US must vote in favour or abstain


By Ibrahim Sharqieh


September 21, 2011


Threats will not scuttle Palestinian statehood bid, but will further isolate Washington in a region tired of a peace process alienated from the people

  • By Ibrahim Sharqieh, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 September 21, 2011

The visit of senior US envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross to the Middle East earlier this month to "revive peace talks and avert a Palestinian bid for UN membership" has failed miserably. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's response to this failure has not been to pursue a new path, but rather, to send them again. She has announced that "our hope is that we get the parties back into a frame of mind and a process where they will actually begin negotiating again".

The failure of the first Hale and Ross visit reflects the outdated and unproductive American role as mediator in the peace process and its approach of using threats to make progress and blaming setbacks on the "lack of opportunities". To manage this crisis, the US must make a serious offer to the Palestinians, rather than simply throw around threats.

It is unclear what the US envoys will be able to achieve in their second visit that they could not accomplish the first time. The US needs to change its approach in dealing with Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than simply replacing envoys, from George Mitchell with David Hale, and increasing the number of official visits to the region.

Since the Palestinians announced their decision to submit an application to the United Nations for recognition of their state, the American response has been characterised by threats focusing mainly on using their veto in the Security Council and cutting off aid to the Palestinian National Authority. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen went one step further and called for punishing the UN for considering the Palestinian application for statehood. She introduced bill HR 2829 that makes funding to the UN voluntary and blocks US funding to any UN agency that elevates Palestine's status.


This punitive approach is wrong, unethical and counterproductive. It will only further isolate the US at the UN and ruin its credibility at a tumultuous time in the Middle East when American intentions are already being questioned.

The US should abandon its current approach and instead make an offer that addresses the Palestinians' needs in the context of the changing region. Returning to endless negotiations and a lacklustre peace process under past conditions is no longer an option. As a mediator, the US has created too many processes but no peace.

The Palestinian leadership has maintained its willingness to consider what they called a ‘credible' alternative to the UN approach. It is important to note that in the context of the Arab spring, ‘credibility' requires that the peace process address the needs and aspirations of the people, the driving force behind change, rather than simply appeasing their leaders.

What is a credible proposal in this context? Undoubtedly, it is not the ambiguous offer that is being delivered by Ross and Hale behind closed doors to President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. An offer that presents a credible alternative to the UN path is the one that is addressed to the Palestinian people, delivered publicly through the media, and emphasises two major elements: a firm freeze of all colony-building activities in the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem and a solid ceiling — up to six months — to negotiations that lead to automatic recognition of a Palestinian state if no agreement is reached during this timeframe.

Israeli collaboration

This is certainly not an unrealistic offer. On the contrary, this is very similar to what the Washington adopted for Kosovo when the US became one of the very first countries to recognise Kosovo after it unilaterally declared independence. A similar offer to the Palestinians to resolve the UN impasse would preserve America's international credibility.

It is true that this approach first and foremost requires Israeli collaboration. The US should not accept facing isolation at the UN by vetoing a basic human right — the need for freedom and recognition — while Israel continues using American taxpayers' money to build more colonies. Since the inception of the Security Council, the US has used its veto 84 times, of which 42 have been to protect Israel.

US foreign policy is already struggling with issues of credibility and double standards in the Middle East, particularly during the Arab spring, and aligning with Netanyahu-Lieberman agenda will worsen the increasingly fragile American relations with the region. The 81 congressmen who enjoyed paid trips to Israel in August, at a time when the number of poor in the US crossed 46 million, should recognise this as well.

The Palestinians will not bow to pressure in the absence of meaningful alternatives to the UN bid. Unless the US is able to provide a viable and realistic alternative to the bid, it should vote for a Palestinian state or forever hold its peace (abstain).

Ibrahim Sharqieh is Deputy Director of the Brookings Doha Centre. He is an expert on Middle Eastern politics and international conflict resolution.



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Comment by Elizabeth Gerhold Fautsch on September 26, 2011 at 3:46pm

Here I am. Still following last Friday's announcement in the US media and am appalled at the way Republican presidential candidates are using the issue as a political football, trying to score points by outdoing each other in their unwavering support for Israel. I hope the situation remains peaceful in the Middle East. I don't think Israel is doing itself much good by discussing how to "punish" the Palestinians for taking this step. I saw a piece in the LA Times that quoted an Israeli official who wanted to stop sending taxes that Israel collects on behalf of the West Bank. That worked really well in Gaza (sarcasm intended). There are of course level-headed Israelis who understand that this would backfire. Why can't they seem to get more media attention?

