In the past few weeks, a diplomatic crisis of the first magnitude has reached its climax. After months of threats, ultimatums, and heated rhetoric from all sides, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) is poised to ask the United Nations to unilaterally recognize Palestine as a member of the community of nations. Mahmoud Abbas and the P.A. have decided to go for broke by asking not only for a symbolic General Assembly vote but also for the United Nations Security Council to confer formal international recognition of statehood on Palestine.
The Palestinians’ anger is understandable. The government of Israel has dragged its feet on peace negotiations ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first took office. Netanyahu’s right-wing heavy coalition has refused to budge on the issue of illegal settlements or borders. Pushed by his comically undiplomatic Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu has even insisted that the P.A. recognize Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people.” Apparently, the fact that the P.A. recognizes Israel as a state at all isn’t enough for Lieberman or Netanyahu; they insist on imposing these new demands on the Palestinians as a way to stave off the hard choices real peace will certainly and rightfully demand.
However, the U.N. is not being asked to critique the missteps or policies of one particular Israeli government, rather it is being asked to unilaterally confer recognition on a Palestinian state. The questions that need to be asked are these: does the fundamental character of this nation-to-be warrant this extraordinary action by the United Nations? Will this bring the peace process closer to a conclusion? That answer is brought swiftly and sharply into relief by two statements by high-ranking Palestinian figures. The first is by Hamas strongman Ismail Haniyeh. He has announced that he does not support the initiative by the P.A. to obtain recognition from the U.N. because such a move recognizes Israel’s right to exist and Hamas does not support conceding “one inch” of historical Palestine to Israel. Such announcements are to be expected by Hamas but that does not make them any less deplorable. Hamas, despite its budding unity government with the P.A., still refuses to acknowledge the right of Israel and its 7.6 million inhabitants to exist in peace and security. Furthermore, it still holds that firing Katyusha rockets into Israeli nursery schools is an appropriate way to make that opinion known. The silence on the part of the United Nations to such pronouncements is unsettling.
You might object to my quoting from a Hamas leader. Hamas is a terrorist organization, you might say; no reasonable person supports them or their methods. The P.A. is the organization leading Palestine, argued by many to be moderate and resonable. But are they? You might be surprised to learn what the Palestinian “ambassador” to the United States said when asked about the fate of Jews whose homes will fall within the borders of a future Palestinian state. The question was posed, that, if Jews were willing to become loyal citizens of Palestine, would they be allowed to continue to live in their homes? The official replied that it is in the interests of both people to “be separated” and that any future Palestinian state will not include a Jewish minority.
There is scarcely any sentiment that is more repugnant to those values of mutual tolerance that the U.N. and the international community hold dear. The P.A. would expel tens of thousands of Jews from Palestine for no other reason than that they are Jews. This is a despicable act of anti-Semitism and in no way compatible with the policies of a modern nation. Israel has 1.4 million Muslim citizens. If Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the United States, were to advocate for their expulsion he would be rightly condemned as holding values antithetical to liberal democracy.
Israel regularly shows its ironclad commitment to values of tolerance and equality. The Israeli Supreme Court recently ordered a Galilee town to accept the application of an Arab-Israeli couple to build a house there after a six-year struggle. Numerous organizations in Israel supported their effort, affirming that equality is not only the law of the land in Israel, but also the norm. It is clear the Palestinian Authority, for all of its pretense, still holds values that are more in keeping with the 15th century than the 21st. The United Nations should not reward the P.A. for these types of stances, nor should it isolate Israel, the nation that continues to defend the values of the U.N., by inserting itself into these negotiations.
Taking the extraordinary action of unilaterally recognizing Palestine will confirm the double standard that the U.N. has, where every action by Israel is scrutinized for fault but the troubling policies and pronouncements by the P.A. are glossed over. It will also not move the peace process one inch closer to a conclusion. The U.N. should instead throw its weight behind getting both Israel and the P.A. back to the negotiating room. That, in the end, is how peace will be achieved.