Q&A with Aluf Benn on the Palestinian statehood bid
Haaretz Newspaper's editor-in-chief answers readers' questions live online.
Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn answered readers' questions about the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations, on Wednesday, September 21. Thank you to the thousands of people who took part in this live event.
Benn has been covering Israel's wars and diplomacy since the Oslo Accords of 1993, through six successive prime ministers, the peace processes with Syria and the Palestinians, the intifada, the Mideast road map, Arab Spring and the current crisis.
His work has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, and Newsweek, and he is a regular contributor to The Guardian.
Benn holds an MBA degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and a degree from Tel Aviv University.
Q: Do you think it may be dangerous for Israel if a Palestinian state is approved by the UN without a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue? What should Israel do to ensure that this issue is resolved without threatening the Jewish demographic majority in Israel? Is the PA like to abdicate to the return of the refugees to Israel with the creation of a Palestinian state?
Michel Ehrlich, Brazil
A: That's the core of future negotiations. Even if the PA abdicates, would the Palestinians in Syria or Lebanon accept it, or launch a "PLO 2" struggle? The current resolution cannot "resolve" the refugee issue beyond some ambiguous diplomatic lingo.
Q: Hello Mr. Benn,
In your opinion after living in and studying the Middle East, if Israel is forced back to the 1947 or 1949 lines do you think this would bring an everlasting peace or just another "hudna" till the Arab countries feel the time would be ripe to attack a weakened Israel again?
A: It depends on the circumstances. The deal is gaining more western support for Israel in return for leaving the territories and forgoing the settlements. The political debate here revolves around the question, which is more important.
Q: Dear Mr. Benn,
I would like to ask you how important the EU27 vote is for the upcoming vote in the UN on Palestinian statehood?
1. Anders Persson, Lund University, Sweden.
A: The EU – the largest block of liberal democracies in the world – can legitimize or delegitimize UN resolutions.
Q: How does the current Palestinian effort compare to the 1988 Algiers Declaration (of Palestinian independence)? What was Israel’s reaction then, and can we expect a similar response?
Josh D. Cohen
S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace
A: At the time, there was no Palestinian Authority, and the first intifada was raging in the West Bank and Gaza. The current bid follows two decades of a futile peace process.
Q: Can you explain to me why such a big deal is being made out of the Palestinian bid for statehood? I believe the move will be purely symbolic and at most expose a well-known diplomatic landscape? What is really at stake for the various players, and what do they stand to gain?
Julian Kölbel, Germany
A: Reality is dictated on the ground here, not at the UN – so the big question is whether this is the prelude to a third intifada.
Q: What are the dangers of returning to 1967 borders?
A: Rocket fire on Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion airport, leading to economic devastation in Israel. And higher exposure to future land invasion.
Q: Dear Sir,
How have we come to the day when Israel conditions direct negotiations on the Palestinians dropping the request for UN to recognize it as a state? Isn’t the establishment of a Palestinian state in the clear interest of Israel? Don't the people of Israel feel ridiculed?
Member of Council, Tel Aviv-Jaffa
(A similar question was asked by Meny from France)
A: The zero-sum blame-game takes precedence here.
Q: Is it possible to say that this is the most difficult diplomatic/strategic situation facing Israel since the Oslo Accords?
Q: Why don't we give up already the lands that are not under our control and that we have no ability whatsoever of visiting?
A: They were given up in Oslo (A areas.)
Q: Mr. Benn,
I assume the PA will lose in the UNSC and gain national observer status from the UNGA, increasing Israel's global isolation. What do you foresee as the likely response of the Netanyahu government?
Norman I. Gelman
A: There will be some retaliation – withholding PA tax revenues, for instance. The big question is whether Netanyahu will dare to annex parts of the West Bank (he might stop at "appointing a committee" or something similar.) The Israeli electoral calendar, and the Netanyahu-Lieberman fight over the right wing base, will determine the Israeli reaction.
Q: Sir, I am a Muslim and my sympathies are with the Palestinians - though I confess my sympathy is based on bias in favor of my co-religionists. Still, I cannot understand your [i.e. Jewish] insistence that Israel should be recognized as a 'Jewish' State when, at the same time, there is Jewish consternation that their neighboring Arab States may adopt Shariah law and become 'Islamic' ? What is the difference?
Aftab Ahmad Ali
A: You're making the wrong distinction. Israel has never intervened in the national definition of the neighboring countries, or their legal systems. It fears the rise of Islamist forces that are keen on its destruction, like Hezbollah in Lebanon. But it never criticized the Shariah law in Saudi Arabia.
Q: BBC News recently released a global opinion poll on the matter of the Palestinian bid to the UN. It showed more people supported the bid than opposed it in every country the survey was conducted in, including the United States. However, the survey seems not to have been conducted in Israel. We all know how the PM feels about it, but how does the Israeli public feel about the Palestinian move?
New York, USA
A: I have not seen any recent polling data, and I'd rather not speculate.
Q: The religious/nationalist bloc will make only tactical adjustments even in the face of forcing the U.S. into a deeply embarrassing veto. This is consistent with the bloc's short term policy of hanging tough and expanding the settlements. What is their long term policy? What is the final status that the religious/nationalist bloc sees for the Palestinians on the West Bank? If they hang tough indefinitely on settlement expansion, what do they see in the future for relations with Palestinians, the U.S., the EU, Egypt and Jordan? Does the religious/nationalist bloc have an end game in mind? If so, what is it?
