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Palestinian-Israeli Clash at UN Highlights Mutual Blindness and Common Despair

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1. Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, made a fine speech at Thursday’s General Assembly meeting in New York. Prosor’s message was written well and delivered even better. He rebutted Palestinian inaccuracies, corrected some glaring distortions, highlighted the far too many historical omissions and showcased the factual inconsistencies in President Mahmoud Abbas’ presentation of the resolution to recognize Palestine as a “non-member observer state.”

For many Israeli and Jews, Prosor was like a diplomatic Daniel in the lions’ den, or, since it’s the UN we’re talking about, in the vipers’ nest. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was once in Prosor’s shoes and knows better than most how to recognize a job well done, immediately called his ambassador to tell him how proud he was, as well he should be. Prosor presented his government’s position clearly, faithfully and eloquently.

That, of course, is why it was so one-sided, so self-righteous, so accusatory and so completely devoid of any hint of introspection or scintilla of self-doubt. In Prosor’s speech, as in the statements of his superiors, as in the minds of so many Israelis, there is no occupation, no settlements, no Israeli fault, guilt or responsibility for even a minute sliver of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, no hint of any sympathy or empathy for the other side, no recognition of even a tiny iota of their suffering.

And Prosor’s speech, you must remember, was like an outpouring of selfless Mother Theresa humanitarianism compared to the hateful, whining, blindly one-sided speech delivered minutes earlier by Abbas. Except for genocide and extermination, Abbas hurled every liberation ideology cliché and Third World epithet in the book at Israel, including aggression, apartheid, displacement, dispossession, ethnic cleansing, murder, mayhem, martyrdom and Nakba, of course.

Abbas had no words of regret for decades of Palestinian rejectionism, no minute of remorse for the  many hundreds of innocent Israeli civilians massacred in Palestinian terror attacks, no second thoughts about the countless opportunities for peace squandered by Palestinian leaders who could never settle for anything less than all of their demands, no sympathy or empathy or even understanding for a country that has been threatened with extinction from its inception to this very day by some of Abbas’ own countrymen and co-religionists.

Perhaps it wasn’t a historic turnaround, as many Palestinians claimed, but it was far from being inconsequential, as Israel tried to convince itself.  It was, in fact, yet another in a long line of desperate days of despair from two obstinate, rudderless  and leaderless nations, both enslaved by their own  slogans and symbols, who have done bloody battle with each other for 64 years but still manage to sound as if they’ve learned nothing and forgotten nothing. And who are no closer to making peace with each than they were on that truly historic November 29 in 1947 when the United Nations decided on the only solution that was, is and will forever be feasible:  partition.

2. By the time the voting actually started, Israel’s expectations had sunk so low that the actual results somehow came as a pleasant surprise. Nine against? We thought there would only be seven. And we’ve even heard of five of them! Imagine that.

 41 abstentions? Why that’s almost a defeat for the Palestinians, who only succeeded in cobbling together 138 votes, a measly 72% of the world’s nations. No less than 50 countries, as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was quick to point out, “demonstrated courage and integrity”, by daring to vote against a recognition resolution that was supported by the world’s most powerful nations and opposed only by the  puny and defenseless Israel, Canada, Micronesia and who else? Oh yes, the United States.

One can’t help but compare, of course, the all-out, no holds barred effort that President Obama and his Administration invested in thwarting last year’s Palestinian bid for full recognition with this year’s laid back, half-hearted, going-through-the motions attempt to persuade the Palestinians to put off their bid in exchange for yet another vague pledge to push for peace.

One major difference, of course, is that last year’s bid for full membership required the pre-approval of the Security Council, where the Americans can wield their veto, while this year’s slightly degraded attempt for non-member state observer status is decided solely in the General Assembly, where a simple majority will do.

But while the US spent many months thwarting the Palestinians’ 2011 effort, in the summer of 2012 most of the Administration’s energy and attention were focused on the election campaign. Once that was decided, President Obama was otherwise engaged trying to prevent America from falling off the fiscal cliff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already had one foot out the State Department’s door and Ambassador Susan Rice, her possibly erstwhile replacement, was busy trying to fend off criticism for her dubious role in presenting the September 11 Benghazi incident to the American public.

But everyone, including foreign governments, could tell that the Administration’s heart just wasn’t in it this time around. Obama, after all, fought like a lion to keep the Palestinians at bay in 2011, not only because he believed that this was the right thing to do, but because the Republicans were watching his every move, especially on issues relating to Israel, and threatening him with a massive loss of Jewish support in his bid for reelection, if he didn’t behave.

In 2011, just as the Palestinians were revving up their engines for their push for recognition, Benjamin Netanyahu came to Congress, you will recall, and was accorded the kind of wildly enthusiastic reception that Obama could only dream about. The man that Time Magazine chose to describe as “King Bibi” seemed like someone who could not only sic the US Congress on its president, but could even play a pivotal role in anointing his successor: someone like his long time buddy Mitt Romney, for example.

But now, after Romney’s defeat, Republicans are reeling and in disarray. American Jews, it turned out, weren’t really swayed by the heavily-funded hysteria-filled anti-Obama campaign. And Obama is now a calmer, more confident and more resolute president, according to people who know him.

Netanyahu is still a formidable foreign leader, one with many more allies and much more influence in Washington than most, but he is no longer omnipotent, as he sometimes appeared to be in the past few years. He is no longer in a position, if he ever was, to dictate to the president or to prevent him from pursuing his policies or to spur him to go above and beyond his natural tendencies and inclinations to defend Israel for fear of criticism and political repercussions.

Because if this had been the result last year, Obama would at this very minute be castigated as an Israel-hater who has thrown Israel under the bus at the UN in order to appease his Muslim masters, or something to that effect. Now that the elections are over, that line of attack has somehow lost much of its previous allure.

3. Two heroes emerged from the General Assembly debate, one for each side. For the Palestinians it was Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who gave a much better speech than Abbas’, championed the Palestinian cause with much more fervor than the Palestinian president and actually received the loudest applause by far of any of the speakers, including Abbas, even among the Palestinians themselves.

Israel’s new darling was Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, whose impassioned rejection of the Palestinian bid was topped off by an uncharacteristic threat on the UN itself:   “As a result of this body’s utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps."

Baird was probably referring to some consideration in Ottawa of cutting off funds for the international body - though they might also weigh forcing UN diplomats to sit through some sessions of the Canadian parliament and listen to Canadian-style debates. In some quarters, that would be considered cruel and unusual punishment indeed.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

PA President Mahmoud Abbas addressing the UN General Assembly in New York, November 29, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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