End the Stale Rhetoric and the Israeli-Palestinian Stalemate

Both Israel and Palestine’s UN speeches were rooted in antagonistic, ethnocentric rhetoric. It’s time for the EU and U.S. to use their leverage on both sides to declare the two-state solution a no-fault divorce, rather than the endless recriminations we witnessed.

Steve Klein
Steven Klein
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Steve Klein
Steven Klein

A delegate at the United Nations who opposed to the resolution on Palestine argued, “Was it not better to let both parties sort out their disputes by themselves?”

If you think Israeli's UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, said this on Thursday night, think again. It was said by Dr. Fahdil Jamali of Iraq on November 28, 1947.

Indeed, nothing new is under the sun. When the 1947 UN General Assembly resolution on Palestine favored the Jews, the Arabs opposed. When the 2012 UN General Assembly resolution on Palestine favored the Palestinians, the Jews opposed.

But that was not the only problem on Thursday night, when the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 11317. The speeches by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel'sli ambassador Ron Prosor were the ethnocentric highlights of a night of missed opportunities.

Both speeches were rooted in rhetoric that should belong to another era.

Abbas sent a mixed message, burying his "We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peace-making" statement beneath a heap of anti-Israeli vitriol. This Israel-bashing included references to its “apartheid policies” and “racist annexation wall.” He also accused Israel of engaging in "ethnic cleansing" and being “above the law and accountability.”

He further absolved the Palestinian people from all responsibility for the current situation, framing them as the “victim” and “a defenseless people, armed only with their dreams, courage, hope and slogans in the face of bullets, tanks, tear gas and bulldozers,” as if though Palestinian terrorists hadn’t murdered some 2,100 Israelis since 1967 and hadn’t launched 1,500 rockets and mortars toward Israel less than a week ago.

When he mentioned the terms "responsible" or "responsibility," it was either the United Nation’s responsibility toward the Palestinians, Israel’s responsibility for the “crimes of the settlers” and its “colonial settlement occupation,” or the way the Palestinians handled the Oslo Accords “aimed at the achievement of a lasting peace agreement” – again ignoring the role of terror in unraveling Oslo. In contrast, in the 1977 Sadat speech to the Knesset, the Egyptian president used the words “responsible” or “responsibility” 14 times - every time in reference to himself alone or as part of a larger group, and never in accusation of Israel.

The Israeli response was more dignified but hardly without its own holes. In the same speech, Prosor set the precondition that the Palestinians must recognize a Jewish state and then called for “the Palestinians to enter into direct negotiations without preconditions.” It’s very nice to say you want peace, but when you set conditions you know are unacceptable to your potential negotiating partner, there is something disingenuous in your stance.

Prosor oversimplified the situation in 1947, when Israel accepted the Partition Plan and the Arab states rejected it. Any national minority would accept being offered land, just as any national majority would reject any such plan – see any other ethnonational conflict in the 20th century for reference. Indeed, the Arabs went to war, but not before proposing a federal solution, and warning that a plan placing hundreds of thousands of Arabs in a Jewish state would lead to war. They also pleaded for an extension of the Mandate in 1948 to avoid war, but the Jewish Agency rejected the idea – knowing that the alternative was war.

Prosor parsed words, noting that he did not hear Abbas use the phrase “two states for two peoples.” He did not acknowledge that Abbas called for building “cooperative relations” between “two states – Palestine and Israel”, nor Abbas’ warning that Israel’s settlement policy was destroying “the chances of achieving a two-state solution” – an observation shared by many in Israel and abroad.

Then Prosor complained that the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO “never recognized that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people” and has “never been willing to accept what this very body recognized 65 years ago. Israel is the Jewish state.” First of all, until Ehud Olmert, no Israeli leader ever asked this of the PLO - only to recognize Israel’s right to exist, which it did in 1988. Second, while the 1947 resolution did call for the establishment of a Jewish State, UN recognition of Israel was officially made on May 11, 1949 in General Assembly Resolution 273. The resolution admits Israel as a member after recognizing it as “a peace-loving State which accepts the obligations contained in the Charter and is able and willing to carry out those obligations.” Sorry, Mr. Prosor – no mention of a Jewish state.

So where was the missed opportunity?

Abbas clearly missed the opportunity to speak to Israelis in a disarming way a la Sadat, which might have opened their hearts, if not their government’s mind. However, the responsibility did not end with Abbas, for he only made a speech.

The Israelis failed, too. Israel claims it is ready to talk to Abbas at any time. What stopped Israel from asking Abbas to use the “two states for two peoples” phrase? What stopped Israel from talking to Europe about pressuring Abbas to change his speech? Israel missed here a diplomatic opportunity to leverage the international community to produce a Sadat-like speech. Instead, Israel suffices with heaping all responsibility on Abbas and the United Nations for obstructionism and then announces the construction of 3,000 more homes over beyond the Green Line.

Ultimately, though, the international community, and the European Union in particular, missed an opportunity to use its leverage on Abbas to make a more conciliatory gesture. One should expect the Palestinians and Israelis to stick to their ethnonational positions.

The European Union should have, like the United Kingdom, set conditions, on Abbas to delete the anti-Israel rhetoric in exchange for its support. Abbas craves international legitimacy, and withholding recognition until he gave the right speech – just as the United States did with the PLO in 1988 as a condition for direct talks, was a valuable card. The European Union EU could have then taken any concessions and pressured the Israelis to alter their rhetoric. The European Union EU yielded recognition too cheaply, and everyone will pay the price for this error.

Until there is a mutual acceptance of responsibility and willingness to declare the two-state solution a no-fault divorce, no progress will be made toward serious negotiations. Thursday’s vote was yet another mutually missed opportunity, but, as history shows, more windows will open. It is not too late for the United States and Europe to leverage their power to change the rhetoric.

Dr. Steven Klein is an editor at Haaretz English Edition. He received his Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University in the conflict management and negotiation program.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, Nov. 29, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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