How President Obama set a train wreck in motion.
The New York Times ran a banner front page headline on September 14, 2011 titled "U.S. Scrambles to Avert Palestinian Vote at U.N."
The Times headline should have read, "The Obama Administration Scrambles to Avoid Its Own Self-Fulfilling Prophesy."
Next week, the United Nations General Assembly will almost certainly approve an upgrade of the status of the Palestinian Authority from nonvoting "observer entity" to "observer state," placing it on par with the Holy See. This will happen whether or not the Palestinians try for full UN member state status, which would first require approval by the Security Council.
President Obama has promised to veto such a Security Council resolution. However, the United States has only one vote in the General Assembly and cannot stop the General Assembly - packed with Palestinian supporters and Israel-bashers, including craven European countries - from granting observer state status to the Palestinians if they request it.
While a vote in the General Assembly alone would not confer full UN membership rights to a Palestinian state, it would open the door for the Palestinians to join various UN bodies and treaties. Of most concern to Israel, an observer state status might well allow the Palestinians to become a treaty member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and pursue claims there against Israel for alleged war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Although Israel is not itself a member of the ICC, the court could still take jurisdiction of such claims if they are alleged to have arisen within the territory of a Palestinian state that is an ICC member.
Outgoing U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell used the phrase “train wreck" in an interview last May to describe the upcoming UN vote.
Yet it was President Obama who helped set this train wreck in motion in a speech he delivered on September 23, 2010 to the UN General Assembly. In his speech, President Obama made a prediction that the Palestinians are now exploiting in support of their statehood bid. Obama declared to the UN General Assembly that "when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."
As Reuters reported on September 7, 2011, President Obama's words are being used by the Palestinians to make international recognition of their statehood a reality. "If he said it, he must have meant it," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said during a 36-second radio spot promoting the Palestinians' upcoming statehood campaign at the United Nations. Although Obama administration officials have stressed that Obama was speaking aspirationally within the context of reaching a negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Abbas has chosen to characterize Obama's words to the General Assembly last year as an “Obama promise.”
“We are reminding [Obama] of what he said in the United Nations in 2010,” said Ahmad Zaki ElAreedi, director of Voice of Palestine radio.
President Obama's terms for what he proclaimed in his 2010 UN speech would be "an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine" would jeopardize Israel's security.
From virtually the very beginning of his presidency, President Barack Obama has gone out of his way to push Israel into making unreasonable unilateral concessions. He demanded a freeze on all settlement building, including expansions of existing settlements. He validated the Palestinians' bogus claims to East Jerusalem. And he threw Israel under the bus earlier this year with his irresponsible proposal that Israel negotiate borders with a new Palestinian state based on the indefensible pre-1967 lines, with some unspecified mutual land swaps.
Egypt's UN ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, explicitly linked President Obama's "peace" proposal with "the efforts by the Palestinian leadership to garner the most possible number of recognitions of the state of Palestine on the borders of 1967, with those swaps."
While expecting Israel to essentially return to pre-1967 conditions, Obama did not demand that the Palestinians simultaneously give up their "right of return" claim for millions of Palestinian refugees to relocate to the pre-1967 Israel territory, which would extinguish Israel's identity as the world's only homeland for the Jewish people. At the same time as demanding the "right of return" for Palestinians to pre-1967 Israel cities and towns, along with their own independent state, the Palestinians hypocritically do not want any Jews living anywhere in their independent state, according to the Palestinians' ambassador to the United States. "I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," he said, in a two-faced remark that ignored the contrary consequences of implementing the Palestinians' "right of return" demand.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has only lightly criticized the Palestinians' plans to set up a so-called "unity government" backed by both Palestinian President Abbas, whose authority now extends only to the West Bank territory, and by the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to recognize Israel.
Some have argued that it is no big deal if the Palestinians succeed in obtaining General Assembly recognition of observer state status, since they still will not be a full-fledged member state in the United Nations as a whole. The European Union is reportedly trying to broker a compromise to avoid a showdown at the Security Council that would force the U.S. to exercise its veto of a resolution recommending full UN member state status. The thinking is to start with the baby step of observer state status and come back after the U.S. 2012 presidential election (which the Palestinians, Arab countries and Europe hope will lead to Obama's re-election) for a full UN membership bid.
