While Western nations celebrate the Palestinian UN bid, Israelis feel that the bid is fraught with dangerous consequences.
The world, with some important exceptions, is largely backing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas's United Nations (UN) bid for full or partial membership on behalf of Palestine. On the face of it, a global citizen might well ask: "and why not?" To avowed enemies of Israel, the UN vote is a positive development. Also, many non-enemies of Israel, including some friends, the UN vote is welcome. After all, those who believe in freedom, self-determination, human dignity, and peace should support those goals. The assumption that the Palestinian bid for statehood is a watershed moment for ending the bitter, wretched conflict that has been plaguing both the people of the Levant and of the world is an easy though fallacious one to make.
This perspective seems reasonable in light of the mainstream global media coverage of the conflict. If the coverage was indeed true, it would be surprising for Israelis to oppose the UN vote. However, truth is rarely clear or simple and the reality is far more complex than eight second sound clips and generic, nice-sounding slogans.
Facts, history, and reality confront this wishful thinking. The historical realities and the current facts on the ground paint a much different picture. For example, the proposed Palestinian State must be ethnically cleansed of all Jews by forced transfer (to avoid them being murdered) instead of the Palestinian state being required to give and protect equal rights for all minorities. In 2009, Mr. Abbas, the man leading the efforts, himself stated that, “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land.”Furthermore, Mr. Abbas is also known among his followers as Abu Mazen, his nom de guerre obtained from his time as a leader in the terrorist organizations Fatah and the PLO. In addition, Abu Mazen is known to have assisted in the funding of the infamous terrorist attack during the Munich Olympics, ending in the slaughter of most of the Israeli wrestling team. According to Abu Daoud's memoirs, written in 1999 before Abu Mazen had risen to PA leadership and worldwide fame, the infamous "Black September" was created to take the blame and inevitable Israeli retaliation while keeping the true leaders, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Arafat, safe from retribution. Israel vowed to hunt down all those involved, a fate Mr. Abbas seems to have easily escaped.
Today's Abu Mazen, though a sophisticated statesman, continues to hold power without elections, even though his constitutional term ended in 2009. The Palestinian opposition does not even recognize his position as President and instead claims the speaker of the council as the legitimate president, according to their constitution in the absence of a democratically-elected President. While embracing Mr. Abbas, the Western world today is actively supporting rebellions, protests, and even wars against other Arab leaders who also refuse to step down and yield to democracy, even though the other leaders do not to share Mr. Abbas's terrorist past.
Another inconvenient truth is that the very democratic government that was last chosen by the Palestinian people is a Hamas government. Hamas is a violent terrorist organization who openly calls for Israel's complete destruction and supports a Palestinian state only if it includes all the territory that is now Israel. Hamas and Mr. Abbas's Fatah (who differ only in tactics and the wisdom of openly declaring to the world such unpopular goals) have violently battled for control over the PA the last few years, with Hamas maintaining full control of Gaza, while Fatah controls the West Bank.
Recently, Hamas and Mr. Abbas formed a unity government, despite their continued independent rule of their respective territories, apparently in an attempt to provide a united front at the UN. A unity government with Hamas, which refuses to renounce terror or their stated goal of Israel's destruction (not to mention regular barrages of missiles from Gaza to Israeli population centers), is itself a breach of all prior agreements and grounds for Israel to react accordingly.
Despite the fact that the "elder statesman" has a controversial and problematic background, it is not the crux of the matter (the UN bid is felt to be directed to a large degree to galvanize his support among an internal audience). The will that he is forcefully opposing is far worse and represents the real issue: Hamas. Israelis feel many in the Western World equate "democracy" with "ally", and that they refuse to face the reality of a group of people being a direct enemy of another group of people. Today as Westerners, we seem to need Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, or any other such figures to justify our self-defense. Iraq and Afghanistan can be "liberated," but not attacked or invaded, and "regimes" can be enemies but never the people who live under them or support them. The Israelis are often surprised at how the protesters throughout the Arab Spring are always portrayed by the media as peaceful freedom protesters yearning for democracy, regardless of how many "Death to America" and "Death to the Jews" signs they hold up, how many flags they burn, and how many embassies they destroy. Not even the footage of thousands of Palestinians dancing and celebrating in the streets after 9/11 can erode the western notion that hostile intentions seldom permeates the very fabric of a specific group of people. .
If a specific group of people as an enemy is too unpalatable to the modern Westerner, one could suggest framing such a conflict in terms of ideas. Even if Germans were not the Allies' enemy during WWII, Nazism certainly was, and if the Russians were not during the Cold War, then Communism certainly was. Likewise, the West must realize there is a clash of values, ideology, and civilizations at work in the world today. Terror is a tactic, and we can be at war with it no more than at war with Tanks or Ak-47 or scissors. We are at war with people who happen to often chose terror as a tactic.
