U.N. Vote

10 Great Opinion Reads on Palestine’s Statehood Bid

As Palestinians prepare for a showdown vote at the U.N., catch up on the history of the tangled debate, from Obama’s precarious position to the reaction across Israel’s political spectrum.

09.19.11 12:22 PM ET

In a white-hot piece that bursts with the author’s sense of bewilderment, Gideon Levy of Haaretz asks: “Why not, for heaven's sake? Why ‘no’ once again? And to what will we say ‘yes’?” Levy lays out facts that are “so basic, so banal, that it hurts even to repeat them”—that 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank live without civil rights, and have done so for 42 years, and that “we might as well get used to the fact that the world won’t stand for it.” Levy points out that Netanyahu’s main complaint is that a push through the U.N. is unilateral, but “what’s more unilateral than the settlements that we insist on continuing to build?” He writes that if Israel insists on blocking this attempt, there’s only one conclusion to draw: “Israel does not want a Palestinian state. Period.”

Palestine Statehood Vote a Predicament for Obama
By Joel Brinkley, San Francisco Chronicle

Joel Brinkley writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that President Obama has little to gain from vetoing Palestine’s statehood bid and much to lose. Brinkley writes that Obama’s veto would undo all of the gains that the United States has made in the Arab world through NATO’s actions in Libya this year. “With the veto,” Brinkley writes, “all of that would be undone. The United States would be a pariah once again.” Brinkley also points out that Saudi Arabia has warned that it, “’would no longer be able to cooperate with the United States in the same way it historically has.’” The veto would also likely force Palestinians to turn back to violence to achieve their end. Despite his earlier blunders in the conflict, if Obama abstains, instead of issuing a veto, it would win him points at home and abroad, force Israel to return to negotiations, and put the two parties on a much more even footing this time around.

A survey by Near East Consulting showed that more than half of Palestinians believe that their bid for statehood would succeed. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in Bloomberg, believes that a vote through the General Assembly would pass, but the U.S. will veto the Security Council effort. (A Bloomberg editorial also said that an assembly resolution would surely pass, but all parties would lose in the purely symbolic deal.) Goldberg says that the request will only defer the goal of a truly independent Palestine, and he places the blame on the Palestinians’ failures throughout history. “The United Nations offered statehood to the Arabs in Palestine in 1947. The Arabs chose the path of war, and threatened the Jews with annihilation. Then they lost the war,” he writes. “At Camp David, in 2000, Bill Clinton came closer than anyone to engineering the creation of a Palestinian state. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, turned his back on Clinton without even making a counteroffer. More recently, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert offered Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, a similar deal. Abbas rejected it.” And now Abbas is merely trying to demonize and delegitimize Israel—his goal is not the enfranchisement of his people, according to Goldberg, because the bid will not succeed.

Yes to Palestine
By Reza Aslan, The Los Angeles Times

In The Los Angeles Times, Reza Aslan lays out five reasons that the U.S. should not veto the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid. First, Aslan argues that negotiations have failed, and that because of the constantly increasing number of Israelis living in the West Bank, “Every day the Palestinians wait for a negotiated state, another sliver of that state is absorbed into Israel.” Another reason is that the Israeli government is unlikely to ever agree to a Palestinian state, as even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long said he is against the creation of a Palestinian state. Barack Obama’s failure to advance the peace process is another reason, and he should not veto the proposal to prove that “the U.S. is not Israel’s lap dog.” Aslan adds that it is no longer political suicide to defy Israel, pointing out that 78 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution. Finally, Aslan points out that this is more or less the same as the path that Israel took to statehood 60 years ago, and that supporting the Palestinians’ bid is the moral thing to do.

Before Mahmoud Abbas announced that he would seek full statehood through the Security Countil, Israel already had a knee-jerk reaction to a less ambitious bid through the General Assembly. The reasons are many: an eventual new state could claim the 1967 lines as its borders, East Jerusalem could be its capital, and Israel could lose control of holy sites such as the Western Wall. But the vast majority of Israelis support a two-state solution. Isaac Herzog, a former Israeli cabinet minister and a member of the Knesset’s Foreign and Defense Committee, wondered in Foreign Affairs what would happen if Israel shocks the world and votes yes on a General Assembly resolution. Herzog said it should, because it can use the resolution to get out of a stalemate that’s proving increasingly dangerous to Israel. Bilateral negotiations have stalled. Radicals have been energized. Israel’s reputation is in critical condition. Herzog writes that a “yes” vote would turn things around. Netanyahu wants peace talks; this will reopen negotiations. The Israeli public wants a two-state solution; this will be a first step. The last thing the nation wants is violence on the ground; this will greatly improve Israel’s international position. “Rather than oppose the resolution, Israel should seize the initiative and use it to its advantage."

