Sep 23 2011

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The Existential Threat to Israel

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A Goal or a Fiction?

Today, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, will take the podium at the UN and make the case for Palestinian statehood.

Listening to the Palestinian point of view in the lead up to today, it’s hard to know what all the fuss is regarding the bid.

According to the Palestinians, the application for statehood is only a supplement to jump-start the long standing, two-party negotiations with Israel, by providing the Palestinians with hoped-for leverage as an “equal party” in the talks.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that going to the United Nations for statehood was a way to  “…preserve the two-state solution.” He complemented the comments of President Abbas who stated,“We…want to…live with [Israel] in peace and security.”

But is that true?  And if not, what is the real reason behind the bid for statehood.

First, a more careful review of the Palestinian argument that the peace process has not borne results.

The landmark Oslo Accords of 1993 recognized and legitimized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) – until then a terrorist organization – as the authority of the Palestinian people, and laid out a public road map for an eventual two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis and peace.

Oslo II  in 1995 provided for Palestinian self-rule in Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah, as well as some other 450 villages. In addition, the Oslo framework specified the most difficult issues that would need to be resolved before a final agreement could be signed; final borders, security protocols, the status of Jerusalem, the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

So how have things worked out since Oslo II?

After 1995, additional peace efforts attempted to built on the Oslo Accords.

Significantly, the issue of compromise and peace with the establishment of a Palestinian state became a bipartisan goal in Israel. Both Labor and Likud-led governments evolved to support the peace process, including Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli hawks.

Procedurally, the Wye River Accords of 1998 set the stage for “final status” negotiations hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in 2000.

In those negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to the most comprehensive peace deal that could have conceivably passed Israel’s parliament.

The Israeli offer ceded 94% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza to the Palestinians. In addition, it provided for  Palestinian administrative offices and a capital in East Jerusalem.

To address the issue of “right to return,” the Israelis agreed that Palestinian refugees from 1948 (now nearly four million) would be offered compensation for property lost in 1948 –  under UN authority and supervision.

The Israelis also offered a layered plan for mutual control and authority over holy sites.

Arafat refused.

After Camp David, with the lack of any substantial Palestinian movement on negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to move unilaterally and evacuated Gaza in 2005, abandoning 21 Israeli settlements, forcing Israeli settlers out of their homes, and turning the territory over to Palestinian Authority.

Additional progress toward a two-state solution after this period stalled as Palestinian political unity collapsed in the face of a political challenge from the Hamas terrorist organization, which  ultimately resulted in a mini Palestinian civil war, which ended with Hamas in control of the Gaza, and Abbas’ Fatah in control in the West Bank.

So, looking back, what have the Palestinians accomplished in 20 years?

International recognition of its leadership and a political commitment by the Israelis and most specifically the United States, as well as the international community, to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Interim self-rule for wide swaths of territory in the West Bank and Gaza. Ultimately, full control of Gaza through unilateral Israeli withdrawal.

And perhaps most importantly, significant and painful concessions by the Israelis on all the outstanding issues in the final status talks that, given Palestinian flexibility, would have already led to the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

But despite this progress it was simply not possible to get the Palestinians to “yes.”

Indeed, looking back, it has been problematic to get the Palestinians to fulfill the commitments that they had already made.

Consider the most basic issue that was supposed to have been resolved by the Oslo Accords – mutual recognition.

While the PLO’s Arafat submitted a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in 1993 recognizing Israel, Arafat and the Palestinian leadership that followed him have never fulfilled their written promise to amend the Palestinian National Covenant – essentially the Palestinian constitution – to delete provisions that are at odds with the Israel’s existence and the peace process.

The charter remains unchanged to this day.

It matters.

Would it have been possible for the United States to abolish slavery, originally enshrined in the enumeration clause of the US Constitution, without the 13th amendment?

Thus, 20 years after Palestinians publicly committed to a two-state solution, the founding document of the Palestinian government states in Article 15:  “The liberation of Palestine is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.”

How can this is not consistent with the spirit of Oslo and the negotiations that followed, or a  two-state solution today?

