Sep 222011

[Editor's note: I've not done a political rant on here for a while, but the recent Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN has got me all riled up. You have been warned. Also, as the Middle East is not my main area of expertise, I'm sorry if I get details wrong]

So, Palestine is trying to get recognised as an official state by the UN. This is a great idea, it will give Palestine clout on the international stage and theoretically allow them to be treated as equals by Israel in their ‘ongoing’ negotiations. Except it won’t. Mainly because the US will veto the move.

Surely the first step toward a balanced and equal peace and reconciliation process, which both parties say they want, is that they become equals in the eyes of the UN (and the rest of the world). Then the two states can come to the negotiating table—perhaps not chaired by the US this time, as their record is less than exemplary—and work together to find a solution. Or at least give it more than a half-hearted attempt. Benjamin Netanyahu I’m looking at you, son.

But unfortunately this will never happen, well at least not in that order, and not if the US has anything to say about it. I see this as somewhat hypocritical of the US as they’ve been pushing for an end to negotiations for years, and Obama spent a lot of political capital trying to restart talks in 2010. To no avail of course. So why on earth are they promising to veto any move by Palestine to obtain statehood (which, by the way, isn’t enough for some Americans)?

I think there are at least two things at play here. The first is the large Jewish lobby (or at least Israelophile lobby)  in the US, and the other is America’s stake in Israel. The Jewish lobby is seen to be a large power in American politics, and presidents tend to try and avoid annoying such a large (and powerful, and rich) section of society. Unsurprisingly this means denying the Palestinian bid for statehood and I think also extends to a lack of impartiality on the subject of the Middle East negotiations, hence my call for someone else (perhaps the EU, or the UN) to chair negotiations.

Secondly US has a large stake in Israel (it’s where Israel gets most of its weapons, for example), and therefore has a vested interest in ensuring the continued prosperity and ‘safety’ of the state of Israel. A Palestinian state would mean equality between the two states, (hopefully) leading to a more balanced and responsible negotiation between the two sides. If this negotiation were overseen by a pan-national body such as the UN or the EU (with the co-operation of several Arab states), then that body would be in a position to impose tariffs or trade restrictions on Israel if it failed to stick to its side of the bargain. The same goes for Palestine, though most of the territory around the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is controlled by Israel anyway. This would expose the US and its unwillingness to be tough on Israel, hopefully sending home the message that it will not be tolerated on the international stage.

As to the final terms of the deal, well I’m not informed (nor politically deft) enough to know what that would look like, but Palestinian statehood is surely the first (and best, given the results of negotiations thus far) step on the way to peace in the Middle East.

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 Posted by at 12:03 am

  4 Responses to “The Statehood Farce”

Comments (4)
  1. Not so vitriolic as I would have expected; you managed to temper yourself!

    Saying that the issue is “complicated” would be an incredible understatement on my part, but it is hard to think of a more apt descriptor. Before taking this too far on my own, I would refer you to The Economist‘s article last week on this subject (though I am sure that you have already read it).

    In the US, there is a strong lobby (with power centered particularly in New York City and South Florida) in favor of Israel. They contribute vast amounts of money to political campaigns; especially for the Republican party. It is dodgy, and I do not suggest that it is in any way correct. In fact, it is more or less tantamount to a foreign government providing funds for US domestic politics; this is illegal, but it occurs. This lobby has something sadly strong on its side: the fear of anti-Semitism. The US government was chastened heavily for not taking reports about the Holocaust seriously. Since that time, the US has done everything that it possibly can to support Israel as some sort of penance. If a decision that is contrary to this policy of unilateral support is taken, it is rapidly decried as anti-Semitic. Again, not right, but it happens.
    From the Israeli side, it is even more entangled. I do not have any personal experience of this, but we had a couple of friends take a two week visit to Israel and Palestine in the Spring and their reports were very enlightening. To most Israelis, the existence or non-existence of Palestine is immaterial. They are, as they see it, a country surrounded by enemies. Many are pragmatic about this. As in America, though, it is the fringe elements that get most of the press. The Zionists (dangerous word, I know) and the settlers are extremely conservative. Giving ground to Palestinians is equivalent to blasphemy. The stories our friends had about the settlers were shocking. Their hatred of Palestinians was so unrelenting, you wonder how there ever could be reconciliation. Worse yet, they are raising their children to be even more extreme. On the flip side of this coin, you have the Palestinian technocrats. They are also pragmatic. The nicest hotel our friends stayed in was in Gaza; they said it was like being in any city in Europe.

    What can we take from all of this? This is a debate that has been going on for decades; it cannot be solved simply. Granting statehood to the Palestinians is the “right” thing to do; so also is ensuring Israel’s security. One cannot simply “unmake” Israel; it is there. US foreign policy is inconsistent in many ways; it must be so, unfortunately, for the sake of political expediency. Ideals are important as a bell-weather, but in international diplomacy, they must be treated as guidelines rather than imperatives.

  2. Well said – not ranty @ all – balanced!

    I am coming to realize many things in the US just don’t make sense. A prisoner was executed during the week even though there were massive holes in the prosecution’s case. And then a last-minute appeal delayed the whole thing by a couple of hours, adding to the cruelty.

    Georgia, US is officially my least favorite place on earth.

    • Interestingly, the Economist quotes the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as being against the idea of Palestinian statehood. I used to think that these were quality publications, now I’m not so sure.

      Also GeM, there were two executions in the US last week. And the public perception of each couldn’t have been different…

      • Two?! TWO?! And yet only one was covered by the NY Times, at least in iPad format.

        Agreed – all signs point to coverage in that particular publication is not as unbiased as I had previously thought.

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