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Statements of a Possible Non-member State

by on September 6, 2011

Those whose way of life is under attack generally fight back or go underground to preserve their beliefs.  Surrender or compromise is not the first thought.  In fact, those who perceive that their way of life, their fundamental world-view, is under attack often exaggerate and exacerbate their own circumstances, creating strife and conflict where before there was none.

It would be inaccurate to say that there was at some recent point in the Middle East, and in particular Israel, where there was no strife or conflict.  However, there are times when there is an absence of outright violence; a lull in the fighting, so to speak.  This is not one of those times, and the violence was perpetuated by those who think their world-view is under attack.  On Monday “Ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers on Monday set fire to a mosque near Nablus area in the northern West Bank, Palestinian Authority officials said.”  Netanyahu condemned the attacks; and if actions follow words there is hope. Also on Monday, “a lecturer at Bethlehem university was injured Monday evening after being attacked by settlers on the Ramallah-Nablus road. Dr Adwan Adwan, 41, told Ma’an that he was on route to Zawata village in Nablus when settlers attacked his car with stones.” He endured some injuries.

The study of conflict resolution is prefaced on the notion that two parties in conflict desire a mutually acceptable resolution to end their dispute, however intractable it may be.  Alon Ben-Meir, Senior Fellow for NYU’s Center for Global Affairs, writes that “to achieve a resolution, parties in conflict must believe that continuing their dispute provides diminishing returns.  Recent developments indicate that neither Israel nor the Palestinians have come to this conclusion.”  We are , in a sense, all states, engaging  in transactions and profit and debt, in disputes and compromises, , seeking resolution.  Ben-Meir continues, correctly, that “Israelis and Palestinians alike are defying essential principles of conflict resolution,” which is to seek a resolution that benefits both sides, “serving to prolong, rather than conclude their festering conflict.”

Naturally, in every conflict there is internal debate as to advantages, and whether that advantage is in the short term or the long term.  At the moment, “the status quo has become a political asset for each side, even at the risk of serving as a strategic liability for the future of both peoples.”  A short-term, perhaps medium-term advantage that, although “both parties appear headed off a cliff in the not-too-distant future,” is not a worry at present.  Therefore, kick the can down the road.

Ben-Meir writes “successful conflict resolution requires a non-zero sum approach based on mutual compromises and mutual gains.”  Forget for a moment a successful conflict resolution, although he is quite right.  The process of a conflict resolution also needs to include trust of the other side (which, incidentally, is how compromise occurs).  This isn’t just a process of understanding whose interests the ‘other side’ represents, and what they want, what their demands are – which is all part of the process – but also trust that the other side appreciates your needs and wants, and that they are also expending effort.  Are they working on a task?  Do they contribute anything?  If we are all states, we can all recognize that in order to resolve conflict with another person we need to recognize that they expend effort.  “There is no such give and take between Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides believe that any compromise constitutes a ‘loss’ and the other side’s ‘gain.’ This situation is aggravated by the complete lack of trust today between the two sides. Without trust, political or real security risks are perceived to be virtually impossible to take.”

Politics is all one big game, a very serious game, and the players dance sometimes lightly and sometimes with heavy footsteps around one another, and the number and consistency of the players frequently changes.  Words are spoken in platitudes and threatened future courses of action are mere plays with words, which each player interprets differently.  When the Palestinian Authority suggested that, after years of intransigence – by one side, by both sides, or by everyone or not by anyone, depending who you ask – it would approach the United Nations and ask for a vote on statehood those who supported Israel but not Palestine shored up their defenses, both real and diplomatic, and were less inclined to listen; those who supported Palestine but not Israel were, perhaps, hopeful; those, and they are likely the vast majority, who support Israel and who also support Palestine (in such a way that it is autonomous of Israel) were aggrieved that Israel did not pursue the perhaps understandably irrational, but very much more sensible in the long term, course of resuming negotiations with Palestine, which the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly requested and suggested would be an alternative to a vote at the United Nations. In a classic example of difference of perception, the Palestinian journalist in America sees that “the Palestinian leadership continues to insist, in word and deed, its commitment to the security obligations that it has previously agreed to. Under this obligation, there are no violent alternatives to ineffective peace talks,” while the Israeli scholar in America sees that “Palestinians remain committed to the impossible return of refugees to Israel and Hamas’ repeated existential threats against Israel. The teaching of this narrative in schools, and the espousing of the right of return by politicians to the Palestinian public is politically expedient” for the Palestinians.

