The Peace-Process: After the UN Vote on Palestine

In the Middle East, nothing ever stands still, and this is particularly true regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of according Palestine non-member state status in the UN. The vote saw 138 in favor to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau and the United States), with 41 abstentions which showed the broad international support for the Palestinian right of self-determination and for their own independent state, alongside the State of Israel. It also showed  the international opposition to the continued occupation and human rights violations, and the isolation of Israel in the international arena.

The United Nations

The date of the vote was very symbolic because 65 years earlier, on November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181, known as “the Partition Plan”. This initiative was built in favor of the establishment of “a Jewish and an Arab state” in the area west of the Jordan River, which had been under a British mandate from 1918 till 1947, and a special International Regime, the Corpus Separatum for Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, used the 1947 resolution as the legal basis for the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. The 2012 resolution was essentially a supplement to the 1947 resolution, filling in the name ofthe Arab state, Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, defining its capital as East Jerusalem and its borders as the 1967 ceasefire lines.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said: "The goal remains realizing the just and lasting peace for which generations of Palestinians and Israelis have been longing — a peace that will end the occupation that started in 1967, end the conflict and ensure that an independent, viable and sovereign State of Palestine lives side by side with a secure State of Israel.” He added: "I call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to show vision and determination. I also urge the international community to help them forge a credible political path that will meet the legitimate aspirations of both sides".

The Palestinian application for UN membership came after 20 years of fruitless negotiations between the PLO and Israel. The Palestinians argue that Israel was stretching the negotiations on purpose to gain time for more settlement activities, creating facts on the ground to undermine any future withdrawal and abort the chances of creating a Palestinian State.

The November 2012 War

The failure of the negotiating process has weakened the moderate leadership of Fatah and strengthened the radical groups led by Hamas. They accused Mahmoud Abbas of being used as a cover for the Israeli settlements policy and giving up on Palestinian national rights, and that resistance rather than negotiations brings results.

The eight day war between Israel and Hamas in November 2012 caused the death of over 170 people in Gaza, one third of them infants and children, and major destruction of homes and infrastructure; the Israelis had their lives disrupted while also six people were killed from rocket fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed an Israeli victory because of the killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and the destruction of much of the rocket arsenal in Gaza. Hamas also claimed victory by standing firm in the military confrontation and even firing rockets which reached both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This added a lot to Hamas’ popularity among the Palestinians.

The international community wanted to strengthen the hand of the moderate PLO and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, by supporting his application in the UN and allowing him to come up with a political victory no less important than the perceived military victory of Hamas. President Abbas received a hero’s welcome when he returned from New York to Ramallah. Unexpectedly, Hamas expressed support for Abbas’ application to the UN and allowed the rival Fatah movement to organize a support rally in Gaza.

There were prominent voices in Israel calling for the Israeli government to vote “Yes” to Palestine, and a solidarity demonstration with the Palestinian application to the UN was organized by the Israeli peace movement in Tel Aviv, opposite Independence Hall where Ben-Gurion issued Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948.

However, the right-wing Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, did not listen to those voices, and instead promoted a losing campaign to prevent the passing of the resolution. The result was a growing isolation of Israel in the international arena, which increased when the Israeli government decided to “punish” the Palestinians for the UN application by declaring their intention to build 3,000 new homes in the critical E-l area between Jerusalem and the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin, which would cut off the West Bank hinterland from East Jerusalem. This led many European countries to take the unprecedented step of recalling their ambassadors to Israel for consultations, followed by the threat of sanctions if Israel actually builds in the E-1 area.

“Save the Two-State Solution”

In his appeal to the UN, Abbas said that the international community now faced “the last chance” to save the two-state solution, adding that “the window of opportunity is narrowing and time is quickly running out”. He said that support for the application would “breathe new life” into the stagnant peace process, and would send a promising message to millions of Palestinians “that justice is possible and that there is a reason to be hopeful.”

The UN resolution recognizing the 1967 lines as the borders of Palestine, and Israel, represents a term of reference for future negotiations.

A major goal on the Palestinian agenda today is to achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, to present a united Palestinian position towards a possible renewal of negotiations and towards the international community. This will not be easy, but the results of the Gaza fighting, together with the achievement in the UN, have created renewed impetus for reconciliation efforts.

Hamas’ perceived victory in Gaza and Abbas’ political victory in the UN put both sides on the same level of popularity and potentially paves the way for reconciliation, a first step towards joint action to achieve the state.

It is clear to both of us that a future Palestinian state has to be based upon the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel, with possible mutually agreed upon land swaps and an agreed upon solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. This is the only formula that can work, and it has the support of the entire international community.

If the settlements continue, and a serious negotiating process is not resumed, the window of opportunity for a viable two-state solution will soon close. 

However, the alternative on the horizon is not a viable one-state solution, but either ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at the cost of many civilian, or an Israeli domination of the area in what would essentially be an apartheid-like regime, since the Palestinians would not be given equal voting rights.

According to all of the surveys, the majority of Israeli and Palestinian peoples continue to support a two state solution, though there is no agreement or understanding about the nature and borders of the Palestinian state. The same majorities in both communities are pessimistic about the possibility of achieving this goal, and have a lack of confidence in the ability of the leaderships on both sides to move the process forward.

This is where the international community comes in. We believe that the international community must help to facilitate a resolution of the conflict. This is particularly true since a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a key to regional stability, and would also pave the way for the creation of a new Middle East regime for peace and cooperation which includes a nuclear and mass destruction weapons free zone.

The parties are not able to do it on their own. President Obama’s statement that “the US can’t want peace more than the parties themselves” is not the type of attitude that we need today. If the two parties are not capable of advancing on their own, towards what is in the best interests of both peoples, the international community must act to help to move things forward.

The Europeans say that the Americans must take the lead, and we agree that Obama should come forward with a serious initiative to resolve the conflict. But there is also room for other international initiatives in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and for those working to achieve that essential and vital goal.

Hillel Schenker and Ziad AbuZayyad are the Israeli and Palestinian co-editors of the Palestine-Israel Journal.

*[This article was originally published by Lanacion, and translated from Spanish to English.]

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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