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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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Palestine Requests Statehood


Was there ever a more preposterous spectacle than President Obama at the United Nations on Wednesday, solemnly telling the Palestinians that "There is no shortcut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades...Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations"? To which of course every Palestinian can gesture to the piled up wreckage of the "peace process," and the "bilateral" diplomacy with Israel urged by the United States across the past 20 years — and this is only to go back to the dawn of the Clinton administration.

Twenty years of Israeli intransigence, 20 years of the Israel lobby's arm-lock on U.S. Middle East policy, and here are Obama and his Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, telling the Palestinians to chain themselves once more to "bilateral diplomacy," the treadmill of doom to all Palestinian hopes.

Obama's U.N. speech in the fall of 2010 laid out a somewhat different agenda: a Palestinian declaration of statehood, along the pre-1967, Six-Day War borders with no more Israeli settlements. But if we make the dubious assumption that there is ever any window for sanity in the insane architecture of the "peace process" politics in the U.S., then this window gets nailed shut with the onset of every presidential electoral cycle, such as the 2012 campaign now under way.

Obama and the Democratic National Committee are still reeling from the loss of the porno-tweeting, Rep. Wiener's, Brooklyn district. His seat, held by the Democrats for 80 years until Wiener's resignation, was captured by Bob Turner, a Republican campaigning in the heavily Jewish district on the theme that Obama was selling out Israel.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Rick Perry, not known hitherto for his interest in foreign affairs, disclosed a sound grasp of the essentials — at least so far as any Republican politician courting Jewish votes and money is concerned: The Texas governor announced at a New York press conference, newly elected Turner at his side, that _"We would not be here today at the precipice of such a dangerous move if the Obama policy in the Middle East wasn't naive and arrogant, misguided and dangerous." __ Perry flayed the White House for supposedly arm-twisting Israel: "Bolstered by the Obama administration's policies and apologists at the U.N., the Palestinians are exploiting the instability in the Middle East, hoping to achieve their objective without concessions and direct negotiations with Israel." The Texas governor pledged there will be no shilly-shallying if he's elected president. "We are going to be there to support you. And we are going to be unwavering in that. So I hope you will tell the people of Israel: Help is on the way."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to blink, despite enormous pressure from the U.S. for him to delay his formal request for Palestinian statehood and U.N. membership, scheduled for Friday, immediately after addressing the General Assembly.

Back in 1991, Israelis and Palestinians met for the first time in Madrid to negotiate a peace agreement. United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, which call for Israel's withdrawal from the land it occupied during the 1967 war in exchange for peace, served as the basis for the Madrid Conference.

At the end of 1991, there were 132,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem and 89,800 settlers in the West Bank. Two decades later, the numbers of settlers in East Jerusalem has increased by about 40 percent, while the settlers in the West Bank, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, have increased by over 300 percent.

Currently, there are about half a million Jewish settlers.

During periods in which the Israeli Labor Party formed the governing coalition, the numbers have been just as high, if not higher, than periods during which Likud or Kadima Parties have been in power. As Neve Gordon, an Israeli activist and the author of "Israel's Occupation" points out, "This, in turn, underscores the fact that all Israeli governments have unilaterally populated the contested West Bank with more Jewish settlers while simultaneously carrying out negotiations based on land for peace."

The Palestinians can see perfectly well that the Jewish settlers, with the backing of every Israeli government and complaisance of every U.S. government, are undermining any future two-state solution, so they have decided not to wait any longer and are asking the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. As Gordon puts it, "If the idea behind a two-state solution is dividing land among the two peoples, how can Israel unilaterally continue to settle the contested land while carrying out negotiations?" Answer: because Israel knows it can get away with it.

At the start of this year, Al-Jazeera published documents prepared by Abbas's negotiators with Israel. Abbas was prepared to cede to Israel nearly all of the illegal colonies that the Zionist state has built east of the 1967 armistice line in and around occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinian Authority officials also agreed to deprive the vast majority of Palestinian refugees the right — backed by the U.N. — to return to their homes in what is now Israel. They agreed in principle to accept the repatriation of 100,000 refugees over 10 years, and no more. Israeli contemptuously rejected these astounding concessions.

Why the U.S. government feels it retains any credibility throughout the Middle East on the Palestinian question is baffling, but Obama and Clinton have been desperate to avoid the bludgeon of a veto in the U.N. Security Council. (Though, even here, there is a mechanism — the uniting for peace process, installed 61 years ago during the Korean crisis — for an override of any such veto by the General Assembly.)

If it ever comes to one, a U.N. resolution won't give the Palestinians a viable state, solve the problems of refugees, fix the separation between the West Bank and Gaza, or resolve the discrimination within Israel, which is now emphasizing its legal identity as a Jewish state.

Even so, the Palestinian initiative with the U.N. underscores the U.S.'s weakening status in the region, whose political geography has been changing before our eyes. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has kicked out the Israeli ambassador for negotiating in bad faith over the lethal attack on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara. Erdogan has stopped military cooperation with and military purchases from Israel. He promised to come in person to Gaza on board his navy's protective fleet. As the Egyptian crowd tore down the wall of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, they hailed Erdogan as "a new Saladin."

Not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal wrote in The New York Times on Sept. 11, of all days, that "the United States must support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations this month or risk losing the little credibility it has in the Arab world... Saudi leaders would be forced by domestic and regional pressures to adopt a far more independent and assertive foreign policy. Saudi Arabia will part with the U.S. if it vetoes the Palestinian bid."

This is not a problem for candidate Perry. But it is a very serious one for the government of the United States.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Israel is one of the smallest countries over in the middle east. Has anyone ever thought to ask one of the neighboring countries to give up land they took as spoils of war? There has never been a country of Palestine. Palestine is a region much larger than the entire country of Israel. Think American Southwest. Which state is willing to give up part of its borders to create a new state? The answer is none of them. If you want a new country of Palestine, make all the neighboring countries give up land, not just one.
Comment: #1
Posted by: peggy
Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:20 AM
The USA gives Israel approx 8 Billion dollars a year in foreign aid.
5 billion cash, 3 billion in military hardware, despite Israel's already
intense armaments (F16 jets, F18 jets, submarines, cruise missiles and over 100 nuclear weapons)
Meanwhile one million Americans will be foreclosed on next year.

Personally, I would like to see Israel stop using my USA tax dollars
to colonize the west bank (for the water) and to keep Gaza as an open air prison.
By using my tax dollars I am made an accessory to injustice.

I am not anti-Jew or anti-Israel.
We are all Gods children and we should treat each other with human dignity and respect.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Soothsayer
Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:26 AM
Great article. It's a topic I'm not familiar with so I learned from this. It makes me think about a history channel program I saw about the League of Nations. President Wilson envisioned a world where leaders would converse and avoid wars. The barbaric leaders of 1917 Europe, people who looked like tyrants from a Three Stooges comedy, men who actually walked around wearing swords, said to Wilson, "Are you nuts? We like wars!" Apparently, it was a hobby of these little feifdoms to fight yearly wars. The leaders themselves had been to battles when young so they were now safe. They had survived and it was their time to send the young guys off to war. To me, all my life, news from this distant land was about barbarians unable to even sew a baseball cap together, not actually knowing what oil was or how it could be made into gasoline, and who would not have cars or guns if they had never met modern persons from the United States, Europe, or the Soviet Union. My proposal was that we build a casino in Bagdad to give them something to focus on other than killing each other. What could be done in the Palestine region to occupy their minds? That could be a good slogan: Occupy their minds not their lands!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mike Hayne
Fri Sep 23, 2011 7:26 AM
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