It may be a couple of weeks more before the Palestinian request for statehood is finally decided at the UN. Understandably, the membership application submitted by the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mahmud Abbas in a formal letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon past September is under consideration by the UN Security Council. As required by the rules of procedure the UN Security Council has already asked the Committee of the Whole to consider the application from the Palestinian Authority.
Expectedly, the above application would be rejected by vetoing down the resolution by the U.S. should it come before the Security Council for action, as one can assume from the announcement of the Obama administration in this regard. Some observers at the UN have also suggested in the aftermath of the Palestinian UN membership bid that the American government may even explore the possibilities of blocking the resolution from being taken action by the Security Council. The Obama administration, dead against as it looks to prevent the recommendation of the membership application of PA from the Security Council to the General Assembly, will likely be effortful to see that even nine required votes are not obtained by the Palestinians so that action on the prospective resolution can be stopped preemptively.
Although the Palestine Authority has its alternative policy option to pursue if the U.S. succeeds in killing the membership proposal at the Security Council in which case it is supposedly asking the General Assembly to upgrade its observer status, the question remains whether it will facilitate the insurmountable task of achieving peace in the Middle East. Considering the overwhelming sympathy for the Palestinians’ genuine cause for their homeland with internationally-recognized boundaries, it appears that the Palestinian Authority will garner enough votes in the UN General Assembly.
The second week of May, 2011 marks a special event in view of constructive debate on the larger issue of Middle East peace and particularly the Palestinian plan of statehood recognition from the UN General Assembly. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have been advancing arguments for and against the above proposal. President Obama had too expressed his optimism of seeing a new state of Palestine by September, 2011 when he was addressing the sixty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly in 2010.
Against this backdrop came 19 May, 2011 policy speech of president Obama on Middle East peace delivered at the State Department. The delivery of this speech was calculative in timing as the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to visit the U.S. after a week. The significance of what Obama spoke then lies in the fact that it offered the details of basic parameters for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For each American administration including Obama’s the issue of finding durable solution to this conflict has remained as a serious foreign policy challenge. The leadership of the U.S. has been crucial in seeking peace in the Middle East ever since the 1956 Suez War, which ended with American primacy established following the declining European power especially the British.
The above policy on the Middle East took cognizance of the Arab democratic transformation. America faced widespread criticism in the beginning for not supporting the Arab revolution when it started in Tunisia in January, 2011. It was alleged that the U.S. was abandoning its principled stand on universal freedom and democracy. Being aware of this the Obama administration has started supporting ongoing public uprisings in the Middle East with some notable exceptions including Bahrain.
The U.S. has for the first time categorically mentioned its inclination to make the 1967 lines as the basis for reviving negotiations on border, one of the core issues dividing the Israelis and the Palestinians. In so doing, however, president Obama has added that there should be an agreement on swapping territories by the Israelis and the Palestinians. The point of mutual swap of territories is relevant in the context of changed ground realities. The expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has still become the bone of contention for restarting the stalled negotiations to seek the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Unsurprisingly, Israel has rebutted Obama’s speech of 19 May, 2011 objecting to the 1967 lines as the starting base for negotiating borders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has even opposed the formula of two-state solution that envisions a Middle East where both Israel and a viable Palestinian state exist side by side within internationally-recognized and secure boundaries. It needs no reiteration that this formula has already received support from the UN and the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia).
Moreover, the Palestinians have been disappointed at Obama’s emphasis that they should not seek unilateral statehood recognition from the UN. They now seem determined to increase their leverage through the UN recognition, which is understandable.
A cloud of mistrust still exists among the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have not overcome their suspicions of each other. They have completely opposing notions about the emergence of a new state of Palestine. Their lack of confidence in the evenhandedness of Obama administration in dealing with the peace process in the Middle East is not helping at all.
The Palestinians legitimately feel that expansion of Israeli settlements is designed to annex their territories to preclude the creation of a Palestinian state in future. The Israelis on the other hand are alarmed at agreement between Fatah, the moderate faction and the hardliner Hamas for forming a government of unity. They are also worried due to Arab Spring which has deprived them of reliable partners like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in the neighborhood. The ousted Egyptian president Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was helpful to the Israelis as Egypt had been the first Arab nation to politically recognize Israel amidst growing opposition in the Arab world in the late 1970s.
Of late a serious rift is making the reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians insuperable. The obstacle is their interpretation of two-state solution, a formula if applied in all earnestness would have facilitated the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is evidenced by what Prime Minister Netanyahu recently said ”The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. The Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it”.
What the above remark underscores is that two-state solution is completely unacceptable to the Israeli government. It seeks two states for two people meaning the Jewish and the Arabs. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people according to the above position.
Israeli leaders have been presenting the view that no progress toward peace is possible without the Palestinians’ unequivocal acceptance of Israel as the Jewish national homeland. In this connection Shlomo Ben-Ami, the former Israeli Foreign Minister in an essay entitled “Has Palestine Won?” has expressed the apprehension that “there is a hidden long-term agenda of Palestinians to do away with the Jewish state altogether”.
His contention that peacemaking is courageously addressing the other side’s genuinely vital concerns is hardly debatable but the Palestinians’ concerns for 1.5 million Palestinian Israeli citizens and millions of refugees rendered homeless following 1948 Arab-Israeli War need to be equally redressed if two nation-states solution as insisted by Israel has to be the order of the day.