Last week the United Nations awarded the Palestinian authority a Pyrrhic victory in its quest for statehood. The Authority’s new observer status at the world body creates significant obstacles and unacceptable solutions, and it should move the United States to reconsider its investment in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
On Nov. 29th the UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state which President Mahmoud Abbas labeled its long overdue “birth certificate.” But the UN’s vote has little practical consequence other than to set back the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
That is the view of the Obama administration. Before the UN elevated the Palestinian Authority to “non-member state” status by a lopsided vote, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice warned “Today’s unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles to peace.” “No resolution can create a state where none exists.”
Ambassador Rice is right about the UN vote creating more obstacles to the peace process. At this point it is unlikely that there will ever be a Palestinian state. Frankly, there are too many obstacles to reach the much ballyhooed goal of independent Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side in peace.
A major obstacle to peace negotiations is the lack of a representative Palestinian peace partner because of the divisive Palestinian political climate. President Abbas consistently fails to offer concrete peace gestures in part because he has no authority over the half of Palestinians who live in the Gaza strip. Those Palestinians are under the heel of Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, which recently assaulted Israel with hundreds of rockets.
Another obstacle is the animosity average Palestinians share for Israelis. A cursory examination of Palestinian school materials and media reveals a visceral hatred for Jews. No wonder the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine easily recruits suicide bombers to kill innocent Israelis and launch rockets at Jewish population centers.
Tens of thousands of Jews live in the West Bank settlements which the Palestinian Authority labels illegal, another obstacle to peace. Last Friday, the day after the UN vote, Israeli officials announced their intention to build 3,000 new Jewish homes in the West Bank. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Associated Press that Israel was “insisting on destroying the two-state solution.” Besides, Abbas has “refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continues in occupied territories.”
The reintegration of Palestinians who fled Israel during the 1948 war is another obstacle. The Palestinians consistently call for the right of return of millions of refugees as part of any peace agreement. Their return would skew Israel’s population in favor of the Arabs, creating a demographic catastrophe for the Jews.
Further, Israel’s Arab Muslim population is growing at a rate almost double the annual growth of the Jewish population. Right now Israel’s population is about 75% Jewish, which excludes the millions of Palestinians living in Gaza and West Bank. Dr. Wahid Abd al-Magid, editor of al-Ahram’s Arab Strategic Report, predicts Arabs may become a majority in Israel in 2035, which explains former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s warning of “a [coming] demographic battle, drowned in blood and tears.”
There is also the matter of the pre-1967 borders. The Palestinians insist Israel return to its pre-1967 borders which for the Jews is a serious security obstacle. That would position Palestinians only a few kilometers from Israel’s economic hub, Tel Aviv. Returning to those borders would also put much of East Jerusalem under Palestinian control, which is unacceptable for most Jews.
Israel’s experience abandoning the Gaza Strip is especially instructive here. In 2005 the Israelis turned over Gaza to the Palestinians and since that time Gaza has become an Iranian outpost, a platform for thousands of rockets launched into Israel, and part of a terrorist arms network stretching across the Sinai to Sudan to Tehran.
There are only a few solutions that might work given these obstacles.
The first two solutions require one of the parties to abandon the land. Specifically, the Palestinians could relocate to Jordan and/or Egypt, vacating Israel much as the Israelis left Gaza. Keep in mind most of the people now living in western Jordan are Palestinian and Egypt previously ruled Gaza’s population.
Alternatively, the six million Jews could vacate the land for one free of such obstacles. After all, Israel became a new nation in 1948 and beforehand the Jews were scattered across the world. The UN established the Jewish nation via the 1947 Resolution 181 and could do the same again in a location elsewhere.
Of course both parties have deep roots in Israel, which makes abandonment unlikely. The Jews trace their history in the land back 3,670 years to Abraham, who, as stated in Genesis 12, was granted the land by God: “To your descendants will I give this land….” The Palestinians trace their heritage back thousands of years in the land as well. But there was never a “Palestinian Arab” nation and no entity called Palestine previously existed.
Another option is to partition Israel into a Jewish state and Palestinian state separated by international peacekeepers. The international community would guarantee security by carefully monitoring the flow of personnel and goods. The other obstacles to peace like the right of return would be tossed.
But a permanent peacekeeper force may not be sustainable and/or effective. The history of international peacekeepers in the Middle East is one of failure. Consider the UN Interim Force in Lebanon: It failed to keep Iran’s proxy terrorist group Hezbollah from rearming after the 34-day war with Israel in 2006 , a war the same peacekeepers failed to stop.
The collection of obstacles and the unacceptable solutions leaves the status quo — a costly, intractable dispute. That is why the United States ought to pursue three primary interests and let the parties spend eternity resolving their differences.
First, America shares a security interest with Israel. The Mideast is the epicenter of global hatred for America fueled by Islamists, some of whom are Palestinian. We should cooperate with Israel to limit transnational Islamist terrorism.
Iran’s role as an exporter of transnational terrorism and its nuclear program threaten Israel and American interests. Therefore, we should help Israel counter hegemonic Iran through mutual defense treaties and provide aid for programs like Israel’s anti-rocket Iron Dome.
Second, America has trade interests with Israel and across the region, especially vis-à-vis oil products, which must be nurtured. The Palestinians are an insignificant trade partner. Their influence comes from Arab oil producing countries that push an anti-Israel agenda as a proxy distraction from their domestic mismanagement. America should focus on securing our Mideast markets and ignore the distractions.
Finally, given our poor track record, we should be realistic about promoting our values. Specifically, we removed the Iraqi dictator to install a democratic government and now Baghdad is under the sway of our arch rival Iran. We advocated democracy and human rights in Egypt and our former ally became an Islamist state which persecutes Coptic Christians.
The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is intractable and the recent UN vote is more fool’s gold. With the ever increasing chance for a major Mideast war, the U.S. needs to confine its efforts to only serve our legitimate national interests which, bluntly, are oil and the survival of Israel.