Yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to give Palestine the status of a "nonmember observer state", represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization, within the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that bordered Israel before the Six-Day War of 1967.
This is truly a first reaction. I decided to read a few things last evening:
- the text of the speech delivered today by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority
- the speeches delivered on Sept. 13, 1993 at the White House by Mahmoud Abbas, Yitzchak Rabin, and Yassir Arafat
The earlier speeches were delivered when, unexpectedly, Israel and the PLO decided on mutual recognition and the first phases of a face-to-face process of negotiations.
I wanted to read the speeches sympathetically, as gestures of peace from all sides. I wanted to read with understanding that the Palestinians, for all kinds of reasons, have lived an often terrible existence since 1948, and have lived with poverty and restrictions especially lately. You may already well know that I favor a state for Palestinians, and view the increasing settlement of the West Bank by Israel as a profound obstacle to peace.
I wanted to try to read with sympathy even though I read these speeches as a Jew, as part of the family of Israel, worried for Israel's safety today.
It is typical in speeches before the world, in speeches outside one's own land, to make gestures of peace and understanding even to one's opponents and enemies. It is what Prime Minister Rabin, zichrono livracha, did in his speech in 1993.
President Abbas yesterday did no such thing toward Israel. In his speech, Israel is at best something that is there. He said nothing at all about Israelis and their homes or hopes. He extended no olive branch, did not so much as admit that Palestinians and Arab countries have participated in wars, have been fighters against Israel. When I looked back at his speech in 1993, when he was the P.L.O. foreign minister, essentially, it was the same. Even on a day when things looked brighter for everyone.
And I am afraid of what this means, that the Palestinian leader most regarded as the partner for negotiations with Israel cannot bring himself even to any of the niceties or cliches about what peace would mean for Israelis, or what Israel means as a homeland for its people.
Others will elaborate on the incredible version of history that President Abbas put forth. How unbelievable that he would invoke the U.N. partition resolution, passed by the General Assembly on the same day 65 years before -- which would have created the Palestinian state on far better terms, had the Arabs only accepted it as the Jews did. In President Abbas' speech, the Palestinians are peaceful people who were "ethnically cleansed" from their homes, who have never engaged in war or terror, whose leaders have always stood for fundamental human rights.
Read the speeches I've linked for yourself. This is my first reaction, and I share it in great worry and sorrow.