WRMEA, November 2011, Pages 10-13

Four Views

U.N. Countdown: Final Thoughts Before The Palestinian Bid for Recognition

Rejection of Palestinian Statehood Denies Freedom

By Ahmad Tibi

altLamis Deek of Al-Awda NY addresses pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, across from the United Nations building in New York, at the conclusion of a Sept. 15 march from Times Square. (Photo Roger Gaess/Eva Soriano)

The international community, the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress are all likely to be looking at a train wreck later this month—as the United States and Israel stand in the way of the Palestinian statehood effort.

President Barack Obama is delaying another people's freedom. He's joined by a Congress following the lead of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and also many members of both parties that implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—back Israeli colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

After 20 years of failed negotiations caused largely by Israel's insistence on retaining parts of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as refusing to allow Palestinians the right of return, the Palestinians of the occupied territories are taking their case to the United Nations. They are refusing to allow Washington to kick the can endlessly down the road. More than 130 nations are expected to side with the Palestinians. Only a small number are expected to stand in the way.

Yet Washington is determined to place the blame for the coming confrontation on the Palestinians. This is unfair. It is unreasonable to expect Palestinians to give up this nonviolent option.

Standing in the way of Palestinian statehood is putting the U.S. squarely on the wrong side of the Arab Spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right when she called on other nations to "get on the right side of history" in Syria. But she appears out of step with regional developments to say this while allowing Israel to dispossess Palestinians.

Slightly more than two years ago, Obama still had the self-confidence to make the case for Palestinian statehood in his Cairo speech.

"It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians," Obama asserted, "have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years, they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands.…They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own."

He's spent the past two years backpedaling from those remarks—and his call for "settlements to stop." His principal negotiator, former Sen. George Mitchell, resigned, reportedly in frustration. Dennis Ross, who has overseen years of failed talks and is viewed as in Israel's corner, is reportedly now advising the president on how to proceed on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

This is viewed by Palestinians as an obstacle to peace and Palestinian statehood. It is, however, regarded as a boon to Israeli settlers intent on entrenching themselves in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and thereby scuttling prospects for a future deal.

But Washington has failed to reckon with a key consequence of the dilatory practices of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the expansionist practices of his settler allies. Their success makes it more likely the Palestinians will reject a state that is little more than a glorified series of disconnected Bantustans.

Already, a younger generation is talking less about two states and more about acknowledging the impossibility of a viable Palestinian state on land subjugated by Israel. This younger generation is beginning to talk instead about equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in one state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The idea in short: If Israel is intent on taking our land, then we will no longer stand in the way. But we will insist on one person, one vote.

When that movement emerges, Washington will most likely wonder why it didn't press Israel more vigorously to negotiate with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad regarding a fully viable Palestinian state.

Washington, in recent years, has domesticated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Politicians appear to be looking at it less in terms of whether it is good for Israelis and Palestinians and more in terms of whether it is good for re-election prospects. This is contributing to an extremely volatile situation on the ground in the Palestinian territories.

Freedom cannot be delayed forever. The question forming today is whether Palestinian resistance will manage to be nonviolent or if it will veer toward the violent aspects of the second intifada.

Many of us are pushing for nonviolent resistance—despite the lack of U.S. support for Palestinian nonviolence practitioners, many of whom have been killed, injured and imprisoned by Israeli forces in recent years.

Eighty-one members of Congress were in Israel during the August recess. Notwithstanding token encounters with Abbas and Fayyad, the visiting officials largely heard Israeli talking points, rather than being exposed to the discrimination many Palestinians face, both inside the occupied territories and Israel itself.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.'"

Palestinians, too, are tired of waiting and enduring the pain of watching generation after generation grow up under Israeli occupation and control.

Congress and Obama are out of step with the times in backing Israel's endless delays to Palestinian freedom. It's long past time to move American policy into a 21st century that provides Palestinians with the same freedom and dignity that people elsewhere enjoy.

With Israel unprepared to negotiate in good faith and in compliance with international law, it's altogether appropriate for the United Nations to step in and recognize Palestinian statehood and freedom demands. 


Ahmad Tibi is deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset. This op-ed was first published in Politico, Sept. 15, 2011.

A Letter to President Obama

By Charles O. Cecil

Dear Mr. President:

Just think for a minute—what would happen if the United States abstained when the Palestinian question comes before the U.N. Security Council in the next week or two?

The resolution would pass. The world would be stunned. The United States would enter an entirely new era in our relations with the Muslim countries of the world. The vision you outlined in Cairo for better relations with the Islamic world would take the largest step forward of your presidency. The United States would once again have regained the high moral ground we so often claim to occupy. The energies loosed by the "Arab spring" would continue to be devoted to their own domestic affairs rather than being diverted into condemning the United States. We are hypocrites when we claim to want justice for the Palestinians but we do nothing meaningful to help achieve this.