In the meantime, those arguing for a General Assembly observer state vote now believe that it could be just the jolt that is needed to push the parties towards a final resolution of their differences. This may well be how the Obama administration tries to spin the General Assembly vote after the fact.
The problem with such specious reasoning - aside from the potential complications of opening the door to ICC involvement in a political territorial dispute - is that it puts the cart before the horse. A General Assembly vote recognizing Palestinian statehood will be on the Palestinians' terms. It would ratify all of the Palestinians' claims regarding the reversion to pre-1967 borders, East Jerusalem and the so-called "right of return."
Instead of begging the Palestinians not to go forward with their plans for a UN vote on Palestinian statehood, the Obama administration should have been resolute from the beginning in pointing out publicly and repeatedly that the General Assembly cannot supplant the authority of the Security Council on the issue of recognizing a Palestinian state for any purpose. Security Council Resolution 242, which is still in force, calls on the parties to the conflict to negotiate a solution to create “secure and recognized boundaries.”
Article XII of the United Nations Charter clearly states that while the Security Council is "exercising in respect of any dispute or situation the functions assigned to it in the present Charter, the General Assembly shall not make any recommendation with regard to that dispute or situation unless the Security Council so requests."
Security Council Resolution 242 sets forth how the path to resolution of the territorial dispute, which is a pre-requisite to Palestinian statehood, is to proceed.
Eugene V. Rostow (distinguished fellow at the United States Institute of Peace, and former US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs), who was involved first-hand in the drafting of Resolution 242, explained the intent of the Security Council resolution this way:
Resolution 242, which as undersecretary of state for political affairs between 1966 and 1969 I helped produce, calls on the parties to make peace and allows Israel to administer the territories it occupied in 1967 until "a just and lasting peace in the Middle East" is achieved.
In other words, international recognition of Palestinian statehood must come only after there is a "just and lasting" negotiated resolution between the parties of the territorial boundaries issue, not before it. Recognition of a Palestinian state with a government comprised of Hamas terrorists, who refuse to recognize Israel and call for it to be destroyed and replaced by an Islamic state covering all of historic "Palestine," flies in the face of Security Council Resolution 242.
The General Assembly does not get to pre-empt the process the Security Council laid down pursuant to the Security Council's powers under the UN Charter. The General Assembly has no legal authority to confer recognition of Palestinian statehood for any purpose based on the Palestinian definition of what the borders with Israel should be, unless first requested to do so by the Security Council.
President Obama will be coming to New York next week to address the UN General Assembly once again. Instead of repeating his bromides about peace and understanding that the Palestinians regularly ignore in practice, and instead of reiterating his call for more unilateral Israeli concessions, it would be so nice if the president told the General Assembly what they can do with their vote to recognize Palestinian statehood status. Obama, once the president of the Harvard Law Review and a law professor in Chicago, should reach into his legalese toolbox and tell the General Assembly unequivocally that their vote upgrading the Palestinians' status to an observer state is void ab initio.
President Obama should also follow the lead of those in the U.S. Congress, who want to curtail aid to the Palestinian Authority if it presses forward with the statehood bid at the UN and cut funding to any UN agency that admits the Palestinians as a state with full voting privileges in that agency. Funding for General Assembly projects that target Israel should also be curtailed, including any funding that supports next week's Durban III anti-Semitic "anti-racism" conference.
Of course, that is not likely to happen. Instead, expect to be treated to more of President Barack Obama's empty rhetoric and continued pressure on Israel to make more concessions for a non-peace.
If President Obama is re-elected and no longer feels constrained by political considerations to worry about what Jewish voters will think of his stance towards Israel, we can also expect that by 2013, Palestine will be admitted as a full-fledged member state of the United Nations, with all rights and privileges, irrespective of the status of negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. A Security Council resolution, approved by the United States, requiring Israel to abandon all West Bank territory and East Jerusalem or face potential economic and military consequences, will be likely to follow.