Friday, September 23, 2011

In UN Statehood Showdown, No Winners

Today, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas submitted a formal application for Palestinian UN membership to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu both spoke before the UN General Assembly as well, laying out their respective cases, and showcasing the stark disconnect between the two leaders.

Prime Minister Abbas' speech was a nationalist and hard-lining text typical of Palestinian leadership. While speaking of the desire for Palestinian statehood and peace, Prime Minister Abbas referred to Israel's presence in the West Bank as both "colonial" and as an "apartheid," while saying nothing of systematic terrorism campaigns in which Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat have had historic complicity.

Given the tone of the speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu's optimal strategy was to reiterate a desire for negotiations, highlight the efforts it has taken towards peace, and reiterate his acceptance of the 2-state solution. The Prime Minister did make these points...eventually.

However, he began by insulting the United Nations and the press from the podium of the UN General Assembly. His speech, rambling at times, had the tone of an off-the-record conversation in a Likud party office, not an official statement of Israeli policy. Given the global audience, and historical importance of the moment, the Prime Minister squandered a key opportunity to delegitimize the Palestinian statehood bid and frame Israel as the moderate centrist in the conflict. Instead the Prime Minister chose to invoke "crocodiles" of radical Islam, 9/11, the Holocaust, and Israel's archaeological past. That the UN has held blatant double-standards against Israel is clear. But the place to make that point is not on the podium of the General Assembly.

As the bid moves forward, the Prime Minister's inability to create international support, especially support cobbled together with the assistance of the US, will continue to be a diplomatic and security liability to the State of Israel. The Prime Minister's speech today was the diametric opposite of hasbara. It made moderate centrists less pro-Israel, not more. It harmed Israel's diplomatic leverage in the international community rather than helping it. Most importantly, it showcased an Israeli leadership completely out of touch with reality on the ground and in the international community. While the Prime Minister will sleep safe in New York City tonight, residents of Sderot and Ashkelon will sleep under the threat of rocket fire. Palestinians will sleep ready for another day of systematic discrimination. The conflict will perpetuate for another day. There have been no winners.

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