One Large Step for Palestinian Self-Determination

November 30, 2012

It may be one small step for Palestinians, but yesterday’s historic United Nations vote recognizing Palestine is a giant leap for the right of self-determination. In a stunning 138:9 vote, an overwhelming majority of the U.N. member nations granted Palestine recognition as a non-member observer state.

Upgrading their status from an observer entity to a non-member observer state, the vote means Palestine is eligible to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

While no one was surprised that the United States voted against the resolution, no one expected just how few countries voted with Israel.

In the words of Israel’s own leading paper, Ha’aretz:

Thursday’s UN vote was the international community’s warning light to Israel, as much as a show of support for the Palestinians. Germany, France, Britain, Italy and other friendly countries delivered messages to Israel with their votes – their patience with the occupation of the West Bank has worn off, they have had enough of the construction in the settlements and there’s no trust in Israeli declarations of hands outstretched in peace and desire to advance toward a Palestinian state.

At most, recognizing Palestine as a non-member state helps to begin leveling the playing field between Palestine and Israel when it comes time for peace talks and further resolutions on creating a sustainable two-state solution. 

At the very least, giving Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, this diplomatic victory by the U.N. levels his playing field with Hamas, which was courted by the international community, including the U.S., after its latest military exchange with Israel.

In her remarks before the UN General Assembly immediately following the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called the vote “unfortunate” and “counterproductive to the path toward peace.”

Startling more in tone than substance, her speech made two things clear: The United States cannot serve as an unbiased broker in Israeli-Palestinian affairs; and the U.S. is isolating itself further from the international community on the Palestinian issue.

To surpass Rice’s remarks on behalf of the Administration, Republican members of the Congress, such as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), have called for financial punitive measures against Abbas for the latest U.N. vote and even defunding the U.N.

Protests from U.S. officials may make news in American media, but they ring hallow in Palestine and the broader region.  They actually hurt U.S. interests, because the protests have no impact on a people who have developed immunity to oppression by Israel and the West for more than a century.

While it’s certainly true that yesterday’s vote will not change the quality of life or legal status for the average Palestinian today, this historic and necessary vote is a powerful symbol of the international community’s support for Palestinian human rights, self-determination and freedom from occupation.

God willing, it will also serve as a much-needed catalyst for resuming negotiations that will lead to a just peace between Israel and Palestine.

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