It’s ironic on so many levels that the “unilateral” action of President Mahmoud Abbas in going to the U.N. to ask for Palestinian statehood is so roundly condemned by the U.S. and the Israeli government.
First, it’s not unilateral, at least not with regard to the international community. It’s precisely the opposite. Abbas and others in the Palestinian Authority traveled to many countries in the last year, rounding up the support they needed for a multilateral declaration of statehood, and he made his request to the ultimate multilateral body – the United Nations. It’s only “unilateral,” as I explained in my last post, with regard to the Palestinian people, who have expressed no mandate for seeking statehood for some Palestinians while permanently sacrificing the rights of others. The fact that the U.S. and Israel don’t agree that this – or any other time – is a good time for Palestinian autonomy doesn’t make it “unilateral,” it merely makes it not subservient to U.S.-Israeli interests.
Second, the Israeli government has always been a big fan of unilateral actions. Establishment of more than 120 settlements housing half a million Israeli citizens on Palestinian land has been the biggest one, pursued by every Israeli government since 1967 (or really since 1949, when Israel claimed territory it had conquered in the war that followed the U.N. declaration which declared its borders). It’s a supreme irony that one of the bases on which Israel today claims that Palestine has no right to statehood is its failure to “establish clear borders,” when it is Israel that has been whittling away at Palestinian borders for sixty-three years. [Huge shout out to my friend Henry Norr for getting NPR to publish on its website, “In two stories posted on npr.org in less than a year, NPR has underestimated the number of Israeli Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem. NPR was wrong simply because the source it used – the much-respected CIA “World Factbook” – is wrong on that point and has been for several years.” I stumbled on that when I was checking to make sure my numbers were accurate – which they were.]
Remember unilateral disengagement? This was the comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for withdrawal from Gaza in recognition that the “Roadmap to Peace” championed by the Quartet – U.S., European Union, Russia and U.N. had failed. Sharon announced the plan in December 2003, saying “…if in a few months the Palestinians still continue to disregard their part in implementing the Roadmap then Israel will initiate the unilateral security step of disengagement from the Palestinians.”
Though at first, the Bush administration condemned the move in language very similar to the Obama administration’s statements on Abbas’s initiative: “The United States believes that a settlement must be negotiated, and we would oppose any effort -- any Israeli effort to impose a settlement.” (statement by Scott McClellan, December 18, 2003)¸ four months later the administration “caved in” to the fact that Israel could not be dissuaded and supported the plan, which was carried out with great fanfare in the summer of 2005.
So why must unilateral actions by Israel be “dissuaded” and eventually acceded to, and “unilateral” pronouncements – with no action to back them up – by Palestinian leaders punished with cutting off aid? Especially when Israel receives five and a half times as much U.S. aid as the Palestinian Authority - $3 billion compared with $550 million this year?
We don’t really need to answer that.
Third, Palestinian statehood has already been declared twice by the international community, so what Abbas is asking for is nothing new. As Salman Abu Sitta, one of the leading Palestinian historians, points out,
The League of Nations acknowledged in Article 22 of its Charter the independence of Palestine from the sea to the river, and from Ras al Naqura to Um Rashrash, and placed it under category A Mandate, like Iraq; that meant an independent state which only needed assistance and advice from the Mandate government to build its institutions. Iraq was Palestine's twin, with the difference that Iraq became an independent state; and Palestine did not.United Nations Resolution 181, approved on November 29, 1946, specified that:
The British Mandate undermined these legal foundations by admitting Jewish immigrants to Palestine and not allowing Palestinian parliamentary representation as long as the majority of the population of Palestine were Arabs. Then the Zionists undermined the whole foundations by occupying Palestine in two stages, in 1948 and 1967.
Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, set forth in Part III of this Plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948. [my emphasis]It’s irrelevant that the name of “Palestine” for the “Arab state” was not included in the resolution; the name “Israel” was not used either. And obviously, that has not meant that Israel did not exist.
But the final and deepest irony is that if United States Ambassador Susan Rice sat on her hands and did not veto the Palestinian statehood resolution in the Security Council, it would give Israel exactly what she has always claimed to want – more, in fact, than any of the so-called peace plans that Israeli governments have offered. A state of Palestine recognized by the UN today, would be, as Abu Sitta and Ali Abunimah and many others have pointed out, a disconnected, dysfunctional state on less than 22% of the land that Palestinians were peacefully inhabiting in 1947 (less than 22% because the 22% figure, quoted by Abbas in his speech, comes from 2000 http://www.palestine-pmc.com/pissue/borders.asp and predates Israel’s Apartheid Wall which has expropriated up to 46% of the West Bank).
Such a state would have no way of surviving but by providing cheap labor to Israel’s settlement industries, which are constantly being expanded despite alleged plans to dismantle the settlements. (I participated in a flash mob publicizing one such settlement industry – SodaStream – a couple weeks ago; watch my fun video of it.)
Israel would, presumably, continue to control all the water and mineral resources under the ground, just as it now does, as well as the air space above, meaning that anything like cellphone towers or cable television that the Palestinian government wanted to provide would have to be negotiated with Israeli authorities.
Palestinian refugees would have nowhere to go, permanently exiled unless the tiny Palestinian state could make room for them and find a way to get them home – given, as just mentioned, that Israel controls the air space.
Palestinians would not be able to visit their holy sites in Jerusalem, just as they cannot now. Settlement construction would, presumably, continue unabated in East Jerusalem.
So you would think the Israeli government would be dancing for joy at the prospect of getting U.N. recognition for this plan which would reward every aggressive move it has made since 1948 and dress it all up as a great deal for the Palestinians. And maybe they are, really, but in an op-ed last week, Ehud Olmert, the former Prime Minister of Israel who belatedly came out for “peace” on his way out of office in 2008, (re)articulates the difference between what the Palestinians are offering and what is demanded:
“the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form military alliances with other nations.”Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reiterated this call for Palestinian demilitarization in his speech at the U.N.
Now I’m all for demilitarization. If Israel wants to dismantle its army, of which nearly every adult male under 50 is part (well, that’s the theory – in practice, only about 20% actually are), give back the nearly $3 billion of U.S. tax money that our government sends it for weapons every year, dismantle the nuclear weapons it won’t confirm or deny that it has, take down all the checkpoints it will have no soldiers to staff and replant the Palestinian olive trees it uprooted for all the security roads it won’t need for jeeps and armored personnel carriers, I’ll be the first to demand that the Palestinians dismantle the twelve different security forces it’s built with help and encouragement from successive U.S. administrations.
Otherwise, I don’t really see how Israeli Prime Ministers can say this with a straight face. Go back and look at UN Resolution 181 – and note that link is to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s own web page. It may have given the Jewish state 56% of the land, but it didn’t give them the right to have all the guns.