Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came out strongly in support of Palestine being given "observer state" status at the UN tomorrow.
While the US and Israel have strongly opposed the move, and the UK has said it will abstain from the vote unless Mr. Abbas promises not to use his new status to bring war crime allegations against Israel in front of the International Criminal Court, there appear to be more than enough votes in the UN General Assembly for the motion which, in its current draft, expresses little more than support for the fundamental aspects of efforts towards a two state solution that have existed for decades now.
The draft resolution to be voted on at the UN says, among other things:
"Reaffirms the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967;
Decides to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice;
Expresses the hope that the Security Council will consider favourably the application submitted on 23 September 2011 by the State of Palestine for admission to full membership in the United Nations;
(and) Affirms its determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a peaceful
settlement in the Middle East that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and fulfills the vision of two States: an independent, sovereign, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.
The US State Department has said the upgrade will be counterproductive, and some Israeli politicians have mooted cutting off the disbursement of tax receipts to the Palestinian Authority and even seeking to topple the PA in retaliation. The Israeli government has downplayed the issue in the past few days, with spokesman Mark Regev telling the New York Times that passage of "a one-sided anti-Israel resolution" by the General Assembly "should come as a surprise to nobody" and "ultimately, what we will see at the United Nations is diplomatic theater. It will in no way affect the realities on the ground.”
In the short term, at least, Mr. Regev is almost certainly correct. The moribund peace process is likely to remain so. Still, not everyone in Israel is in agreement. Bernard Avishai was in touch with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today, and in a piece for The Daily Beast's Open Zion channel, writes that Mr. Olmert thinks the move could eventually kick-start a healthier dialogue:
“I believe,” Olmert wrote me, intending his statement to be made public, “that the Palestinian request from the United Nations is congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution. Therefore, I see no reason to oppose it. Once the United Nations will lay the foundation for this idea, we in Israel will have to engage in a serious process of negotiations, in order to agree on specific borders based on the 1967 lines, and resolve the other issues. It is time to give a hand to, and encourage, the moderate forces amongst the Palestinians. Abu-Mazen"—an alias for Abbas—"and Salam Fayyad need our help. It's time to give it.”
Is Olmert just chasing the past? Isn’t the antagonism between Hamas and Israel’s “consensus” now the only relevant reality? Nonsense. What makes Abbas irrelevant is not Hamas “steadfastness,” but his failure to garner sufficient American backing for the principles he and Olmert worked through over 36 meetings in 2008: principles for resolving Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees consistent with the positions taken by previous American administrations, but which Netanyahu refuses to accept as a basis for new negotiations.
I wrote yesterday about Abbas's seeming irrelevance, and hopes that the UN bid could bring some political momentum back his way, which lately has seemed to all be in Hamas' direction.
But all this also brought back to mind the attacks against Obama in May 2011 for advocating the same thing (following in the footsteps of President George H.W. Bush, whose advocacy for a two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 armistice lines was dismissed by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1992 as the "borders of Auschwitz.") What did Obama say then?
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps." What does that mean? Well, in practice it means the Israelis and the Palestinians would negotiate bits of a future Palestinian state that would not follow the 1967 borders, with some Israeli settlement blocs presumably being swapped for other bits of Israeli land. 1967 is just a starting point.
That's been the general working idea for the last four US presidencies, including two Republican administrations. Yet not only was (Mitt) Romney striking out at Obama as having undermined Israel's "ability to negotiate peace" but others were reacting with outrage. Mike Huckabee complained of Obama's "betrayal" of Israel.
Huckabee also fell into a camp that apparently misunderstood what Obama said. He complained that Obama "made a grievous mistake by suggesting borders of Israel go back to pre-1967 borders." As did Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican presidential aspirant ("Obama's insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a ... very dangerous demand.") As explained earlier, that's not what Obama said.
Well now the UN is cementing its long-standing position. Some Israelis like Mr. Olmert see the move as in their country's best interests. President Obama still holds his position, though he's standing in the way of the UN move as a favor to Mr. Netanyahu and Israel.Today, US officials lobbied Mr. Abbas to back off. No luck.
Something is about to happen. Will it change much? Who knows. But Palestine's status at the UN thus far doesn't seem to have been helping the so-called peace process.
What could it hurt?