Peace Is Urgent
By Philip Stephens, The Financial Times

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Philip Stephens, also writing before the Security Council bid was announced, came to a conclusion similar to Herzog’s when he said in The Financial Times: “The pro-Israel position is Palestinian statehood.” Israel’s international isolation is becoming increasingly evident and will be on full display at the General Assembly meeting this week. Stephens writes that the Arab Spring has toppled important allies in Israel’s efforts to gain strategic security, as the attacks on its embassy in Cairo showed. The nation must change in order to gain peace, and a “yes” vote is a small price to pay. “The diplomatic compromise now under discussion is one that would see the Palestinians admitted as an observer state, with a status comparable to that of the Vatican,” Stephens writes about the less ambitious assembly resolution. He also pointed out that Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was correct to decide that “real security demanded peace with the Palestinians; and peace demanded a Palestinian state. Mr Olmert’s offer came too late in his premiership. The only thing to have changed since is that the imperative of peace has become more urgent.”

Is Israel Over?
By Benny Morris, Newsweek

Benny Morris writes that Israel is facing a “profound, internal, existential crisis.” The ruling class, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is seen as being out of touch with reality, and no longer appears to have the support of the populace. The nature of the population is changing as well. As the country has developed, the number of ideologically motivated Zionists has declined and the population is now “driven mainly by individuals who want the good life.” On a related note, the number of Israel’s Arab citizens is growing and increasingly demanding that Israel grant them minority rights, some form of autonomy, and give up its identity as the “Jewish state.” Perhaps more troubling to Israelis is that the Arab Spring, while spreading democracy, has also given rise to “a hard core of anti-Zionism usually accompanied by anti-Semitic overtones.” Morris concludes that the Palestinian statehood bid will set off massive amounts of Palestinian activism and an additional wave of anti-Zionism that will further hurt Israel.

Obama’s Conditions Are Unacceptable
By Shlomo Slonim, The Jerusalem Post

Shlomo Slonim argues in The Jerusalem Post that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was absolutely right to refuse President Obama’s suggestion for a peace settlement based along the 1967 border lines. Such a settlement, he writes, would split Jerusalem in two, an outcome which is unacceptable. He writes, “When the legal status of Jerusalem was determined in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War the Palestinians were not a legal factor. Israel contends that nothing has occurred in the interval to disturb Israel’s sovereign right to Jerusalem. This status was confirmed in 1980 by the Knesset when it adopted a law declaring: ‘Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.’” Obama’s plan for peace would divest Israel of its title in East Jerusalem and give it to the Palestinians, which Slonim argues is unprecedented, and thus, Netanyahu was right to refuse.

There Is No Palestinian State
By Efraim Karsh, The Daily Beast

Efraim Karsh argues that the Palestinian Authority is so “corrupt and dysfunctional” that the United Nations would be doing a “great disservice” by making it a state. Karsh points out that while the “extraordinary cohesion of Palestine’s Jewish community” led to the founding of Israel, even Yassar Arafat once said that Palestinians did not have the traditions, unity, or discipline to make a successful state, and its leaders have only been interested in “destroying the Jewish national cause.” Indeed, Hamas and Fatah, the two factions now dominating Palestinian life are “active practitioners of terrorism,” and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to turn to terror if Palestine gains statehood. Karsh even suggests that the Palestinian quality of life increased during the Israeli occupation after 1967, an achievement which eroded after Arafat took over leadership. Thus, Karsh concludes that it is no surprise that most Palestinians living in east Jerusalem “would rather become citizens of the Jewish state than citizens of a new Palestinian one.”

Could the Palestinian Leaders actually be helping Obama by taking their bid to the U.N.? Tony Karon believes so. In Time, Karon suggests that taking their bid to the Security Council, “makes any action very unlikely.” The most likely Security Council response would be setting up a committee to review the matter. This also reduces some of the drama that might result from a U.S. veto, as the Palestinians would not be able to immediately take the issue to the General Assembly, where their cause has overwhelming support. Karon also suggests that the Palestinians are taking a great risk by taking their request to the Security Council (where the U.S. will not be alone in withholding support), without first demonstrating the support they have in the General Assembly. In the end, he says, the “showdown” will most likely amount to little immediate action, but it could provide leverage for the Palestinians in the next round of negotiations.