Recognize Palestine and Give It UN Membership
To the dismay of peace activists and Israeli opposition parties, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rudely rejected President Obama’s mild parameters for Israeli/Palestine peace and then managed to receive twenty-nine standing ovations for his militant intransigence as he delivered a fiery rejectionist speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Netanyahu has lots of chutzpah to come to our country and treat our president disrespectfully — which is precisely what he did when, the day before meeting with the president, he rejected Obama’s suggestion that negotiations between Israel and Palestine should begin (not end) from the point of the 1967 borders that Israel trampled when it captured and then retained the West Bank for the last forty-four years.
We want the Jewish people to be secure, and we want a strong Israel. But that can only be achieved when Israel is perceived by the world and by the Palestinians as seeking a peaceful solution that is based on justice for the Palestinian people and security for both sides. That day will never come if Israel insists on holding on to the occupied territories and placing troops in the tiny Palestinian state it envisions, nor will it come as long as the Palestinian people are treated disrespectfully and oppressively.
Somebody has got to talk sense into the heads of the leaders of Israel before the anger its current policies are engendering explodes once again and causes both sides even more suffering.
Obama is reported to have told his advisers on May 19, 2011, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will never make the concessions necessary for a peace accord. Well, we in the peace movement say, duhhh. While the official organs of Jewish life — many of them controlled by those who believe Israel is always right and Palestinians are always wrong — managed to corral congressional leaders into a large public celebration of the most right-wing government and policies Israel has ever had, most Jews under fifty find Netanyahu’s behavior obnoxious. In fact, most younger Jews applauded Obama for finally taking a stand, however weak, for a policy that has been insisted upon by every U.S. president since 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. It took some courage for Obama to stand up to the little tyrant from Jerusalem who claims to represent an Israeli democracy while simultaneously refusing Palestinians the vote in Israel or national self-determination in a separate state. Unfortunately, our president backed down very quickly in face of public criticism by members of Congress.
Tikkun’s contributing editor Stephen Zunes offered an insightful description of how these dynamics played out:
In an apparent challenge to her president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) told Netanyahu, in response to his harsh retort to Obama, “I think it’s clear that both sides of the Capitol believe you advance the cause of peace.” Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) rebuked President Obama by stating, “No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else,” and that terms for peace talks, “will not be set through speeches.” As former president Jimmy Carter observed in an op-ed in The New York Times, in embracing Netanyahu’s position, the current Democratic leadership is not only rejecting the current U.S. president, but previous agreements involving the Israelis and longstanding positions taken by the United Nations (UN) and previous administrations.
Palestinians and most other international observers believed Obama did not go nearly far enough in challenging Netanyahu’s colonization and annexation of occupied Palestinian territories. He did not call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian West Bank — which the Israelis invaded in a June 1967 war and which is legally recognized as a non-self-governing territory under belligerent occupation — only that the pre-1967 borders be the starting point of negotiations. Obama assumes Israel should be allowed to annex parts of the West Bank with large concentrations of Israeli settlers who moved into the occupied territory in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark decision of the International Court of Justice. (In return for allowing Israel to annex these illegal settlements, Obama called on Israel to swap Israeli land, something that Netanyahu has rejected.) In addition, while Jewish West Jerusalem remaining part of Israel was a given, Obama insisted that Arab East Jerusalem — the largest Palestinian city and center of Palestine’s cultural, religious, commercial and educational institutions — was subjected to negotiations. Obama defended Israel’s right to “self-defense,” but insisted the Palestinian state be demilitarized. Indeed, he rejected Palestinian independence except under conditions acceptable to their Israeli occupiers. He even questioned whether Israel should negotiate with the Fatah-led Palestine Authority if it included Hamas in its ruling coalition because the Islamist group refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist even as it insisted the Palestinians negotiate with the Israeli government despite the fact that some parties in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition refuse to recognize Palestine’s right to exist.
If Obama really understands how far-fetched it is to believe that Netanyahu will ever negotiate a deal that Palestinians could live with, it is time for him to create a new initiative. Our president needs to go over the heads of the leadership in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Speaking directly to the Israeli and Palestinian people, he should propose a peace accord that the United States could enthusiastically support. Presenting a full picture of what a U.S.-backed peace could mean for both sides would have a powerful impact on public opinion in both Israel and Palestine, and could create the political pressure from within both societies to push their political leaders toward a rational agreement.
President Obama is foolishly urging Palestinians not to push for UN recognition of a Palestinian state. What else does he expect them to do when Israel’s leaders remain intransigent in their desire to annex yet more of the West Bank, and all he offers is hope backed by nothing but new agreements to strengthen Israel militarily?