“Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule.”
Today, September 25, 2012, the General Debate of the 67th UN General Assembly will begin and last for a week. Two planned speeches are of immense importance for the future of the Middle East. The newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestine’s Mahmoud Abbas have already hinted at the controversial content of their speeches. The aftermath may change forever Israel’s position in the area.
“Oom-Schmoom,” said Ben Gurion
Against all odds, UN in Hebrew is shortened as UM, and pronounced “oom,” resembling the English version. This is random; the “U” stands for “nations,” while the “M” is a strengthened form of “unified,” literally and ironically meaning “made one.” David Ben Gurion was Israel’s first Prime Minister and the person who had declared the state’s incomplete independence, following Resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly of November 29, 1947. He often referred to the UN as “UM-Shmum,” (pronounced “oom-schmoom”) a term that translates into bad English as “UN-schmo***.” Israelis have stayed on the same level of infantilism since those days. They may feel better after publicly uttering the insulting words towards the organization to which they owe so much, but reality is clear: the UN is getting more and more relevant.
Last year, on September 23, 2011, an historic event took place at the 66th meeting of the UN General Assembly. Mahmoud Abbas—speaking for the Palestinian people—asked the UN member states to accept Palestine as an equal member of this exclusive club. Minutes later, Benjamin Netanyahu answered a rambling comment on the source of the Netanyahu name on behalf of the State of Israel, the UN-member oppressing the aspirant state. The speeches and further comment can be found at Netanyahu is not a Netanyahu. Soon afterwards, Israel blocked Palestine’s application at the UN Security Council, which must have approved the topic before it was brought to the General Assembly. Yet, a few days later, on October 31, UNESCO granted Palestine full membership, with 107 votes in favor, 14 against and 52 abstentions. Brazil, Russia, China, India, South Africa and France voted in favor, Israel, US, Canada and Germany opposed, while Britain oddly abstained (US Enters UN Alley). The process became unstoppable. On June 28, 2012, during its 36th Session in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the World Heritage Committee finally recognized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage Site. No less important, it catalogued it under Palestine, which promised to speed up the reparations blocked by Israel since 1967. Israel had successfully delayed Palestine at the General Assembly, but it failed in other bodies related to the UN. In his cold grave, Ben Gurion probably has second thoughts about his violent, obscene style.
Mahmoud Abbas’ Strategy
A few days ago, I published a commentary on the Jewish New Year. It was named Jewish New Year: We Are back in 1947!. There was a good reason for the name; we are back at the partition days of 1947. As a special gift to Israel, Palestine announced during the Jewish holidays that it is considering giving a dissolution letter to Israel, ending the Palestinian Authority. Last February, the topic had been commented on by members of Mahmoud Abbas’ office. This time the threat was uttered by the Secretary General of the PLO’s Executive Committee Yasser Abed Rabbo to the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on September 18. This is the logical result of the stagnation in the negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and the ongoing enlargement of the illegitimate Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
This is a smart move by Palestine. It is not directly related to the UN since such a letter must be handed directly to Israel, after all the Palestinian Authority is a formal part of the State of Israel. However, it is sending a very clear message to the UN, which would be requested by Palestine to upgrade its status to the one of observer at the UN, the same status held by the Holy See, Vatican City. This will upgrade Palestine’s status from Occupied Territory to Occupied Country, opening new options for a legal battle against the Israeli occupation. The unambiguous message of Abbas to the UN is: “recognize Palestine as an observer, or after the end of the Assembly, I will dismantle the Palestinian Authority.” Even more dramatic is the standing of Egypt, which may turn out being Palestine’s savior.
Egypt’s new president turned out to be an impressive and surprising leader. Barely known before the elections, he assumed power as little more than a civilian leader subjugated to the military junta that replaced CIA-backed Mubarak. Last month, he surprised everybody by taking back full executive authority from the generals. “This is the will of the Egyptian people through the elected president,” he explained in a recent interview. Considering this, all his other declarations must be taken seriously. He defeated his main enemy, everything else should be easier. An open question is his exact position with regard to the Peace Agreement between Egypt and Israel. After all, the Muslim Brotherhood—to which Mr. Morsi is affiliated—demands a referendum on it. The agreement won’t survive such an event. Until now, he had made pacifying statements towards Israel, but he was fast to push the army into Sinai (Securing Sinai: Egypt Retakes Sovereignty). This event is forbidden by the peace agreement between the countries, but it was done with the explicit acceptance of the Israeli government.
The next target of Mr. Morsi seems to be Israel. He will attend the UN General Debate and has already made intriguing declarations of what he expects from the USA and Israel. In an interview to the New York Times, which preceded his UN speech, he said “If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule.” In other words, he politely accused Israel of not honoring the peace agreement. Under such circumstances, Egypt cannot be expected to observe it. “Fulfill the agreement, or we’ll find a different path,” was the not so subtle message given to America and Israel. More impressive is the fact that Morsi is not asking for goods for Egypt, but for Palestine. He demands that the Palestinian-related parts of the agreement be respected by Israel; this includes the freezing of West Bank settlements as a first step.
Egypt currently leads the Non-Aligned Movement, the largest group of countries in the UN. It is safe to assume that Mr. Morsi will be able to gather momentum in favor of Palestine. “Oom schmoom,” said David Ben Gurion; yet, Israel is about to learn a very important lesson in diplomacy. Israel is failing to stop Palestine. Egypt, a much larger and important country than Israel, is actively supporting Palestine. Wild winds of change are freezing up Ben Gurion’s tomb; meanwhile, Netanyahu keeps rambling about the origins of his name.