Update – 26 September 2011

Posted by Emily Gian on 26 September 2011 at 3:08pm:

Dear All,

The Tale of Two Newspapers continues today as our two local broadsheets, the Australian and the Age seek to come to grips in their editorials with what has recently transpired at the United Nations.

The Australian editorial says that ‘Palestinian leader must stop deluding himself’ while the Age believes that ‘It’s time to recognise the state of Palestine’.

On Friday, Palestine Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (video) both addressed the United Nations General Assembly with the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood as their main focus.

Abbas spoke first. Whilst he mentioned the word “peace” at least 27 times, he said little to demonstrate that he had any understanding of the meaning of a true and lasting peace with Israel. He referred to the occupation over 20 times, made various references to what he alleged were Israel’s “apartheid” policies and accused Israel of “displacing Palestinian owners and residents under a multi-pronged policy of ethnic cleansing aimed and pushing them away from their ancestral homeland” (see more).

There were some problematic aspects of the speech from an historical perspective. The first came when he declared, “I also salute the Secretary-General, who said a few days ago that the Palestinian State should have been established years ago”.

Abbas and the Secretary-General are correct. In two months time, it will be 64 years since a Palestinian State should have been established. This was the moment in history that Abbas continually omits from his speeches and his memory. In November 1947 in the very place where Abbas was delivering his speech, the United Nations voted on the Partition Plan, which would have created a Jewish State alongside a Palestinian State. The plan, which passed in the UN, was accepted by the Jews and unfortunately, rather tragically as history has now shown us, rejected by the Arabs. Just as they would not accept a Jewish State then, Abbas refuses to accept a Jewish State now.

Abbas went on to declare, “I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora…”

There are those who argue that Abbas does not need to recognise Israel as a Jewish State in order to make peace with the Israelis; that it is all just rhetoric and that this is a discussion for another time. Even the Age today declared that Israel needs to decide whether it will insist on its Jewish identity at the expense of its democracy. However, Abbas went well beyond that and actually denied any historically Jewish connection to Israel and Jerusalem. These are sentiments that cannot be ignored.

Many commentators have been throwing around statements about parties being on the “right” or “wrong” side of history in regard to a UN vote on a Palestinian State. These include former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans writing in a piece entitled ‘Sitting uncomfortably on Palestine’ which appeared in the Australian on Friday (ZFA President Philip Chester had a piece the same day in the Australian entitled ‘UN vote more a short circuit than a short cut’). Unfortunately, those who advocate this are actually ignoring history when they expect Israel to continually make far-reaching concessions without the slightest hint of any commitment from the Palestinian camp with regard to an end to violence and incitement and to bringing security to the region.

Prime Minister Netanyahu covered these security concerns in his address to the United Nations. He talked about the 10,000 rockets that have rained down on Southern Israel from Gaza, and he talked about Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, which did not “calm the Islamic storm… it only brought the storm closer and made it stronger”. He talked about the demilitarisation of the West Bank and the issue of airspace with the Palestinians. He declared, “I bring up these problems because they’re not theoretical problems. They’re very real. And for Israelis, they’re life-and-death matters. All these potential cracks in Israel’s security have to be sealed in a peace agreement before a Palestinian state is declared, not afterwards” (see more).

Netanyahu also addressed many issues that these commentators who speak of the dangers of being on the wrong side of history like to avoid such as the far-reaching peace offers made by Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert in 2000 and 2008 respectively which have been rejected outright by the Palestinian leadership. Netanyahu made reference to the fact that the settlements are considered as the biggest obstacle to peace and Abbas’ reason for not sitting down to talk with the Israelis. But when there was an unprecedented 10-month freeze on the settlements, it took the Palestinians the first nine months before even considering sitting down and talking.  

Netanyahu ended his talk with a request to Mahmoud Abbas, stating, “In two and a half years, we met in Jerusalem only once… If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations?”

Abbas’ response? “Regrettably, Benjamin Netanyahu would come in last [on a list of Israeli leaders he could strike a deal with]” because “he is the most rigid of Israeli leaders I have met starting with Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni” (see more).

In other words, Abbas walked out yet again on an opportunity to make peace. And of course, the commentariat conveniently ignored the snub Abbas handed out to the Israelis and to peace.

Following the addresses by Chairman Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Quartet, which consists of the EU, the UN, the US and Russia, released a statement outlining a potential peace deal that could be solved by 2012 which would see comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and substantial progress within six months (see more).

Sources are suggesting that Abbas is likely to reject this blueprint put forward by the Quartet because it disregarded Palestinian conditions with reference to the settlements and the 1967 borders (see more).

I return to today’s Age Editorial and question the Editor’s understanding about the situation in the Middle East. The Editorial opens by stating, ‘When Israel declared its independence in 1948, it did not wait for successful negotiations with the Arabs of the then Mandated Territory of Palestine and neighbouring states”.

Israel’s declaration of independence did not just happen in a vacuum. I explained the context earlier in this piece with reference to the UN Partition Plan in 1947. In 1948, the Palestinians and the Arab world had more on their mind such as the complete destruction of the Jews, and Egypt and Jordan continued their “occupation” of Palestinian land between 1948-1967, in which time they never seriously talked about the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Age also plays down the role of Hamas, saying that ‘In an independent Palestine, Hamas’ relevance would steadily diminish’. I wonder upon what they base these claims. I would not be banking on the fact that Hamas is just going to slowly retreat from this. I would be more likely to agree with the Australian’s assessment in their editorial today when they state that Hamas ‘is willing Mr Abbas to fail so it can capitalise on the Palestinian disillusionment to follow’. This exact disillusionment in the PA led to Hamas’ election in 2006. We would be wise to not underestimate Hamas, with their genocidal intentions and their Iranian backers.

At the end of the day, both Chairman Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have presented their vision for the future of the Middle East. The Quartet has done the same. This future has varying levels of difference depending on whose vision it is. But it is all just words and will mean nothing unless all sides are willing to sit down and genuinely discussion the future. Painful concessions will have to be made on both sides and whatever happens at the UN will not change that. Anyone who fails to understand this is not just on the wrong side of history but also on the wrong side of the truth.

I would like to take the time to wish you all a Happy New Year. I hope that the coming year brings you all health, success and above all happiness. May it bring peace to Israel and Gilad Shalit back in to the arms of his loving family.

Best wishes,

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