The Palestinians Are Nothing If Not Frustrated
In 1998 the then Defense Minister Ehud
Barak was asked by the journalist Gideon Levy what he would do if you were a
Palestinian. Barak answered that he would have joined a terrorist group and be
protesting in the streets. Barak’s answer caused quite a stir in Israel, but it
does represent the deep but unspoken identification with Palestinian
frustration. And Israelis apparently never held it against him because Barak
beat Netanyahu in the elections of 1999.
Even the most persistent defender of
Israel, and I count myself among them, must sympathize with Palestinian
frustrations and the extent to which they have been blocked at every legitimate
avenue. Who can blame them for looking to the U.N ( Palestinians go to the UN) for some sort of
recognition and approval? If Ehud Barak’s identification with the Palestinian
cause is so strong that he would have joined a terrorist group, surely he
appreciates the effort at recognition from the United Nations. Just look at the
obstacles the Palestinians have had to overcome. I am not, mind you, excusing Palestinian
violence and political ineptitude. But if Mahmoud Abbas is to be given any
credit at all, if there’s anything at all genuine about his efforts at state
building and negotiating with the Israelis then he deserves our sympathy.
The peace process is dead and even if it
were still breathing it probably lacks the strength to sustain itself. The
peace process has not maintained Palestinian national aspirations, nor has it
significantly impeded Israeli settlements. After 25 years of trying to achieve
peace the Palestinians are besieged by frustration and failure. Seeking some
sort of “win” by going to the United Nations is a therapeutic act.
And both Israel and the United States
have been nothing but bumbling and unsuccessful at making any sort of progress
in the peace process. The UN recognition gambit is born of nothing but
frustration by the Palestinians who remain Balkanized and politically anemic.
The US has failed to mediate the conflict and cannot reconcile its support for
both Israel and the need for a two state solution. The decision to seek
recognition by the United Nations stimulated the reconciliation of the PLA and
Hamas. I wrote in an earlier post (see June 25, 2011) that this might not be
such a bad idea, and is probably inevitable, but it does complicate matters.
Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization and makes dealing with United
States and Israel even more difficult.
Moreover, the Palestinian political
situation could become even more volatile. The PLO may have once represented
the “glorious Palestinian resistance”, but to many young Palestinians
they are also the old guard who are failing to accomplish political goals.
These young Palestinians are more committed to political ideals then to
The Palestinians are seeking membership
in the UN as a state. The political question about what actually constitutes a
state is a little slippery but typically involves four conditions including a
population, a territory, governing institutions, and the ability to engage in
international relations. None of these conditions are met to the full
satisfaction of everyone but they all are probably “good enough.” Still,
the United Nations is not going to take close measurement of these four
conditions and make some sort of rational technical vote. Even though everyone
expects the Security Council to veto the Palestinian bid, it will pass easily
in the General Assembly even though it is nonbinding. The United States will
veto the Palestinian bid in the Security Council and once again maintain its
support of Israel while voting against its interests with respect to solving
the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
The consequences for Israel are surely
negative. Israel will once again be criticized and delegitimized and be on the
losing end of the General Assembly vote. In fact, it will be a wipeout as most
countries in the world will support the recognition of the Palestinians as a
state. The Palestinian bid will define itself as having borders along 1967
borders, establish increased legitimacy for its weak political institutions,
and make all sorts of UN resources available to the newly recognized state.
There have been agreements on none of these issues between Palestine and Israel
and the tension between the two will be exacerbated rather than diminished. It
is true that the Palestinian recognition by the UN will be symbolic, but that
does not mean unimportant.
The consequences of this international
political move by the Palestinians remain unclear. It involves some serious
risks that include increased confrontation with Israel, the United States, and
the failure of the peace process. But one thing is clear – Palestinian