So, back to the UN and the Palestinian bid for statehood.

The UN bid has been presented and premised on a conventional wisdom that both the Palestinians and Israelis are committed to a two-state solution.

But based on what we know, what if that premise is wrong?

That instead of accepting a two-state solution,  that the Palestinians have never accepted the idea of a permanent Jewish state (a concept embodied in the PLO Charter).

That in effect, the negotiations that started in Oslo were never really intended to reach a peace deal that recognized Israel, but rather served as a form of “Palestinian detente” – a policy  best understood in the context of the former Soviet Union as ideological breathing space until the historical correlation of forces are favorable for the inevitable collapse of the foe.

This posit is not necessarily as outrageous as it first appears.

Consider the “government” that is seeking statehood on behalf of the Palestinians.

Abbas’ Fatah faction is in coalition with Hamas – the terror organ founded upon the goal of destroying Israel, which it has consistently refused to acknowledge let alone negotiate with.

Can anyone say with a straight face that this is a government that will take final status talk seriously?

It is preposterous on its face.

Indeed, a bi-product of any sanction for the Palestinian bid is a de-facto sanction for a terrorist entity by the UN – and an alarming precedent. Russia and Turkey, enthusiastic backers of Palestinian statehood should look over their shoulders.

Can the Chechens or Kurds be far behind?

But I digress.

So if the motives for unilateral Palestinian statehood are not those benignly posited by President Abbas, then what is the goal? While it remains hard to imagine, it is hard not to conclude that an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel is at hand;   a next step in ending the Jewish state entirely.

These efforts are already underway outside the UN.

The recent actions by the Gaza Flotilla and the mass surge of Palestinian refugees running the Israeli border this past May, can be seen as first steps in attempting to nullify Israel’s sovereignty through a new paradigm of international moral relativism.

And in focusing on the UN, the Palestinians are investing time and energy in a body that is most receptive to a virulent anti-Israeli message.

It was, after all, the UN that passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism (since repealed).

And though Israel is a Member of the United Nations, its rights within the body have been circumscribed.  Israel is the only nation prohibited from serving on a regional group  at the UN – a necessary precursor to serving on the Security Council.

An enhanced Palestinian presence in the UN will provide a more direct nexus to the offices of a wide array of international organizations that can press the Palestinian case multilaterally.

This is  akin to the recent actions of the UN Human Rights Commission, which prematurely released an inflammatory report regarding the Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla in 2010, causing Turkey to recall its Ambassador in protest.

But the greatest potential danger lies at the crossroads of an abstract UN policy and enhanced Palestinian membership at the UN.

In September 2009, the UN adopted a resolution regarding he Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine.

R2P is a doctrine based on the idea that sovereignty is not a privilege, but a responsibility. R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of, “Mass Atrocity Crimes”.

The responsibility to protect can be thought of as having three parts:

A State has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing (mass atrocities).

If the State is unable to protect its population on its own, the international community has a responsibility to assist the state by building its capacity.

If a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.

It would not be nearly as troubling if the R2P doctrine was nothing more one of the thousands of fluff pieces that come from Turtle Bay annually. But it must be taken seriously as it has already had its trial run in action.

R2P was used by the UN to justify NATO’s intervention in Libya.

Now, with enhanced Palestinian membership in a body already hostile to Israel, how much of a leap is it before the doctrine is used by the UN against Israel in support of the Palestinians?

Still think it’s fantasy?

After the Libyan intervention, Richard Falk, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights called for the application of R2P again Israel for “ethnic cleansing” and “crimes against humanity” with regard to the Palestinians.

This is not an idle issue.

Right now, talk of Palestinian actions after a statehood vote or the sanction of enhanced status is just that – talk. But a clear-eyed view of long-standing Palestinian intentions is crucial to the development of Israeli and US foreign policy.

Demographics are working against the Israelis with an exploding Palestinian population. Thus stalemate in the “peace process,” works to longer-term Palestinian advantage.

How do you cut a deal with a party that is not interested in compromise?

That is the singular question, embodying the existential threat to the nation of Israel.




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