World’s criticism of Israeli response to UN overlooks Palestinian intransigence

By Sherwin Pomerant

Over the past weeks both via e mail and during my travels to the United States, Europe and Hong Kong, many people have raised the question as to why Israel has reacted “so strongly” (to use their words) to the Nov. 29 decision by the United Nations General Assembly decision to upgrade the status of Palestine in that body.

Frankly, from the perspective of someone living in Israel my question is why has the world not reacted strongly to the negative diatribes that emanated from the Palestinian leadership both before and after this decision?

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It is important to recall that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, before he went to the UN and in order to get their support, assured every country with which he spoke that if the UN approves the status upgrade, he will be ready to sit down and talk peace with Israel “the very next day.” But in his speech before the UN General Assembly, he made no mention of that. Rather he blasted Israel once again with half-truths and un-truths, as in the following: 

We have not heard one word from any Israeli official expressing any sincere concern to save the peace process. On the contrary, our people have witnessed, and continue to witness, an unprecedented intensification of military assaults, the blockade, settlement activities and ethnic cleansing, particularly in Occupied East Jerusalem, and mass arrests, attacks by settlers and other practices by which this Israeli occupation is becoming synonymous with an apartheid system of colonial occupation, which institutionalizes the plague of racism and entrenches hatred and incitement.

Those are hardly words of reconciliation. And, of course, immediately after the vote he went back to his earlier “conditions” that unless building in the settlements stops, he is not prepared to talk peace. This, of course, in the face of an earlier 10 month freeze self-imposed by Israel during which time he was never prepared to sit down and talk peace. It is important to recall that at the very end of that period in September, 2010, Abbas, with the support of President Barack Obama, said if the freeze would just be extended he would be ready to sit down with Israel. Really? Where was he during those 10 months?

But that is not all. Immediately after the UN vote and in accordance with the cease fire after Operation Defensive Shield, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal visited the Gaza Strip for the first time since 1997.  As part of the agreement Israel promised not to assassinate any of Hamas’ leaders so Mashaal was safe from attack.  And what did he say during his speech there?

In his speech, Mashaal reiterated the classic positions that are clearly set out in the movement’s charter. “Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it,” he said, “and we will not recognize Israel. What applies to Gaza applies to Beersheva, Jaffa, and Haifa — they are all of a piece.”

As far as Mashaal is concerned, it is possible, and desirable, to conduct a liberation struggle in various arenas. To throw stones, to use international law, to recruit the entire word’s support for the Palestinian cause but the main driver is the armed struggle.

Mashaal addressed himself to Abbas, just a week after the latter returned from the UN flush from his victory in the vote in the UN General Assembly, and preached at him as though he were a lax schoolboy, telling him, “A real state is not achieved through negotiation. First comes liberation of the land, then a state.”

The words of Abbas and Mashaal are not the words of people seeking peace through accommodation.  Rather they are the words of people about whom we in Israel need to be very cautious given that the stakes (i.e. our very survival) are so high.

So, put in this context, announcing an expansion of construction in existing neighborhoods, moving forward with plans to build in areas that we have been discussing for some years, and withholding the payment of taxes collected to the Palestinian Authority to take care of large debts they have accrued to Israel over the years for utility payments, do not seem like such draconian measures.

This writer cannot tell how serious the present Israel leadership is about either peace or a Palestinian state.  But in the face of the deafening silence of a world that listens to the diatribes of our cousins and not only says nothing but threatens Israel with economic isolation, one can better understand the reactions of our government.