This Tuesday, September 20, the UN General Assembly will meet in New York City. The General Assembly was established in 1945 and serves as the main deliberative, policy-making, and representative arm of the United Nations. All 193 member countries of the UN are represented in the GA, and whenever a decision is to be made, each country gets one vote. This coming Tuesday, the world expects at least 140 of these nations to approve a resolution put forward by the Palestinian Authority in which it will ask for the UN to recognize its sovereignty.
As far as I know, there are limited ways to become a recognized nation. A sovereign state must have defined borders with a permanent population and government. It must also be recognized by other autonomous nations. To be granted independence, there cannot be any dependence on other nations for power or support.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority intends to skip all the diplomatic hassle of coming to agreements with other nations. They plan on subverting the normal order and seeking independence through the United Nations. To be clear, the actual language of this resolution has not been made public. We do not know what exactly they will ask for. Common wisdom suggests that the PA will seek statehood within the pre-1967 borders with Fatah and Hamas as partners controlling the government.
This resolution is problematic on several levels. First, it contradicts previous agreements between the Israeli and Palestinian governments that reject unilateral action by either party. Second, in Oslo in 1993 both sides agreed that solutions to the conflict would only be determined through face-to-face bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Third, it does not address the four main issues of the peace process up to this point—Jerusalem, refugees, borders, and settlements. In other words, the idea of submitting a resolution to the United Nations for a sovereign Palestinian Authority is about as well thought out as the nation of Petoria.
Furthermore, there are several potential problems this resolution, should it pass, could create. UN Resolution #181 and others like it, calling for peaceful resolution to the dispute in Israel, might be abrogated under this new resolution. Members of the US Congress have put forth legislation that would cancel funds to the PA as a result of this resolution passing. As an Observer State, a non-voting UN member with certain special privileges, the Palestinian Authority could have access to the international court system to attempt to bring Israel to trial. Israel as a sovereign nation could be delegitimized by the passage of this bill.
So why would the Palestinian Authority want to make such a foolish move? PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that any form of UN recognition, however symbolic, will increase their leverage over Israel. He is treating this as a game in which he plays the United Nations against the peace process. The United Nations, whose goals include international law, security, and peace, will be used to subvert the very peace it was founded to uphold.
Isaac Herzog, a former Israeli cabinet minister, and member of the Foreign and Defense Committee, wrote a pretty amazing article in which he suggests that Israel—a valid and recognized member of the United Nations—actually vote for Palestinian Autonomy on conditions. In his words:
Israel should announce its support for the UN resolution on the condition that the Palestinians agree to return to the table as soon as possible and without preconditions, fully backed and supported by the international community, and to determine the final settlement through bilateral negotiations. The UN resolution must reflect this aspiration and include Israel’s perspective as well. In addition, the two parties must agree to a framework for an interim process that will allow for negotiations based on Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state.
Herzog suggests that such a proposal would prevent a violent confrontation, give the Palestinians the dignity they seek, allow the parties to relaunch negotiations, and win Israel international favor while preserving its security needs.
The Reform Movement has long supported a two-state solution, and so do most Israelis. The solution we envision, however, is one where both parties agree to the terms, rather than slamming the doors shut on the peace process just to sneak in through a window. The Israeli government has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with no preconditions, and allow this process to continue toward peace.
For now, American Jews must remain vigilant. There are petitions going around on the internet for us to sign through ARZA, the URJ, JCRC, and more. Google "Palestinian Authority UN Resolution" and you will probably find one. Sign as many as you can. As I have said before, call your government representatives: If you want their phone numbers, just ask. I have them programmed in my cell phone, and you should too.
Most importantly, we must continue to pray for the day when all nations will be one and at peace.