The Palestinian Statehood Gambit
The U.S. should respond by cutting funds for the U.N.
Editorial, September 19, 2011, Wall Street Journal
Are Palestinians entitled to a state? Before certain readers erupt at the mere suggestion that Palestinians may not be so entitled, we'd note that the Kurds—one of the oldest ethnic groups in the world—don't have a state. Neither do the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Uighurs and Tibetans of China, the Basques of Spain, the Chechens of Russia or the Flemish of Belgium. The list of peoples with plausible claims to statehood is as long as the current number of U.N. member states, if not longer.
Yet when the United Nations holds its annual meeting in New York this week, the session will be dominated by the efforts of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to declare statehood. First the PA will apply to the Security Council for full membership in the U.N., which the Obama Administration has promised to veto. Then the General Assembly will hold a vote on whether to give the Palestinians "observer state" status on a par with the Vatican. This is almost certain to pass by a two-thirds, 129-nation majority.
A vote at the U.N. won't create a Palestinian state and will likely retard the creation of one, perhaps for years. It won't remove any Israeli settlements from the West Bank and might well give Jerusalem reason to accelerate the pace of construction. It could also lead Israel to take various punitive measures against the Palestinians, including freezing tax transfers worth about $100 million a month. The U.S. Congress might follow by cutting off the $600 million in annual aid to the Palestinians.
Why, then, are the Palestinians intent on winning the sort of symbolic trinket with which their cupboards are already full? The charitable explanation is that they are using the statehood bid as a gambit to get Israel to agree to various demands, including a halt in settlement construction.
But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered a hint of his real ambition when he wrote, in the New York Times in May, that "Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only as a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Criminal Court."
That means not the usual feckless resolutions at the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, but travel bans and international arrest warrants for Israeli soldiers involved in the "occupation" of a supposedly sovereign state.
In other words, what Palestinians seek out of a U.N. vote isn't an affirmation of their right to a state, but rather another tool in their perpetual campaign to harass, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel. "We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years," Mr. Abbas said the other day. That's another way of saying that the "occupation," in Mr. Abbas's view, began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and not with Israel's takeover of the West Bank and Gaza after a war that threatened Israel's existence in 1967.
Mr. Abbas may also see the U.N. gambit as a cost-free exercise, since the international community (including Israel and the U.S.) hasn't exactly been punctilious in holding Palestinians to account for violating their diplomatic or political undertakings. Sooner or later, we will read an op-ed explaining that defunding the PA will only help the radicals of Hamas, and that the only way forward is for Israel to make new concessions to entice the PA back to the very negotiating table they spurned by going to the U.N.
Here is a better course: The Obama Administration, which has wasted six months begging the Palestinians to change course, might instead announce that a declaration of Palestinian statehood in New York would lead to the closure of the Palestinian representative's office in Washington. Congress could also enact Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's bill to cut funding to the U.N. if it endorses a Palestinian state. This worked wonders the last time the Palestinians sought to have the U.N. declare their state during the George H.W. Bush Administration.
Perhaps it's also time to rethink the fundamental desirability of a Palestinian state so long as the Palestinians remain more interested in tearing down their neighbor than in building a decent political culture of their own.