By Carlo Strenger
The imminent recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN puts Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And there is but one way which this could be made less catastrophic.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and company are selling Israel’s citizens an illusion: they are positioning themselves as Rambo-heroes who will win against the world. They present Bibi’s visit to the U.S. as a great success that beat down Barack Obama and convinced the world that our government is a righteous one. Their ministers are playing long by attending the foundation of new construction in Jerusalem and their MKs are flexing their muscles, too: Danny Dannon calls for the annexation of the West Bank in reaction to the Palestinian bid for recognition. The surge in support for Bibi in the polls after his return from the U.S. shows that many Israelis are buying into the story that Netanyahu is saving Israel.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Never mind the European media, whether British, French or German, even U.S. mainstream commentators tell a very different story than Bibi’s spin doctors. Their analyses all boil down to one point: Netanyahu has made it clear that there is no use in the Palestinians returning to the negotiating table, because there is no one to talk to. And nobody buys Bibi’s line that the Palestinians are to be faulted for the breakdown of negotiations.
Commentators around the world agree on the coming scenario: Palestinians will go for recognition by the UN General Assembly. They have the full support of the Arab League; they already have a two-thirds majority virtually assured. Netanyahu’s intransigence will make it that much easier for major European countries like France and Britain to support the Palestinian request.
The script for the coming years, therefore, is clearly set out: Israel is bracing for a head-on collision with the rest of the world, and it won’t be a pretty sight. The Palestinians will use their newly won legitimacy to turn to international courts for legal help against Israel’s occupation. International opinion will support them, and we Israelis will pay the price legally, financially and with growing delegitimization.
Foreign diplomats friendly to Israel who spoke to me on condition of anonymity wondered whether Israel will have to go through the full South Africa treatment before it turns around. I wish I was optimistic and could tell them that Israel’s political class will wake up. I am afraid it won’t, and that we will, despite the peace camp’s efforts to the contrary, have to live with a solution of the conflict imposed from outside.
There is but one way in which the looming collision could be made less catastrophic. Obama could decide to change course; instead of opposing recognition of Palestine, he could support it, as Israel should, if it acted rationally, under two conditions: Palestinians have to renounce any claims this side of the 1967 borders, including the right of return, and the Arab League would recognize Israel’s legitimacy and move towards normal relations. Palestinians would probably agree to that, and so would the Arab League as this corresponds to its peace initiative.
In doing so, Obama would do Israel the biggest possible favor: Israelis labor under the understandable fear that the two-state solution is but the first step towards abolishing Israel as the homeland of the Jews. A UN resolution that would combine the recognition of Palestine with an unmistakable recognition of Israel’s right to exist without further claims would calm this fear.
I can’t read Obama’s private thoughts, but I assume that in his heart he would prefer supporting such an UN resolution to the scenario in which the UN General Assembly recognizes Palestine with only Israel and the U.S. voting against it. He knows that American rejection of the Palestinian bid for statehood won’t do his country’s standing in the world any good, and he knows that it won’t prevent the head-on collision between Israel and the world.
Evidently, Obama is unwilling to pay the political price of open conflict with Bibi’s government. It’s difficult to blame him: he is up for reelection next year, and a clash with AIPAC, the ADL and the Christian right won’t do him any good. Because he doesn’t have an Israeli partner to work with, he seems to have renounced leadership in the Middle Eastern conflict for the time being. The UN will do the job of establishing Palestine for him. He can then step into the implementation of the UN resolution under far more favorable conditions.
For us Israelis who want a democratic homeland for the Jews, this means that we need patience. We need to be aware that before our country wakes up, Israel might move even further to the right in reaction to UN recognition of Palestine. Meanwhile we have an important task: We need to nurture the pillars of Israel’s civil society - its legal system, its higher education, its professional associations, its culture and its art. The day will come when Israel comes to its senses. We will need to be ready for the Israel that will emerge after the catastrophe.