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Friday, April 18, 2014

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Abbas’ unilateral move only prolongs the conflict

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It’s no mere coincidence that the vote last week at the United Nations General Assembly on Palestinian non-member observer status came on Nov. 29, the 65th anniversary of the famous partition resolution of Nov. 29, 1947. But it is ironic.

After all, the partition resolution called for the creation of both “Jewish” and “Arab” states in Palestine. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs, including the Palestinian leadership, violently rejected it.

To this day, the Palestinian leadership, headed by Palestinian Authority President and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, refuses to accept what they rejected 65 years ago – the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. They speak of recognizing the State of Israel, but not of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. To accept the latter would amount to giving up their claim of a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to present-day Israel. This they refuse to do.

So instead of putting an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, as called for in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the Palestinians are, in effect, protracting it.

To understand how crucial the distinction drawn above is, you only have to read Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prossor’s 1,800-word address to the General Assembly on Nov. 27, which followed Abbas’ 3,800-word speech.

Whereas Abbas mentioned Muslim and Christian, but not Jewish, connections to the Holy Land, Prossor objected that Abbas’ refusal to acknowledge the Jewish historical connection to the land, a 4,000-year-old attachment, and in particular the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem, means that the Palestinians still refuse to accept the basic concept enshrined in the original partition plan – two states for two peoples. As Abbas made clear, he accepts self-determination only for the Palestinian people. By contrast, the overwhelming majority of Israelis recognize the legitimate political aspirations of the Palestinian people and ask only for reciprocal recognition.

The refusal of the Palestinians to accept the right of the Jewish people to any part of their ancestral homeland remains the crux of the failure to resolve the conflict.

In his Nov. 29 Globe and Mail opinion piece, “How not to create Palestine,” the brilliant Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi pointed to Israel’s repeated, but rejected, efforts (in 2000 at Camp David and in 2008 during the Annapolis talks) to establish a Palestinian state. In evident frustration, he remarked: “Arguably, no stateless people has rejected offers of statehood as often as the Palestinians. And no other national movement seeks to empower its people on the ruins of another people’s state. That is the real scandal of the Middle East conflict.”

Unfortunately, this scandal is not appreciated in the international community, save for the relatively few who pay attention to the historic and diplomatic facts.

During his UN speech, Abbas insisted that by going to the General Assembly for an upgrade in the status of “Palestine,” he was not violating previous PLO-Israel agreements. Yet all of these agreements call for negotiations between the parties as the only way to resolve the conflict.

 In recognition of this principle, the lead Globe and Mail editorial of Dec. 1 asserted: “John Baird, the minister of foreign affairs, was right to forcefully argue against the resolution at the United Nations to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of non-member observer state.”

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler (National Post, Nov. 30) and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1) provided detailed accounts about how inimical Abbas’ UN gambit is to a genuine two-state solution and about the dangers to the peace process that consequently lie ahead.

Others, however, including the National Post’s Jonathan Kay, supported Abbas’ move. Kay argued (Nov. 30) that Israel’s settlement policy is counterproductive to the prospects for successful negotiations and that Abbas needed “leverage” at the UN. While a strong defender of Israel on many of the basics mentioned above, Kay expressed impatience with Israel – a growing impatience that is eroding support in some key circles in the West that Israel could count on in the past.

More on this next week.

 Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

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