WASHINGTON (BP) — The Palestinians’ request for United Nations membership dealt a setback to hopes for peace in the Middle East, a Southern Baptist public policy specialist said Sept. 26.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.), submitted the application to the United Nations Sept. 23 despite opposition by the United States and Israel to the action. Others also described the effort as unhelpful to talks between the P.A. and Israel about contested borders and other issues on the way to Palestinian statehood.
The attempt by the P.A. “to do an end run around direct negotiations and to gain this diplomatic advantage in the U.N. is counterproductive to the hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“The chief stumbling block in the negotiations has always been the Palestinians’ refusal to accept the fact of Israel — that it exists and will continue to exist as a Jewish state,” he said. “The effort by the Palestinians to achieve a form of statehood without direct negotiations with the Israelis will set the cause of true Middle East peace back in important and significant ways, and it should be opposed by our government and by every peace-loving government in the world.”
Land said the idea of the U.N. “arbitrarily and unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood would be catastrophic to the cause of peace in the Middle East. The borders and the reality of a Palestinian state must be hammered out by direct negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. They are the ones who are going to live as neighbors side by side in peace.”
President Obama sounded much the same message in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 21 in reiterating his support of Palestinian statehood but through negotiations with Israel.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now,” Obama said. “Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us — who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.”
A Middle East diplomatic quartet — consisting of representatives of the United States, U.N., European Union and Russia — also focused on two-party negotiations in a statement after the P.A. application, barely mentioning its submission. The quartet called for a meeting within a month between the Palestinians and Israelis on the process for negotiations, as well as a commitment by both sides to reach a peace agreement before 2013.
The Palestinian application went to the 15-member U.N. Security Council for study for an undetermined amount of time. Nine council members would have to endorse the application for it to go to the General Assembly for a final vote on full membership. The United States has threatened a veto in the Security Council but would certainly prefer to line up enough fellow council opponents of the P.A. application to prevent such an action.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made their cases in Sept. 23 speeches to the General Assembly.
Calling for U.N. members to “stand beside Palestine,” Abbas said he does not believe “anyone with a shred of conscience” could oppose the Palestinian application.
“We have one goal — to be. And we shall be,” he said.
“[O]ur people are waiting to hear the answer of the world.”
Abbas blamed the Israelis for the failure of the peace process, citing the continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the denial of permits for Palestinians to build in East Jerusalem and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Saying the Palestinians had refused to negotiate, Netanyahu told the General Assembly peace will only be reached through direct negotiations.
“The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace.”
“We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects,” Netanyahu said. “They should live in a free state of their own.
“But they should be ready, like us for compromise. And we will know that they’re ready for compromise and for peace when they start taking Israel’s security requirements seriously and when they stop denying our historical connection to our ancient homeland.”
Israel occupies a majority of the West Bank, the territory between the Jordan River and Israel. Both Israel and the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, but it is under Israeli control. The Gaza Strip rests between the southern portion of Israel and the Mediterranean Sea. The militant Islamic party Hamas, which has a terrorist wing, rules Gaza.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.