You and the UN

If you care about Israel, you have one very clear assignment over the next two months.

In about eight weeks, the U.N. Security Council could vote on whether to recognize Palestinian statehood.

What’s your assignment? Let me give you a hint: It is not to oppose the resolution.

Your job is not to join the well-meaning American Jewish pro-Israel groups who have made this U.N. vote Jewish Enemy No. 1, and who have sworn to keep raising awareness, and spending your dollars, until it goes down to defeat. Taking a cue from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they have made a no vote on a Palestinian state the litmus test for “pro-Israel.”

They mean well, but they’re just dead wrong.

On the other hand, your job is not to blindly support the Palestinians, no matter what the actual wording of a final resolution says. 

Nor, heaven forbid, is your job to reward the grandstanding American politicians who have threatened to cut off American aid to the Palestinians should a resolution pass. 

You know better, and so should they.

Instead, your job is this: Convince your representatives, and your president, to ensure that the U.N. resolution for Palestinian statehood protects Israel’s security, recognizes Israel’s Jewish character and enshrines the two-state solution. 

A properly worded resolution can effectively undermine the power of Hamas, reward the state-building efforts of Salam Fayyad, remove the refugee issue as a permanent thorn in Israel’s side — after all, if the Palestinians have a state, they can’t have refugees — and create a framework for negotiations over the outstanding issues.

In other words, what is being sold to the American Jewish community as a looming disaster actually offers one of the great opportunities of our lifetime. 

I wish I could take credit for concocting such a pragmatic and innovative approach to a crisis that has Jewish organizations and Israeli and American diplomats in spasms. But that credit goes to Gidi Grinstein and the people at the Re’ut Institute, the nonpartisan Israeli think tank he founded and heads. Early on in this crisis, Grinstein saw the opportunity — in fact, his approach served as the basis of a Tom Friedman column on the U.N. vote. 

Grinstein made the argument again at a series of meetings in Los Angeles last week. I caught up with him at a parlor meeting sponsored by University Synagogue at a home in Pacific Palisades. 

Since the mid-1970s, Grinstein reminded his audience, every Israeli government — left, right and center — has understood that Israel must negotiate with the Palestinians. This is a matter of survival for Israel, and every right-wing Israeli leader, once in office, has backtracked on his solemn promise not to negotiate. 

At the same time, the division between Hamas, which rejects Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, makes real negotiation impossible at this time. The left and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof can blame Israel all they want, but it is Hamas that is the true obstacle to peace.

That said, experience has shown that Israel does not gain peace through unilateral action or withdrawal.

So if negotiation and unilateral action won’t work, what’s left could be a third party that can create new facts on the ground.

“When we negotiate, we have to say yes, and they have to say yes,” Grinstein pointed out. But in the U.N., who has to say yes? A third party. So the Palestinians no longer control the process.”

That is Grinstein’s key insight. The Palestinians will have little control over the actual language of the final resolution presented to the U.N. Security Council. By taking their petition to the United Nations, they gave away control. In fact, the United States will have a great deal of power over the wording. The United States can make sure a resolution takes into account the true security needs of the two peoples. 

What would Israel achieve through the language of this resolution? It could pin down the two-state reality by enshrining the idea of two states for two peoples — Jewish and Palestinian. It could acknowledge Israel’s need for complete control over security issues. It could instantly remove the refugee issue — all Palestinians would have a home. All this could be part of a statehood resolution that the Palestinians, even if they didn’t love it, could hardly walk away from.

“In other words,” Grinstein concluded, “there are a lot of benefits to Israel from the opportunity that was created in the U.N.”

Whether Israel takes full advantage of these opportunities depends in part on American diplomatic efforts. And that’s where your job comes in. Let your representatives and your president know that you support a resolution for Palestinian statehood that enshrines two states for two peoples, with secure borders. Tell the American Jewish organizations that you support to stop saying, “No way,” and start saying, “Yes, but …”

“I can’t tell you whether it will happen,” Grinstein said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of the process, the resolution we have fought will become a lever for progress, and we could be months away from pinning down a two-state solution.”

There, that’s our job: a new approach for a new year.

To read the Re’ut plan in full, click here.