plan for the Palestinians is, “If you have your land or resources taken by Israeli squatters, drop dead or become a refugee once more.” That is what the slogan that Palestine is Jordan really means — it is a call for massive ethnic cleansing of 4 million people and relocating them to the barren Eastern desert of the Hashemite Kingdom. It is a war crime in the hopeful stages.

So the Palestinians have no moxie. They don’t have a state, don’t have anyone they can depend on to do justice to them or effectively to get them justice. They are, and have been since the Balfour Declaration, royally screwed.

But if 126 out of 190 countries in the UN vote to make Palestine within 1967 borders a member state, then at least the Palestinians have some international recognition of their claims on statehood and on specific territory. (They often say that they were kicked out of 78% of their land, and are now willing to settle for 22%, but the Israelis aren’t even willing to let them have the 22%).

Then when the Israelis annex ever more of the West Bank and flood the territory with Israeli squatters (who often receive cheap prefab housing from the Israeli government if only they will move there), then the Palestinians can have their new friends call the Israel ambassador on the mat.

Ultimately they might even gain the standing and respect to bring suit against Israel concerns that are benefitting economically from the theft of Palestinian land and resources.

That’s the hope.

It should be remembered that the Palestinian leadership was ambivalent about this step, and felt forced into it by the absolute intransigence of the Netanyahu government, which refuses to freeze Israeli settlements while negotiations are being held concerning the land the Israelis are squatting on. It would be like negotiating with someone about a piece of pie when they have a fork and are eating away at the pie, of which there is less and less left even as you negotiate for a piece of it. The Palestinians are afraid that if the negotiations go on like this, at the end of them they will only get some crumbs of a stale pie crust, because the other party in the negotiations has gobbled up the very thing over which there were negotiations.

Going to the UN General Assembly may or may not have any practical implications. But it is the least the elected leadership of the Palestinians could do. In all likelihood, the step comes as too little and too late, and the Israelis have probably already made a two-state solution impossible. If so, then the Palestinians face decades as stateless flotsam, open to being expropriated at any moment.

It is an unstable situation, for the Palestinians and for the world. If going to the UN contributes to a strengthening of the Palestinian hand and some sort of citizenship for Palestinians in something, then it will make the region and the world less unstable.

It is that move to more stability that President Obama has pledged to veto. So the American veto will be a vote for instability and violence in the region, which in turn will spill again over onto the European and the American publics.

25 Responses

  1. “…the PA will seek membership in the United Nations at this year’s General Assembly meeting.”
    I had understood that it is not the PA but the PLO (which the UN has recognized as “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”) that will be seeking UN membership.
    Is this a distinction without a difference? Per Wikipedia, the PLO still exists, has a governing council, etc., and is not the same as the PA. If Palestine gains UN membership or “observer nation” status, is it the PLO that will negotiate, will take a case to the World Court, and of course will represent Palestine at the UN?

    • No, the PLO is just a party coalition. It is Palestine that is seeking recognition.

  2. The last point you make is the most important point. Ultimately, this Palestinian move for UN recognition will in the short run, only impact the US as it will force us to take an official stand against Palestine, in support of Israeli interests, and hence against all Arab and therefore Muslim interests. The US will no longer be able to dance around claiming one thing while doing another and actually getting away with it. This will translate into increased conflicts, social, religious and diplomatic with the Arab and Muslim world (including Islamic Africa). the US will then, in order to defend her position in the Middle East, have to act tougher toward Israel, primarily by pushing to a real freeze, if not a strong cooling of the settlements. My feeling is that president Obama is planning to move to a tougher stance toward Israel after his (shaky) reelection knowing that to do it now will doom his chances for a second term.

  3. As you well know, prof. Cole, Israel is a de-facto Apartheid State. There are Jews and Palestinians living all over the land and there is one state with a unified grid of roads, electricity and control. As you also know, different laws apply to West Bank Jews than to West Bank non-Jews, which makes it Apartheid par excellence.