A: It depends of the bloc's components, which are not identical in their views and policies. The ideological right wing wants to bring 100-200,000 more Jews to the West Bank and end once and for all the ideas of partition. According to this view, the Palestinians, wider Arab world and the West will accept this – just as they have lived with the settlements for 44 years with little beyond lip-service criticism. They also see a post-Hashemite Jordan as the future Palestinian state, with the West Bank Palestinians as its citizens who live under Israeli control (or emigrating eastwards.) To them it's not short term policy, but a very long-term one.
Q: Hi Mr. Benn,
Why is the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN considered a unilateral action, while the construction of settlements in the West Bank is not? How could the US pretend to be an honest broker when they veto a Security Council resolution requesting Israel to stop building settlements, and now plan to veto the Palestinian statehood bid? If the situation were reversed, would Israelis feel that what they were being offered was fair? Will Israel really allow Palestinians to have a country or is this just all a waste of time and lives?
Gamal H. Mustafa
A: All very good questions. But political realities are determined by the balance of forces, and not by arguments alone. The Palestinians have the upper hand at the UN, and Israel in America and on the ground in the West Bank.
Q: Dear Aluf,
Is Netanyahu aware of the vast amount of political capital with the international friends being consumed through his intransigence? How should Jewish people outside Israel who committed to a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state respond to events this week? And is it possible for Abbas to win the UN vote and at the same time reassure Israel?
Neil Nerva, Vice Chair - Jewish Labour Movement – U.K.
A: He knows, but believes and hopes that over time Western public opinion will realize the futility of its support for the unimportant Palestinian issue and turn its attention to other regional problems – first and foremost to Islamization and extremism.
Abbas might try to reassure Israelis of his opposition to violence, but his ability to control the Palestinian youth and prevent a third intifadah is in question – especially if Israel and the US Congress withhold aid and tax revenues from the PA, and practically dissolve the PA police force, which cares for public order.
Q: How strong is Iran's influence today with Hamas and/or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad? Could Iran spark renewed clashes in Gaza a la 2008/09?
A: Hamas and Jihad can spark clashes or avoid them based on their own calculations; they don't take orders from Iran.
Q: Dear Mr. Benn,
I am a Jew and an Israeli. I follow everything and anything that has to do with Israel, with excitement and anguish. Today, I am confused. Is our prime minister catering to his religious coalition or to the state?
A: He doesn't seem to notice any difference between them.
Q: Mr. Aluf,
I'm independent Palestinian citizen. I don't support any political faction, but I truly know that the majority of my people from Fatah and even Hamas support peace with Israel based on the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. The question is why do the majority of Israelis - left or right- oppose this fair solution? Do Israelis really think that we - Arab and Muslims - could cede Jerusalem? Don't you think that peace and only fair peace could ensure the safety of Israelis? Until when will Israel stay dependent on America? Will America stay the dominant power forever? Do you or your government know what will happen in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Turkey, and the rest of the Muslim countries a year from now? Why do Israelis always choose war not peace? Why?
A: You pose many good questions. Let's focus on the key one: The majority of Israelis support a two-state solution, but don't trust the Palestinians to keep the peace. The scars from the second intifada's suicide bombings and the rocket attacks following the Gaza pullout dominate mainstream political thinking in Israel.
Would the new Palestinian 'state' include the Gaza Strip? The de facto ruler in Gaza is Hamas and I cannot see how Abbas could decide or implement anything in Gaza. Should Palestine be recognized as an independent state and include Gaza, would a continued barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel not automatically mean war between the two states? Assuming Palestine is recognized as an independent state, what would be the status of the 300,000-500,000 Jews living on the West Bank - illegal settlers or citizens of Palestine? And are they likely to stay or will they seek refuge in Israel or elsewhere?
Pietro de Marchi
A: The presumed state will include Gaza, but only on paper, since Abbas' PA has no authority there. As for the settlers, in the past, whenever Israel withdrew from territory it took away its settlers. Abbas demands a similar treatment of the future Palestine; Netanyahu differs.
Q: Why does Haaretz take such a hard line on Netanyahu's request that Palestinians forego the physical right of return as a prelude to talks, but take Abbas’ insistence on a settlement freeze in Jerusalem as justified? Surely both sides should give something, or talk without pre-conditions?
A: Netanyahu's demand from Abbas was not as you stated, but rather to recognize Israel as "the state of the Jewish people," which makes the Palestinian national narrative null and void. Since no leader would agree to forgo his nation's ethos, Netanyahu's demand appears to be a deliberate block to meaningful negotiations over the core issues.
Q: Given that the statehood bid will not affect any immediate change on the ground, what is the Palestinian Authority hoping to gain? Will Palestine's accession to the UN as a nonmember observer state strengthen their position in their negotiations with Israel?
What cost to the U.S. will there be once they veto the Palestinian bid? Can these costs be reduced if European states also vote no on the bid?
Los Angeles, CA
A: The recognition will further erode the legitimacy of Israel's occupation in the West Bank and strengthen the Palestinian position vis-à-vis Israel in international bodies and courts, allowing the new state to bring its case against the settlement to the International Criminal Court.
Q: Hi Aluf,
What is really behind Israel's fear regarding the United Nations recognizing the legitimacy of the State of Palestine? There seems to be near hysteria emanating from Israeli politicians.
A: The Netanyahu government believes that Israel should control parts of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, into the future for both ideological and security reasons. A UN resolution recognizing Palestine within the pre-1967 lines is therefore inimical to Israeli policy, as it turns all Israelis beyond the Green Line into trespassers.