Israeli-Palestinian relations do not solely belong to Israel. The international community has a right and an obligation to intervene.
By Ilan Baruch
Right-wing propagandists have been quick to take credit for the outcome of the UN Security Council vote on Tuesday, which rejected the Palestinians’ resolution to unilaterally end the occupation, rather than through negotiations. The resolution won the support of eight out of 15 members of the Security Council — just shy of passing.
However, a closer look at the votes shows that there were neither winners nor losers in New York. The Palestinians won the support of the majority of Security Council members, while a minority of states opposed the resolution (eight yes votes and two no votes); a total of 13 states supported the resolution or abstained, while only two, the U.S. and Australia, opposed. Out of the five permanent members of the UNSC, three supported the resolution (Russia, China and France) while one abstained (Britain). The Palestinian failure, therefore, stems not from the fact that the majority of countries, including the United States, wish to see an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but rather from the Security Council’s procedures themselves (which require a majority of nine states to pass resolutions).
It seems that the Security Council may return and discuss the French resolution on the same issue, although it is likely to be rejected due to American sensitivities over meddling in internal Israeli affairs before the elections. But in reality U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has already brought down the Netanyahu government. Washington’s pressure to thaw the peace process led to renewed talks in July 2013. The death knell, however, sounded in April 2014. The failure led to a steep rise in Palestinian anger toward of the status quo.
Abbas, who understood that violence would only give Israel a golden opportunity to forever tarnish his presidency, put forward two parallel initiatives. On the one hand, he promoted national reconciliation and established a technocratic unity government. On the other hand, he pushed a diplomatic initiative at the UN Security Council, whose goal was to place the occupied territories under independent Palestinian sovereignty by 2017.
Events on the ground took a different route. The kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students in Gush Etzion by Hamas militants led to a military operation against Hamas’ infrastructure in the West Bank. This, in turn, led to a full-scale military confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. The Israeli government failed to convince its public that it came out victorious. Instead, it gave its citizens 51 days of anxiety, thousands of rockets and mortars, infiltration attempts through tunnels, a one-day closure of Ben-Gurion Airport, dozens dead and wounded, and massive economic damages.
It also brought about unprecedented destruction in Gaza: over 2,100 dead, tens of thousands wounded, hundreds of thousands homeless and billions in damages. The world was shocked. Alongside expressions of support for Israel’s right to protect itself came condemnations from some of the most important capitals in the world, including Berlin and Washington DC. An international fact finding mission has begun its work, and Israel is not cooperating.
The war in Gaza, which was born out of Kerry’s failed peace initiative, led to disappointment in terms of security, economy and morale, as well as to the downfall of Netanyahu’s government.
Over the past two decades, Israel has dictated the terms of negotiations to both the Palestinians and the Americans: it must be done in bilateral channels, and aside from the Israelis and Palestinians, only the United States can take part in the process as a facilitator. This has resulted in distorted power dynamics in the negotiation room: the Palestinians have nothing to offer, while the Netanyahu government isn’t interested in the “two states for two peoples” solution based on 1967 borders.
This situation must fundamentally change, and the upcoming elections provide a good opportunity to sharpen the message. Israeli-Palestinian relations do not solely belong to Israel. The world has a right and an obligation to intervene. The Americans must clarify that the lack of a breakthrough will lead to a complete deterioration in Israel’s international standing. Israel’s allies must force it to return to the table so that it can reconfigure its strategic interests.
The Palestinians’ failure to garner a strong majority to support its resolution brings us to another reconfiguration. As Israel gears up for the elections, the United States and Europe must make clear the price Israelis will pay without a real peace process, as well as what it stands to gain from making peace.
Ilan Baruch, former Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, is currently actively involved in the Peace NGOs Forum. This article first appeared in +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it here.