Last week at the UN General Assembly, the world’s countries finally voted, despite the opposition of the U.S. and a very few others, to recognize Palestine as a non-voting observer state rather than a mere non-voting entity. In other words, after years of debate and diplomacy, Palestine went from holding a non-voting seat at the U.N. to holding a non-voting seat at the U.N. Palestine, a nation of millions now holds equal status to the Vatican, a wealthy private entity with no citizens and a few hundred residents.
The U.S. is the big loser here, having stood up to a rational choice and come out looking like a bully who everybody’s finally standing up to.
Who are the winners?
There are the Palestinian people, of course, who now are given something closer to the equal dignity that they deserve.
There is the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank; Prime Minister Abbas worked hard for this and achieved a diplomatic status for Palestine that Yasser Arafat never could. More importantly, Abbas and not Hamas achieved this. Hamas can destroy but Abbas and the leadership in Ramallah can win global support.
Diplomacy is another victor here; peace isn’t a likely outcome when all the parties to a conflict have the opportunity to pursue violence but only one side of the conflict is allowed access to diplomacy. If we want a non-violent resolution, we need for all parties to have the tools for non-violent methods. This is a small but significant step in the right direction.
And the U.N. as an institution and forum of multi-lateral diplomacy is a winner here. A body cannot claim to be an important vehicle for multi-party discussions if one country, such as the U.S., can freely decide which of the world’s countries are allowed to join in.
And Israel is a winner, though the Israeli government doesn’t know it. This is what it takes to move toward peace. If nothing else, Israel needs the wake-up call. It needs to see that global diplomatic balance, like all things, eventually changes. If Israel ever wants to arrive at some sort of sustainable relationship with Palestine and the wider Mideastern neighborhood, it is best to make some painful compromises soon – while Israel still holds the stronger hand and the U.S. is still the world’s preeminent power – and not later. We cannot know much about the future but we can know that all things change. If Israel waits and waits, it will one day need to negotiate without such a dominant position. Israel should make a few painful choices today, working from a position of strength, rather than make many painful choices tomorrow, when there may be a less favorable climate.