Personally, I am perplexed as to why the U.S. opposed the UN General Assembly proposal to elevate the status of Palestine from observer to non-member state.
I have read the proposed resolution carefully and find it solidly grounded in past positions which the U.S. has supported (some of which we sponsored). These are Resolutions 181 of 1947 (calling for two states), 194 of 1949 (affirming that the Palestinian refugees have the right to return or be compensated), 242 of 1967 (stating that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible under international law and calling for a settlement based on land for peace), 338 of 1973 (affirming points from 242 but adding that the international community should be involved), and the Arab Peace initiative of 2002, since made even stronger (it promises full normalized recognition of Israel in exchange for a land-for- peace settlement).
As my thoughtful wife said, “It’s the right thing and it is going to pass. Why are we opposing it?” Significantly, our European allies mostly either supported it or abstained. As an Israeli official said the day of the vote, “We have lost Europe.” President Obama promised that if the Palestinians would drop their bid, he would get involved in the so-called peace process but the Palestinians say they heard that four years ago and nothing happened except more settlements in the Palestinian lands. The Netanyahu government appeared resigned to the outcome and said they would not follow through on their previous threats to destroy the Palestinian Authority or to hold back its revenues (Israel controls the tax system in the West Bank and has previously cut off Palestinian revenue when they objected to something the PA did). The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, said there was nothing dangerous in the resolution and Israel should not oppose it, but he is not in the cabinet. Voices in Congress did their usual embarrassing thing, threatening to cut off U.S. contributions to the UN and the Palestinian Authority if the vote passed. I suspect that is just political posturing, but who knows?
The U.S. interest in this is not a matter of justice for the Palestinians. Even if the Palestinians got a full Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem that would not be justice. It would be good, and stabilizing, but not justice. The U.S. interest has to do with our own security. We are the status quo power in a critical region that is becoming destabilized by this conflict. The Israeli occupation is not the cause of regional instability, but its continued domination of Palestinian land, Palestinian people, and the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem is increasing that instability and serving as a major recruiting tool for extremist groups. Back in 1978 our key ally Iran fell under the control of a militantly anti-American regime. That led to the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 (which killed at least 500,000 people, and probably more) and a wave of destabilizing developments. I do not think such a historic reversal will be repeated in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, but we cannot be certain.
Back in 1995 I spoke to the annual meeting of the Cranbrook Peace Institute when they gave their prestigious award to Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian official. This is what I said back then:
“Jerusalem is the key to peace. Perpetuating exclusive Jewish control over the Holy City and over Islamic holy sites, and maintaining Israeli control of the Palestinian populations of East Jerusalem will and is transforming a political dispute into a religious dispute. The result will be explosive and volatile and has the potential to spiral out of control with consequences that cannot be predicted and with a level of violence that is beyond anything we have seen so far.”
This was six years before September 11. I hate to think what will come next. We should get on top of this situation.
– Ron Stockton is a professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and author.