September 25, 2011

Living Fiction in the Middle East

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The Palestinian Authority confirmed on Sept. 23 that it would seek recognition as a state, or at least as an observer, at the United Nations. President Mahmoud Abbas stated that the P.A. would first seek approval from the Security Council, where everyone already knows it will be vetoed by the U.S.; but fear lurks that the Palestinians could take their claim to the General Assembly, where Israel stands very little chance of blocking approval of Palestinian observer status.Membership at the U.N. would do literally nothing to end Israel’s occupation nor to bring peace to the region, but rather would be a passive-aggressive maneuver to show Israel how unpopular it really is at the U.N. cafeteria. If the P.A.’s request were granted, it would gain recourse to the International Criminal Court — an institution that could conceivably provide Israel with, at worst, a very stern slap on the wrist. More than anything, though, Palestinian recognition at the U.N. would make Israel look really bad and would allow a litany of sympathetic bystander states to recognize the P.A. and further condemn Israel’s occupation. The Palestinians’ narrative of a desperate plea for recognition on the world stage does absolutely nothing for them, since their fate is in the hands of only themselves and the Israelis and no one else.The Israelis, on the other hand, are not doing much to better the situation. Earlier this year when President Obama suggested that the 1967 borders could be used as a basis for negotiation, with mutually agreed-upon land swaps, Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly dissented. For reference, the 1967 borders have always and will always be the basis of any negotiation, because there is literally no other conceivable starting point. The prime minister, however, rejected this proposal with the entirely fictional claim that the 1967 borders would be “indefensible.” Would Netanyahu prefer to start based on the premise that the Israelis control the entire Middle East, and then make concessions from there out of the Israelis infinite benevolence? Is that really any way to start negotiations?Likewise, Netanyahu has been countering the Palestinians newly found chutzpa with false claims that he is trying to engage in peace talks with no cooperation from the P.A. This counterargument is absolutely ludicrous. Netanyahu’s idea of peace talks would begin with pre-conditions that are exactly what the Israelis hope to gain through bargaining. Forcing the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state before entering the room would essentially leave the Palestinian Authority, already a very feeble organization, with no concessions to make. He cannot seriously expect President Abbas to enter any negotiations without something to give up. What would keep the Israelis from walking all over them?To his credit, President Obama has done his best to try to end the fiction on each side. Last May, he gave a speech on the Middle East in which he laid out the truth, noting that the current situation is unstable, especially considering increased pressure from Israel’s other borders. Egyptian protesters recently stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, forcing its evacuation, and Syrians have been voicing complaints about Israel in tandem with their pro-democracy protests. Obama has condemned the Palestinians’ ploy for statehood at the U.N. and also been pressuring Netanyahu to accept the reality on the ground and realize that now, more than ever, Israel needs to stop occupying the territories and accept true national boundaries. What Obama doesn’t realize, however, is that his voice is entirely powerless in this debate, as long as the Israelis and Palestinians are living in their own fictions.The most prominent barrier to peace right now is not the passive-aggressive statements and mind games from both sides, but rather the risk that either citizenry would actually buy into what their leaders are saying. Most people recognize that a peace deal would start with the 1967 borders and mutually agreed-upon land swaps, including a symbolic solution to address the issue of the right of return and the Palestinians’ acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Furthermore, most admit that this solution can only be formalized through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the country from which the Palestinians wish to wrestle independence. The U.N. cannot do anything to further the process, nor can the United States. Each side will need to stop living in a fantasy in which their problems can be solved through savvy maneuvering. This conflict can only be solved with a harsh dose of reality.

Adam Lerner is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Arts writer for The Sun. He may be reached at Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Adam Lerner