Though it takes two willing sides to have peace, it only takes one side to not have it. To the Israelis, the realities of the Middle East are unfortunately all too familiar. The problem is always intent. While Israel simply wants to exist in peace, the vast majority of the Arab World wants to destroy it. They have never accepted its existence, or their own defeats in attempts at destroying it. Their goals have deep-seated beliefs in owning all of this land, and if simply the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia was enough to send people like Bin Laden on Jihad, then it seems to follow that the presence of a Jewish state (no matter how tiny and invisible on a world map), in the middle of the Muslim World, is completely unacceptable to the majority. I do not hold against them their desire to have the land (though we should most definitely condemn their methods, namely terror). Israel too wants the land, and this is an unbridgeable gap between the two sides, a matter which would be beneficial for Israel and the Western World not to ignore.
Given these pervasive and hostile realities, Israel simply cannot survive the creation of this Palestinian State. The Israeli public feels it has been promised endlessly: peace and no further withdrawals, if they only accept "this" painful concession in order to make it the last. Israelis were promised peace if they only pulled out of Lebanon, which was immediately followed by Hezbollah's rise to power and bombardment by thousands of missiles and mortars of Israel's north and a subsequent war. The same was said of a withdrawal from Gaza (along with the forced removal of 10,000 Jews from their homes), which was immediately followed by missiles and shelling from Gaza which continues to-date.
The prevailing wisdom in Israel is that the 10 by 7 km coastal strip that is left after the creation of a Palestinian state would be strategically indefensible. In short, many feel our very survival is at stake. While Israel provides nearly 2 million Arab citizens full rights and liberties, the Palestinian Authority is promised an archaic concept of a "Jewish-free" State that implies that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must engage in the forced relocation of a part of its populace. Furthermore, the loss of the Judea, Judaism's most holy sites, Jerusalem, and the subsequent need to withdraw from the Golan Heights would be the final blow, as they are a strategic necessity for Israel's security. The entire remaining land mass would be within reach of rocket and mortar fire that would undoubtedly commence immediately. Therefore, many Israelis believe that a Palestinian State is simply incompatible with Israel's survival. If a Palestinian state threatens the very existence of Israel, where does that leave Palestinian’s "right" to a state? Without getting into the endless complexities of the conflict, a quick overview will shake some many premises widely deemed as true.
The original partition plan ratified by the UN in 1947 divided the mandate into both a Jewish (much smaller than today's Israel) and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the plan, while the Arab world rejected it. Arab nations would accept no Jewish state, no matter how small. On the day of Israel's declaration of Independence in 1948, fourteen Arab countries declared war on the new state along with the local Arab population. In the consequent War of Independence, Israel gained victory and additional territory, up to the now forgotten "purple line." Between 1949 and 1967 (the Six Day War), the Arab world largely refrained from publically calling for Israel’s destruction and instead maintained the position that Israel must return to the previous lines it had rejected to begin with.
In 1967, though Syria held the Golan Heights, Jordan held the West Bank, and Egypt held and the Gaza Strip, the three together again prepared to destroy the young state of Israel. At this point, the Jordanians of the West Bank, the Syrians of the Golan, and the Egyptians of the Gaza Strip had no idea they were in fact "Palestinian". In one of the most impressive military victories in modern history, Israel again defeated the combined Arab armies and seized more territory including the entire Sinai Peninsula (which was returned to Egypt for peace), the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, The West Bank is ancient Judea and Samaria, the Biblical Homeland of the Jews (not Tel-Aviv), which also includes Jerusalem and many holy Jewish and Christian sites.
Israel immediately offered to allow the Arab citizens back across the armistice lines to their respective countries, as it had and has no intention of ruling over any population by force, and the Arab States refused. Israel did not simply return all the land for obvious reasons, such as the deep and ancient connection to Biblical Israel and the need for a buffer against future attacks. Israelis feel that other states cannot simply invade with destructive intent, fail after much blood is shed on both sides, lose territory, and then expect Israel to accept an effective “reset” of the situation, a sort of “do over”.
In regards to the famous "Green Line," it is remarkable that the Arab World at this point no longer even asked for a return to the "Purple Line” but instead to this new "Green Line". If this territory was their only requirement for peace, then there would have been peace to begin with, as it previously was in their hands.
In recent decades, as Israel has repeatedly moved backwards, pulled out of conflicts, and given land and concessions, Israelis feel dismay that the old line that was forgotten is now suddenly remembered and demanded. Neither the withdrawal from the Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon, nor large parts of the West Bank were subsequently accepted by Israel's enemies as complete though each was ratified by the UN. This trend will not stop until Israel simply does not exist.
