(Editor’s note: This is a revised version of an earlier story, which contains changes throughout.)
It didn’t take long for the Jewish world to react to Thursday’s United Nations vote giving the Palestinian Authority nonmember observer state status in the international body.
Chief among its concerns is whether Palestine would now use the International Criminal Court (ICC), which it is now eligible to join, as a weapon against Israel.
The 193-member General Assembly voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to give Palestine the same status as the Vatican City. It’s a status that falls short of independence but does give Palestinians limited privileges, such as the right to join the ICC and other international treaty bodies.
The United States and Israel voted no, saying the action was counterproductive to the peace process.
U.S. Secretary of State Clinton criticized the resolution as “unfortunate and counterproductive… plac[ing] further obstacles in the path of peace.” And U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made clear that the resolution does not “create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground” and, more explicitly, “does not establish that Palestine is a state.”
Great Britain abstained, but several European nations, including France, voted for it.
The Jewish world’s reaction was swift and largely critical.
Locally, Stuart Pavilack, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District, said the vote was more about P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas’ political survival.
“Abbas used a lifeline with the U.N. for his political survival, Pavilack said. “Without the vote he was becoming irrelevant. Mostly what it does is give him some creditability with his people. On a positive side, it may slow down Hamas’ further rise to power in Judea and Samara.
“The down side is it may cause aggravation for Israel in international courts,” Pavilack continued, echoing a growing concern of other Jewish leaders. “The reality is Hamas and the Palestinian Authority don’t want to build anything.
Judea and Samara had one of the fastest growing economies in the world when the Oslo accords were signed; 250 new Arab towns popped up in Judea and Samara since 1967. Why? They followed the Jews. It simply made good economic sense. Because of Israeli healthcare, infrastructure, etc., Arab life expectancies went up and the death rate for infants went down. There are more Arab cities in Judea and Samara with running water than any Arab country in the Middle East.
“Perhaps the U.N. vote may change one thing,” he added The Palestinian Authority owes Israel tens of millions of dollars for electric and other services. Perhaps Israel repays itself with taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority before turning over funds to the P.A. as it did last week.”
Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of Jewish Council for Public Affairs, also concerned about Palestinian membership on the ICC, said the vote constituted the wrong way to achieve peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine.
“Of particular concern,” Gutow said, “is possible use by the Palestinians of the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice as weapons against Israel. Instead Mr. Abbas should accept Israel’s longstanding invitation to negotiate without any preconditions.”
Gutow said, “We would like to be congratulating and warmly welcoming U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state; not just as a non-member observer state, but as a full member of the world body, but as Israel, the United States, and the Quartet have asserted time and again, a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only come about through direct negotiations between the parties, not unilateral and symbolic steps at the U.N. We hope that President Abbas, who disregarded pleas from President Obama and others to avoid this counterproductive path, will not seek to take advantage of this new status to continue or expand the diplomatic offensive against Israel.”
In a blunt statement, AIPAC called for “full review” of U.S. relations with the PLO in light of the vote.
“Congress has frequently warned the PLO that there would be consequences for its relationship with the United States if the PLO refuses to demonstrate its commitment to peace with Israel,” AIPAC said. “Congress has specifically linked continued aid and the operation of the PLO office in Washington to the Palestinians not seeking statehood status at the United Nations. AIPAC applauds this congressional leadership and urges a full review of America’s relations with the PLO, including closure of the PLO’s office in Washington.”
The Jewish Federations of North America expressed “deep dismay” at the vote.
“[It] will only undermine efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East,” said Michael Siegal, chair, the JFNA Board of Trustees. “By taking unilateral steps at the U.N. today, the PA broke with the historic Oslo Accords reached with Israel in 1994, and instead bypassed obligatory negotiations on core issues in favor of a symbolic political gesture.
“Jewish Federations call on the P.A. to heed requests by Israel and the United States to return to the negotiating table with Israel,” he continued in his statement, “and work toward a two-state solution that guarantees safe and defensible borders for Israel and a viable Palestinian state.”
In Pittsburgh, Gregg Roman, director of the Federation’s Community Relations Council, echoed JFNA sentiment, saying the vote “will do nothing to advance a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
He called the unilateral move “a violation of existing and agreed upon international frameworks for negotiations and opens up a wide array of possibilities which could serve to attack Israel’s legitimacy through U.N. organs.”
The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was “alarmed” by the vote.
“NJDC shares the Obama administration’s and Israeli government’s views that actions through the Israel-obsessed U.N. are no substitute for direct negotiations and are ultimately counterproductive to the peace process, it said in a prepared statement. “While the result of today’s vote proved inevitable, tremendous credit is due to the Obama Administration for making a clear case against the resolution and reiterating that the path to peace runs through direct negotiations.”
Agudath Israel of America said the U.N. vote is not so important as the words and actions of Palestinians intent on destroying Israel.
“The declarations of Hamas — the Palestinian government of Gaza — that Israel must be destroyed, the countless rockets that have underscored that intent, and the cheering on of the same by Arab residents of the West Bank make a much greater historical noise than the craven “ayes” of the 138 representatives of nations who voted yesterday to change the status of ‘Palestine,’ ” according to the Agudath statement.
Some responses, though, were less critical.
Kenneth Bob, president of Ameinu, a self-described “progressive” Zionist organization, urged that there be no “recriminations” against any of the parties following the vote, and said it is “imperative for the governments of Israel and the United States not to punish the Palestinian Authority for this diplomatic maneuver.”
Likewise, J Street said it “strongly oppose retaliatory measures against the PLO or the Palestinian Authority – in particular, congressional efforts to cut funding, which could lead to the collapse of the P.A. and jeopardize the important progress it has made in recent years.”
J Street urged Israel’s friends “to focus their energy on a threat far more serious to the country’s long-term security and character than the vote at the UN – and that is the possible failure to achieve a two-state solution before it is too late. To that end, our most important call at this time is on President Obama to fill the diplomatic vacuum and to launch, in early 2013, a renewed and bold diplomatic initiative to achieve a two-state solution.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)