Immanuel Wallerstein
Middle East Online (Opinion)
June 15, 2011 - 12:00am

The Palestinians are pursuing their project of seeking a formal recognition of their statehood by the United Nations when the General Assembly convenes in the fall. They intend to request a statement that the state exists within the boundary lines as they existed in 1967 before the Israeli-Palestinian war. It is almost certain that the vote will be favorable. The only question at the moment is how favorable.

The Israeli political leadership is well aware of this. There are three different responses that are being discussed by them. The dominant position seems to be that of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He proposes ignoring such a resolution totally and simply continuing to pursue the Israeli government's present policies. Netanyahu believes that, for a very long time, there have been resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly that have been unfavorable to Israel, all of which Israel has successfully ignored. Why should this one be any different?

There are a few politicians on the far right (yes, there is an even further right position than that of Netanyahu) who say that, in reprisal, Israel should formally annex all of the presently occupied Palestinian territories and end all talk of any negotiations with the Palestinians. Some of them also want to force an exodus of non-Jewish populations from this expanded Israeli state.

Former Prime Minister (and present Defense Minister) Ehud Barak, whose political base is now almost non-existent, is warning Netanyahu that he is being unrealistic. Barak says that the resolution will be a tsunami for Israel, and that therefore Netanyahu would be wisest somehow to make a deal with the Palestinians now, before the resolution passes.

Is Barak right? Will this be a tsunami for Israel? There is a good chance that he is. There is however virtually no chance that Netanyahu will heed Barak's advice and try seriously to make a deal with the Palestinians before then.

Consider what is likely to happen in the General Assembly itself. We know that most (maybe all) countries in Latin America and a very large percentage of countries in Africa and Asia will vote for the resolution. We know that the United States will vote against it and try to persuade others to vote against it. The uncertain votes are those of Europe. If the Palestinians can get a significant number of European votes, their political position will be much reinforced.

So, will the Europeans vote for the resolution? That depends in part on what happens throughout the Arab world in the next two months. The French have already hinted openly that, unless they see significant progress in Israel-Palestinian negotiations (which are not even occurring at the moment), they will support such a resolution. If they do, it almost certain that southern European governments will join them. So may the Nordic countries. It is a more open question whether Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands are ready to join them. If these countries do decide to go with the resolution, this may resolve the hesitations of various east European countries. In this case, the resolution would obtain the vast majority of Europe's votes.

We need to look therefore at what is going on in the Arab world. The second Arab revolt is still in full swing. It would be rash to predict exactly which regimes will fall and which will hold tight in the coming two months. What does seem clear is that the Palestinians are on the verge of launching a third intifada. The Palestinians, even the most conservative among them, seem to have given up hope that there can be any negotiated arrangement with Israel. This is the clear message of the agreement between Fatah and Hamas. And given that the Arab populations of virtually every Arab state are in direct political revolt against their regimes, how could the Palestinians remain relatively quiet? They will not remain quiet.

And if they do not remain quiet, what will other Arab regimes do? All of them are having a difficult enough time, to say the least, handling the uprisings in their own countries. Actively supporting a third intifada would be the easiest position to take as part of the effort they are making to regain control of their own country. Which regime would dare not support the third intifada? Egypt has already moved clearly in that direction. And King Abdullah of Jordan has hinted that he too would do so.

So imagine the sequence: a third intifada, followed by active Arab support for a third intifada, followed by Israeli intransigence. What will the Europeans then do? It is hard to see them refusing to vote for the resolution. We could easily arrive at a vote with only Israel, the United States, and a very few tiny countries voting against, and perhaps a few abstentions.

This sounds like a possible tsunami to me. Israel's major fear for the past few years has been "delegitimization." Would not such a vote precisely encrust the process of delegitimization? And would not the isolation of the United States in this vote further weaken its position in the Arab world as a whole? What then will the United States do?


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