Jewish-American Friends of Israel put their cases for Palestine's UN bid

September 26, 2011
Sarah Benton

Why Liberal Zionists Should Support the Palestinian Statehood Bid — And Why Most Don’t

Jerry Haber, Magnes Zionist

With the notable exception of a few Israelis and Michael Lerner, (Tikkun, I have yet to see liberal Zionists give unqualified support to the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the United Nations.What I have seen is a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the Netanyahu government.

I hear things like, “If only Netanyahu had been serious about peace,” “If only he had not preferred Lieberman,” “If only he was willing to freeze settlements….we wouldn’t be in this mess.” Or: “We Israelis deserve all this; we had the best partner in Abu Mazen imaginable, and we screwed up. Instead of a negotiated peace, we are now witnessing Palestinian unilateralism.”

The closest position to support I have seen in a mainstream media publication is this article by Yossi Alpher in the International Herald Tribune. Alpher argues that by going to the UN, the PA is making concessions that it could never make with its own people. He views the statehood bid as a way to leverage progress towards a viable two-state solution.

Ideally, the Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state can be leveraged into a two-state agreement that serves Israel’s vital needs, as well as those of the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t work, the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties.

Americans for Peace Now have posted this on their website. To its credit, it does not oppose the statehood bid, as does the center left organization, J Street (which is better named “O[bama] Street”.) But I don’t see an explicit endorsement either.

This strikes me as odd. After all, liberal Zionists have endorsed the principle of “two states for two peoples”. Were they to regret Zionist unilateralism in 1948 the way they regret Palestinian unilateralism in 2011, I would understand. In other words, had they said, “History has shown that unilateralism doesn’t work; that the unilateral declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 was a tragic mistake for which generations have paid and continued to pay,” their insistence on a settlement acceptable to both sides would be reasonable.

But the ones I have seen don’t do this. Instead of cheerleading for the Palestinian two-state solution on at the UN, and writing editorials and op-eds that endorse the statehood bid (while questioning its efficacy in achieving true statehood), most see it as a counter-productive gesture that does not advance the peace process. The liberal Zionist New York Times opposes it. So does the liberal Zionist establishment in the US.

I think the reason is that all Zionists fear Palestinian empowerment. The Zionist left is willing to grant Palestinians enough unilateralism to move forward the Left’s two-state solution through the UN, and nothing more. Alpher says that if the UN bid doesn’t move the two-state solution forward:

….the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties

In other words, if Mahmoud Abbas can’t move the two-state solution along through the UN, it should be “delivered” to (“imposed on”?) the two parties. And then what? Will their be sanctions on Israel and Palestine if they refuse the delivered solution? Will the Palestinian diaspora have a voice in the solution? Will those who support Hamas, whose military wing is comparable to the Irgun and the Stern gang? And what of the Israeli public and the settlers?

I have my misgivings about Mr. Abbas’s move simply because I do not think that he has the authority to negotiate in the name of the Palestinian people. He is not the elected representative of the Palestinians, either in the diaspora or in Palestine. He is propped up by Western and Arab money. He is, I fear, willing to forego the legitimate rights of the Palestinians for the sake of a negotiated settlement; and if he had Yossi Alpher for a negotiating partner, a peace agreement between them (without real peace) could be attained.

The liberal Zionist’s first and foremost concern is not justice but peace and quiet for Israel. As I heard a young activist say, “Israelis want to be free of the Palestinians; they don’t want the Palestinians to be free”. I agree with Alpher that we have to move beyond Oslo. But the post-Oslo paradigm for peace should be to abandon seeking a two state solution, and to work instead towards an equitable division of power between Jews and Arabs in Palestine and outside it.

Let there be compromise, but let it not be a rotten one.

An Israeli Case for a Palestinian State
By Yossi Alpher, NY Times

Israelis and Palestinians need a new peace paradigm. The true significance of the Palestinian bid for United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state is that final-status talks based on the Oslo accords have run their course and failed. By placing future Israeli-Palestinian contacts on a state-to-state basis, U.N. recognition could help lay the foundation for that paradigm.

The conventional wisdom is that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s intransigent behavior has driven the Palestinians to take the international track. But that hardly offers a complete explanation for this revolution in the Palestinian approach.

More significantly, P.L.O. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ experience in direct negotiations with Ehud Olmert, then Israel’s prime minister, in 2008 — following on the first final-status failure in 2000 at Camp David between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat — was an eye-opener for the Palestinian leader.

He confronted the most far-reaching Israeli peace proposal yet offered concerning refugees and holy places, yet he rejected it because it was still far from his and his constituents’ core demands on these issues.

That made it clear that the Oslo formula of linking all final-status issues in an agreement would continue to founder on these two issues. The disputes that arise from 1967 — territory, statehood, security — have proven relatively amenable to agreement. But the differences grounded in both sides’ deeper historical narratives are the real reason for 18 years of failed efforts.

As Israelis understand it, the Palestinian demand that Israel recognize the right of Palestinian refugees to return requires a tacit acknowledgement that the state of Israel was “born in sin” in 1948. And the Palestinian assertion that “there never was a temple on the Temple Mount,” and that therefore Israel has no inherent rights there, is perceived as a denial of Israel’s national and historical roots.

No Israeli leader will acquiesce in these Palestinian positions, and no bridging formula has proven workable. These negotiating gaps are, as Abbas himself acknowledged in 2009, “too wide.”

