Breaking news from South America: Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have recognized an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
In practical terms, this news means almost precisely nothing. The Palestinian Authority currently supports a “special delegation” in Brasilia and another in Buenos Aires. The men holding those jobs will now presumably get a little uptick in their protocol at diplomatic receptions. Nice for them, but not exactly a world-shaking event.
As Jackson Diehl has pointed out in the Washington Post, the UN General Assembly voted to create an independent Palestinian state all the way back in 1988. Within months of that vote, 93 countries had recognized “Palestine.” The Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan recognitions bring the total to 104. So — meh.
But some hope that the Argentine, Brazilian and Uruguayan action is a prelude to a more significant act: a vote in the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine, a vote that the Obama administration is somehow prevailed upon not to veto.
Writing in The New York Times this week, Robert Wright proposed:
The United Nations created a Jewish state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now. It can define the borders, set the timetable and lay down the rules for Palestinian elections (specifying, for example, that the winners must swear allegiance to a constitution that acknowledges Israel’s right to exist).
This suggestion is not one writer’s lone brainwave.
According to many reports, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is contemplating just the action that Wright describes: requesting a UN Security Council vote to “create Palestine.”
Such a vote is not very likely to happen. The United States could and would veto it. (On Wednesday night, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to urge President Obama to veto any such UN move. The vote was unanimous. And that was the outgoing Democratic-majority House.)
But the UN approach reveals something important about the Palestinian Authority strategy toward Israel:
From the beginning of the Obama administration, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel. Indirect discussions have stumbled along without result. Abbas has insisted he cannot talk without a settlement freeze. Then when he gets his settlement freeze, he explains he still cannot talk.
The beauty of the UN approach is that it provides a perfect excuse never to talk to Israel again.
The UN approach may never achieve anything. It may leave the Palestinian people stuck in a frustrating status quo. But anything is better than a deal that would require a Palestinian leader to acknowledge the permanence of Israel. Back in 2000, Yasser Arafat told Bill Clinton that signing a treaty with Israel would cost Arafat his life. Abbas seems to have reached the same conclusion.
(It’s worth noting that the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins said exactly the same thing about the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty that created the Irish Free State. Collins signed anyway, because he valued his own life less than his nation’s independence. For Arafat, those priorities were always reversed.)
You might imagine that a Palestinian leader would wish to be the one to achieve independence and statehood for his people. But that goal seems to be subordinate to a higher priority: never to be the one who tells his people that they must live alongside Israel rather than overtop Israel’s ruins.
And so the hunt is on for ways to postpone a settlement, prolong the conflict and extend the hope that Israel will collapse. It’s like the last days of imperial Japan, when every official of the Japanese state knew the war was lost, but none dared say so. Alas, in Palestine, there is no Hirohito to break the taboo — admit that the war “has not developed necessarily to our advantage” — and seek the best peace he can get.
Instead it’s off to Turtle Bay to seek some new way around the inescapable truth of the situation. Perhaps there will be another round of Fatah-Hamas civil war. Perhaps another surge of terrorism against Israel and Jewish targets worldwide. But these methods of violent so-called resistance will fail, bequeathing only another generation of Palestinian disappointment and resentment.
Still, it’s not a total loss: at least there will be a clutch of new ambassadorships to distribute.
Originally published in the National Post.