Back to Being a 'Sh**ty Little Country'
Before Israel sat in the UN dock facing Mahmoud Abbas, a man who denied the Holocaust in his doctoral dissertation and denies the link between Jews, the land of Israel, and Jerusalem, the Israeli government said the Palestinian statehood gambit would not be cost free.
The UN pronounced itself open to the idea of statehood for two unconnected pieces of territory run half by a terrorist organization and half by a man whose single elected term ran out more than half a decade ago -- and whose two halves are at war with one another -- while both halves agree that the establishment of the State of Israel (and Jordan) was a mistake that needs correcting either by war or by politics. Israel's retaliation was twofold -- withholding about half of the money the Palestinian Authority owes the Israeli Electric Corporation, and announcing planning measures for houses to be built in the future in area E-1 just east of Jerusalem.
The easiest way to stop the houses would be for the Europeans to tell their Palestinian friends, "Look, the Israelis are serious -- and we just gave up our leverage with them by voting for your statehood status. If you want to find contiguous land for your state, you'd better sit down with them right now and talk borders before they fill up the whole damned thing." Instead, they're hyperventilating and yelling at Israel. It is partly because the mention of houses for Jews really does give them the heebie-jeebies, but also because it is a way to divert attention from their own sorry performance -- siding with those who plan to replace the State of Israel with Palestine.
France, for example, the only European country to agree that the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem should be listed as a Palestinian UNESCO Heritage Site, pressured Spain on the vote by threatening to veto Spain's EU bailout plan. Spain caved. The U.S. voted against the measure, but it is not without some responsibility for the results, and Secretary of State Clinton quickly castigated Israel publicly for insensitivity:
I'm not making excuses for the missed opportunities of the Israelis, or the lack of generosity, the lack of empathy that I think goes hand-in-hand with the suspicion... So, yes, there is more that the Israelis need to do to really demonstrate that they do understand the pain of an oppressed people in their minds, and they want to figure out, within the bounds of security and a Jewish democratic state, what can be accomplished.
Perhaps they thought Israel would understand the UN vote as a necessary sop to the Palestinians. There was a strong suggestion that Israel "owed" the U.S. and the Europeans for not sanctioning it for its attacks on Gaza in November. That Israel is "ungrateful" for European and American forbearance.
That Israel is again, in the immortal words of Daniel Bernard, a sh**ty little country.
What actually happened in the UN is instructive.
As Abba Eban said in 1967, "If the Arab League made a motion at the U.N. General Assembly that the world was flat, they would get 40 votes for it." (There were a lot fewer countries then.) But even though they have the numbers, Israel's enemies generally don't take Israel on frontally when they think the European, Asian, North or South American countries will form blocs against them. This time, they correctly calculated that the U.S. would not use its influence to round up votes against the Palestinians.
The U.S., after all, did nothing to protect Israel from the vote of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in 2010, and even signed the final document singling Israel out as a nuclear rogue state, despite its promise not to do so. While protecting Israel in the Security Council (but refusing to help pro-Israel Canada win its traditional once-a-decade seat, and allowing really nasty debate on settlements to occur before wielding its veto), the Obama administration has consistently declined to exercise leadership in the General Assembly, or the Human Rights Council where Israel is subject to the infamous Item 7 that requires every item of business to include a denunciation of Israel. The U.S. acceded to Turkey's demand to exclude Israel from a four-way-military exercise in 2011, and to exclude Israel from the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
If Mahmoud Abbas's choice to invoke Yasser Arafat's 1974 speech to the UN General Assembly was an interesting window into his thinking - the GA's response was a window into its collective psyche (a typo there almost made it psycho; hmm...).
By the time Arafat appeared at Turtle Bay, his PLO had blown up Swissair Flight 330; fired a bazooka at an Israeli school bus killing nine pupils and three teachers; hijacked TWA, Pan-Am and BOAC planes; engineered the Black September attempt to overthrow the King of Jordan in 1970 resulting in ten thousand or more deaths; sent Japanese Red Army terrorists to Lod Airport where they massacred 27 people; engineered the Munich Olympic Massacre; and infiltrated from Lebanon and killed 26 people, 21 of them children, in a Ma'alot school. Arafat had personally approved the assassination of American diplomats in Sudan (the Americans knew that at the time, but keep it secret for decades). The Palestine National Council had approved the "Phased Plan" earlier in the year, rejecting UN Security Council Resolution 242 with its promise of "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" for Israel. (Phase 1 was "armed struggle" to establish an "independent combatant national authority" over any territory "liberated" from Israeli rule. [Article 2]; Phase 2 continued the struggle against Israel, using any territory vacated by Israel as a base of operations. [Article 4]; Phase 3 would "liberate all Palestinian territory" by provoking Israel into an all-out war in which its Arab neighbors could destroy it.[Article 8])
Arafat was wildly applauded by the General Assembly as he proclaimed:
Zionism is an ideology that is imperialist, colonialist, racist; it is profoundly reactionary and discriminatory; it is united with anti-Semitism in its retrograde tenets and is, when all is said and done, another side of the same base coin...Those who call us terrorists wish to prevent world public opinion from discovering the truth about us and from seeing the justice on our faces. They seek to bide the terrorism and tyranny of their acts, and our own posture of self-defense...Even as today we address the General Assembly from what is before all else an international rostrum we are also expressing our faith in political and diplomatic struggle as complements, as enhancements of armed struggle.
Arafat's triumph was followed in 1975 with the General Assembly proclamation by a vote of 72 to 35 (32 abstentions) "that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." It was a "feel-good" moment for Palestinians and anti-Semites alike, but it didn't change facts on the ground for the Palestinians. Neither did the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Arafat reiterated the "Plan of 1974" (the Phased Plan) on the eve of the 2003 Oslo Accords, and in August 2009, Abbas led the Sixth Convention of Fatah, which ratified its platform calling for the continued struggle -- through peaceful and armed means -- to eradicate Israel.
Abbas borrowed from Arafat's language, minus the "armed struggle," and chose as his key Arafat quote: "Yasser Arafat came to this hall and assured the Members of the General Assembly of our affirmative pursuit for peace, urging the United Nations to realize the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people, stating: 'Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.'"
In other words, "Give me what I want or it will be YOUR fault if I have to go back to the business of killing Jews."
Arafat took the world's acclaim and happily returned to killing Jews and blaming the West. Abbas took the world's acclaim and is watching, no doubt with satisfaction, as the United States and the EU press the Palestinian claim. Israel now, as then, has no choice but to determine how best to ensure its own future. A "sh**ty little country" can't count on the West.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.