Palestinians should press UN bid as US opinion shifts

Palestinians should press UN bid as US opinion shifts
America’s political leaders may not have noticed, but a new poll suggests US public opinion is turning.
5 min read
08 December, 2014
For negotiating with Iran, Kerry will always be in the pro-Israel lobby's cross-hairs (Getty)

No matter how you look at it, Israel has had a bad week.

In Tel Aviv, the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, dissolved the government and parliament to seek early elections. In Europe, the French parliament voted, with a huge majority, to recognize a Palestinian state in a symbolic non-binding vote, that follow similar votes in Sweden, England and Spain, and with more likely to follow in most Western European countries.

Even in Washington, a city known for its chronic propensity to overlook the bad behaviour of its disturbingly spoiled child no matter what awful, embarrassing things Israel does, there was bad news.

     A UN effort will not bring about the end of occupation. But, along with a world fed up with Israel, it will aid the Palestinian struggle and further isolate Israel.

A Brookings Institution poll released on 5 December suggests – in what would be a major shift in US public opinion – that one-third of Americans want the US to push for a one-state outcome in Israel/Palestine. According to the survey, the percentage of those polled who want Washington to advocate a single bi-national state with equal citizenship for Jews and Arabs has risen from 24 percent to 34 percent.

The poll, which was conducted online in November 2014 by the University of Maryland found that of the 1,008 American respondents, 71 percent said that if a two-state solution fails, they favour a bi-national democratic state over a Jewish state that deprives Palestinians of citizenship.

Yet you wouldn’t sense such a shift among America's political establishment, which like Israel's, has consistently moved to the right over the years. During the same week as the poll, Congress voted overwhelmingly to approve the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, while Barack Obama, the US president, nominated Ashton Carter, a staunch supporter of Israel, as Pentagon chief to replace fired/retired defence secretary, Chuck Hagel.

Currying favour

Meanwhile, a slew of current and former top-tier political figures headed by Joe Biden, vice-president, John Kerry – the secretary of state who has been insulted by Israeli government officials every time he opened his mouth in the past 12 months – and aspiring president and Machiavellian former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, competed to declare their "selfless support" for Israel (right or wrong), at the Haim Saban Forum.

This is not AIPAC. Or even the American Jewish Committee whose President, Lawrence Grossman, thinks that America would be better-off if he ran its foreign policy. Haim Saban, is an Israeli billionaire (Egyptian by birth) who made (really) good in America and who has become one of the biggest donors to the Democratic Party.

Beating both Biden and Kerry to the podium to assert her claim as the most fervent advocate for Israel, Clinton (on 5 December) dismissed the negative press coverage surrounding tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration. Cooperation between Israel and the US over the past six years, she said, has been "quite extraordinary”. Within earshot of Saban’s deep pockets, the would-be president proclaimed that with, "the funding on Iron Dome, the funding of other military needs and equipment, the continuing strategic consultation that we’ve been consistently engaged in, no one can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security."

Biden, meanwhile, still quiet about his intentions regarding the presidency, but never shy of trying to be first among "Israel-firsters", once again laid down his credentials with “flair and valour” promising to shield Israel from accountability or isolation.

The vice-president repeated again what he has claimed in the past: "If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one to make sure our interests were preserved". He once again vowed that America’s support for Israel’s security is unshakable, repeatedly emphasising Obama’s commitment to Israel and his own long-standing connections there. He lauded Israeli courage in its “tough neighbourhood”, exhibited his father's unbending commitment to Zionism, shamelessly defended Israel's war of aggression on Gaza, and boasted how he and Obama have met with Netanyahu more than any other leader.

John Kerry also did his best. But the secretary of state has been accused by the Israeli government of engaging in a "terrorist" attack on Israel by backing a ceasefire agreement this summer with Hamas that had been shaped by its Qatari backers. Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defence minister, called him "obsessive" and "messianic" for doggedly pursuing a 'peace process'. And worse, for his pursuit of a deal with Iran on its nuclear program, no matter what he does or says he will remain in crosshairs of Israel and its lobby in Washington.

Where to now?

So where do we go from here? In Israel, while what kind of government will emerge in five or six months is uncertain, what is certain is that Israel will continue to brutalize Palestinians under occupation, usurp Palestinian land and Judaise east Jerusalem. All the time, the land designated for the "illusive" Palestinian state will continue to shrink.

The United States is hamstrung by a Congress more pro-Israel than ever. The US is distracted by messy involvements in several wars in the Arab world, all while immobilized by the current administration's lame-duck status. It is not likely to exert any meaningful pressure on Israel to slow its feverish settlement building, let alone end its occupation, no matter what foolish claims are being leaked about Obama's intentions to punish Israel.

Most certainly the Palestinians will continue to struggle.

But in the last few weeks we have been reassured by Palestinian officials that by mid- December, come hell or high-water, the PLO will submit its request to end the occupation to the United Nations Security Council. And if ever there was a time for this it is now, without hesitation, and regardless of American pressure.

To overcome any hesitation, Palestinians should take their cue from the survey released last week. Americans are split on the issue of a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid, but when asked whether the United States should oppose Palestinian efforts to seek international recognition at the United Nations, only 27 percent of respondents said yes.

A UN effort will not bring about the end of the occupation. But, along with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a world fed up with Israeli brutality and racism, and a growing global solidarity movement, it will aid the Palestinian struggle and further isolate Israel.