Las Vegas Sun

November 20, 2017

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Waking up to what, exactly? Not actual statehood

Just stating the obvious.

This morning, the Arab population woke up in the West Bank and in Gaza the same way they have awakened for decades. Some will awake with plans for war, but most will plan for the day when their children can grow up in peace with their neighbors so they can seek education and the jobs they need for happiness and prosperity in the coming years.

The difference this morning, unlike last Sunday, is that today they awoke knowing that the United Nations General Assembly has conferred upon them the status of a nonmember observer state. They are just like the Vatican! Sort of.

Ever since the Oslo Accords almost 20 years ago, the Palestinians and Israelis have been trying to reach a peace agreement centered on a two-state solution: a state for the Palestinians called Palestine and a state for the Jews called Israel. Something seemingly so simple should have been resolved years ago, but it wasn’t.

So, ostensibly to put pressure on Israel to negotiate as well as to shore up the plunging political bona fides of the West Bank leadership under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly voted for the Palestinian state. The United States, Israel and a handful of other countries voted no.

America voted no because, while we believe in our own idea of a two-state solution, we are convinced that the only legitimate and credible way to get there is through the direct negotiations between Abbas and his counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It should come as no surprise that Israel feels the same way.

Alas, the Palestinians did not agree and took the easy way toward statehood. Or did they?

First of all, the General Assembly voting in favor of an Arab country and against Israel is as certain as the sun rising in the East. It always happens and always will happen. So there is no surprise and no credibility in such a move.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the well-respected dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said Thursday, “Today’s vote in the U.N. has nothing to do with reality. Peace in the Middle East will only come when the Palestinians sit down with the Israelis and negotiate. There is no other way to achieve peace in the Middle East.”

I chose Rabbi Hier’s comment because it is short, sweet and so very to the point. It is hard to quote some of the other responses, especially those that followed Abbas’ denial on the world stage that the Jews had any history in the Holy Land. He has echoed other Palestinian voices that have claimed there is “no trace of Jewish history in ‘our land.’ ... (The) Temple exists in the minds of radical organizations.”

Abbas has said all this in a vacuum because nary a word was heard in opposition. No one disputed Abbas’ claim of the absence of Jewish life in the Holy Land. We heard nothing from world leaders and only silence from the world’s churches — except the Vatican, which couldn’t contain its glee at the statehood vote. The silence speaks loudly for the inference that the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel — people well known and revered by Jews and Christians alike — were never given voice from the land of the Bible.

I am not the kind of critic who thinks this U.N. vote is all bad. I do think, however, that it was a silly, meaningless and harmful vote because it ignores the difficult reality on the ground and was meant, mostly, to stick the world’s finger in Israel’s eye. It’s not the first time they did that, either.

What the world needs to learn, for the first time perhaps, is that Israel is a very different kind of place. Modern Israel was born out of the ashes of Hitler’s ovens, even though it was long a dream of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. Because of the history, Israelis have no intention of ever reliving the horrors of the Holocaust. “Never Again” has been the slogan since the end of World War II, and it has remained the watchword of Israelis through all of their wars for survival since Israel became a state in 1948.

Unlike any other people on the planet, the Jews of Israel know what it is like to be alone, to march and fight alone. So the pronouncements of the U.N. General Assembly do not concern them because theirs is an existential struggle while the U.N. votes are merely political tactics being played out for some small-time advantage.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, chose to walk away from their own statehood in 1948 and ever since have been using or been used by every two-bit country looking to cause trouble in that part of the world. This time Iran, with its need to divert the world’s attention from its soon-to-exist nuclear bomb, is fomenting all this hoopla and the rest of the world is going along. Except, to it credit, the United States, which understands the dangerous game even if our friends do not.

At the end of today, no matter what the Palestinian people do or say in all their joy over their newfound statehood, they still will go to bed not knowing what people in other countries know.

They don’t know where their border ends and Israel’s begins; they don’t know where to locate the capital of their country; they don’t know how to travel freely from one part of their country to the other; and they don’t know whether their people can live in peace with the most important neighbor in the region.

To know all this, they have to sit down with Israel at a negotiating table and sort this mess out. It isn’t that hard to do. The parties have come close before but lacked the political will to get it done.

There is one thing that Israel now knows about Palestine that she didn’t know before this past week. No longer will the Israel Defense Forces have to sort through the entanglements that come from fighting a terrorist organization hiding in plain view among neighborhoods of innocent people. Palestine is now a state, and, as such, it is responsible for all that happens within its borders.

Sounds like now is a good time to sit down and start talking.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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