Recognizing Israel, Recognizing Palestine: Legitimate or False Parallels?

November 1, 2011
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Steven Bayme

Parallels between the impending United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood and the November 29, 1947 United Nations Resolution on the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states are, at best, superficial. To be sure, advocates of the Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) regularly invoke the 1947 precedent, claiming that much as the U.N. vote in 1947 called Israel into being, so a current U.N. declaration would create the new state of Palestine.

Although such parallels may appear seductive, in truth the differences between the two cases are profound. First, the 1947 U.N. vote did not create a state of Israel. Only Israelis could create a state by their willingness to build state and societal institutions and defend them. Israel resulted far more from the actions of the Jewish people than from the goodwill of U.N. members.

Second, in 1947 there was no prospect of a negotiated settlement between Arabs and Jews. Both sides claimed the same territory. Arab rejection of the very idea of any Jewish state in Palestine was so deeply ingrained that turning to the U.N. in effect signaled the impossibility of reconciling two mutually exclusive claims. By contrast, UDI subverts, if it does not effectively terminate, any prospect of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel maintains that a true peace connotes the acceptance of Israel into the region. Therefore, it insists, correctly, that there exists no substitute for face-to-face negotiations in which each party acknowledges the rights of the other. UDI attempts to bypass negotiations by recourse to an international body hardly known today for its objectivity in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Moreover, the 1947 resolution provided a road map for a two-state solution without violating existing accords. UDI, however, violates the Oslo Accords, which prohibited unilateral actions concerning the future of the West Bank.

Third, in 1947, Zionist leadership made the painful but pragmatic decision to accept partition. Jews opposed to Israel’s relinquishment of historical claims essentially were marginalized. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority has recently reconciled with Hamas, a body irrevocably committed to the destruction of Israel and whose

charter, unamended over the two decades since its initial adoption, takes its place within the canon of antisemitic literature.

Finally, Palestinian spokespersons are well aware that a U.N. vote will not create a state of Palestine. Rather, they note that a U.N. declaration will set the stage for pursuing legal claims against Israel — especially before the International Court of Justice. Some predict massive nonviolent marches and demonstrations, foreshadowed both on May 15 and June 5, 2011, with the expressed aim of compelling Israel to utilize violence in response and thereby damaging Israel’s moral standing as a democracy. Put another way, the agenda in 1947 was to create two states living alongside one another. Nothing prevented the creation of a state of Palestine at that time. To the contrary, the idea was endorsed by the General Assembly but rejected by the Arab world. In 2011, however, the agenda underlying the proposal before the U.N. is continued delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state.

American Jews, long immunized by repeated U.N. condemnations of Israel, regard this activity primarily as an unpleasant sideshow. To their peril, Jews ignore the perniciousness of the ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel in intellectual circles by invoking boycotts, sanctions, and divestments of Israel and utilizing a vocabulary of “occupation,” “colonial settlements,” and “right of return.” By turning to the U.N., Palestinian leadership again demonstrates its true colors — the rejection of Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

Nonetheless, Israel remains committed to a two-state solution. To preserve herself as a democracy and as a Jewish state, Israel searches for ways to realize Palestinian statehood and reach a comprehensive peace with each of her neighbors. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only supported the creation of an independent state of Palestine, but also, in unprecedented fashion, agreed to a ten-month moratorium on settlements to stimulate negotiations and announced before the U.S. Congress that Israel would dismantle certain settlements as part of a final agreement. Regrettably, Netanyahu receives little, if any, credit for his actions. Moreover, rather than resonate to Israel’s overtures and return to the negotiating table, Palestinian leaders seek to subvert the process through a U.N. declaration. That direction holds no promise for peace. At best, it promises continued stalemate; at worst, it perpetuates the world’s longest-running conflict.

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Steven Bayme serves as director of the Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations for the American Jewish Committee.

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