Recognize Palestine and Give It UN Membership


If the UN raised Palestine's flag and accepted it as a member, peace talks might really move forward. This photo collage invites us to imagine that day actually coming to pass. Credit: Collage by Natalie Rogers. Photos from Wikimedia Commons/Michael Loadenthal/Aotearoa.

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.


Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress on May 24, 2011. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Avi Ohayun.

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.


What if Obama went over Netanyahu's head to propose a peace plan directly to the Israeli and Palestinian people? Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Executive Office of the President.

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?


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Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun, co-chair with Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, California. He is the author of eleven books, including two national bestsellers—The Left Hand of God and Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation. His most recent book, Embracing Israel/Palestine, is available on Kindle from and in hard copy from He welcomes your responses and invites you to join with him by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives (membership comes with a subscription to Tikkun magazine). You can contact him at
tags: Editorial, Israel/Palestine   
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One Response to Recognize Palestine and Give It UN Membership

  1. Ahevas Yisrael August 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Israel must stand permanent invioable within those border designated by Hashem long ago. As jews we are nothing if not for our remembering to serve Hashem. Because of our memory and our remembrance we have survived while countless other civilizations have perished in the dust.

    To be a Jew is uniquely to serve Hashem as his chosen people. What this means is that it is up to each Jew to serve Hashem through the Torah and its mitzvos.

    Moshe showed us the way and told us to remove all those whose abominable practices fouled the land. This is true then and this is true now.

    For Yisrael is and has always been about survival in the face of the iniquity and idol worship that surrounds them. By keeping to Hashem we do what is right and just. There is no other way. Seventeen paragraphs of syllogism clever logic and misguided mercy also will not do it as well

    Is it strange for a Jew to cling to his faith even after these arguments for the rights of the Palestinians? It is ironic that when compared to the lands Yisrael took over either by force or negotiation that we weren’t worried about those rights and simply did what Hashem commanded.

    I wonder how it is that we could accept the whole Torah then and not now? Is there another Torah G-d forbid.

    Is it so pedantic to expect Jews to look out for their own rights after millennia of having those rights trampled upon.

    Do you think for one moment that the government of Israel foments violence so that Hamas can strike them? Are they baiting the hyena’s? Could such a thing be so?

    When Israel reacts by trying to stop those missiles from striking its land each day is this done to poke at the eye of the Palestinians? What kind of madness is this?

    If Israel hold prisoners who murder but doesn’t execute them is this wrong? Are they the government provoking the Palestinians by seeking Justice or trying to protect themselves? This defies all but the most dialectic of reason.

    Did you know there are Rabbi’s who support Palestinian Independence even to the point of taking away, shrinking Israel making her indefensible and even tearing a hole in the center of Jerusalem to show what? Is this madness or do these Rabbi’s serve those idol worshippers of long ago caught up in their own rhetoric so eager and anxious to prove a point that reason flies out the door replaced by half arguments? No this couldn’t be. A Rabbi. What kind of Judaism is this? Perhaps the kind that need not be remembered or perhaps the kind that destroyed temples and set us headlong into diaspora.

    What hubris to suggest a plan that does not seek Israel’s best interests and those of her people. Hashem in the end is the arbiter of all things and He lets us play with madness so that perhaps we will return one day to unity.

    It would be better for such Rabbi’s who espouse Israel’s subjugation to don the cloth of another contrived faith to suit their creed. Torah is Torah and cannot be undone.

    Israel will be whole and complete all of Israel restored. The Palestinians must learn to live with what they have. Of course since they won’t they will be destroyed just as they were when Israel entered the Promised Land. Now destroyed is pretty harsh but what this means it that all the surrounding countries will assimilate them unless they do something stupid like apply for UN membership.

    This creates a wall that will press them ever inwards until yes they are destroyed.

    I have some corn and I will sell it to someone but they say no this corn you is mine even the corn you harvest is mine because I refuse to pay you and if I trick you then you will give me the corn. See I even have a Rabbi who will swear that I don’t have to pay since after all that is my corn even if I did not work to produce. I laugh and say. You and your Palestinian Rabbi get along well together but my corn…I withdraw my offer. Of course if you want to recognize that this is my corn perhaps we can still come to an agreement. What’s that you say…your Palestinian Rabbi will work to undermine my resolve and then you can take the corn.
    Again I laugh and say. You and your Palestinian Rabbi make a good team but alas no corn for either of you because this time in this field I have seen this Palestinian Rabbi coming a mile a way. It is a shame because his heart was almost in the right place. Such a stubborn, stubborn man about which they used to ‘they are a stubborn people.’ Neither you nor your Rabbi friend will enter this land nor take from its people. I can’t even say nice try because in the end it just is not very nice at all.

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