Palestine at the United Nations: A Jewish Reaction

By Edward S. Goldstein

As an American Jew with lifelong involvement in Jewish cultural and religious life, I watched the unfolding of the Palestinian application for UN membership with both admiration and a sense of scandal. Concerning the future, I feel only sadness.

An objective person must admire the Palestinian decision  to make explicit to the world what close observers have known for years, that the Oslo “peace process” amounts to peace talks to nowhere except a Greater Israel.  President Abbas’ move drops Palestine into the center of international law and dialogue once again after being sidetracked for17 years by the Oslo process.  The statehood application did not preclude further negotiations, it merely promised Palestinians increased diplomatic leverage at the negotiating table in the face of overwhelming Israeli power and American bias.

Those who fear that statehood will vitiate refugee rights or disenfranchise the Palestinian diaspora need only look at Israel to see that a state can advocate on behalf of a dispersed people better than any organization.

Shame on the United States for its supercilious and hypocritical scurrying to try and block the Palestinian move.  In addition to election cycle subservience to Israel (and it’s always an election cycle in America) one wonders if President Obama’s frantic efforts against his own stated policies stems from anger at American diplomacy being exposed in all its nakedness.  Harry Truman twisted arms to obtain votes for partition while Obama twists them to forestall the Palestinian state mandated in 1947.  Truman rushed to recognize Israel while today the United States rushes to bully President Abbas and small countries on the Security Council. 

The American Jewish community stopped thinking for itself years ago when it comes to Israel. Israel has become an article of faith for my fellow Jews, not a real-world country led by fallible human beings. American Jewish leaders, organizations and synagogues filter news and interpretation of Israel reaching the typical Jew. The community understandably condemns Palestinian terrorism but knows nothing of settler terrorism. Concerning the UN, the community failed to appreciate the nonviolence of diplomacy. It condemned when it should have applauded a Palestinian embrace of nonviolence. 

One of the great tragedies of American Jewish life is that the leadership keeps the rank and file in a state of perpetual anxiety, easily converted to hysteria, teaching that Israel  at any and every moment stands on the verge of annihilation. Israel is helpless. It is like 1938, Netanyahu tells us, as if Israel’s existence in itself is not a vast, fundamental difference from 1938. A basic purpose of Zionism, to create a “new Jew,” a self-confident, self-reliant person has been jettisoned in favor of the politics of fear. How many Israelis internalize and how many American Jews even know that Israel is the world’s fourth strongest conventional military power and also a nuclear power, with an economy doing better in the world recession than America’s and, even amidst growing isolation, enough diplomatic muscle to keep the U.S.A. in diplomatic thrall and to push Greece into scuttling the latest Gaza flotilla. Of course, a pitifully weak Israel, its apologists conveniently argue, cannot be expected to take  risks for peace…not even prudent ones.

The Jewish community condemned Abbas’ UN move  for specious reasons: it was allegedly an act of unilateralism …but relentless settlement expansion in contravention of international law is not unilateralism.  Settlements, unlike Abbas’ application for UN membership, are worse than preconditions that Netanyahu says he opposes…they prejudge the outcome of talks. 

Over the summer, the Jewish community coined a new buzzword (the last was “delegitimatization”) – “True Peace,” apparently in contrast to False Peace. Abbas was pursuing False Peace while the American Jewish Committee and its sycophants were upholding True Peace. But what is false about a peace based on elemental fairness and international law? What is true about a peace sought after by coddling mosque burners? In a crescendo of inconsistency, the community proclaimed that the UN overture was foolish and irrelevant while simultaneously decrying it as disastrous for Israel. 

I am scandalized at the intellectual slovenliness (and, therefore, moral irresponsibility) of Israeli and American Jewish polemics.  Consider the assertion, bought into by so many newspapers and organizations, that the UN application was ruinous because it would lead to abrogation of Olso, violence and a diminished likelihood of peace talks. These dire outcomes were invoked like a law of nature: UN application leads to negatives. Would you ever know that all such outcomes depend entirely on how Israel chooses to respond to Abbas’ move? 

Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest blocking tactic, never a diplomatic demand until the last few years, is that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as “the Jewish State.” This too is an intellectually specious formulation. Israel is a country without an eastern border. Should Abbas immediately, as the prime minister demands, recognize the West Bank as part of the Jewish state and abandon Palestinian statehood claims to the very area in dispute? Does a Jewish state mean that non-Jewish citizens have lesser rights than Jews and are not an integral part of the society? Is a Jewish state Jewish in the Orthodox Jewish sense with non-Orthodox Jews to remain legally and ritually disenfranchised as they are currently? Netanyahu told the UN that Abbas wants a state without peace. Actually, it is Netanyahu who wants a “Jewish State” before its borders are fixed and all its Jews, let alone non-Jews, are assured of equal rights.

Netanyahu’s assertion that Abbas wants a “Judenrein” (Netanyahu’s chosen term) Palestinian state is designed to win gentile sympathy and to stoke Jewish fear. But it, too, is an absurd argument. Abbas is not opposed to Jewish good neighbors living in Palestine under Palestinian law like Americans live abroad under foreign law. He is opposed, and should be, to having settlers in his midst – residents who arrive and maintain their presence at the point of a gun, often living on stolen Palestinian land, using stolen water, exploiting Palestinian labor and traveling on segregated roads. In addition, a violent percentage of settlers regularly terrorize their Palestinian neighbors. And the settlers, though not living in Israel, insist on living under Israeli law. Visa and pilgrimage treaties, allowing movement between Israel and Palestine in both directions, should be negotiated between the two states after settlers withdraw and the states develop a track record of living side by side peacefully.

I believe in the two-state solution although it will be understandable if the Palestinian struggle transforms into a civil rights movement in a Greater Israel. The two-staters have not faced the reality that we, like the Palestinians, have nowhere to go. For Israel’s Greater Israel adherents and “Israel-right-or-wrong” Americans there is never a good time for peacemaking and compromise means doing only what you want, not what you should.  Settlement expansion, including in East Jerusalem, render negotiations meaningless while the United States is systemically incapable of serving as an honest broker.

I am saddened that American Jews, kept ignorant and anxious by irresponsible leaders, turn intellectual somersaults to justify Israel’s policies. Living in denial of Israel’s strength and obligations and of the just elements of the Palestinian cause, and misled into thinking that the Holocaust confers unassailable virtue upon Jews and Israel, American Jews will soon stand dumbfounded as more of their young and more of the world turn away from them and from Israel.

I am filled with unspeakable sadness that the understandable cause of Israel as refuge and locus of cultural renewal – which could have been reconciled with Palestinian sovereignty over most of the land – has become a dynamic of land fever and mindless muscle flexing that will bring upon my beloved people curses, not blessings, from heaven.

As for Palestinians, your greatest asset will continue to be sumud, steadfastness…the refusal to forget or to cease striving for self-determination.  Jews preserved their dream of Zion for 2000 years but seethe at the reality that you have not jettisoned your dream after six decades. Ben-Gurion said of the Palestinian refugees, “the old will die and the young will forget.” He was wrong. Some Palestinians claim Jews have no real ties to the land.  They too are wrong. Unfortunately, with friends like John Boehner and Bashar Assad the parties are unlikely to achieve mutual understanding any time soon.

– Edward S. Goldstein, a public affairs professional, has served as a lay synagogue preacher and cantor. He taught Jewish Studies before entering the business world and has lived in Israel.  In this article, he speaks solely for himself. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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