Comment by Dr. Samuel Appiah-Marfo on September 24, 2011 at 8:44pm

Hi Elizabeth show your face!

Comment by Ibrahim Fraihat on September 24, 2011 at 6:08pm

Dear all,


I just wanted to thank everyone for such an interesting discussion. Sorry that I missed it as I have been traveling non-stop the past 5 days.


In peace,



Comment by Bassam Al-Kuwatli بسام القوتلي on September 24, 2011 at 2:40am
I got this today from Jewish Voices for Peace:

Today, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, presented a bid for the state of Palestine, based on the 1967 borders, to be considered by the Security Council for full membership in the United Nations.

Shortly afterward, he addressed the General Assembly, where he reviewed, from the 1948 Nakba until today, the multitude of ways in which Israel has suppressed Palestinians’ rights. While the question remains if the UN statehood bid adequately addresses the larger issue of Palestinian rights, Abbas’ address importantly gave voice to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. While there is no uniform support for this UN bid, today was undoubtedly a historic and moving day. After over 63 years struggling for global recognition, it was moving to see the countries of the world represented in the UN general assembly give President Abbas a rousing standing ovation.

Not so for Prime Minister Netanyahu, who spoke shortly after Abbas. Netanyahu responded to the Palestinian leader with diversion and doublespeak instead of honest engagement, and peace slogans couched in hostility, aggression, and denial of Palestinian claims—a continuation of the standard Israeli tactic. We know from history that this empty rhetoric has been used by Israeli government for decades and will only mean further pain and oppression for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and all over the world.

As a Jewish-American organization, we believe it is important to remain focused on our primary responsibility:  having an impact on U.S. policy. As such, we will continue to speak out strongly against the U.S. using its veto power in the Security Council to reject this bid for statehood.

We know now that President Obama will not do the right thing. Speaking at the UN on Wednesday, Obama lauded the Arab Spring—but rejected the Palestinian Autumn. The president retreated from his earlier positions that demanded Israeli accountability for its military occupation, and he did not acknowledge the ongoing role of the U.S. in maintaining that imbalance through its extraordinary economic, military, and diplomatic support for Israel, even when its actions violate international law, human rights, and U.S. policy.  And he didn’t acknowledge that twenty years of the “peace process” has brought only a more entrenched occupation. Instead, Obama merely said that both sides should “sit down together, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and fears.

While this week has not been an easy one, we at JVP actually feel a redoubled assurance in the promise of our strategy to change the dynamics on display at the United Nations.  We know now, more than ever, that the President or Congress will not change on their own.  The array of power and money is simply too strong—for now.  We know, as with the examples of the civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid movement, to name just two, that it is movements like ours that force our governments to change their policies.  It was the steadfastness, the creativity, the demonstrations, the local organizing, and the BDS tactics that helped these movements and so many others for social justice eventually succeed.  So we’ll let the politicians play their games, and meanwhile, our work will continue.


Jewish Voice for Peace
Comment by Bassam Al-Kuwatli بسام القوتلي on September 24, 2011 at 2:39am
I agree with your observations dear Elizabeth. At the same time I know that Israel has the upper hand and achieving results is not a priority on it's agenda. Remember what Isaac Shamir said when he was dragged to Madrid conference? He said, "we will negotiate for the next 100 years". And that is exactly what was happening since. When Arafat was in power Israel marginalized him fully even though he was the only person able to sign anything with them. And how corrupt he was was an irrelevant fact. Then when Bargouti started emerging as a strong uncurrupt leader, he got arrested and he is still in an Israeli jail until this day. Abbas was supported by Israel and the US as he is weak and corrupted enough to control, the only problem is that he does not have the power to compromise anything on behalf of the Palestinian people. He is very unpopular and he knows it, that is why his only option is to try achieve something through the UN.
Comment by Elizabeth Gerhold Fautsch on September 23, 2011 at 8:29pm

You make excellent points, and I basically agree with you - a strong leader should not wait for unanimity to begin negotiating peace with her enemy. Unfortunately, I wouldn't call Abbas or Netanyahu "strong". Rather, they seem to me quite vulnerable, politically, and nobody likes to negotiate from a position of weakness. It's much easier to throw obstacles into the path (or, conveniently, have an extremist faction do it for you) and not put anything on the line. I truly believe that there is a silent majority on both sides that would favor serious negotiations and tough compromises, however, they are being undermined by weak leadership and highly visible, often intimidating, extremist groups whose agenda is self-perpetuation. If you look at Northern Ireland, you see that this type of extremist doesn't just go away once peace has been negotiated - they keep popping up, trying to wreak havoc and destroy the hard work of reasonable people.