    Apartheid ends by granting equality to all, not by creating Bantustans for the natives. It is time the world started changing the paradigm and instead of talking about a sham ‘peace process’ or a sham ‘Palestinian statehood’, we started adopting the model of equality, much like it was done in S. Africa. That has always been the only solution, as unpleasant as it is for supporters of the “Jewish State” paradigm, which has become a synonym for discrimination, dispossession and oppression.

    The futile insistence on a “Palestinian State” which will amount to no more than a chain of enclaves without control of their air, water, sea or borders, is just a distraction from the true solution to discrimination: equality and democracy.

    In a way, the Palestinian leadership is working against the true interests of Palestinians and despite their burning desire to rid themselves of Israeli oppression, they should not play into the hands of Israel by participation in the “peace process” game, which at the best will make them prisoners with slightly improved prison conditions. No worthy leader will lead his people to such existence and consider this an achievement.

    • Ron,

      Joseph Massad provides the most detailed discussion of this issue that I’ve read. He discusses six outcomes that will all advance Israeli interests.

      “State of recognition – Whether the UN grants the PA status as a state or refuses to do so, either outcome will be in Israel’s interest.”

      link to

    • Bad idea based upon faulty premises. Jews and Arabs do NOT want to live together or under the other’s domination. If you think this a one-state solution is a recipe for peace & love, I would point you to the example of Bosnia. That worked out great, didn’t it? And what with the violent extremism that is the normal in so much of the Middle East, the situation in the former British mandate of Palestine is that much worse. Massad and the others have another agenda that they’re pushing. It won’t work and would only lead to mass bloodshed.

      The solution? Two states.

      Also, I disagree with those who see the Palestinian push as the UN as key. They’re bit players here. I think a concerted effort to do whatever is necessary to build a majority that pushes Likud & Netanayhu out of power. Israel is the one holding the cards. If you get a government in power that wants to set up two states, we’ll get a final resolution.

  4. Dear Professor Cole

    Your logical and reasoned analysis is quite correct in its predcition that the European states that collude with the US in aiding and abetting the ongoing crimes against humanity and breaches of international law in Palestine, will suffer the consequences.

    Taking great care not to fall foul of laws that forbid the glorification of terrorism, I can see the logic that leads to the conclusion that if the legal system is rigged against you, it is time for direct action. Back to the flying lessons then and so forth. Some pretty good scores last time, some might say.

    I object to the possibillity that I or my family and friends might be killed or maimed in an proxy attack that avenges some obtuse machinations by a foreign government with anachronistic and regressive policies.

    Perhaps it is time that the European nations drew a line under the emotional embarassment about the events of the 1930s and 1940s and dealt (like the Turkish Prime Minister) with the slow burning fuse.

  5. Has the clock finally run out on the lies?

    The political theorist, Hannah Arendt, wrote an essay about 50 years ago with the title “The Politics of Lying.” It seems that those who lie have a difficult time keeping the house of cards from falling down. At any time the cat can jump out of the bag so the lies have to be refined, expanded or whatever necessary ( e.g., start a war) to keep the big lie afloat.

    Now that the American empire is collapsing, and Obama’s ratings in the Middle East are even lower than W Bush, will the USA do the right thing or will it continue in its path to “Dark Ages America”? That is the title of a 2006 book. The author notes that when a society is on the way down they choose leaders who accelerate the collapse. It happened in Israel and Obama is following in the path of the Bushes.

    Will this issue bring the world to its senses or will the destruction continue?

    • says:

      mox·ie   /ˈmɒksi/ Show Spelled[mok-see] Show IPA

      noun Slang .

      1. vigor; verve; pep.

      2. courage and aggressiveness; nerve.

      3. skill; know-how.

      None of these three meanings seem to fit what Juan is trying to say. “Influence” is probably what he means.

  6. I think it is just enough at exactly the right time. There have been periods in Palestine’s history when the ruling superpowers have declined leaving a vacuum. During one such event, indigenous Semites rose up against their masters and created a new religion and a new kingdom. During a later period, Europeans with confused morals decreed the formation of Israel. Now we have a situation where Western powers decline and Eastern powers ascend. The first interval was on the order of 3500 years. The second interval about a century.

    Palestine is seeking world recognition, which they will receive, and a forum to seek legal remedies against Israel. In almost every confrontation, Israel is wrong and without legal justification whereas Palestine is on the right side.

