Our contemporary Cassandras have been proven right in Gaza. It is impossible to leave the pot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the stove unattended for very long without it boiling over. The Hamas rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and an impending ground assault are a highly volatile mix. When all is done, there will be a lot of scorched porridge on the stove. In the worse case scenario, Israel will re-occupy all the Palestinian Territories and increase the pressure for “transfer” of Palestinians out of Israeli-controlled territory.
Already prior to the latest rocket attacks, Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened to depose Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if the Palestinian Authority goes ahead with its plan to seek permanent observer status at the United Nations. That initiative is scheduled to take place in December and is said to have a large majority of the General Assembly in its favor. Along with ousting Abbas would go the cutting of ties with the Palestinian Authority and abrogation of what remains of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
Given the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas and the potential loss of limited Palestinian autonomy, the GA might hesitate to put the motion on the floor. But such hesitation is unlikely from a body so favorable to Palestine, especially when it will be, we can assume, on the losing end of a battle with the Israelis.
There is only one way forward and that is for the U.S. to withdraw its opposition to Palestinian observer status at the UN. The Palestinian quest is a last honorable bid to gain some leverage in talks with the Israelis. Without that leverage, Israel will continue to dictate unilateral terms to the Palestinians, as it has for years, continuing to pressure the people into non-existence. They will become like the Kurds a stateless people. A shift in the U. S. position will begin to build a base for further negotiation.
A second step must be U. S. rejection of Israel’s “everything is subject to negotiation” approach and a renewed embrace of international law and previous agreements as the framework for negotiation. Until the Clinton Administration, every U. S. government regarded international (U.N.) resolutions as the parameters within which talks would take place.
In adapting the Israeli meme about negotiation, the U.S. has been an enabler for aggressive Israeli settlement expansion in the territories, home demolition and infringement of Palestinian rights. Returning to the international framework formula will even the playing field for the Palestinians just a bit.
As to Hamas, its decision to increase attacks against Israel at a time when the region is already in turmoil is a reckless move, which will cost Gazans and other Palestinians dearly,and should be roundly condemned. When the rockets are stilled, the Palestinian Authority and the PLO will be the only legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. The U.S. needs to take them seriously and bring the Israelis to law-governed negotiations that will bring full Palestinian statehood.
Delaying that outcome any longer and ceding to Israeli dominance is a prescription for perpetual conflict across the region. For, if a pot is allowed to burn through its bottom, the ensuing fire could burn down the whole house.
Drew Christiansen, S. J. recently retired as editor in chief of America.