Earlier this month, MEI Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Matthew Weiss participated in a debate at Tembusu College of the National University of Singapore entitled, “Should the UN Recognise Palestine as a State?” Dr. Weiss argued in favor of UN recognition, while Her Excellency Amira Arnon, Ambassador of Israel to Singapore, put forth the opposing view. Below, please find Dr. Weiss’s remarks, published by the Straits Times on 24 October 2011. Photos of the event are available here.
PALESTINIAN BID AT THE UNITED NATIONS
Why bid by Palestine is long overdue
By Matthew Isaac Weiss
On September 23, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority presented an application to the United Nations (UN) requesting that Palestine, encompassing the territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, be admitted as a full member state. The Palestinian move at the UN is not only long overdue but an appropriate and inevitable response to decades of Israel’s unrelenting denial of Palestinians’ inalienable national rights.
Security considerations are among the main arguments Israel has marshalled to defeat the Palestinian bid at the UN. According to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel cannot afford to retreat to the 1967 borders, as the Palestinians insist. Rather, it must retain strategically significant areas of the West Bank such as the Jordan River Valley to ensure ‘strategic depth’ and ‘defensible borders’.
Israeli policymakers, though, frequently invoke security as a blanket justification for a range of policies. These are driven by ulterior motives that have little if anything to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs.
Take, for instance, the route of Israel’s Separation Wall. Originally designed as a barrier against the infiltration of Palestinian suicide bombers into Israel, this legitimate purpose would have been amply achieved had Israel constructed the barrier entirely within its own territory. Instead, the mammoth wall juts deeply into the West Bank, confiscating huge swathes of privately owned Palestinian land and effectively annexing the territory to Israel. In retrospect, the route of the wall can only be interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to grab valuable real estate that Palestinians desire for an independent state under the guise of security.
Israeli officials argue that Palestinians’ grievances can be effectively redressed through direct negotiations between the parties. They contend that on more than one occasion Israel has made sweeping peace proposals that would have satisfied the Palestinians’ essential requirements for an equitable two-state solution to the conflict, but every time Israeli negotiators ran into a brick wall of uncompromising Palestinian opposition.
However, this official Israeli narrative is flawed on many counts. The Palestinians rejected these supposedly generous and flexible offers not because they were unwavering in their hostility towards Israel, but rather due to the fact that the proposals fell well short of Palestinian and international standards for a just peace, as enshrined in UN Resolutions 242 and 338. For instance, the two-state proposal unveiled by former prime minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David negotiations in 2000 proposed to fragment a future Palestinian state into three isolated strands of territory, a far cry from the viable state Palestinians rightfully demand.
The vision of peace outlined by Israel’s current Prime Minister is even more untenable. The Palestinian state Mr Netanyahu has in mind would possess all the trappings of independence – a flag, national anthem and maybe even a currency – while lacking the core attributes of a sovereign state, such as effective control over its natural resources, airspace and borders. Moreover, Mr Netanyahu refuses to cede control of East Jerusalem, the cultural and commercial epicentre of Palestinian life, and allow it to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The reason the peace process has failed is not because the Palestinians have irrationally rebuffed every reasonable proposal, but rather because the Israeli government has simply used negotiations as a smokescreen to divert the international community’s attention from its ongoing drive to expand Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem at the Palestinians’ expense. The confiscation of vast tracts of privately owned Palestinian land to make room for Israeli settler-colonies has destroyed the very prospect of an equitable division of territory that must be at the core of any just and durable peace agreement.
Beyond the diplomatic arena, Palestinians have resorted to every conceivable strategy for pressing their rights, ranging from violent means of struggle such as suicide bombings and guerilla warfare, to exclusively peaceful strategies such as weekly non-violent demonstrations against the Separation Wall and various acts of civil disobedience. Israel’s response to each and every one of these strategies has been virtually identical: brute force, expropriation of more Palestinian land and resources, and the stonewalling of just Palestinian demands for genuine self-determination.
Contrary to what Israel and the United States claim, the Palestinian decision to go to the UN is not premature, but is rather long overdue. The Palestinians cannot afford to continue to place their fate in the hands of a US- sponsored peace process in which the ‘rules of the game’ are consistently rigged against them. They have every right to sidestep this charade and act swiftly and decisively, and through overwhelmingly peaceful means, to prevent Israel from devouring all of the territory upon which they seek to establish a viable state. As Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the famous American civil rights leader, stated: ‘Justice too long delayed is justice denied.’
The writer is a post-doctoral research fellow, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.
Copyright © 2011 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.