    At some time in the near future, people outside Israel who support Israel will find it unwise to continue. When that happens, Israel will disappear from the sands of time.

  7. Very good piece as always. Do you know what the Palestinian land reminds me of? An American Indian reservation. The United States did exactly the same thing, and the Israelis have learned well. You give them land, then you go take back the best parts. And all the while you never accept these people–these fellow humans–as having any worth beyond that of the coyote. They have no actual definition, no recourse, and no power of any sort. And if they don’t accept their predicament, they may be prosecuted, or even exterminated–in self defense, of course, because we are the good guys. After all, we have John Wayne and Ronald Reagan–and Jesus. The date is the only thing that really changes.

  8. Well said! As the remainder of their country vanishes, this does seem like the only card for the Palestinians to play.

    The Israeli strategy of endless peace talks that never go anywhere has run it’s course, and it is now obvious that it was always a ploy to stall as they colonized the West Bank.

    Based upon Israeli control of the American Congress and American Foreign Policy, Obama has no other option but to veto the application or see his chances of re-election drop to zero.

    I see the primary gain for the Palestinians is to create a new rallying point make obvious the contradictions and deceitfulness of the Israeli public talking points.

    Americans, hopefully, may finally start to realize that their Israeli centric Foreign Policy is a contradiction from the “American Democracy Ideology” taught in our civic classes.

    Overall this move will further isolate Israel from the civilized world and make them realize that the cost of their 60 year war of aggression against the Palestinians is an economic catastrophe, as countries can no longer afford to go it alone.

  9. Much of this strikes me as continued excuse making for the currently Palestinian leadership. How anyone talks themselves into believing that you get more “pie” by refusing to negotiate while the other side is eating it that one would by talking is a mystery to me.

    The Palestinian leadership sat down with Clinton as the go-between. They even sat down with Bush in that role. But for Obama, it’s a wall of refusal.

    If anyone has a reason to be reluctant to sit down, it’s the Israelis, as the other side is half under the control of the terrorist organization, Hamas, who writes into their own charter that they will never negotiate for a permanent settlement with Israel. Their talk of purely temporary peace is wisely taken for exactly what it is: a promise to attack Israel at some more convenient date down the road. The such is the concern for their people that Hamas constantly blocks new elections taking place, their own constitution be damned.

    If Hamas would ever allow elections, I have no doubt that Fatah would win. If they then took that to the negotiating table, I think it likely that they would obtain for themselves an area equivalent to all of the West Bank, with 1-to-1 land swaps. What final deal they would be able to work out over East Jerusalem, I am less certain of.

    But by their disunity and foot-dragging, they do the radical settlers work for them.

  10. It is very interesting the way Israel has managed to change the narrative for the Palestinians in this conflict.
    They call the Palestinians “terrorists” who are only interested in violence.
    Yet, Israel is far ahead of Palestine in terms of the terror, killings and destruction of property.
    Again, Israel says Palestinians want “to wipe Israel from the map.” Yet, Israel is in fact currently wiping Palestine from the map!
    And then, Israel demands Palestinians to recognize their state. Yet, for all practical purposes, Israel is a recognized state. It is rather Palestine that is in need of recognition…primarily from Israel.
    It is about time the narrative is corrected.

  11. if the palestinians go to court with their claims against Israel, rather than employing violence, it will be a good thing. they responded with violence when the UN invited the Israelis (and the Palestinians) to establish a state.

    far too much violence from both sides …. and far too many claims from both sides that have far too little truth. it’s long past time to put the violence and the lies away and accept the hard truths about the atrocious behavior that every party in the conflict refuses to admit about themselves

  12. It seems almost too easy to point out the obvious. On the margins we can argue about any number of important fine points, but this issue is really pretty one-sided in terms of what is going on. That it cannot be dealt with squarely is the real issue to be concerned with.

    Were an political scientist from Mars to beam down he’d quickly see the I/P conflict as rather clearcut,and historically not that unusual of a case. It is bound to be settled against the Israelies at some point, probably in an ugly way due to their collective ideological intransigence, in a variation on those infamous “internal contridictions” that made the old USSR unsustainable. The big difference is that the Likud has a really strong appreciation for the power of PR and politics, and a real skill/talent/ability to use it. The nazis were clueless caracatures of evil; these guys are genuinely sophisticated, and nothing if not committed.

