February 20, 2020

Nov. 29 and Palestinian Statehood

Even as the sound of “Hatikvah” reverberated in the auditorium of the American Jewish University, where Los Angeles commemorated the 65th anniversary of the historic United Nations vote of Nov. 29, 1947, another U.N. vote was casting its shadows on our consciousness — the vote for Palestinian statehood, on Nov. 29, 2012.

The similarities between these two votes have been noted by other commentaries — I wish to stress the differences. In 1947, the dancers in Tel Aviv invited their Arab neighbors to join in a celebration of two-statehood; in 2012, the dancers in Ramallah did not invite their Jewish neighbors to any activity. On the contrary, they openly called for the expulsion of Israelis from Haifa, Jaffa and Afula.

But there is another key difference, perhaps more profound. Whereas in 1947, the Jewish people viewed the U.N. vote as their moral victory, in 2012, we find ourselves on the losing side of a moral defeat. Regardless of the political outcomes of the U.N. vote, it is fairly clear that, along the moral dimension, Israel, the United States and Canada are perceived to be on the wrong side of justice — a moral minority of 9 against 138. And it does not matter that some of the 138 states are gruesome dictatorships and others are victims of deceitful propaganda; the essence of justice rests to a large extent on societal perception of justice. And this perception, even among many Americans, depicts Palestinians as pleading for dignity, independence and hope, and those who reject their bid as operating out of pragmatic, but morally unconvincing, considerations.

Being in a moral minority is an ugly experience, totally foreign to the Jewish psyche since Nov. 27, 1947. And while it might not affect Israel’s security, it will surely affect Jewish students on U.S. campuses, whose intimidators will soon be emboldened with a new license to attack. It will also invigorate the boycott sharks, the first nibble of which was felt last week by Stevie Wonder, who was pressured to cancel a concert on behalf of the Friends of the IDF here in Los Angeles. And it will soon affect the whole structure of Israel advocacy; if, until now, truth had to be explained, from now on truth will need to be unearthed.

Worse yet, it is very dangerous for Israel to have many Americans think (and they do) that Israel forced them into a moral minority position, standing contrary to the ruling moral forces of the world. Americans, too, detest being in the minority.

What caused this defeat and what can be done to reverse it?

The greatest blunder was to keep the moral issue out of the debate. We discussed whether the bid would help Mahmoud Abbas or weaken him; would he appeal to the international court at The Hague or not; will it help Hamas or weaken it; whether it would advance peace negotiations or stall them; whether it would make Israel more flexible or less flexible; which Israeli party would benefit, and which would loose. We discussed every issue on earth except the one that matters in the moral arena: Are Palestinians entitled to, and ready for, statehood?

Abbas and his supporters were the ones who pressed this issue to its utmost, everyone else avoided it, including American and Israeli diplomats. And Abbas won because people are moved by right and wrong, not by analyses of consequences. (See my article, “Moral Dimension of Palestinian Statehood,” in the Jewish Journal, Sept. 30, 2011.)

Ironically, there was no reason for us to avoid the moral aspect of the issue, as this aspect has been and remains our strongest point in the debate: It can be summarized in one sentence: “A nation deserves a state to the extent that its  children are taught that their neighbors deserve one, too.”

It casts Israel’s objection to the Palestinian bid in a universally accepted moral principle and on established facts on the ground. Specifically, it highlights the fact that the world expects some sign, however feeble, that Palestinians are prepared to accept Israel as a permanent fixture in the Middle East, rather than use their statehood to prepare for renewed hostilities from a position of strength. Or for continued gnawing at Israel’s legitimacy from a higher diplomatic platform.

The damage is done, can it be repaired?

I think it can, by bringing Abbas’ intentions to the surface and making them central to the conversation.

What Netanyahu should do is this: Stop all settlement construction with no exception, and issue an ultimatum to Abbas: Construction will resume in three months unless we agree to meet face to face to discuss conditions for an “end of conflict,” based on 1967 lines (with adjustments) and the principle of  “two states for two peoples.”

Now, before you criticize my proposal as caving in to Abbas’ demands, and, as a play on words, let me note that, based on prevailing norms of Palestinian education, the chances that Abbas would be able to accept such an offer from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are extremely slim. The reason is simple: No Arab leader can utter the words “end of conflict” or “two states for two peoples,” no matter what. The former expresses acceptance of Israel as a legitimate and permanent state, which goes against everything Abbas was telling his people (in Arabic) and against everything Palestinians were brought up to believe. The last time the “end of conflict” issue came up in public was in the summer of 2000, as part of the offer that Ehud Barak made to Yasser Arafat during the Camp David Summit. The result was the outbreak of the Second Intifada; Arafat could not go back to his people and tell them that everything they were promised (in Arabic) was a fantasy and, as a price for freedom, Haifa, Jaffa and Afula will remain in Israel’s hands for eternity.

The same goes for the phrase “two states for two peoples.” The Palestinian mantra is always a “two-state solution,” never “for two peoples,” because admitting that Jews are a “people” would bestow credibility on the Zionist claim for a national homeland, thus rendering the Arab rejectionist movement irrational, if not immoral.

In conclusion, Netanyahu will not be risking a thing by demanding an “end to the conflict” and “two states for two peoples” — Abbas will reject the offer out of hand. At the same time, these demands are so morally compelling that even European politicians would not be able to brand them “unreasonable.” Abbas’ rejection will then restore to Israel the moral grounds it has always strived to uphold (Tzidkat Haderech).

In the remote case that Abbas should accept the offer, the benefit would be mutual: Palestinian children will hear, for the first time, that Israel can be accepted as a permanent and legitimate state — a monumental achievement for both sides and a major necessary step toward a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (danielpearl.org), named after his son. He is a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl” (Jewish Lights: 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.