On November 29th, a remarkable 138 United Nations members voted in favor of granting Palestine the status of a “nonmember observer state,” and another 41 UN members abstained. Only nine countries voted against the resolution: Canada, the Czech Republic, Israel, Panama, the United States, and a smattering of Pacific island nations. Even many countries known for being quite friendly with Israel decided not to oppose Palestinian recognition. In Latin America, for example, Colombia and Guatemala abstained, while Costa Rica voted yes. (Less than a year ago, Tablet magazine reported that Guatemala was “considered a reliable vote against Palestinian bids for recognition.” So much for that.) In Europe, Britain and Germany abstained, while France and Italy voted yes. (A senior Israeli diplomat told McClatchy that the German abstention “was truly a shock.”)
While the UN vote was widely hailed as a “symbolic” victory for the Palestinians, it was a major setback for the Middle East peace process. After all, the 1993 Oslo Accords stipulate that the Palestinians must negotiate their statehood with Israel. Thus, every country that either endorsed recognition or abstained from voting was effectively encouraging the Palestinians to disregard their Oslo obligations and continue harboring dangerous delusions.
Moreover, the vote was a massive triumph for Hamas, which remains committed to Israel’s destruction. Even Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, a member of the rival Fatah faction, acknowledged that UN recognition had vindicated the Hamas strategy of using violence rather than peaceful diplomacy. “Hamas delivered,” he said after the vote. “Hamas has won.”
Not surprisingly, Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar was happy to crow about his organization’s growing credibility among Palestinians. “The most important fact that has emerged from this is Hamas’s ability to convince all Palestinians of our way,” he declared. “We gave Fatah a full opportunity to implement its way, and it failed.”
By emboldening a terrorist group and convincing Palestinians that Hamas-style violence produces results, the UN vote made it more likely that Israel will soon find itself fighting another war in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by Hamas since 2006 and used as a launching pad for thousands of rocket attacks against Israel. During the last month’s war, Hamas and its loyalists were also firing long-range missiles made in Iran, according to Palestinian Islamic Jihad deputy leader Ziad Nakhleh. Meanwhile, armed thugs were viciously murdering those Gazans suspected of “collaborating” with Israel. New York Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren reported that the body of one suspected collaborator was “dragged through a Gaza City neighborhood by motorcycle,” and another one was “left for crowds to gawk over in a traffic circle.”
The November 2012 Gaza war should have dispelled all illusions about the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Remember, Israel withdrew all its settlers and all its security personnel from Gaza in 2005, which means that Palestinians have had more than seven years to build a functioning polity and demonstrate their commitment to a lasting peace. But instead they have supported a brutal terrorist outfit that rejects a two-state solution and promotes genocidal fantasies of conquering Israel by force. It should now be crystal clear that the Palestinians are not yet prepared to negotiate a genuine peace agreement. Indeed, when we consider that the combined impact of the 2012 war and the UN recognition vote gave Hamas a significant popularity boost, the prospects for peace seem more distant than ever.
Unfortunately, foreign governments in Europe and elsewhere seem unwilling to concede that the biggest obstacle to Middle East peace is Palestinian rejectionism. It’s much easier simply to castigate Israel for its settlement policy. Earlier this month, for example, European governments expressed their dismay over Israel’s decision to approve new housing construction in various parts of East Jerusalem and the surrounding West Bank suburbs. But as Commentary blogger Jonathan Tobin noted, the new construction will occur “in areas that everyone knows [Israel] would keep if there was a deal in place.” In other words, “Jewish housing in the disputed areas is no more of an obstacle to peace than the far greater Arab housing boom in other parts of Jerusalem.”
If and when the Palestinians truly embrace a two-state compromise, there will be plenty of time for both sides to wrangle over their precise borders. But for now, the settlements are a distraction from the real problem, which is the refusal by Hamas and large segments of Palestinian society to accept Israel’s basic right to exist. After the UN statehood vote, that problem will be even worse.
(You can read this article in Spanish here.)