Friday, September 16, 2011
The Palestinians’ illegitimate UN gambit
It was a mistake President Obama to distance himself from Israel and seek engagement with the hostile regimes in Syria and Iran.
The historic friendship between the United States and Israel stretches from the founding of the Jewish state in 1948 to the present day. Our nations have developed vital economic and security relationships in an alliance based on shared democratic principles, deep cultural ties and common strategic interests. Historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of “civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies.”
Surrounded by unfriendly neighbors and terror organizations that aim to destroy it, life has never been easy for Israel. Today, the challenges are mounting. The Jewish state faces growing hostility from Turkey. Its three decade-old peace with Egypt hangs by a thread. Iran pursues nuclear weapons its leaders vow to use to annihilate Israel. Terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians from Hezbollah and Hamas continue. And now, the Palestinian leadership is intent on trashing the possibility of a negotiated settlement of the conflict with Israel in favor of unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state by the United Nations.
The Palestinian plan to win that one-sided endorsement from the UN this month in New York threatens Israel and insults the United States. The US and UN have long supported the idea that Israel and its neighbors should make peace through direct negotiations.
The Palestinian leadership has dealt directly with Israel since 1993, but has refused to do so since March 2010. They seem to prefer theatrics in New York to the hard work of negotiation and compromise that peace will require.
Unfortunate errors by the Obama administration have encouraged the Palestinians to take steps backward away from peace. It was a mistake to inject an Israeli construction freeze, including in Jerusalem, as an unprecedented precondition for talks. Indeed, the Palestinian leadership had been negotiating with Israel for years, notwithstanding settlement activity.
When the Obama administration demanded a settlement freeze, it led to a freeze in Palestinian negotiations.
It was a mistake to agree to the Palestinians’ demand for indirect negotiations conducted through the United States. And it was an even greater mistake for President Obama to distance himself from Israel and seek engagement with the hostile regimes in Syria and Iran.
Palestinian leaders have perceived this as a weakening of relations between Israel and the United States, and are trying to exploit it. In refusing to deal with the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and taking this destabilizing action in the UN, the Palestinians are signaling that they have no interest in a two-state solution. The Palestinian leadership’s insistence on the so-called “right of return” of descendants of Palestinian refugees to Israel’s sovereign territory, thereby making Jews an ethnic minority in their own state, is a disturbing sign that the ultimate Palestinian “solution” remains the destruction of the Jewish state.
The United States – and the United Nations – should do everything possible to discourage the Palestinian leadership from pursuing its current course.
The circumvention of serious negotiations by PA President Mahmoud Abbas demonstrates a basic failure of leadership and a betrayal of the true interests of the Palestinian people. The United States should oppose this measure by using our veto in the Security Council, as President Obama has pledged, and by doing everything we can to weaken support for the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly, even at this late date.
The United States must affirm that the precondition for any properly negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is the formal recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state behind secure borders.
Since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the US has provided more than $4 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority. This year alone the Obama administration is seeking to secure $550 million in funding for Palestinians.
The United States has an interest in the development of Palestinian civil society and institutions.
We should encourage Palestinians who are more interested in building a prosperous future than in fueling the grievances of the past. Our aid is, and must remain, predicated on the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to engage honestly and directly with the Israelis in negotiating a peace settlement.
Their threatened unilateral action in the United Nations, combined with their declared intention to establish a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas, signals a failure to abide by this commitment.
The United States must not condone and legitimize through our assistance a regime whose actions are in direct opposition to a peace agreement with our ally Israel, and in direct opposition to our own vital interests.
The author is the governor of Texas.