The diplomatic offensive playing out this week at the United Nations is designed to create the appearance that Israel and the U.S. are the only obstacles to a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel. But it’s the Palestinians who don’t want a Palestinian state, and they are counting on a U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council to prevent it should it come to a vote. The last thing Palestinian leaders want is responsibility for establishing a civil society and preventing attacks from their territory on a neighboring state.
A major reason for the U.N. gambit is to revitalize the Palestinians’ image as an oppressed nation seeking to exercise its right to self-determination. This narrative has played well in the court of world opinion up until now, but is it accurate? The Palestinians are not a distinct nation — they do not have a unique language, religion or culture. Prior to 1967, when the West Bank was part of Jordan and Gaza was part of Egypt, there were no calls for carving out a Palestinian state in those areas. And Palestinian leaders have admitted on several occasions that establishing a state in the West Bank and Gaza is not their intention. Just this past July, Palestinian Authority negotiator Nabil Shaath said, “The story of ‘two states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this.”
Likewise, the Palestinians seek to reinforce their portrayal of Israel as a colonialist power. This tactic has several advantages. It gives the impression that the conflict is strictly the result of Israel’s control over the Palestinian territories. (Never mind that the West Bank and Gaza were captured in a war of self-defense against enemies whose avowed goal was Israel’s destruction.) Therefore, it is Israel that must make all of the concessions. It also justifies the Palestinians continued use of terrorism. After all, the only way an “oppressed” people can fight a country with a large and modern military is via asymmetrical tactics. Plus, the Palestinians’ U.N. gambit helps to obscure an inconvenient fact: Instead of welcoming Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 — which by any measure ended the Israeli occupation — the Palestinians reacted angrily, firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli towns (a practice they continue to this day) and insisting that the removal of settlers and troops did not end the occupation.
Another reason that the Palestinians are now pressing their case for statehood at the U.N. is to exploit possible shifts in U.S. foreign policy. Since September 11, 2001 there has been considerable disagreement over the U.S.’s strategy for fighting terrorism. Some believe that we brought the horrific attacks on ourselves through our one-sided support for Israel and disregard for the sensitivities of Muslims. At a minimum, Palestinian leaders believe they can convince the U.S. government to modify its policies and put greater pressure on Israel. Some even hope that eventually the U.S. will see support for Israel as too costly in terms of domestic security, international relations and trade. Palestinian leaders believe that without U.S. support Israel would soon become demoralized and weakened to the point that it could be overrun.