There is something surreal about the coverage of developments this week at the
UN. The general tenor is akin to the showdown at the OK Corral. Either
the Palestinians win recognition of statehood, or they don’t. If they do, they
win. If they don’t, Israel wins.
The problem with this message is that
even if the Palestinians don’t receive UN membership they still win. There is no
scenario in which Israel wins at the UN. The reason is simple. The UN is
profoundly hostile to Israel. It has a large, permanent, automatic majority of
members that always supports harming Israel.
In the present
circumstances, the best case scenario for Israel is that the Palestinians bring
their membership resolution before the Security Council and the US immediately
vetoes it. If that happens, at least we’ll have closure in this particular
But even such a “victory” will have little lasting effect. There
is nothing preventing the Palestinians from reinstating their membership request
whenever they want. And given the sympathy their current membership bid has won
them, the Palestinians have every reason to repeat the process again and again
By Thursday, it appeared that the most likely outcome of their
present statehood bid will not be a quick US veto in the Security Council, but
rather something much worse for Israel. On Wednesday morning, talk had already
begun of a long, drawn out period of deliberation at the Security Council which
could last weeks or months or even longer.
The idea is that during that
time, the US and the Europeans will place massive pressure on Israel to make
more concessions to the Palestinians in order to restart stillborn negotiations.
And the specter of a Security Council endorsement of Palestinian statehood will
loom over Israel’s head the entire time like the Sword of
Rather than wash its hands of this loser’s game and move its
policies to a diplomatic battlefield where it has a chance of actually winning,
the Netanyahu government is playing out its losing hand as if what Israel does
makes a difference. Even worse, the government is refusing to consider
crafting a strategy for victory that it can advance outside the hostile confines
of the UN.
This is not simply a failure of imagination. It is a failure
of cognition. It is a failure to notice the significance of what is already
Israel’s friends in the US Congress have put forward two
measures that pave the way for just such a strategy for victory. By failing to
recognize the opportunity they represent for Israel, the government is showing a
distressing lack of competence.
The government's behavior is probably due
to force of habit. Since the initiation of the phony peace process with the PLO
18 years ago, at their best, Israel’s governments have justified the Jewish
state’s control over territories it won control over in the 1967 Six Day War on
the basis of our security needs. Without the Jordan Valley, Israel is vulnerable
to foreign invasion from the east. Without Gush Etzion to Jerusalem’s south and
Gush Adumim to its north, the capital is vulnerable to attack. Without overall
Israeli security control over Judea and Samaria, Israel’s population centers are
vulnerable to terrorist attacks. And so on and so forth.
All of these
statements are accurate. But they are also defensive. While Israel has been
defending its right to security, the Palestinians have been on the offensive,
arguing that all the land that Israel took control over from Jordan in 1967
belongs to them by ancestral right. And so for the past 18 years, the conflict
has been framed as a dispute between the Palestinians’ rights and Israel’s
Like its willingness to place itself at the UN’s
mercy, Israel’s willingness to accept this characterization of the Palestinian
conflict with Israel has doomed its cause to repeated and ever-escalating
failure. For if the land belongs to the Palestinians, then whether or not their
control of the land endangers Israel is irrelevant.
This is the reason
the US’s support for Israel’s right to defensible borders has been reduced from
support for perpetual Israeli control over unified Jerusalem and some 50 percent
of Judea and Samaria in 1993, to US support for a full Israeli withdrawal to the
1949 armistice lines – including the partition of Jerusalem – in 2011. You can
define “defensive needs” down. Defining rights down is a more difficult
The irony here is that Israel’s sovereign rights to Judea
and Samaria are ironclad while the Palestinians’ are flimsy. As the legal heir
to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, Israel is the legal sovereign of
Judea and Samaria.
Moreover, Israel’s historic rights to the cradle of
Jewish civilization are incontrovertible.
And yet, because Israel has not
wanted to impede on the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the
Palestinians, for the past 18 years it has avoided mentioning its rights and
instead focused solely on its security requirements. Consequently, outside of
Bible-literate Christian communities, today most people are comfortable
parroting the totally false Palestinian claim that Jews have no rights to Judea,
Samaria or Jerusalem. They further insist that rights to these areas belong
exclusively to the Palestinians who did not even exist as a distinct national
community in 1967.