On the other hand, if the United States vetoes the Palestinian request for statehood, we will damage our position in the Islamic world—not merely the Arab World—for untold years to come. We will become the object of retribution throughout the Muslim world, and will give new energy to the lagging efforts of al-Qaeda to retaliate against us. I served my country 36 years in the Foreign Service of the United States, 10 assignments in 10 Muslim countries. I know the power of this issue. Why would we want to give new impetus to anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world?

Mr. Netanyahu's office has issued a statement saying "Peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations with Israel." You know, and I know, that Mr. Netanyahu has no intention of concluding a just and fair peace with the Palestinian Authority. His only concern is to continue the inexorable construction of more settlements, creating more "facts on the ground" until the idea of an independent Palestinian state becomes a mere memory of a bygone era. When Israel declared its independence in 1948 it did not do so after direct negotiations with Palestine. If Israel really wants to negotiate with the Palestinians, why would negotiating with an independent Palestinian government, on an equal footing, deter it from engaging in these negotiations?

The Reagan administration launched an international information campaign under the slogan "Let Poland be Poland." It's time we let Palestine be Palestine.

Abstain from this upcoming vote. Just think about it.

Sincerely yours,

Charles O. Cecil

U.S. Ambassador, retired 


Charles O. Cecil is a former U.S. ambassador to Niger. He also served in Kuwait, Zanzibar, Saudi Arabia, Mali and Oman, as the State Department’s desk officer for Saudi Arabia, and as director of the Foreign Service Institute’s Arabic Language Field School in Tunis. 

Thinking Out Loud…

By John V. Whitbeck

The normal, orthodox roadmap to U.N. membership comprises two steps: (1) a recommendation to the General Assembly by the Security Council (requiring nine affirmative votes and NO negative vote—"veto"—by one of the five permanent members) followed by (2) approval by the General Assembly (requiring a two-thirds majority of those voting—i.e., ignoring abstentions and no-shows).

Nine of the current 15 Security Council members have already extended diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine—Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Gabon, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, while France, Portugal and the United Kingdom are holding their cards close to their chests but are still generally viewed as potential affirmative votes. Only Colombia, the only South American state which has not yet recognized the State of Palestine, Germany and the United States are hopeless cases.

In these circumstances, one might assume that nine affirmative votes were assured. However, it is now widely reported in the media that the United States is moving heaven and earth to try to prevent nine affirmative votes for the admission of Palestine being cast in the Security Council—apparently in the expectation that, if a U.S. negative vote were not technically a "veto" (because there were not nine affirmative votes), the entire Arab and Muslim worlds (and many others elsewhere) would not be as outraged against the United States as they would certainly be by an American "veto."

Presumably, the perceived "low-hanging fruit" are Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gabon and Nigeria. All have significant Muslim populations—in Nigeria's case, a Muslim majority and membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Bosnia & Herzegovina's case observer status at the OIC and in Gabon's case a Muslim president. None are obvious candidates to betray their recognitions and principles under threats of punishment or the inducements of bribes, but the threats or inducements could be massive and persuasive, and the "sovereignty" of Bosnia & Herzegovina (where the ultimate decision-making authority is still an international civil servant, not a Bosnian citizen) is dubious. The United States has methods other than explosive "shock and awe" to destroy countries. Yemen has never recovered from its acute misfortune, 20 years ago, to occupy a Security Council seat when the U.S. sought U.N. approval to attack Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait and from its recklessly courageous decision to vote "no" in accordance with its own genuine opinion (and that of almost half of the member states of the Arab League) rather than in accordance with a prudent calculation of its own best interests in light of the easily anticipated wrath of the United States.

Two Conclusions:

If the United States were to succeed in intimidating France, Portugal and the United Kingdom and suborning Bosnia & Herzegovina, Gabon or Nigeria so as to prevent nine affirmative votes in the Security Council,

(1) the outrage against the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds would be just as intense as if the American negative vote had been technically a "veto," and the chances of an "elegant exit" from Iraq and/or Afghanistan would be nil (the Vietnam precedent for an undignified exit becoming highly likely); and

(2) Palestine should "throw in the towel" on the two-state solution (to adopt the phrase used by Saeb Erakat in his Sept. 7 interview in the Los Angeles Times) and thereafter pursue, by strictly nonviolent means, a democratic one-state solution in all of former Mandate Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race or religion and with equal rights for all.

President Mahmoud Abbas has also repeatedly suggested that, after submitting Palestine's application for full U.N. membership on Sept. 23, he would be open to considering other options and might not press for an immediate or early Security Council vote. (In this regard, one may hope that this month's rotating Security Council president, Lebanon, would be sympathetic to Palestinian procedural preferences, whatever those might be.)

What might be another option which would be preferable to forcing a Security Council vote—one which, if the United States were to block Palestine's membership application (either by a technical "veto" or by successful intimidations or bribes of other Security Council members), would definitively disqualify the United States from maintaining its monopoly stranglehold on any "peace process"?

