By Yousef Munayyer
As Palestinians prepare to seek membership in the United Nations, critics are quick to label this a damaging unilateral strategy. But the Palestinian drive for admission to the UN is not damaging or unilateral or even a strategy. Understanding the genesis of the impending diplomatic battle set for September clarifies why Palestinians are taking this step.
For over two decades, the Palestinians have engaged in a diplomatic process, mediated by Washington, aimed at ending the Israeli occupation and achieving full Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza. During this period, despite the agreed-upon framework of two states, Israel has continued to illegally transfer its population into occupied Palestinian territory. Today, the number of Israelis living in illegal colonies in occupied territory is nearly triple what it was when the Washington-led process began.
It is not simply the presence of these illegal colonies that has torpedoed the two-state framework. After all, what is built illegally can and should be dismantled, and the usurped property returned to its rightful Palestinian owners. Rather, it is the belief among Palestinians that the United States is incapable of pressuring Israel into halting illegal expansion, let alone dismantling illegal settlements and ending the occupation.
Congress is, as one commentator notes, “the backstop that gives [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu the ability to say no to President Obama.’’ Congress has regularly united behind the Israeli prime minister against our own president for merely suggesting that Israel comply with stated US policy (not to mention international law). And this month, more than 80 members of the House are visiting Israel as guests of an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Due to this discord, the Palestinians have effectively downgraded their confidence in the United States’ ability to be an even-handed mediator. The last straw for Palestinians was when it became clear that Washington was so dysfunctional that it was vetoing its own stated policy on settlements at the UN Security Council.
The Israeli government and their sympathizers in Congress may be hell-bent on pushing their respective countries into the abyss, but the Palestinians are not obligated to follow them, especially not after 20 years of failed negotiations for a two-state solution due to American support for Israel and Israel’s insatiable appetite for Palestinian land. The application for membership at the UN is not unilateral or strategic, as many have said. In reality, Palestinians want to engage the entire international community.
Although many Palestinians are not convinced that an application for statehood is the best option, they know that a return to Washington-led negotiations is, as history has shown, dangerous.
The current status of the American economy should teach us that when we leave failed policies in place over time, there are consequences and people suffer needlessly. After two decades of supporting Israel’s every move – while demanding to mediate the peace process – Washington must take this opportunity to reevaluate its policies and recognize the importance of Palestinian freedom.
This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe.
is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be
used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.
The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.