(MintPress) – In a historic United Nations’ vote, the General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer — 138 countries for, nine against and 41 abstaining. While this changes little about Palestine’s actual legal status, the symbolism of the act threatens to redefine the tone of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
It also speaks of a potentially troubling trend for the United States. No G-20 nation — besides Canada — stood beside the United States in its opposition to this vote; France, Spain, Italy and Switzerland voted yes; Great Britain and Germany abstained. The United States, in its support of Israel and its avoidance in addressing Israel’s human rights violations, risks the antagonization of the international community and a complete reversal of the diplomatic efforts of the last four years.
The United States’ cutting of funding to the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the realization of a threat made against the acceptance of Palestine’s bid highlights the risks the United States is taking in its opposition of Palestine. According to UNESCO’s website, UNESCO’s mission objectives includes attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning; mobilizing science knowledge and policy for sustainable development; addressing emerging social and ethical challenges; fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace; and building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication, with priorities with Africa and gender equality.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “Today’s vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The U.S. has held back a $60 million payment to UNESCO. Federal law denies payment to any organization that recognizes the Palestine Liberation Organization with the same standing as a member state. UNESCO admitted Palestine in October by a vote of 107-14 with 52 abstentions.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., dismissed the General Assembly vote, saying, “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade … and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded.”
While the United Nations does not have the power to declare or recognize a state:
“The recognition of a new State or Government is an act that only other States and Governments may grant or withhold. It generally implies readiness to assume diplomatic relations. The United Nations is neither a State nor a Government, and therefore does not possess any authority to recognize either a State or a Government.”
The affirmative vote of 138 nations serve as de facto recognition, despite the fact that the United States and Israel are not required to share in that recognition, and are — most likely — expected to continue opposing it. Typically, the international law basis for state recognition is based on the 1993 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which decries that “a State as a person of international law should possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other States.”
In addition, a 1948 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ, or the World Court) additional spell out that a candidate for recognition must be: 1) a State; 2) peace-loving; 3) must accept the obligations of the United Nations’ Charter; 4) must be able to carry out these obligations; and 5) must be willing to do so. The United States blocked Palestine’s petition for full voting rights by declaring that Palestine violates the “peace-loving” condition of the criteria.
Permanent observer status allows Palestine to establish a mission at the U.N. for the purpose of engaging in U.N. operations and having access to most meetings and all relevant documentation. Most importantly, as a permanent observer, Palestine is recognized as an eligible party to seek intervention from the ICJ in contentious issues (adversarial proceedings seeking to settle a dispute) against other states. This is concerning because — while not binding — ICJ rulings carry the weight and expectations of the international community; those that choose to violate ICJ rulings, such as Israel — when, in 2005, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the ICJ ruling that a 700 km Israeli barrier built in Palestinian territory was illegal — could face massive international opposition, sanction or other isolation tactics or referral to the Security Council for consideration and punishment.
This troubles Israel, for it is almost assured that Palestine will seek a remedy from the ICJ. As a permanent observer, the U.N. acknowledges that the Palestinians are a recognized people who rightfully occupy a territory. This changes the tempo of any future Palestinian-Israeli negotiation; the theme is no longer coexistence, but withdrawal — as Israel is now seen as an occupying force in Palestinian territory.
The eight-day Israeli military assault on Gaza may have been the act that secured Palestine’s approval. The sequence that Israel described as a response to stepped-up rocket fire into Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians and aimed the world’s focus on Israel’s overzealous “reaction” to a military Israel is vastly superior to. The attack weakened the Palestinian Authority. Hamas, the Palestinian Authority’s rival, was seen as being more likely to stand up against Israel and fight back. The General Assembly vote is seen as an attempt to strengthen the moderate Palestinian Authority against Hamas so that cooler heads would prevail.
A call for justice
Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators said that they will introduce legislation that will cut off all foreign aid to Palestine if Palestine seeks to use the International Court of Justice against Israel. In addition, the proposed legislation would close the Palestinian mission in Washington if Palestine refuses to negotiate with Israel.
In 2003, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — an adamant opponent of the two-state solution who, in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, conceded to the establishment of a Palestinian state if Palestine demilitarized, ceded control of its airspace and claims to Jerusalem, stopped settlement building in the West Bank, stopped asking for a return to seized territory to Palestinian refugees and recognized Israel as the Jewish national state — said to CNN in regards to whether Palestine statehood would bring peace, “Such a state would be able to raise a large army, use it without limitations, forge alliances with regimes that aim to destroy Israel, and serve as a base of increased terrorism against Israel, and in that way threaten its existence.”
