I must admit that before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in Washington, I wasn’t sure whether the Palestinian idea of submitting a UN resolution on recognition is defensible. My grounds were simple: just like Obama, I thought this would not lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State, because the Israeli government is expected to reject the resolution.
However, it is precisely Israel’s unilateral position and unwillingness to evacuate the territories which have made a UN resolution so necessary. Netanyahu argues that Israel is not an occupier, and that “Judaea and Samaria” belong to it by virtue of the Jewish nation’s historical attachment to these territories. In that he disregards the military occupation of the Territories and all Israeli steps taken since: the robbery of Palestinian lands, denial of civil and human rights, prevention of economic development and severe restrictions on population movement. These are all illegal for any occupier, but the Israeli justification for them is that it is no occupier. There is nothing more unilateral than occupation, and a UN resolution is therefore required precisely in order to define Israel as an occupier and its acts as illegal.
Judaism’s historic attachment to the Territories is undeniable, but irrelevant. The Jewish nation has a similar attachment to the East Bank of Jordan – would that justify its occupation, its settlement and denial of its non-Jewish inhabitant’s human rights? The same goes for the Sinai Peninsula – did that prevent Israel from recognizing the need to evacuate its settlements on that Egyptian territory and retreat to the internationally recognized border? The American Congress’s standing ovations in response to Netanyahu’s sentimental nonsense requires an appropriate international response, the most appropriate one being the recognition of the Palestinian State by a United Nations Assembly resolution. Such resolution will make clear that Israel is an occupier, and that this occupation is a unilateral and illegal act.
Given the content of Netanyahu’s speech to the Congress, Obama’s call upon the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel directly takes on a particularly negative tone. Not only will such negotiations lead nowhere, but under the circumstances they would serve to legitimize the claim as though the Territories are Israel’s “Judaea and Samaria”, and that it is up to Israel, and Israel alone, to evacuate whichever lands it sees fit and stay wherever it wants. If anything, direct negotiations would be possible only after a UN recognition of a Palestinian State, based on the clear understanding that the Palestinian People is the Territories’ rightful sovereign, while Israel is an occupying foreign power, whatever attachments it may have.
Israel’s legal argument denying its status as occupier is based on the situation which prevailed in the years 1948-1967, and on the fact that in 1967 there was no legal sovereign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Although UN Resolution 181 had designated these territories for a Palestinian State they were subsequently occupied by Egypt and Jordan. In other words, Israel argues that it is OK to “occupy from an occupier”, and that it holds the Territories as a “deposit for peace” (in the Labor Movement’s terms) or that it has in fact “liberated” them (in Netanyahu’s). Accordingly, submitting the issue of sovereignty to a UN discussion and resolution is the most appropriate and relevant move. Indeed, the legitimacy of the State of Israel does not rely – at least not a far as international law is concerned – on the Jewish nation’s attachment to Haifa or Tel Aviv, but on UN Resolution 181. The problem is that to due to the Palestinian rejection of the 181 resolution in 1948, a no-man’s- land has been created right next to Israel. .
Only after the UN Assembly redraws the borders of the Palestinian (and Israeli) State, will it be possible to negotiate on a unified Jerusalem as a joint capital, on economic relations between the two countries, on security arrangements and joint management of water, air and the holy places. Such a resolution will also enable to establish the rights of Jewish settlers who would chose to remain under Palestinian control, and will also designate the settlement activity, the construction of the Separation Barrier and the “Jews-only” roads as illegal. The presence of settlers can under no circumstances be used to justify border adjustments, since these would retroactively legitimize Israel’s unilateral illegal acts.
Whoever wishes to prevent return to the cycle of violence and bloodshed must now support the Palestinian’s non-violent strategy of resistance to occupation, and a UN resolution is only the first step. Hopefully, Obama will come to his senses and support the move, but if not, it is crucial for the international community to cast judgment on the illegality of Israeli occupation.