Osama Al-Sharif
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
December 4, 2012 - 1:00am


The look on the US representative at the United Nations Susan Rice’s face said it all. She had a bad day at the office last Thursday, when 138 nations voted for a General Assembly resolution to upgrade Palestine’s status to a non-member observer state at the international body.

Israel and the US voted against, along with seven other countries, while 41 countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom abstained. It was a diplomatic fiasco for the Obama administration, not because the resolution passed, but because Washington could not persuade its closest European allies to adopt its position.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas achieved an important, and rare, diplomatic victory for the Palestinians. The implicit recognition of the state of Palestine by the world community will prove to be an important catalyst in the decades-old quest to secure self-determination and an independent state in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

Rice described Thursday’s win as “unfortunate and counterproductive”, while Israel dubbed it as “inconsequential”. But in reality, the historic vote was a clear message to an increasingly isolated Israel that the world could no longer tolerate its open-ended occupation and that it must accept the inevitability of Palestinian statehood.

Aside from the United States, Canada, the Czech Republic and Panama, Washington had to rally the support of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau, hardly a credible coalition of nations. Voting in favour were many European countries, including France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Israel was stunned by the fact that Germany, one of its staunchest European supporters, decided to abstain rather than vote against the resolution.

The vote came in the wake of Israel’s eight-day aggression on the Gaza Strip. That attack was halted as Israel came under regional and international pressure.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not fulfil the strategic aim of the offensive which was to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure, especially its arsenal of missiles.

The diplomatic defeat at the UN only added to Netanyahu’s troubles.

The Gaza affair and the UN triumph lifted Palestinian aspirations. Abbas and the Hamas leadership have moved closer to concluding national reconciliation.

It is a move that should bolster Palestinian political stand even more. If reconciliation takes place soon, it would constitute a third defeat for Israel in less than a month.

Israel’s reaction to the UN vote was expected. In a defiant and arrogant move, it announced the building of 3,000 units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Furthermore, it decided to seize and withhold more than $120 million in Palestinian tax revenues in a move to punish the Palestinian Authority. Further punitive measures are expected.

It is a sign of desperation and isolation. Arab countries promised to provide a financial safety net for the PA and their support for the Palestinian leadership at this juncture will prove crucial.

Despite Washington’s rejection of the Palestinian UN move, it must realise that it has to restart the peace process and restore its credibility as an intermediary.

It will have to find ways to deal with and engage a recalcitrant Israeli government that has frustrated the US administration before.

Most likely, Netanyahu will be re-elected next month, and this will test the position of US President Barack Obama in his second term.

If the US chooses not to take the lead in reviving the peace process in the coming few weeks, the Israeli government will surely bury any remaining hope for a negotiated settlement.

Palestine’s new status will allow it to gain membership in international bodies, including the International Criminal Court. Taking its case to the ICC will be a last resort, as Abbas indicated. This last resort will only come if the US fails to revive the peace process and if Israel continues with its settlement activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both scenarios are plausible.

Taking Israel to court will change the rules of engagement. What seemed impossible few years ago may become possible in the near future.

The US cannot continue to protect Israeli transgressions forever. The Palestinians, on the other hand, cannot be expected to sit and do nothing as Israel devours more of their land.

It is imperative for Washington to send a clear message to Israel now. The UN vote, symbolic as it is, has changed the legal and political realities of the dispute.

The state of Palestine is a fact and it will not wait for Israel to give it legitimacy.

More than 20 years of negotiations under US auspices failed to deliver a two-state solution. It is in Israel’s interest to end its occupation and recognise Palestinian rights. Otherwise, the day will come when Israel could become an international pariah.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017