UN Palestinian Vote Heralds ‘Birth of New World Order’
November 2012 will be remembered as a turning point for the US, Israel and the Palestinians. The United Nations General Assembly on November, 29th vividly demonstrated the new emerging 21st Century global order, the limits of military might and the end of the last vestige of the colonial era. Without the help of a well-endowed lobby, a super power, access to friendly media, a well-funded military and tons of money to influence public opinion; Palestinians convinced 138 countries to resist US and Israeli pressures and affirm their legitimate legal and international rights to an independent state; and also delivered a resounding no confidence vote on the US role in the peace process.
Since 1967 Israel relied on the US to control the UN and muffle and ignore international calls to end Israel’s abusive occupation policies of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) United Nations upgrade status to non-member observer state took place after a year of US diplomatic cajoling. The US spent countless of state department man-hours mounting considerable diplomatic capital to coax allies and countries we subsidize to vote against the Palestinian UN upgrade. The US granted Israel four nay votes – Palau, Nauru, Marshal Islands- a US military base- and Micronesia. These small Pacific Island countries are US associate countries within our domain of influence. Their four votes along with Canada, Panama, and The Czech Republic secured Israel a total of 9 votes against the Palestinian bid, meanwhile the UN overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Palestinian UN upgrade. America’s inability to sway and pressure more countries to vote against the Palestinian UN status upgrade stunned Israel.
The new world consensus overturned the most basic Israeli assumptions. Israel’s strategy of sole reliance and dependence on the Israeli/US lobby to pressure consecutive American governments to control and silence world criticism of its military occupation policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its Gaza Siege could no longer protect it from international scorn. Israelis were forced to reckon with the cost of their occupation policies that has isolated and marginalized them. For years Israel carefully advanced and crafted messages of wide international support for its policies and military objectives, but despite Israel’s public claims the UN vote proved these assumptions to be completely unsupported by the majority of the world community. The UN vote demonstrated Israel’s slim international backing and the wide disapproval it has accumulated since 1967.
For decades Israel relied on its military might to force absolute submission of the Palestinians. But on November 29th the limits of its IDF as a strategic force to cement Israel’s colonial illegal settlements was made clear. Furthermore, the vote confirming Palestinian non-voting UN status came after Israel’s war in Gaza, where Israel failed to alter Hamas’s political will to continue its struggle against Israel’s suffocating siege. The UN vote and Israel’s failure to curtail Hamas during its Pillar of Defense Operation exhibited Israel’s limits in relying on its military might to advance it colonial objectives in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
Here in the US we learned about the limits of our military might the hard way. After two decades of wars that exhausted our treasury and thousands of precious American lives we now understand that military power alone does not guarantee the outcomes we desire. America today is considering new policy approaches that accommodate the new global order. While the US strategy is still in its formative stage, one day after the UN/Palestinian vote the US Secretary of State explained in a speech delivered in Washington, DC the US rationale for adapting to the new global realities- and yes she began her address by denouncing the UN/Palestinian vote. Mrs. Clinton said that the US is learning to adjust to its new international role while actively working to develop a strategy that is less dependent on “America’s unrivaled military” power. The new emerging US strategy is based on shared interests and the “building a network of partnerships with other governments.” In other words the US will no longer invade countries to dictate outcomes- Secretary Clinton’s message should be carefully weighed by Israel.
So how will Israel adjust to the new world consensus on its occupation policies? Israel’s occupation and settlement policies will not change especially during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right wing government. Soon after the UN approved the Palestinian bid for upgraded status, the Israeli government responded in the predictable manner Palestinians expected. Instead of reflecting on the new world opinion or take note of the wide international disdain of Israel’s illegal settlement policies Netanyahu rushed to approve the building of more settlements in the occupied East Jerusalem. To add insult to injury the Israeli government punitively punished the Palestinians for gaining UN support by withholding Palestinian tax revenues.
Netanyahu will certainly make life more difficult for the Palestinians, but ironically Netanyahu’s decision will help solidify public opinion and increase world support for Palestinian independence. But not all Israelis share Netanyahu’s views. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that he saw “no reason to oppose” the Palestinian UN status upgrade and suggested it was “congruent with the basic concept of the two-state solution.” Also Gabriela Shalev Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, said Israel “could have done more to promote negotiations with the Palestinians.” Meanwhile Yossi Beilin Israel’s Oslo architect urged the Palestinians to seek the UN upgrade to improve their diplomatic and political leverage in ending their occupation. So why did Israel oppose the UN/Palestinian bid? In a radio interview Canada’s former Ambassador Michael Bell summed it best. Ambassador Bell said that Israel has gotten accustomed to restoring to every challenge (serious or benign) in the same forceful manner, and while Israel claims it would rather work with Palestinian moderates they don’t want them to get too full of themselves. In other words Israel prefers weak, diplomatically isolated, powerless Palestinians so it can do as it pleases.
Throughout this ordeal Israel’s response to international calls to address the Palestinian human and international rights never waivered from their foreign policy script written in 1948. Israel maintained that Israel was created during the British mandate of Palestine; Israel expanded its territories through wars; and accordingly Israel has no legal obligation to the Palestinians it occupies- young or old, civilian, militant or non-violent protester. The UN upgrade of the Palestinian non-state status nullified Israel’s claims and confirmed Palestinians’ international and legal rights endowing the Palestinians full diplomatic privileges and access to international courts and EU tribunals. The UN vote unequivocally recognized Palestine as state- a state under occupation with all the international protections of the Geneva Convention that was signed and ratified by Israel in 1949.
