How Palestine plans to overcome Israel and the US

Drew Christiansen

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Ra'fat Al-Dajani

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Negotiation sounds like a good idea, doesn't it? Negotiations brought an end to civil war in Northern Ireland, achieved peace in Angola, attained a kind of peace between the government and guerrillas in Colombia, and pacified a decadeslong Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines. But negotiations have failed to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. After nine months, the most recent round of negotiations, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, never got beyond "Go."

In the meantime, Palestinians remain, as they have been for nearly 70 years, stateless and under Israeli occupation. The world is growing impatient. In the last month, there has been a flurry of activity across Europe in favor of the Palestinian cause. The British Parliament took a nonbinding vote in favor of recognizing Palestinian statehood, and the Irish senate urged its government to do the same. Likewise, Sweden announced it plans to formally recognize the state of Palestine and seems likely to be the first European country to take official action.

"By joining Sweden and other EU states in recognizing Palestine, we will make it clear that statehood is a right of the Palestinian people," said Irish Senator Averil Power, who introduced the motion in the Irish senate, according to a report in The Times of Israel. "It is not an Israeli bargaining chip for them to play in their sham negotiations."

"Colleagues," Power told the Seanad, "20 years on from the Oslo Accords, the prospects of achieving a two-state solution seem more remote than ever. And the reason for this is that Israel has done everything it can to undermine the chances of such an outcome. While pretending to talk peace, it has continuously intensified its illegal occupation of Palestine."

The European announcements are either promissory (Sweden) or symbolic. But already, 134 governments formally recognize the state of Palestine. Two years ago, the U.N. General Assembly upgraded Palestine's status to that of a "non-member observer state." With that status, Palestine has been able to sign on as a party to various international agreements and to join international agencies.

Palestinians are not idle while their friends advocate for their state's full diplomatic recognition. President Mahmoud Abbas says his government will table a resolution before the Security Council requiring an end to Israeli occupation in 2016. To avert distracting controversy during the U.S. midterm elections, the resolution will not be presented until early in 2015. Nonetheless, the U.S. will oppose it.

If the U.S. vetoes the proposal or waters it down, the Palestinians have made known their readiness to resort to alternative measures made available by U.N. recognition of their statehood status. At the 16th annual conference of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Association on Oct. 18 in Washington, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told the audience that Palestine would seek to isolate the U.S. by joining international agencies and acceding to international covenants. "We'll tie them up," she said.

Ashrawi referred to Palestinian membership in UNESCO in 2011. That development prompted the organization to suspend the U.S. and Israel for nonpayment of dues. Anti-Palestinian U.S. laws would deny American funding to any body Palestine joins. So if Palestine were to utilize its right to participate in other international bodies, U.S. influence on a multitude of issues would vanish. Its soft power would become exceedingly weak. Suspension from UNESCO has already denied it important educational and cultural tools for countering extremism

The heaviest blow, however, would be made against Israel. In the event Palestine signs the convention on the International Criminal Court, Israel could be charged with crimes of war, most likely for noncombatant deaths in its recent invasions of Gaza. Abbas raised this specter in his General Assembly address.

"We have decided to move to the Security Council to see if we can open a new door to peace," said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinians' U.N. ambassador, in an interview with Foreign Policy. "If that option is to be blocked before us, let's say by the United States, then you know we have ... options." With defiance, he added, "We will not relent."

The diminishment of U.S. soft power by this strategy will be more than a diplomatic inconvenience. In time, it would isolate the U.S. from the world community at a time when globalization demands its participation in international fora. It would be in the United States' interest to support rather than veto the Palestinian resolution for an end to Israeli occupation.

[Jesuit Fr. Drew Christiansen is former editor of America magazine and a professor of ethics at Georgetown University. Ra'fat Aldajani is a Palestinian-American writer and commentator.]

A version of this story appeared in the Nov 7-20, 2014 print issue under the headline: How Palestine plans to overcome Israel and the US.

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