As for Israel’s allies in the US Congress, they have
responded to the PLO’s UN statehood gambit with two important legislative
initiatives. First Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House
Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced a bill calling for the US to end its
financial support for the Palestinian Authority and drastically scale-back its
financial support for the UN if the UN upgrades the PLO’s membership status in
any way. Ros- Lehtinen’s bill shows Israel that there is powerful support for an
Israeli offensive that will make the Palestinians pay a price for their
Ros-Lehtinen’s bill is constructive for two
reasons. First, it makes the Palestinians pay for their adversarial
behavior. This will make them think twice before again escalating their
diplomatic warfare against Israel. Second, it begins an overdue process of
delegitimizing the Palestinian cause, which as is now clear is inseparable from
the cause of Israel’s destruction.
Were Israel to follow Ros-Lehtinen’s
lead and cut off its transfer of tax revenues to the PA, and indeed, stop
collecting taxes on the PA’s behalf, it would be advancing Israel’s interests in
It would remind the Palestinians that they need Israel far
more than Israel needs them.
Israel would make them pay a price for their
Israel would end its counterproductive policy of
giving the openly hostile PA an automatic seal of approval regardless of its
treatment of Israel.
Israel would diminish the financial resources at the
PA’s disposal for the advance of its war against Israel.
would pave the way for the disbandment of the PA and its replacement by another
authority in Judea and Samaria.
And this brings us to the second
congressional initiative taken in anticipation of the PLO’s UN statehood gambit.
Earlier this month, Rep. Joe Walsh and 30 co-sponsors issued a resolution
supporting Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria.
sounds like a radical formula, the fact is that Israel already implemented a
similar move twice when it applied Israeli law to Jerusalem and to the Golan
Heights. And the heavens didn’t fall in either case. Indeed, the situation on
the ground was stabilized.
Moreover, just as Israel remains willing to
consider ceding these territories in the framework of a real peace with its
neighbors, so the application of Israeli law to Judea and Samaria would not
prevent these areas from being ceded to another sovereign in the framework of a
And while not eliminating the prospects of a future peace, by
applying Israeli law to Judea and Samaria, Israel would reverse one of the most
pernicious effects of the 18-year-old phony peace process: the continuous
erosion of international recognition of Israel’s sovereign rights to these
With each passing round of failed negotiations, offers that Israel
made but were rejected were not forgotten. Rather they formed the starting point
for the next round of failed negotiations. So while then-prime minister Ehud
Barak for instance claimed that his offer to cede the Temple Mount was
contingent on the signing of a peace treaty, when the so-called Middle East
Quartet issued its road map plan for peace, Barak’s ostensibly canceled offer
was the starting point of negotiations.
By applying Israeli law to Judea
and Samaria, Israel would change the baseline for future negotiations in a
manner that enhances its bargaining position.
Perhaps most important, by
applying its laws to the areas, Israel would demonstrate that it finally
understands that rights need to be asserted by deeds, not just by words, if they
are to be taken seriously.
On Thursday, The New York Times
news story/analysis that essentially rewrote the history of the last
two-and-a-half years. The paper ignored Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s open
admission that US President Barack Obama compelled him to radicalize his own
policies towards Israel when Obama demanded that Israel abrogate Jewish property
rights in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria as a precondition for
This was a precondition the Palestinians themselves had
never demanded. And by making it a US demand, Obama ended any possibility of
resuming negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
By the Times
telling, Obama is a victim of the combined forces of an intransigent Israeli
government and the pro-Israel lobby that holds sway in Congress. These nefarious
forces made it impossible for Obama to bring the sort of pressure to bear on
Israel that would have placated the Arab world and paved the way for a peaceful
settlement. And in the absence of such presidential power, Israel and its
lobbyists wrecked Obama’s reputation in the Arab world.
The lesson that
Israel should take from the Times
’ borderline anti-Semitic historical
revisionism and conspiracy theories is twofold. First, Israel will never be
rewarded for its concessions. The Times
and its fellow anti-Israel activists
don’t care that since 2009 – and indeed since 1993 – Israel has made one
concession after another only to be rewarded time after time with
ever-escalating demands for more concessions. The Times and its fellow
Israel-baiters have a story of Israeli conspiracies and bad faith to tell. And
they will tell that tale regardless of objective facts and observable
This brings us to the second lesson of the Times
specifically, and the experience at the UN generally. Israel has nothing to lose
and everything to gain from going on the offensive. Our friends in the US
Congress have shown us a path that lays open to us to follow. And we must follow
it. Since we’ll be blamed no matter what we do, we have no excuse for not doing
what is best for us.