Thursday, September 22, 2011

Palestinian statehood move in UN may spark Mid East Again

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has indicated that he will petition the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a national state as early as this Friday. When the UN takes up the question of Palestinian statehood over the next few weeks, it may well spark another explosive confrontation in the Middle East.

At first glance, bestowing statehood on the Palestinians makes about as much sense as deeming that Georgia and the other southern states are still part of the Confederate States of America and are merely occupied by the United States. Many observers may be confused as to how a group of people without land could be considered a nation. The fact that the Palestinian Authority does not possess a defined territory, one of four requirements for national recognition under the 1933 Montevideo Convention, is part of the legal case against Palestinian statehood in a recent Wall Street Journal column.

There was once a Palestinian state. When the UN voted in 1948 to create the modern state of Israel, it also created an Arab state (see map here). On the first day of Israel’s existence, it was attacked by the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. When the war ended in 1949, Israel’s size had increased with its battlefield successes (see map here). Israel occupied some of the land that had been set aside for an Arab state. Other parts of the Arab state were occupied by Arab nations. Transjordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. The West Bank and Gaza were among the lands later captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1968.

Mahmoud Abbas has said that Palestinians have been living under Israeli occupation for 63 years, which means that Abbas considers the beginning of the occupation to be the 1948 war. This would seem to indicate that Abbas wants the Arab state to include not only the West Bank, but approximately half of Israel as well.

Abbas’ position is in keeping with the Arab pattern of refusing all peace proposals that does not end Israel’s existence. In 2001, Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli proposal to give the Palestinians 91 percent of the West Bank. Even when Israel unilaterally withdraws from occupied territory, as it did from Gaza in 2005, there is no peace. Gaza residents promptly voted to place the terrorist group Hamas in charge. Gaza has since been used a base to launch rockets into Israel, leading to another war in Gaza in 2008. An earlier withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 allowed Hezbollah to fill the void. Israel fought another war in Lebanon in 2006 after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

CNN reports that 120 of the 193 members of the UN General Assembly favor Palestinian statehood. A General Assembly vote would be nonbinding, however. The binding vote would take place on the 15-member Security Council. To his credit, President Obama has promised a US veto of the matter if it comes before the Security Council.

If Palestine is declared to be an Arab state, it would give the Palestinians access to international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council. This would give the Arabs more avenues to attack Israel diplomatically as well as giving their military attacks against Israel more legitimacy. There is also an outside chance that they might one day persuade other countries to put together a coalition backed by a UN resolution that would attempt to oust Israel from the occupied territories militarily, although this would almost certainly face a US veto as well.

In the end, UN consideration of a Palestinian state would be likely to inflame passions on both sides and make peace even more difficult to achieve. Tensions have already been rising between Israel and Turkey and Egypt in past months. Merely introducing the question of Palestinian statehood would further exacerbate the problem. A US veto would likely cause further anti-Americanism in the region as well.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, Israel is Georgia’s 23rd largest trading partner. In 2010, Georgia’s exports to Israel totaled more than $164 million. Trade between Israel and Georgia is increasing. Israeli trade with Georgia in 2010 increased by more than 42 percent from 2009.

It is unlikely that any peace attempts in the Middle East will meet with success until the Palestinians renounce violence. The Israelis have demonstrated their willingness to trade land for peace several times, but their unilateral withdrawals have been interpreted as weakness by the Arabs. Peace will require a willingness by the Muslims to coexist with the Jews. At this point, they are not.

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