Thus Abbas has turned to the United Nations not only because the Palestinian state-building enterprise in the West Bank has proved successful, but also because it is clear that Oslo-based final-status negotiations, even if they reconvene, cannot succeed in ending all claims. In this sense, it is Abbas’ intransigence on a full final status package, no less than Netanyahu’s, that has brought us to the United Nations.

Yet here the two part company: Abbas appears genuinely to want progress toward a viable two-state solution, while Netanyahu’s ideology and the composition of his coalition signal intransigence.

Abbas is leading the Palestinians to the United Nations in the full knowledge that there he will be making the substantive concessions that his principles and his constituents do not allow him to make in bilateral talks.

At the United Nations — in contrast to bilateral negotiations — Abbas is prepared to accept international determination of the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem as the defining parameters of a Palestinian state, with the refugees and holy places left to further negotiations.

Even if Israel and Palestine subsequently fail to agree on these “deal-breakers,” with their central role in each side’s national narrative, we still emerge from the United Nations with a two-state reality and a far more manageable conflict.

For all its pitfalls and problems, Abbas is offering Israel a very attractive trade-off at the United Nations in return for the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. When he squares off against an Israeli leader as president of the territorially defined state of Palestine, rather than as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization with its roots in the refugee issue, the paradigm will have changed.

This reality explains the futility of all the American and European attempts to get the two parties back to the Oslo-based negotiating table. The Oslo final-status paradigm has exhausted its usefulness. Better to adopt the state-to-state paradigm while Oslo autonomy still offers a modicum of stability on the ground.

Ideally, the Palestinian request for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state can be leveraged into a two-state agreement that serves Israel’s vital needs, as well as those of the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t work, the primary international challenge of the months following the U.N. drama will be to forge a new post-Oslo state-to-state paradigm, then deliver it to the two parties.

Yossi Alpher is co-editor of . He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Should Israel support Palestinian statehood in U.N. vote? — Yes

By Rachel Biale,
Yes: Two-state promise of 1947 should be fulfilled

My parents were the last to squeeze into Reuven’s room on Nov. 29, 1947. Anyone else who wanted to hear the broadcast on his radio, one of only two on the kibbutz, would have to do so through the open door. Everyone had to stand so as to squeeze themselves into the smallest possible space. Like most people, my mother and father had brought a small notebook and pencil, prepared with a column for “yes” and another for “no,” to tally the vote on U.N. Resolution 181: the vote to end the British Mandate in Palestine and create two states in its place.

My mother still remembers the slightly bloody taste in her mouth as she bit her lower lip in order to hold back her tears. Then she furtively looked at other people’s faces and saw theirs. She let go just when, a bit after 11 p.m., the final tally was announced: 33 in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions. Now everyone cried, and cheered: The United Nations had just voted to recognize Israel as a new state. And Palestine.

But following the 1948 war, our “War of Independence” and the Palestinians’ “Nakba” (marking it or teaching about it in publicly sponsored events and schools is now outlawed in Israel!), Israel and, even more so, its Arab neighbors, aborted the creation of Palestine and abandoned the Palestinian people. It has been nearly 64 years. How much longer can we deny that Palestinians, too, regardless of how belligerent, intransigent and diplomatically self-destructive they have been, deserve a state of their own?

Instead of fighting the upcoming vote in the United Nations, Israel should announce its support for finally implementing the second half of “The Partition Plan” — Palestine. Ethical and historical arguments should suffice. But there is an additional vital strategic one as well. By declaring in advance its affirmative vote, Israel will pre-emptively empty the rhetorical arsenals of its opponents and enemies (and there are plenty!).

Israel should declare that, indeed, it favors the creation of a Palestinian state and is ready to meet face to face, nation to nation, with a democratically elected, socially responsible, ethically guided and politically realistic Palestinian government to negotiate all the points of disagreement.

Israelis, with broad support from Jews in the United States and around the world, already accepted a Palestinian state in 1947. It was affirmed in the Oslo agreement and even by Benjamin Netanyahu. In a speech at Bar Ilan on June 14, 2009 (admittedly by far his most conciliatory statement), he stated Israel would accept a demilitarized Palestinian state (other preconditions having been met). Ariel Sharon accepted it, de facto, by stating that the occupation (his exact words: “ha-kibush”) cannot be sustained indefinitely.

An Israeli vote for a Palestinian state might bring Israel and the Palestinians back to productive negotiations. It might not. If it does not, we will be back exactly where we are now. But we will be there without the damage that focusing on defeating the U.N. resolution will bring, making Israel, yet again, appear intransigent and combative, and straining its relationship with the United States nearly to the breaking point.

Less than six months after the U.N. vote, on May 14 — the day Resolution 181 set as the end of the British Mandate — David Ben-Gurion and his newly formed government announced the creation of the State of Israel. My parents were packed into Reuven’s room again, listening to Ben-Gurion read aloud Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I am still moved when I read it today. But I can’t help but think of it in the following, minimally altered way (only underlined words have been changed):

“Eretz Yisrael was the birthplace of the Palestinian people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped … After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Palestinians strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland … aspiring towards independent nationhood.”

The vote in the United Nations is not without problems, but its arrival cannot be fended off. Instead of fighting it, Israel should seize it as an opportunity to position itself squarely on the side of intellectual honesty, fairness and diplomatic advantage. We might even suggest to the Palestinians that they request rescheduling the vote for Nov. 29, 2011.

Rachel Biale lives in Berkeley. She worked as a professional in the Bay Area Jewish community for more than 20 years.

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