Akiva Eldar: Israel will use Palestinian UN bid to restore status quo

By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz – 15 Aug 2011

To be honest, what’s the difference between the potential UN declaration in September 2011 and the Palestinian declaration of independence in Tunis 22 years ago?

Akiva Eldar

Akiva Eldar

Even MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union ), the professor of the extreme right, is not particularly upset by the fact that the United Nations General Assembly may recognize a Palestinian state. He sees no legal difference between the decision that is expected next month and the decision that was made there – with a huge majority of 104 to 2 – following the Palestinian declaration of independence in Tunis 22 years ago.

And to be honest, what is the difference?

This time, too, Israel will accuse the Arabs of unilateral steps, ignore the United Nations, expand settlements in the West Bank, and build more neighborhoods for Jews in East Jerusalem.

So what then is the purpose of this scare campaign ahead of the vote at the General Assembly? What is the basis for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the move at the UN clearly indicates that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is not interested in a negotiated settlement? Why does the foreign minister go to the trouble of telling the public that Abbas, on the day after the UN vote, is planning “violence and bloodletting of the sort not yet seen before?”

In order to comprehend the two, it helps to go back 11 years, to July-September 2000. As is the case today, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak lay all the blame for the failure of the diplomatic process on Yasser Arafat. Like today, then U.S. President Bill Clinton abandoned the Palestinian leadership. Like today, they told us that the Palestinian president was not really interested in a two-state solution. Like today, they told us that he had planned in advance the outbreak of violence. Like then, they are telling us now that we have no partner for peace. They believe that the “nation” will buy that fib – just as it did then.

In an article from a new journal published by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research, Dr. Ephraim Lavie argues that there is no basis to the claim that Arafat went to war in 2000 as part of a plan of strategic deception. Lavie, who headed the Palestinian Desk at the Research Department of Military Intelligence at the time, says that this assessment, which was made public by the military echelon, had no intelligence foundation. He says that this view suited the leadership’s outlook and constituted a basis for the policy of the government and the Israel Defense Forces for a number of years.

The next Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, who inherited this narrative from Barak, rode it all the way to the disengagement from Gaza. His successor, Ehud Olmert, failed to correct Barak’s damage, but left behind for Netanyahu the photographs of Abbas entering and leaving the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street, with the Palestinian flag flying in the background.

Netanyahu was forced to deal with a Palestinian president wearing a coat and tie, and with a Palestinian prime minister who showed absolutely no tolerance for violence.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, at the beginning of his White House tenure, made things more difficult for Netanyahu with its two-state solution formula and with international pressure to freeze settlements.

The Palestinian move at the United Nations, along with the demonstrations that are expected the day after the recognition of Palestinian statehood in the 1967 borders, are a great opportunity for the right-wing government to restore the old and effective status quo. As the vote approaches, they let it be known that even though Netanyahu had agreed to renew the negotiations on the basis of the 1967 borders, the Palestinians were intent on moving forward with a “unilateral step” at the United Nations – hence, proof that there is no partner.

In response to a Haaretz question on whether Netanyahu did indeed adopt the new Obama formula of May 2011, which includes mutually agreed land swaps, the Prime Minister’s Bureau made it clear that “there has been no change in the government’s policy.” As far as is known, the government has never discussed the new formula.

The prediction of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that the vote will be followed by unprecedented violence and bloodletting prepares public opinion for a harsh response on the part of Israeli security forces to popular protests in the territories. Vice-Premier Moshe Ya’alon will be glad to help Netanyahu “teach the Palestinians a lesson they will not forget” – namely, that they should forget about a state.

Once, when he was still in uniform, he sent the IDF to destroy the Palestinian Authority, remove the threat of peace and restore the right wing to power. With everyone busy with social justice, who will notice yet another national fissure?

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