Ben-Meir is wrong, based on repeated news sources, that “instead of interpreting this backing as support for calculated risks toward peace, the Palestinians have understood the international support as providing further incentives to refuse a return to talks, and hold out for greater gains in the future.”  At least, he is wrong in that if words by Mahmoud Abbas are not mere words.  “Speaking on Palestine TV on June 24, Mahmoud Abbas said that if an acceptable basis for negotiations is offered, Palestinians would prefer that over going to the UN. No such offer has since been made to Palestinians.” Ben-Meir is also wrong writing that “American Jews stand by Israel in its foolhardy approaches,” if what he means by “American Jews” is the majority of American Jews.  Doubtless opinion is disparate in the American Jewish community as to how to support Israel, and whether to support Palestine, but when last I checked a significant majority of American Jews supported the right of Palestinians not to be oppressed.  And what does Ben-Meir, who is so right about conflict resolution, mean when he says “the Arab world is blindly supporting the Palestinians?”  Does he mean Jordan, who has a large refugee Palestinian population, but which also has historic ties with Israel?  Or does he mean Saudi Arabia, which helped craft the Arab Peace Initiative in an effort to normalize relations with Israel?  Perhaps he does not mean quite what he said – after all, politics is a game of words – for Ben-Meir considers the Arab Peace Initiative one solution.

An article in Al Jazeera, by Daoud Kuttab, considers the United Nations to be the solution.  “If negotiations are not producing any results, and if the Palestinian leadership is looking for a nonviolent alternative to failed peace negotiations, what else is there to do but to ask the world’s highest international body to intervene?”  The UN solution, may, in fact, be Barack Obama’s idea.  On September 23, 2010 he to the UN that “he hoped that ‘when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”  That, of course, is showing leadership, although Ben-Meir argues that leadership from all sides is lacking.  Since Obama’s speech, though, “the peace talks have failed once again because of Israel’s refusal to extend the moratorium on building illegal Jewish-only settlements in the areas designated for the Palestinian state” – an interesting note given the two attacks perpetrated by settlers listed above, which are frequent occurrences.

There are, however, issues within this conflict even the United Nations cannot resolve with itself. “UNESCO had been criticized recently after it emerged that the organizations’ website listed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, despite the international, and UN, consensus that the Eastern part of the city is under military occupation,” but UNESCO had said that “‘in line with overall UN policy, East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, and the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in permanent status negotiations.'”  When Palestine appeals to the UN – which  will happen unless there is an unknown offer pending in the next week – it has the support of more than 140 countries, but not the crucial support of the United States.  Palestine has urged the US to abstain from voting if it cannot vote in favor of a Palestinian state. Usually, “the Security Council recommends membership and then refers the request to the General Assembly. If the council vetoes membership or delays deliberation, the Palestinians could appeal directly to the General Assembly, where they are assured the simple majority they need. They could also skip the Security Council altogether and go straight to the Assembly. But an Assembly resolution would likely yield ‘nonmember state’ status – at best a symbolic victory because it doesn’t empower them to challenge the occupation.” Therefore, Palestine needs the support, or at least non-opposition, of the United States in the Security Council, should that be the chosen path. the start of a process that will eventually lead to the implementation of the internationally recognized two-state solution. Nations that support Palestinian statehood are not signaling de-legitimisation of Israel. They are simply insisting on the recognition of Israel in its internationally accepted 1967 borders and not its de facto borders that violate the sovereignty of another people’s land, air and seas.”

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