The Wrong Side of History

Israel and the U.S. need to change their attitude toward Palestine

Thursday, November 29, was a historic day. Palestine’s status in the United Nations was upgraded to a “non-member observer state,” implying that the UN now recognizes the existence of a Palestinian state. One hundred and fifty countries voted in favor of formally acknowledging that four million Palestinians can call the West Bank and the Gaza Strip their country, and only nine voted against. Israel, the United States, Canada, and a smattering of Pacific Island nations voluntarily wrote themselves into the history books as villains to Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel needs to realize that using tactics of oppression to undermine the possibility of a two-state solution are outdated and must change to reflect recent developments. Meanwhile, the United States must learn that it is alone in its unilateral support of Israel and should do more to support the Palestinian Authority in the face of Israeli belligerency.

UN recognition of Palestine should be an important step forward to finally establishing a secure state for the Palestinians. But Israel’s approach to the “Palestinian problem” is outdated and requires re-evaluation in light of the recent U.N. vote. For a long time, Israel has used brute force to agitate the Palestinian territories and used the dysfunction caused by Israeli meddling as an excuse to not bring any realistic demands to the negotiating table. The Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip, which prevents goods like construction materials from passing in to the area, only convinces Palestinians that peaceful diplomatic efforts are failing and that violence is the only way to defend Palestinian interests. The Israeli government has used the separation wall and Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank to prevent a geographically coherent potential Palestinian state. Israel does this under the guise of security. However, the Israeli government needs to understand that the best way to promote its country’s security is to convince the rest of the world that they are no longer oppressing Palestinians and rather intend to live alongside them in peace.

Unfortunately, Israel’s actions after the UN vote demonstrate that the hawkish Netanyahu administration cares little for a two-state solution. In fact, Israel revealed on Friday that it would commence with construction plans for 3,000 settler homes in a highly contentious area known as E1 in the West Bank, a move that was immediately condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Israel then announced that it would withhold $120 million in tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

These moves come on the heels of a bloody Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip, which killed more than 150 Palestinians, including many women and children. This was an extreme response to a Hamas operation that killed only a few Israelis. The deaths of innocent Palestinians do nothing but increase support for Hamas’ terrorist activities in the West Bank, weakening the non-violent Palestinian Authority that currently governs the West Bank. If Israel ever wants peace, it must stop antagonizing the Palestinians. The rest of the world has spoken, and overwhelming international support for the creation of a Palestinian state is clear. It is time for Israel to get on board, too.

The United States, too, is on the wrong side of history. Just a year ago, President Obama threatened to veto Palestine’s bid to achieve full member status of the United Nations. Recently, he pledged support for the recent occupation of the Gaza Strip, despite news of IDF soldiers killing entire Palestinian families in Gaza and shooting dead Palestinians protesting against the IDF in the West Bank. Israel has long been an important ally to the United States, but unwavering U.S. support for Israeli belligerency is unacceptable in light of the death of innocents. American support for Israel has long been unpopular in the Middle East and has proven to be a major diplomatic obstacle between newly democratic Arab countries such as Egypt. It is time for America to do the right thing and work toward establishing a state of Palestine, even if that means ignoring the more aggressive demands of Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated shortly after the UN vote, “The moment has arrived for the world to say clearly: enough of aggression, settlements and occupation…[and] issue a birth certificate of the reality of the State of Palestine.” I hope that we can continue to talk about the “State of Palestine” and “the Palestinian government” rather than “the occupied territories.” But perhaps this is too hopeful: Today, Israel holds all the cards in its Likud-ruled hands and has America’s indefatigable support as the ace up its sleeve. The history books have yet to be written, and I can only hope that the political tide in Israel will turn and future Israeli governments will show a gentler hand in the coming years.

Heather L. Pickerell ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Mather House. Her column normally appears on alternate Thursdays.

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