Many of us who are avid supporters of Israel are used to lamenting over and over again the bias of the United Nations. The most recent occasion for these complaints was the vote of the General Assembly to change the status of Palestine at the U.N. to non-member observer state. On such occasions, it is often pointed out that if the Palestinians introduced a resolution stating that the earth is flat, they would be able to obtain a majority in the General Assembly. Such is the bias against Israel.
While these accusations against the U.N. are largely justified, the real tragedy of the U.N. vote lies elsewhere. And the main party that suffers from it is the Palestinians themselves.
A little context is in order. From the day in 1947 the U.N. decided to end the British mandate and divide the land into two states — one Jewish, one Arab — the goals of the Palestinians were to prevent the Jewish state from coming into being or to see it disappear once it was born. This Palestinian obsession was clear early on, when they rejected the partition that would have created a Palestinian state for the first time.
After losing the war against Israel that they and five Arab states launched in 1948, and being left with no state of their own (Jordan now held the West Bank), the Palestinians pursued their obsession through all kinds of other means.
While at the outset their goals may have appeared realistic — after all, Israel was a small, poor country with no great military, surrounded by Arab states committed to its destruction — as time went on, particularly after the Six Day War, the obsession became more and more divorced from reality. Israel had become a strong military power and a developing economic one. Israelis, from the founders to the present day, have pursued the hard work of building a strong nation. Palestinian leaders remain largely focused on the task of dismantling the Jewish state.
But this did not stop the Palestinians from maintaining their fantasy about a Middle East without Israel. We saw it in their charter, we saw it in their textbooks, and we saw it in their maps.
Of course, like all illusions, they served an emotional purpose for Palestinians feeling angry and betrayed, but left them no better off than they ever were.
Into this mix came the role of the international community, the media and certain non-governmental groups. Whether it was the U.N., the BBC, or groups calling for boycotts of Israel, all, in the name of “helping and supporting the Palestinian cause,” ended up reinforcing, rather than diminishing, these illusions time and again.
Every time there was an anti-Israel story on media like the BBC or others, every time the U.N. or one of its agencies passed a resolution condemning the Jewish state, every time some group, whether religious, union, or campus based, called for divestment from or sanctions against Israel, it reinforced the Palestinians’ false hope that their dream of a Middle East without Israel could come true.
The Oslo process in the 1990s and the lead-in to the Camp David talks in 2000 raised the prospect that something fundamental had changed in Palestinian thinking. Indeed, there were and are signs of pragmatism, largely represented by the approach of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, who has been trying to build the infrastructure, institutions and economic foundation for a stable civil society in the West Bank.
Unfortunately, however, the illusionary thinking we have been describing remains a potent force. It is why the Palestinian leadership finds every excuse not to negotiate. It is why at Camp David they could not accept an agreement that would have given them a state on more than 90 percent of the territories. It is why there are Palestinian refugee camps even in areas controlled by the Palestinians themselves.
The recent U.N. vote on Palestine was the latest manifestation of the encouragement, whether intentional or not, of Palestinians to remain in their world of unreality. The vote was a tragedy less because it showed hostility toward Israel (that was bad, but hardly new) and more because once again at a critical moment, the international community, excluding the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic and a few others, chose to reinforce the old destructive thinking that has prolonged Palestinian suffering, rather than helping the Palestinians move forward to real compromise, peace and the end of the conflict.
In the final analysis, resolving this issue is the key to hope for a better future for all. Will it be one where two peoples will live in two states for two peoples in mutual recognition and security?
Or will we continue to witness the same old, same old, where the Palestinians cling to the dream of a Middle East without Israel and continue to portray themselves as victims, aided and abetted in their victimhood by a world which “loves” the Palestinians.
Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.