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Op-Ed

The Palestinians' U.N. Gambit: Now What?

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post on December 5, 2012

It was a deeply disappointing moment for Israel when more than 130 countries, going against common sense and the carefully considered positions of both the United States and Israel, voted last week to upgrade the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations to that of nonmember observer status. 

The vote came after a harrowing two weeks of terror in Israel as rockets and missiles were fired from Gaza on innocent Israelis. After more than 800 rockets flew from Gaza into Israel, with some of the Iranian-provided longer range rockets getting close to the major population centers, Israel struck back in a series of air assaults in an effort to protect its people and restore deterrence, and was prepared for a possible ground invasion when a cease-fire was declared and quiet along Israel’s southern border was temporarily restored. 

So with the security situation in Israel’s south still tenuous, and international opprobrium mounting against Israel for the inevitable loss of life that took place as a result of the airstrikes in Gaza, one would have thought some of those nations Israel counts among its friends would have seen through the Palestinian ploy and stood up against this latest cynical public relations gambit to achieve gains in the U.N. General Assembly without the costs of having to go down the more difficult road of negotiations with Israel. 

But in the end it was not to be, and the roll call from the floor of the General Assembly, while hardly surprising, was nonetheless deeply discouraging. We watched in disbelief tinged with sadness as, one after another, the European nations which have been counted among Israel’s friends reverted to positions from a darker era when they had a predictably knee-jerk, anti-Israel response. 

Instead of showing courage and common sense by standing up to what was, in any event, a largely symbolic maneuver to gain another sliver of recognition for the long-hoped for Palestinian state, all the nations of Europe, save one, capitulated to the Palestinians’ campaign of intimidation and pressure. 

It is bewildering that even Germany, among Israel’s most important allies in Europe, could not muster the courage or political will to reject this vote in the face of what all of the European governments already knew – the resolution was going to pass in any case, and the vote was mostly symbolic. We were shocked that Italy, which has in recent years actively championed the righteousness of Israel’s measured and responsible approach to dealing with the conflict, actually voted in favor. 

After the Palestinians rejected the request by the United Kingdom for assurances they would return to negotiations without preconditions, and not complicate those negotiations even further by pursuing Israelis at the International Criminal Court, that should have been more than enough to cause all of Europe to stand with Israel and the United States.  

And one would have thought that after all of the Palestinian declarations and grandstanding, including yet another hate-filled and incendiary speech by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from the floor of the G.A., that at least some nations could have found the courage to avoid associating their governments and people with such biased and deplorable behavior. 

His were not the words of a statesman seeking peace. Adding insult to injury, Mr. Abbas heaped invective against Israel with the usual lies and distortions of ethnic cleaning, apartheid, colonialism and racism. 

Among the Europeans, only the Czech Republic distinguished itself as the lone holdout, taking a principled vote against the Palestinian upgrade. And who among the nearly 200 members of the U.N. could Israel count among its allies this time? Apart from the U.S. and Israel only seven other nations voted against the resolution: the Czechs, Canada, Panama, Marshall Island, Micronesia, Palau and Nauru had the political will. Another 41 nations abstained. 

Although we continue to believe this resolution was a terrible idea, now that the damage is done it is possible that something can be salvaged from this debacle – if, and only if, the Palestinians live up to the statements by Mr. Abbas that once the resolution was passed, he would return to the negotiating table with Israel. 

For now that they have achieved this pyrrhic public relations victory, the Palestinian people now have a stark choice ahead of them:   They can accept the offer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return to the table without preconditions and without delay, possibly paving the way for peace in our lifetime; or they can continue to seek false legitimacy by attempting to punish Israel in international fora such as the U.N. and the International Criminal Court while continuing to evade the real work and hard sacrifices of peacemaking. 

The onus is now on the Palestinians to make the right choice and to return to negotiations. The alternative will leave the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unresolved and festering with no framework in place to negotiate the issues.  

Contrary to what they might believe, the alternative will not provide Palestinians with a viable and sovereign state, and is likely to raise expectations of the Palestinian people which cannot be met, leading to greater frustrations.  

If that happens, and we see more violent confrontations like the one we just witnessed in Gaza in the months and years ahead, those countries who failed to stand up and say no in the General Assembly to the Palestinian fantasy state will bear a great deal of responsibility. 

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