Memory is short and forgetfulness is often deliberate, but 23 years ago the UN General Assembly decided to move its session from New York to Switzerland so that Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat could deliver a speech. The reason: U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz refused to issue Yasser Arafat an entry visa to the United States.
Today too, with the opening of the session of the General Assembly, Washington is standing like a fortified wall blocking the entry of Palestine to the UN building. Although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no problem getting a visa, when he comes to ask for a state for the Palestinians he is put on a roller coaster. The list of threats and future punishments to be imposed on him and his country, if it is established, guarantees that this will be a state that is battered from birth.
Here is colonialism in all its glory. After all, the United States agrees that there should be a Palestinian state, it even twisted the arm of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a little bit, cautiously so it wouldn't hurt, so that he would blurt out the necessary formula "two states for two peoples." U.S. President Barack Obama even spoke about the optimal borders of the Palestinian state and Abbas was not yet required to recognize Israel.
After all, Arafat already recognized it. Palestine fulfilled all the threshold conditions. And still, this state has only one chance of being born the American way. Through negotiations that will lead to a consensual agreement and a handshake. And if Israel's hand is missing, never mind, the Palestinians will wait until it grows.
But Abbas has learned a thing or two from Israel. The main lesson he has learned is that his real negotiations are not with Israel but with Washington. The second lesson: The negotiations must not take place on a playing field that is convenient for Obama, but rather at the United Nations. There Obama is not facing a beggarly Palestinian Authority that can be frightened with a shout, but 193 countries, each of which must be negotiated with.
New York is not Ramallah. Abbas saw how Israel chose its own playing field in the U.S. Congress, and carefully responded in kind. Instead of going out on a limb, he planted the tree by himself, nurtured it, diligently recruited most of the countries in the world, was helped substantially by Israel's mistakes, took good advantage of Jerusalem's isolation, examined the pros and cons and decided that even in loss there would be great gain.
If the United States casts a veto in the UN Security Council, it will cause more damage to Washington than to Abbas; if he makes do with recognition in the General Assembly, it will be in exchange for an American commitment to support a Palestinian state if negotiations fail, as they will.
Abbas caused Washington to be embroiled in a dispute with its European colleagues, and presented Israel as a cripple. He is forcing the United Nations to do what it usually fails to do: to find a peaceful solution to conflicts. As a bonus he caused Netanyahu to say that he is going to deliver a "speech of truth" at the United Nations, thereby admitting in effect that until now he has been lying.
The panic in Washington is genuine. It was evident when David Hale, Obama's special envoy, was unable to control his temper and simply shouted at Abbas when he understood that he had no intention of retreating from his initiative.
Anger and helplessness could also be detected in the voice of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when she announced that the United States would cast a veto in the Security Council. Suddenly she realized that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only "the business of the parties involved" but threatens Washington's regional and international status.
If the United States fails to recognize the Palestinian state, it will have difficulty sidelining its rivals in the new Middle East, where the public has more power than the rulers; if it recognizes the Palestinian state, it will have to ensure its sustainability, in other words, to direct the sanctions against Israel. Truly a bad situation for a great power that aspires to draw the map of the new Middle East.
Had it only made an effort to achieve genuine negotiations when that was still possible, had it invested its efforts into reaching an agreement that it is now investing in preventing the declaration of independence, had it shared the threats equally between the PA and Israel, it may not have found itself in this difficult situation.
It should at least recognize the state now. It should recall what has happened since it refused to grant Arafat his visa.
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