One must address the legitimacy and sincerity of the Palestinian bid for Statehood. As there are dozens of Arab countries and many more Muslim ones, calling for another independent one inside the borders of the only and tiny Jewish does not appear to be very "marketable". Instead, a call for an independent "Palestine" sounds much more palatable. The Arab populations of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are well aware of this, and though they have a deep rooted identity and culture as Arabs, Muslims, and members of their specific tribes and clans, some feel that they take on the foreign word "Palestinian" only for CNN interviews and UN sessions.
So where does that leave this UN Bid? In and of itself, it is actually not as historical or important as popularly assumed. Yasser Arafat’s famously declared Independence (in which he also disingenuously renounced terrorism) was ratified by the UN back in 1988. If the US is willing to veto a Security Council vote, then full membership is not a possibility and Mr. Abbas may turn to the general assembly for a Non-Voting Membership or other "softer" recognition.
The reason Israelis feel the bid is so dangerous is because it seems to come, almost as if synchronized, in concurrence with other ominous events. Israelis do not feel that this is coincidental. As the leader of the free world the US establishes a tone for the world, and there is an inescapable feeling that the Obama administration’s early gestures and policy changes were a green light for the current situation.
Waves of unrest and extremism are moving across the Middle East. The remaining dictators, with their support crumbling and their economies in dire straits, are eager for a common cause and enemy to rally their people together. Turkey, Israel's supposed long-time ally, has been leading and forging a coalition of Muslim States against Israel, threatening intervention in the Mediterranean (challenging Cyprus's rights to oil and gas exploration), as well as threatening to break the blockade on Gaza. This picture of a Nasser-like Pan Arabism seems all too familiar in Israel, and the formal UN recognition seems the perfect spark to ignite the turmoil. Additionally, some Israelis feel that Turkey, along with Iran and others, may use the UN recognition as proof that Israel's blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza is illegal, subsequently legitimizing dynamic blockade-breaking efforts. If this happens, Israel would be put in the extremely difficult position of either losing all deterrence if it does not act or initiating military action against a NATO country to protect what apparently the UN deems an illegal blockade.
Given the violent history of Arab struggle is Israel, it is felt that the bid, whether successful or not, will serve as an immense source of incitement amongst Palestinians. A mild effect would be a reincarnate of the footage of Arab youth throwing rocks at armed IDF soldiers, who are put in the difficult situation of responding to this violence. However, a much worse scenario is one in which street violence ignites waves of suicide bombers across Israel's schools, cafes, buses, and restaurants. Whether any of these violent scenarios develop, it seems that Mr. Abbas, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan are hoping that an increasingly isolated Israel is pressured into mistakes, concessions, and eventually defeat.
It has been a cornerstone of the peace process that Israel will tolerate unilateral measures by the Palestinians. Instead, many Israelis feel that they are willing to negotiate severely for peace, and once again willing to make serious concessions as long as their security and safety are addressed. Though many Israelis disagree with this position, the government has indicated it is even willing to accept a Palestinian State that does not threaten Israel's ability to defend itself or to continue to exist as a democratic Jewish state. To this end, it recognized and spoke to formerly banned terror groups (Arafat's Fatah and PLO, etc), with the implicit understanding that the peace process would continue only by negotiation. Every agreement has made it clear that unilateral steps, along with dissolution of negotiations by the PA, would result in Israel’s unilateral response and withdrawal from previously bilateral agreements. Many feel that this fundamental principle has been a cornerstone for Israel's security and a major factor in keeping the sides in talks.
In essence, Mr. Abbas, together with Hamas, in unilaterally calling for full UN membership and asserting independence in breaking with every agreement since Oslo. Israel is likely to not react forcefully. Unfortunately, it is felt that such docility in the face of perceived unilateral aggression and breaking of trust may erode Israel’s threat of deterrence against possible domestic chaos. However, the alternative of responding to this act of war through a departure from precedence is fraught with equal danger.
There are several unpredictable scenarios that can occur if the world backs this unilateral abandonment of negations by the Palestinians. In this 11th hour Israelis have felt great appreciation that many leading Western Nations have begun to see this reality and began to back away from supporting the bid. Even so, the feeling of a noose tightening is felt everywhere in Israel; despite our best efforts at yearning for peace, being a full and open democracy and an unshakable ally to the US and the West, we feel isolated and abandoned.
I would warn those who corner Israel and the IDF, as history has proven, a history many seem to be blind to. Israel does not wish another smashing victory and to break its enemies, but rather only to live in peace. Many Israelis feel that the calls for a Palestinian state are only the disguised calls for the end of Israel either in intent or in effect.