The View From Israel

Fear and Suspicion Of Turtle Bay

Gil Troy on how Israelis of various stripes feel about the Palestinian upgrade at the U.N.

Based on observation, not a public opinion poll, there seem to be three main Israeli reactions to the overwhelming United Nations General Assembly vote granting Palestinians non-member observer status. Partisans on both sides are following their usual scripts. The Israel right-or-wrong crowd is noting the incendiary words in Mahmoud Abbas’s speech, such as “racist” and “apartheid,” to reconfirm their doubts and suspicions about the Palestinians turning to the biased U.N. for help yet again. Even the mainstream newspaper Yehidot Ahronot had as one of its Friday morning front page headlines, “ABBAS’S DEMONIZATION SPEECH." The blame-Israel-firsters are faulting Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for missing this opportunity to encourage a peaceful Palestinian move, which consisted of launching a diplomatic salvo, not the usual Hamas rocket barrage. And the more silent majority in the middle strikes me as mostly dismayed, but a little bit confused.

The confusion for the moderate middle-roaders stems from two sources. First, after enduring last week’s Hamas missile fire, it is refreshing to see the Middle East conflict played out in global forums—no matter how biase—with diplomatic tactics, political speeches, and formalistic resolutions. Those of us who seek a peaceful solution feel guilty about being so outraged by a non-violent move. Similarly, the symbolically significant date of November 29 adds a second curve ball. Those of us who believe in a two-state solution, who remember our grandparents’ joy on November 29, 1947, when the U.N. affirmed the Jews’ longing for a state, and who lament the Arab failure in 1947 to accept the compromise, want to acknowledge the heartfelt and legitimate Palestinian need for such international recognition.

But here is where the unfortunate realities of the Middle East intrude, resulting in more dismay than guilt and more clarity than confusion. The PA’s move is not innocent and it does not take place in a vacuum. Viewing the move in context, seeing how it played out, makes this noble-sounding, seemingly-legitimate gesture more menacing, more possibly destructive, and, so typically, more potentially self-destructive for Palestinians than we would like it to be.

Many resent that the Palestinians are seeking empty symbolic victories rather than doing the hard work of trying to jumpstart negotiations. Abbas could have saved on airfare and replicated Anwar Sadat’s masterstroke 35 years ago in November 1977, visiting Jerusalem rather than flying to New York. Many fume that the Palestinians are once again turning to the U.N. General Assembly, which since the 1970s has served as the world dictators’ debating society. For the Palestinians to expect Israelis or Americans to applaud this appeal to the biased U.N. is like a husband taking his wife to divorce arbitration, when he and the mediator are embroiled in a self-destructive affair—then condemning the wife for disrespecting “the process.” Many worry about this U.N. General Assembly ploy being the first of a series of steps that raises the stakes in international forums like the International Criminal Court—even though the credibility of many of these noble-sounding bodies has already been undermined by Palestinian and Arab powerplays against the United States and Israel. And many fear that this kind of move will, as so often happens, fuel the fanatics on both sides, further polarizing the two peoples and making constructive negotiations less likely not more likely.

And that is where we get to the self-destructive streak in Palestinian national strategy, epitomized by yet another ugly Mahmoud Abbas U.N. speech. It offered the typical Arafatian forked tongue smoke-screen talking of peace while delegitimizing Israel as being guilty of racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing—even while claiming he is not delegitimizing Israel. The love the U.N. General Assembly feeds to the Palestinian cause is the diplomatic equivalent of crack cocaine. It provides a quick rush and artificial feelings of empowerment but, at the end of the day, fails to improve objective realities and, most of the time, makes things worse.

So, once again, for most Israelis, the poisonous Palestinian-U.N. collaboration yielded cynicism when we need sincerity, fear when we need hope, suspicion when we need trust. Just another typical day in the still-Zionism-is-racism-resolution-tarred United Nations, which empowers the world’s benighted nations.