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BISF Debates: Palestinian statehood sought from United Nations

By Sam Hile and Eli Spector     9/21/11 7:00pm

Palestine's bid to become the 194th member state of the United Nations puts the United States in a dicey situation. The Israeli cause is popular among both American Evangelical Christians and Jews alike, and is often championed in editorials by major media outlets like the Wall Street Journal. As the U.S. is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, its expected veto would be enough to single-handedly stymie the resolution.

President Barack Obama's general support of the Arab Spring revolutions has lent credibility to the goal of narrowing the divide between America and the Arab and Muslim worlds that he announced at Cairo University in 2009. Certainly, an outright veto would not help this cause. The U.S. is also loathe to arouse the ire of other pro-Palestine Arab countries, although fears of Saudi Arabia curtailing crude exports in response are overstated because the U.S. commanded 15 percent of Saudi exports in 2009.

On the other hand, the Obama administration is reluctant to turn its back on Israel, which has historically represented a convenient geostrategic location and, as the most powerful military in the Middle East, serves as a hefty counterweight to the growing shadow of Iran. Obama is even less keen to forfeit considerable domestic political capital by doing so. Israel is growing increasingly anxious about the Muslim Brotherhood's recent resurgence in Egypt and its other neighbors, so a snub from its big brother would be especially sore.

Obama's team is correct: Palestine is not ready to become a full state, and statehood would set back the peace process. For one, Palestine would not magically be accorded the pre- 1967 borders it currently espouses, and it is certainly in no condition to contest them militarily. The Gaza blockade has inhibited economic growth, which is why in 2005, GDP per capita in Israel was over 17 times that in Palestine. It is thus unclear how financially stable a state Palestine would be, especially considering the potential problems with attempting to move away from the stalwart Israeli Shekel.

Palestine ultimately deserves official statehood, but this premature move is already jeopardizing the eventual negotiation of a two-state solution. To maintain a middle ground, the U.S. should recruit France and the U.K. to amend the resolution so as to table it for later consideration by the European Union instead, as has reportedly been suggested. It should also begin playing hardball with Israel by pressuring it to halt settlement expansion and ease blockade restrictions. But if such an amendment fails and the original resolution comes to a vote, the U.S. should veto. Losing political clout among Arab nations is not ideal, but the U.S. will have at least made it clear that it has Palestine's best interests at heart, especially if it gets tougher with Israel at the same time. In the long run, a veto is better for both the U.S. and Palestine.

Sam Hile is a Hanszen College senior.


This past July, Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, posted to his blog the cartoon of a savage dog pissing on lady liberty. The dog was wearing a Jewish yarmulke, of course; because since when would it make sense for a UN commission on human rights not to also harbor the world's foremost anti-Semites? (Falk is one in a long line of them at the UN.)

Falk didn't resign over the incident; in fact, he saw no problem with the cartoon until pressure mounted from, what should I say, non-bigoted folk. Only then did he remove the image from his blog, at the same time claiming he confused the yarmulke for a helmet. This — ladies and gentlemen of the world — is your resident "expert" on human rights at the U.N.

It is only appropriate then that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, appears this week to present a resolution to a body as riddled with absurdity as his resolution itself: a unilateral application for Palestinian statehood.

Despite both the United States and Germany promising to execute their veto on the Security Council, it appears at the time I write this that Abbas is defiantly moving forward. His futility in this endeavor shouldn't be taken as insignificant, however. A vote on Palestinian statehood, whether in the Security Council or General Assembly, is grounds for inciting further regional hostility and violence against Israel and its allies like the U.S.

In the New York Times last week, Saudi prince Turki Al-Faisal took up the Palestinian cause and authored an editorial titled "Veto a State, Lose an Ally," warning that if the U.S. doesn't support Palestinian statehood in the U.N. that "Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy." Al- Faisal's presumption — correct in my opinion — is that the U.S. will veto the resolution; yet his cause for appeal is rife with inconsistencies, which bear on the larger debate at hand. There are two ways to dissect the issue: first on philosophical grounds in hopes of answering the question of "just" action on the part of the U.S., and second through an examination of the practical approach to policy making.

In 1993, the Palestinians and Israelis both agreed to only engage in bilateral discussions as part of the Oslo Accords. This agreement intended to prevent from happening the exact situation we find ourselves in this week, namely the kind of unilateral brokering that Abbas seeks by taking this resolution to the U.N. first. With the Oslo Accords in mind, the path of most justice would not be to allow the Palestinians to break their word. On the contrary, the just act would be to veto any resolution that stands contrary to the agreement made by the Palestinians in 1993. Ensuring that one upholds their word is, by any measure of justice, the right thing to do from a philosophical perspective.

Aside from the philosophical objection to Abbas's resolution for statehood, there are practical concerns as well — concerns that, above all else, require an Israeli presence at the brokering table in order to form a successful Palestinian state. Abbas and his supporters call for a return to the pre-1967 borders, but the ironic reality is that these ridiculous borders are untenable in large part due to the unyielding violence of select Palestinians themselves. In Al Faisal's article, he writes that, "a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders is the only realistic foundation on which to restart talks." Yet it is Abbas — not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who refuses to engage in any negotiations with Israel.

If the Palestinian Authority truly seeks peace, negotiations on fundamental issues need to emanate from bilateral negotiations, not fruitless prevaricating in front of the U.N.

Eli Spector is a McMurtry College sophomore.

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