Israel has a lot to be scared about. The nation was created in an about-face to the principles the U.N. claims to be based on. The modern nation of Israel came about when Jewish immigrants to Palestine sought self-rule. As the Palestinians, under the British mandate, had a semi-autonomous government and national identity, pushes to create a new nation on top of an existing nation caused outbreaks of violence and heightened passions throughout the region. The U.N., which — like the rest of the world — was shocked by the realities of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, moved contrary to its charter (which call for a people to create their own state and system of government, which would ultimately have led to a power-sharing arrangement among the Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents of Palestine) and called for Palestine to be partitioned into Jewish and Muslim states. This was summarily rejected, leading to the Israeli Civil War.
During the war, the Zionists were accused of committing 33 massacres, including the Massacre of Deir Yassin, in which more than 100 men, women and children were killed. By the end of the war, more than 750,000 Palestinians were refugees, more than 500 towns and villages destroyed and every single Palestinian geographic feature was renamed with Jewish names, whitewashing the Palestinian culture.
Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel, once said, “There is no such thing as a Palestinian.”
During the 1967 Six Day War, Israel seized the West Bank, part of Egypt and part of Syria. This is illegal according to international law; land cannot be seized by military conquest. (The Israeli and various allied organizations, such as the Jewish Federations of North America, argue that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which bans territorial acquisition by conquest, refer only to offensive wars. This contradicts the wording of the resolution, which explicitly states that the resolution is a result of the 1967 war and is a call for regional peace by Israel giving up its conquered territories.) Israel ultimately gave Egypt back its lands, but still claims its Syrian acquisition and still occupies the West Bank.
Because of Israel’s deep alliance with the United States, Israel has escaped punishment from the Security Council for violation of its resolutions. This alliance flies in the face of the fact that during the Six Days War, an American ship, the USS Liberty, which strayed too close to Israeli waters while on an observation mission, was attacked by Israel in international waters, killing 34 crew members and injuring 171. This is, by federal law, a declaration of war. However, even though the ship was clearly marked as an American ship and it did have the American flag at full-mast, the Israelis claimed it was a mistake, which the Johnson administration accepted at face value to avoid embarrassing an ally.
The cover up of the attack continued until the 2004’s high-level commission released its findings on the case.
Today, the effects of a permanent, occupying, ethnically-preferred government of foreign origin on Muslim lands have driven frustrations to all-time highs. Israeli confiscation of privately owned land in the West Bank, the control of the Gaza Strip and its continued occupation of U.N.-recognized Palestinian lands is intolerably oppressive to the Palestinians and is in continued opposition of international law. Food and medication blockades, strip searches and repressive security checks, massive numbers of Palestinians held in prison without trial and aggressive military checks with little or no direct rationale makes Israel one of the world’s largest current violators of human rights.
Should Israel ever have to answer for all of this, the international embarrassment alone would take generations to wear off. Worse than that, the United States would be found complacent; the U.S. gives $3 billion to Israel annually, mostly in the form of military aid.
Israel and the United States: a dysfunctional love affair
The United States’ support for Israel is, in part, religious, as Christianity shares a common lineage to Judaism (the Christian Old Testament is a modified version of the Jewish Torah). John Adams once said, “I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize man than any other nation.” Calvin Coolidge echoed the sentiment, “The Jews themselves, of whom a considerable number were already scattered throughout the colonies, were true to the teachings of their prophets. The Jewish faith is predominantly the faith of liberty.”
Because of the association between Judea of biblical history and Palestine today, many Christians see the region as “belonging” to the Jews, despite the reality that modern Palestinians are the direct descendants of the ancient Judeans. John Adams once wrote, “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation for, as I believe, the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age.”
Herman Melville expressed this sentiment in his poem “Clarel; A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land”:
“… the Hebrew seers announce in time
the return of Judah to her prime;
Some Christians deemed it then at hand
Here was an object. Up and On.
With seed and tillage help renew -
Help reinstate the Holy Land …”
However, with the largest Jewish population outside of Israel, the United States has always been the subject of pro-Zionist and pro-Israel lobbying. Informal lobbying through Christian programming, such as the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Christian Television Network, and formal lobbying through Christians United for Israel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, pro-Israel and Christian policy have been blended in the United States and are definitively inseparable.
But, like most things political in America, money plays a part of this love affair. According to the Washington Post, pro-Israel political action committees — as summarized from the Center of Responsible Politics’ 1990-2008 data — donated $56.8 millions to political campaigns, compared to the less than $800,000 given by pro-Muslim PACs. As of 2006, Jewish organizations provided 60 percent of the Democratic Party’s fundraising and 35 percent of the Republicans’.