I can imagine only one: If the European Union could offer and guarantee both the affirmative votes of all 27 EU member states in favor of a direct application to the General Assembly to upgrade Palestine's U.N. status from "observer entity" to "observer state" (which would require only a simple majority of those states voting—a sure thing since 126 of the 193 U.N. member states already recognize the State of Palestine) AND an American abstention in the vote on such an upgrade, without any Palestinian commitment, beyond a very limited time period during which negotiations would be pursued in accordance with clear parameters consistent with international law, not to apply subsequently for full U.N. membership and without any Palestinian commitment not to bring suits against Israelis for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (the principal immediate benefit for Palestine of U.N.-confirmed "state status"). That could be an arrangement which would justify not insisting now on a Security Council vote on U.N. membership for the State of Palestine.

If such an accommodation to avoid embarrassing the United States and highlighting the divisions within the European Union is not available, it is my personal opinion that that the Palestinian leadership should remain firm, stand tall and proud and insist upon a Security Council vote on the State of Palestine's U.N. membership application—and let the cards fall where they may. 


John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of The World According to Whitbeck (available from the AET Book Club).

Obama, the Palestinian State And Zionist Schizophrenia

By Gilad Atzmon

Those who monitor the Hebrew press and understand the Jewish State may be slightly puzzled to find out that while in the Hebrew press there is only just a little and insignificant attention to the current Palestinian leaders' drive for statehood, the Israeli English media outlets are saturated with news about the prospect of a pro-Palestinian resolution in the U.N. next week.

If you want to understand this clear discrepancy between the Jewish Hebrew press and English outlets, then here it is—we are dealing here with a clear split within the Jewish collective psyche.

I guess that some may be surprised to learn that Israel and most Israelis actually want the Palestinian initiative to go ahead and to succeed. They want a Palestinian State because this is the only solution that would save the "Jews only State" from a demographic meltdown.

Recent polls in Israel prove that the majority of Israelis are very excited about the "Two State Solution." Not only are the Israelis not threatened by the idea of a Palestinian State, they actually love it, for it would settle their reality within a framework of international law. Also, you may want to bear in mind that the Kadima party, which won the last two elections in Israel, has been and still is devoted to "disengagement," a clear separation between the "Jews" and the Palestinians by means of unilateral Israeli withdrawal. In other words, Palestinian statehood achieves the exact same goal; it removes Israelis from any responsibility to territories it once occupied and destroyed. It is obvious that some elements in Israel oppose the Palestinian U.N. initiative: I guess that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is not too happy about it. West Bank settlers may also be very angry, but for some reason even they are relatively quiet these days.

And yet, the Jewish Lobby around the world totally opposes the Palestinian U.N. initiative: it clearly holds a very simplistic image of an expansionist Jewish State from the "river to the sea." And as it seems, it is not going to give up on its dream very soon.

What we see here in practice is a clear identity crisis or even a schizophrenic counterflow of aspirations between the Israeli and the Diaspora Zionist. While the Israelis are reverting to the old Jewish Ghetto attitude—they prefer to shrink, stay together and surround themselves with vast and impenetrable concrete walls—the Diaspora Zionist Jewish narrative is confrontational, belligerent, hawkish militant and expansionist. They want it all, with the Palestinians or without them.

Once again we notice that Israel and Zionism have evolved into two separate and opposing discourses. While Israel is seeking to maintain its racially oriented identity through the politics of segregation, the Diaspora Zionist discourse is still insisting on solving the Jewish Question by the means of a conflict with no end.

But let us for a moment look at America; let's try to understand how the world's "single superpower" is handling this Judeocentric schizophrenic apparatus.

President Obama and his administration are obviously very confused. On the one hand, they are subject to some relentless pressure inflicted by the Jewish Lobby. The Lobby doesn't leave the American administration with much room to maneuver. But on the other hand, both the American administration and Israeli government do realize that, as far as Israel and its "security" are concerned, the Palestinian U.N. initiative is not such a bad idea at all. In fact, Israel cannot pray for more than that.

It is clear by now that President Obama is not going to be saved by any of the so- called "America's best friends." For AIPAC and the Lobby, Obama is an instrument. By now the Lobby is used to regarding American politicians as their subservient puppets. Israel, on the other hand, is not going to save America either. It is too suspicious of the current administration. Israel is basically tired of the current American administration. It will be happy to see Obama beaten.

Consequently, the American administration is heading toward an inevitable humiliation in the U.N. It will have to veto a decision voted for by many of America's allies. This is clearly a disaster for Obama. And yet, one man can save America from its doomed fate. This man is no other than the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Only Abbas and the PA can let America off the hook.

But the meaning of it all is also very embarrassing. It means that the Palestinian President Abbas (who is a relatively weak figure in Palestinian politics as well as in international diplomacy) is the only person who can save our world's "single superpower" from a diplomatic fiasco.

I cannot make up my mind whether this is funny or sad, but let me tell you, it is certainly volatile.

The time is certainly right for America, Britain and the West to find the strength to oppose Zionist lobbying and the power of Jerusalem. 


Gilad Atzmon was born in Israel and now lives in London. In addition to being a multi-instrumentalist jazz musician and founder of The Orient House Ensemble, he is a prolific writer, his latest book being The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics. His writings and albums are available on his Web site, <www.gilad.co.uk>.

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