    Ron and Don Utter have comments that complement each other, and this thing WILL resolve itself. It’ll happen in a one-state solution,one way or the other. It’ll be tough for the Israelies to swallow, but swallow they will, if they want to survive. They can fight against their internal contridictions, and how their attitudes and actions are against the tide of history in support of the people. But their approach is only buying time and building up pressure that’ll have to be resolved at some point. The first thing one does when one finds themselves deep in a hole (in this case, finding an enduring accommodation with the Arabs/Palestinians), is to stop digging. So far, they are, sadly, along ways away from that basic awareness. An there will come about a balancing and a settling, either controlled or uncontrolled,be it a hundred or a thousand years.

    The bad thing about racism, is that it makes the Likudniks think those A-rabs won’t remember/resent what is being done to them better than they do. The closest thing to a claim they have is that the land was “given” to them, which amount to nothing more than incredibly thin, self-serving,B*** S***.

    Hopefully, Obama does have a game-plan that he’ll be able to attempt to pull off after a re-election. But what if Biden is told to do….something else. These guys have bought and paid for the US congress, and that still includes guys like Joe and too many others to think Obama would be able to get the staff work he’d need in order to do anything significant. Would Hilary (if she weren’t going to quit anyway) do anything without the Likud’s permission?

    Yeah, closest thing to action that Israel EVER took along these lines, was Camp David I. Even that was an example of making lemonade out of lemons, when you look objectively at the event that followed during the eighties.

  13. The point that Chris makes is the one that has been driving me crazy for a while: the fact that Israel manages to frame the Palestinians as the bad guys no matter what she does to them. During the recent Lebanon war, it infuriated me to no end that the news played along, hosting the Israeli PR machine as it equates the destruction of Beirut by tank shells and fighter jet missiles to the terror of “a 6 year old girl who hides in bomb shelters in Haifa instead of being away at camp”, and the world rapt at attention feels her pain. Meanwhile the Lebanese died in droves unassisted and ignored; and in this area of the world where children look to don explosive vests and blow them up in domestic and foreign streets, cafes and buses in order to make the point of their elders, injustice is that which makes of a sane, apolitical person, the carrier of such potent bundle of frustration and resentment that will spread at the velocity of the shrapnel and taint hearts same as the hot metal carves flesh.
    Furthermore if Israel practices the same methods that her foe is condemned for, while oblitering that foe with the military and financial support of the US, what logic dictates that she is the good guy?

  14. Daniel Levi points out that the really loser in this matter will be the US and, in particular, President Obama. It will be the definitive demonstration of the incompetence of US leadership regarding Is;ael/Palestine. All of Obama’s efforts to win over Arab publics with the Cairo speech, the Libya intervention, support for the Arab spring, etc. will be fatally undermined.

    The same is also true for the reputation of my own country, Canada, which shamefully won’t support the Palestians.

  15. Daniel Levi points out that the really loser in this matter will be the US and, in particular, President Obama. It will be the definitive demonstration of the incompetence of US leadership regarding Israel/Palestine. All of Obama’s efforts to win over Arab publics with the Cairo speech, the Libya intervention, support for the Arab spring, etc. will be fatally undermined.

    The same is also true for the reputation of my own country, Canada, which shamefully won’t support the Palestinians.

  16. I in Friday’s NY Times that the Palestinians will apply for full UN membership at the *Security Council.* This seems bizarre! They clearly know the US will veto it, so why not bring it before the General Assembly where there’s a chance of success?

  17. Because that is part of the plan, getting a full veto from the US before the Security council, effectively forcing the opponents to show their card, as they can still, and will bring it before the General Assembly, which in my book is genius. As long as the US could get away with publicly claiming support for Palestinian autonomy while hindering support for it through being too lax towards the Israeli, it would not have done much to precipitate any effective resolution to the conflict. Once the US publicly vetoes the Palestinian application however, explaining that to the world will be a whole other ballgame.

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