Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Key Point on the Palestinian UN bid

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AIJAC readers may be interested to read an interesting Q&A featured by the Guardian on the Palestinian bid to seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines.

Answering readers questions were Hussein Ibish, a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine and Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli journalist and writer who is a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Ibish's responses are interesting, but Halevi nails a key point about the overall dilemma of Palestinian statehood that not enough people really understand.

Interestingly, in the Q&A, it becomes clear that Ibish, representing the Palestinian cause, is not enthusiastic about the Palestinian UN bid - he views it as potentially creating economic turmoil for the Palestinians, in light of the US threats to cut off aid, for a largely symbolic gesture. He writes:

"a symbolic victory with little practical benefit and enormous costs need to be very carefully considered in terms of its long-term value to the national interest."

Ibish believes that more important than the UN bid, is achieving real economic development, institution building and security cooperation on the ground towards establishing a viable Palestinian state. He writes:

"I think we should all focus most of our attention on the day-after scenarios rather than whatever happens in New York, because what happens on the ground is much more likely to affect the future for Palestinians and Israelis alike than pieces of paper issued in Turtle Bay."

But I particularly wanted to call attention to Halevi's answers regarding two questions - "Why is it wrong for the Palestinians to pursue the UN path?", and "How can Israeli security be realized without the establishment of a Palestinian state?" On the first point he writes:

"For Israelis, the crucial question is what is the goal of the Palestinian national movement. Is it to create a state that will live in peace with its neighbor, Israel? Or does it see a state in the West Bank and Gaza as a first step to the gradual unraveling of the Jewish state - perhaps through demographic means, via "right of return"?...Most Israelis don't believe that the Palestinian national movement seeks a permanent two-state solution. The international community, by and large, has not taken those fears seriously. And in unilaterally seeking to impose a solution to the conflict, the UN would allow the Palestinian leadership to bypass negotiations that would offer Israel the kind of security guarantees on which its long-term viability could depend."

On the second question about Israeli security and Palestinian statehood, Klein makes a even more critical point that is not well enough understood - that for Israel establishing a Palestinian state can be both an existential necessity and an existential threat. He writes:

"I agree. But that is only half the Israeli predicament. Israeli centrists like me - and we're the majority now - view a Palestinian state in two contradictory ways: as an existential necessity (preserving a Jewish and democratic state, etc) and as an existential threat (missiles on Tel Aviv, etc). The question, then, is how to create a Palestinian state that will help us solve one existential threat without creating a new existential threat. I am frankly maddened by both the Jewish left and right, each of which picks its favorite existential threat that supports its position and ignores the other existential threat that challenges its position...I know of no other country that faces the agonizing dilemmas that we do, where either choice can lead to our unraveling."

If everyone trying to encourage a two-state resolution understood Halevi's two points, we would likely be a lot closer to achieving it today than we are now.

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