Comment by Bassam Al-Kuwatli بسام القوتلي on September 23, 2011 at 2:19am

Thank you Elizabeth for your contribution.


"Palestinians and Israelis should look at their own
positions and examine the stumbling blocks that make it impossible for their
leaders to move forward - religious extremists; insecure leadership; lack of
transparency. Then weigh these against all the reasons to move forward: a
restive population of young people who are tired of the old paradigms and are
ready to strike a compromise for peace" I have a question here: Would've
we reached peace and reconciliation in South Africa If we have requested the
same from the white and black people before we apply any pressure on them? Isn't
the status que what is fuelling religious extremism, insecure leadership, and
lack of transparency?


I fully agree that Abbas is not ready and does not have the
full support of the Palestinian people. I personally (I am not a Palestinian)
support the one state solution vs. the 2 state solutions. But since when
leaders got the support of everyone before they act?


As to Israel's needs for security and recognition, we all
know that peace treaties are the door for security. We do not negotiate peace
with our friends; we negotiate peace in order to make friends. And any peace
agreement will have many clauses and mechanisms addressing security. As to
recognition, we know that the PLO did recognize Israel within the pre-1967
borders, even the Arab league initiative of 2001 offered recognition of Israel
and full normalization if Israel agrees to withdraw to those borders. What
about the Palestinians needs for security and recognition? Isn't that exactly
what they are trying to get?

Comment by Elizabeth Gerhold Fautsch on September 23, 2011 at 1:17am

It is very interesting to read Mr. Sharquieh's opinion as well as the comments that follow. As an American following the issue of Palestine's statehood bid at the UN from somewhat of a distance, it seems to me to be more political theater than something that can actually change facts on the ground. Abbas does not seem to have the full support of Palestinians, and many Palestinians complain that the bid was prepared in secret and that it could lead to a counterproductive definition of Palestinian statehood. The Israeli's are on the defensive, pointing out that their grievances - mainly security and recognition -  remain unaddressed. And the US is flailing around diplomatically, because there is little else it can do. I'm wondering if Palestinians understand how impossible it would be - from a domestic political point of view - for President Obama (or any US politician, for that matter) to support the Palestinian bid in the Security Council? All politicians are subject to internal political pressure - this is the very reason that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership has been able to strike a bold compromise for peace. Before pointing to failed US mediation efforts as the reason for the current impasse, Palestinians and Israelis should look at their own positions and examine the stumbling blocks that make it impossible for their leaders to move forward - religious extremists; insecure leadership; lack of transparency. Then weigh these against all the reasons to move forward: a restive population of young people who are tired of the old paradigms and are ready to strike a compromise for peace; the threat of continued economic stagnation; the broad agreement that a two state solution is inevitable. If I were a twenty year-old living in either Israel or Palestine today, my question to my leaders would be: What are you waiting for? 

Comment by Dr. Samuel Appiah-Marfo on September 22, 2011 at 10:13am


You're absolutely right on Hamas! However, your position that US is in a way a party to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is way overboard. The fact that there has been 'conflict transformation' in this conflict, doesn't mean US is a party.  You must understand that as conflict wages on, parties increase and issues also increase. In other words, there are sympathizers and friends building behind the two main parties to the conflict (in this case).  US can't be a participant and a referee at the same time. I think the PLO would have forcefully make that clear by now, else it would have been a foolhardy on their part to stay with such arrangement. Again, it would have been an insult to the intelligence of comity of nations, and for that matter UN.

Moreover, I've been arguing my position to enable the international comity of nations and all peace loving people to understand, and make an inform judgement on the Palestinian -Israeli conflict. It is a known fact that US foreign policy skewed favorably toward Israel over the years. So my argument all along was there's no way US would change its position on PLO push for Palestinian state against the needs of Israel in the overall scheme of things.  I wasn't suggesting that Palestinians couldn't push for statehood rather I was stating that, in every equation to seek a lasting peace in this conflict, one would have to take into consideration the specific and global needs of the two main protagonists to the conflict; but I didn't see that in Ibrahim's article.  Finally, if you critically examine my line of argument, and you listened to President Obama's speech on the floor of the UN yesterday; you'd realized that I was vindicated. Now what next? lets keep our finger cross!

In any case, its been a good intellectual exercise! 

Comment by Djarot Santoso on September 22, 2011 at 5:48am
According to my study background on international relations, the PLO is different with the Hamas. PLO more likely moderate character compared with Hamas. Moreover, PLO and Hamas frequently get conflict one to other. This is core weakness for Palestinian community to build one national identity and to commit together and work arms-to-arms to organize one government strongly. The PLO famous leader is Dr. Yasser Arafat.

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