The Palestinian initiative to seek statehood at the United Nations has very little to do with actually seeking statehood. The Palestinians are quite aware that the UN process of accepting new states must go through the Security Council, the only body in the UN with the power to create binding actions. The United States is one of five countries in the Security Council that have veto power, and President Obama has said in no uncertain terms that the U.S. will veto any Palestinian attempt to seek approval of statehood.
If this is clear to the Palestinians, why have they continued their campaign to seek statehood at the UN? If they know that actually achieving statehood is beyond possibility, why have they continued on this route? The answer is the same reason the Palestinians do many of the things they do: to make Israel look bad.
Palestinian leaders have routinely put the well-being of their own people at risk in order to score public relations points against Israel. Whether it’s baiting Israel into military action that will cause Palestinians to be injured or killed or whether it’s instigating actions that force Israel to clamp down on movement in the West Bank — it’s clear that the Palestinian leadership is eager to make Israel look bad, even to the detriment of its own people.
Who stands to lose most in the Palestinian leadership’s gambit at the UN? Israel has stated that the UN action will put existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements in jeopardy. This means that the tremendous economic gains throughout the West Bank as a result of Israeli investment and partnership are at risk. Who is the biggest potential loser? The Palestinian people. Congress has threatened to end financial aid to the Palestinians if they continue on this path. Again, who is the biggest potential loser? The Palestinian people.
The naive onlooker sees events simply as one side (the Palestinians) seeking independence and freedom, while the other side (the Israelis) seeks to continue control and dominance. This is not a narrative that Israel can win. I have been asked by many people who consider themselves supporters of Israel, “What’s the big deal if the Palestinians get a state?” The Palestinians’ PR paradigm is difficult to counter.
So what is the best way to effectively communicate Israel’s position in this situation? It is certainly not by arguing against a Palestinian state. There may be a time and place for that, but doing so in this setting plays straight into the paradigm described above: “The Palestinians want freedom; the Israelis want to control them.” This is not the conversation we want to have.
Instead we must change the conversation and communicate a few clear points:
• Engaging in direct negotiations between responsible partners on both sides is the only proven route to peace. The successful peace treaties between Israel and Egypt (1978) and Israel and Jordan (1994) were the result of direct negotiations.
• Israelis have proven themselves to be peace-seeking and willing to make painful sacrifices. In 1978, Israelis agreed to withdraw from all of Sinai in return for a promise of peace from Egypt. At Camp David in 2000, Israelis offered to evacuate 100 percent of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank, dismantle most settlements, and allow the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.
• Peace negotiations with the Palestinians have been stalled by violence and unwillingness by Palestinian leadership to negotiate and compromise. Only responsible partners can achieve peace through direct negotiations. The inclusion of Hamas, a terrorist organization, in the Palestinian government is unacceptable.
It is imperative that we change the terms of the conversation, from one about Israel denying Palestinian freedom and independence to one about Israelis seeking a real partner for peace. By doing so, not only can supporters of Israel win the PR battle, but we can focus the world on the real issues at hand to bring a better world for both Israelis and Palestinians.
This is the second in an ongoing series of columns on how best to communicate for Israel.