Wednesday, August 17, 2011

September’s United Nations vote on a Palestinian State How can Israel win?

I remember coming home from school one afternoon almost twenty years ago and watching the signing of the peace agreement outside of the White House by Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.  I also recall how continually through the 1990s despite the continued terrorist attacks, negotiations continued with the hope of achieving peace.  Then even in the past decade with the intifada, and the Lebanese and Gaza wars, the international community together with the Israeli public hoped, even if not believing that a peace agreement could be achieved. Where the Arab world would recognise Israel as the Jewish State, which through direct negotiations would also see a new Palestinian State coming into being. 

However, for the past couple of years Israeli’s have come to realise that the peace process with the Palestinian people is over, as Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate a peace deal with Israel, and instead has set it’s sights on a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State.  The end of the peace negotiations is only now coming to the forefront of international attention, in what could again spark a huge rise in anti-Israel hatred and anti-Semitic attacks throughout the diaspora.

This is because in September – just one month’s time – the United Nations General Assembly will debate the proposal by the Palestinian Authority for unilateral statehood and full United Nations membership for the Palestinians.  This initiative goes against all previous agreements over the past twenty years which have called for peace to be achieved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli’s in the past two years have come to the realisation that a peace treaty with the Palestinians is not conceivable in the near future.  However, under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israelis (and Palestinians) have enjoyed living in relative peace and security, while also benefiting from a period of strong economic growth.  Despite the recent protests over the cost of living in Israel, Israeli’s seem to be broadly happy with the current Government’s philosophy and are benefitting from Benjamin Netanyahu’s maintenance of the status quo, while not chasing grand gestures being called for the opposition leader and international leaders.

So the United Nations General Assembly which opens on 13 September, and will begin hearing on 20 September from world leaders, could be a dramatic moment in changing the status quo in Israel and have dramatic affects both for Israel and its supporters around the world.

As in any democracy Israeli’s have differing views about whether the United Nations supporting the creation of a Palestinian State would be good for Israel.  However, while opinion polls suggest that a majority of Israeli’s would support a Palestinian State achieved through a negotiated peace deal with Israel, there is also a majority of the opinion that a United Nations mandated Palestinian State based on the pre 6 day war 1967 lines, would be just another in a long list of biased anti-Israel vote by the United Nations in favor of the Palestinians.
There are many questions over what will happen if as appears likely the United Nations General Assembly votes to accept a Palestinian State.  Given that Israel is unlikely to recognise a Palestinian State based on the pre 6 day war 1967 lines as the Palestinians are demanding, what will the Palestinians do?  There is a strong likelihood that there could be increased protests led by the Palestinian leadership and even an attempt to stop a new intifada.  Hopefully, though with the steps that Israeli Government’s have taken since the last intifada the IDF will be able to stop these protests impacting on the general public. 

Therefore, as has occurred during the conflicts over the past decade the main threat to Israel will not come from physical attack but by international protests and condemnation from the media, public and international governments.  While this will been seen as criticism of Israel, Israeli’s are used to this and will not take it too personally.  Rather Jewish communities are likely to be much worse affected with a rise in anti-Israel hatred and anti-Semitic attacks, as occurs whenever Israel comes under attack.

As Jewish communities around the world come under attack, they will be looking for ways to defend Israel but will also be looking to the Israeli Government to help provide arguments and publicity to defend its cause.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already had a busy summer persuading Governments that they should not support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State.  The Israeli Government are keen to make clear that they support a Palestinian State that is achieved through a peace settlement with Israel and that if the Palestinian’s step back from the brink that this is possible.

However, with just a few weeks until the United Nations General Assembly, I see almost no campaigning by Israel and Jewish Communities to defend Israel’s position.  This is a vote which could have a hugely negative impact on the Jewish Community around the world, similar in comparison to the Zionism equals Racism vote of the 1970s and yet there are no pro-active campaigns to defend Israel’s position and to explain why a United Nations vote to accept a Palestinian State would be harmful.

Yes, the Israeli Government is working with international Governments to persuade them not to support the vote, and some Jewish communities are lobbying their Governments to adopt this position, but a lot more needs to be done. 

What are communities doing to persuade their domestic newspapers and news shows to report Israel’s position in a favorable light?
What facebook, YouTube and twitter campaigns are Israel and communities setting up to promote Israel’s cause?
What are groups and individuals doing to explain to their friends and colleagues about Israel’s position?

After every crises there is a clear view that pro-active campaigns to defend Israel, and waiting for the action to occur before trying to play catch-up to defend Israel against criticism is too little too late.  So ahead of this latest United Nations vote let’s find a way to help Israel come out of it in a positive way.

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