You may not know much about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but you’ve probably heard that the two sides have been fighting over a small strip of land. Essentially, this quarrel boils down to religious disagreements about the land, but it is plenty motivated by today’s political and military realities as well. This conflict has been going on for generations; Jews and Arabs have been fighting over land in modern-day Israel since the late 1800s. In recent decades, efforts have been made to achieve a lasting peace, most notably through direct negotiations and land swaps. As tensions mount, a solution to this ongoing conflict does not seem to be in sight. However, it’s not hard to tell that any solution to this conflict will be a solution that involves both sides.
Last week, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas requested full membership in the United Nations. Abbas and the PA announced their intent to request UN membership last June, and have since branded this initiative as the way to achieve statehood. President Obama, a known proponent of a two state solution, opposes this plan. In his address to the UN General Assembly, Obama said that peace “will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.” Later in his address, Obama added that “genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”
Obama hit the nail right on the head with his address. Although hugely unpopular in the Arab world, the President’s words brought a much-needed dose of realism to Abbas’ suddenly frantic push for a Palestinian state. True peace is unobtainable if one party refuses to sit down with the other and talk things out. By bringing his people’s case to the UN, Abbas tried to skirt the conflict with Israel. Unilateral action is not at all ideal when it comes to resolving a conflict between two parties. The PA has an issue with Israel — it wants some of the land Israel presently controls in order to establish a Palestinian state. Most of the world, including the US and Israel, support this goal, but how is the PA to accomplish this goal by turning to every country in the world except Israel? The first country the PA should approach is Israel.
In his address to the UN’s General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “There’s an old Arab saying that you cannot applaud with one hand. Well, the same is true of peace.” Netanyahu then turned to Abbas and said, “I cannot make peace without you. President Abbas, I extend my hand — the hand of Israel — in peace … If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations?”
Despite Netanyahu’s offer and the Quartet’s proposed timeline for peace through negotiations, Abbas pushed through with his dramatic, yet doomed application to the UN, refusing to consider the prospect of renewed negotiations with Israel. He boarded his plane back to the West Bank without a word to the Israelis. Upon his festive return to Ramallah, Abbas triumphantly declared that the Palestinian journey for statehood has begun. But what is the significance of Abbas’ big move? It is purely a symbolical event that builds false hopes for the Palestinian people. The PA is simply teasing itself. Even if Abbas’ gambit leads to full Palestinian UN membership — which it won’t at this stage —the Palestinians will not have recognized borders and other trappings of a state.
In order for Abbas’ request to be approved, he needs a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly and the approval of the Security Council. The US has veto power in this council and has vowed to use it if the application comes to a vote. So even if it does come to a vote in the Security Council, it will be a mere formality. President Obama got it right when he said that “genuine peace can only be realized between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.” It’s time for President Abbas to take this advice from a friend and get back to the negotiating table.