Those expecting Richard Goldstone’s recantation to be front-page news today were, of course, dreaming. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was above the fold on the front page of the New York Times today, but the stunning news about Goldstone was buried on page ten with only a tiny teaser line underneath the main Middle East story on the cover. That much bigger story was a “diplomatic memo” written by Ethan Bronner of the paper’s Jerusalem bureau. Headlined “In Israel, Time for Peace Offer May Run Out,” Bronner’s story flogged the premise that the Jewish state is heading for a catastrophic diplomatic defeat at the United Nations.
The scenario Bronner sketches out conforms to the one that Jackson Diehl wrote about in the Washington Post last week when he reported that President Obama is trying to force Israel to accept a complete pullback from all of the West Bank and all of eastern Jerusalem as the basis of future peace talks with the Palestinians. In other words, even before negotiations began, Israel would have to concede everything on territory and then, presumably, begin talking about the Palestinian “right of return,” which would doom the Jewish state inside the 1949 armistice lines.
Bronner takes this scenario further. If Israel doesn’t bend to this Palestinian demand, he warns, the General Assembly of the United Nations will vote in September to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem as a member nation.
At that point, according to Bronner, Israel will be considered an outlaw nation occupying not the disputed territory of the former British Mandate for Palestine (which was created in order to facilitate Jewish immigration to the country and the foundation of a Jewish homeland), but the territory of a UN-member state. As a consequence, not only would the West Bank settlers be pirates living on “stolen” land, but the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Jerusalem would be just as “illegal.” Clearly, such a move will not be an end in itself but a prelude to further pressure on Israel to compromise its sovereignty even inside the old borders.
The Palestinian Authority was so confident that this strategy would work that it blew off the Obama administration’s peace efforts in the last two years, not even deigning to negotiate during the West Bank settlement freeze that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu enacted last year. The PA feels sure that the majority of UN members will back its demands and is confident the other members of the Diplomatic Quartet (the European Union, Russia, and the UN) will also back its play. As Bronner observes, this will be made possible by a General Assembly vote where the United States will not be able to exercise a veto as it would in the Security Council. If successful, the ploy would put Israel in the diplomatic cross-hairs with seemingly no way out but to surrender not only territory but the entire concept that the borders of a theoretical two-state solution be based, at least in part, on Israeli security needs. And, if the Palestinians are right, both Israel and the United States are helpless to stop this anti-Zionist juggernaut.
There are three conclusions to be drawn from this news.
First, if there was any doubt at all that the Palestinians have ever negotiated in good faith during the last 18 years of peace talks with Israel, it is gone. They refused an offer of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001, and 2008, and they will keep on saying No in the hope of getting even more—and perhaps ending Israel’s independent existence—by other means.
The second is that while Obama may be something of a spectator to the latest turn of events, he remains one of its authors, although an unwitting one. By beginning his administration with unprecedented pressure on Israel to give up settlements rather than on the Palestinians to talk, he set in motion the train of events which led to this point. Obama’s decision to treat existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem as no different from the most remote West Bank settlement didn’t, as he hoped, encourage the Palestinians to negotiate, but prompted them to dig in and avoid talking altogether. Obama’s disdain for Netanyahu convinced the Palestinians that they could get the EU and Russia to back their plan to bypass direct negotiations and impose a UN dictat on Israel.
Third, contrary to Bronner’s assertion, the United States is not helpless to stop this strategy. Rather than threatening Israel to buckle under and accept draconian concessions, as Obama appears to be considering doing in the upcoming months, Washington could start putting serious pressure on the PA at last. Abbas depends on foreign aid to keep his corrupt authority in place and on Western and Israeli military aid and protection to prevent a Hamas coup d’état in the West Bank. Were Obama to make it clear that the United States will not tolerate an initiative that disregards our interests then it is more than possible that Abbas’s bluff would be called. Perhaps then this looming catastrophe, which will do nothing to pave the way to peace, can be averted.