Since 1967 Palestinians and the international community have repeatedly called on Israel to delineate and mark its map, and with steadfast determination Israel refused. They insisted that a map of Israel will come forth after negotiating the borders of the Palestinian state based on the peace process that is brokered by the US- its proxy ally. On November 29th the Israeli borders were formally set without Israel’s or US input. The vote also publicly expressed the world’s disappointment of the US role in the peace process that willfully protected Israel’s military occupation, illegal settlement policies and human rights abuses.
Israel’s corner stone diplomatic strategy that heavily relied on the US diplomatic muscle proved flawed and limited. The US could not stop 138 states from voting for the Palestinian bid; switch the votes of Britain and Germany from abstention to a negative vote; or even alter Palestinian access to international guarantees to seek international protections- including sanctions, boycotts and their right to take their case to the International Criminal Court. And while Israel may not like the outcome- the vote is in Israel’s best interest and it is also in the best interest of the US.
So what happens now that Israel can longer defend its occupation with its usual claim that the Palestinians are not a legal entity? In due time the Israeli government will learn to adjust to the new global realities and will take measures to end Israel’s insatiable desire to dominate, annex and forcefully occupy Palestinian lands. Israeli leaders will eventually discover that it is in Israel’s national interest to amend their policies of absolute control of the Palestinian; start dialoguing with the friends and foes; and refocus their energies to meaningfully engage with the Palestinians and regional states -now that Europe their cultural “Mecca” has abandoned them. Israel will learn to refrain from muscling their way out of every challenge; they will realize they cannot always depend on their US supporters to pressure US governments to fight their misguided policies- that are weakening US diplomatic stature and international credibility. Israel will also begin exploring defensive strategies rather than rely on its offensive aggressive military tactics that have compromised its soldiers to human rights abuses and international law violations as was noted in a recent New York Times article “Those who worry about the International Criminal Court should not commit acts that will take them there.” The November 29th UN vote, effectively demonstrated Israel’s diplomatic isolation and a worldwide agreement on the legitimacy of Palestinian rights. The UN/Palestinian vote in fact will help Israel conform to international standards. Most critically the UN vote offered concrete evidence of the changed international political climate and the new world power paradigm, which will induce Israel to discard its outmoded colonial military model and shift its policies.
As for the Palestinians the UN vote is their first incremental step that will ultimately end their occupation. In addition Israel’s recent military operation on Gaza demonstrated the potential and clout of Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Tunis, the Arab League who can be tapped to advance Palestinian objectives and leverage Israel and the international community. In addition Hamas’s new forged diplomatic relations and the UN/Palestinian vote offers the Palestinian Authority and Hamas a valued opportunity to unite when both have demonstrated measurable skills in building new political and diplomatic opportunities for the Palestinian people. United and resolved to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a free democratic Palestinian state.
Also the role of the Palestinian non- violent global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) cannot be overlooked or under estimated. The Palestinian grass root BDS appeal to the moral justice of the Palestinian cause stirred the heart of ordinary people who rose and galvanized their faith and non-faith communities, unions and institutions to support Palestinians’ legitimate rights. Palestinians have to expand and nurture the global peaceful BDS movement to end the viability of Israel’s profitable settlement enterprises especially in Europe, which provides 34% of Israel’s total imports and subsidizes Israel’s illegal settlements. In addition the BDS movement should continue reaching out to the US faith community, college campuses and Jewish peace advocates who are sympathetic to the Palestinian moral call for equality and justice.
Meanwhile, Palestinians have to keep working their quiet way, which has proved most effective in securing them the support of the world while fully aware that they have to negotiate with Israel to realize their aspirations. Their new status offers Palestinian NGO’s and institutions greater latitude, merit and political weight to expand and build close working relations with the budding Israeli peace movement that supports a free contiguous viable democratic Palestinian state -and have equally suffered the wrath of Israel’s right wing government.
In the days ahead, the task for both peoples is to muster the courage and will to overcome their shared pain to work together with intentional resolve and deliberative good will for their common destiny. To build the future both peoples desire for their loved and cherished children, who are free of the sins of their fathers- two people with one shared vision for peace as neighbors.
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An American Palestinian living in Washington D.C. Mai is an educational researcher, writer and speaker. She earned a Doctor of Education from Howard University, School of Education, Educational leadership and Policy program. In that capacity she has researched and published several articles related to educational policy and the state of education in the District of Columbia. As a United Nations consultant, she assisted in developing short and long-term strategies for Birzeit University in the Israeli Occupied West Bank. She developed the fundraising document "Creating a World of Possibilities & Building a Future of Hope", and produced a Johns Hopkins University Documentary "Arab Women Speak Out". Mai hosted and produced "Spotlight on Education" a local television program that addressed District of Columbia school policies, social and economic issues that impact school aged children, families, teachers and administrators . Mai founded American Palestinian Women's Association, and has organized humanitarian relief programs to aid Palestinians as well as homeless women and children in the Washington, DC area. She serves on the executive boards of several non-profit organizations.