September 23, 2011: A historic day for Israel-Palestine?

Daniel Levy writes:

Cynicism and skepticism always have their place, but today might just go down as an historic day on the Israeli-Palestinian front. No, there is no direct or quick fix move from the Palestinian application for U.N. membership to the actual realization of a Palestinian state (and certainly not when one factors in the Israeli response) but the Palestinian U.N. move does represent the most definitive break yet with the failed and structurally flawed strategies for advancing peace of many a year. Many Palestinians and others are now suggesting that the PLO leadership progress from the symbolism of September 23rd to a concerted struggle for their freedom centered on nonviolent resistance, diplomacy, and international legality, believing that this would finally deliver a breakthrough.

In its theatrics, today was rather predictable — other than the Quartet statement of the afternoon, on which more in a moment. The speeches of Abbas and Netanyahu held few, if any, surprises. Abbas played to the Palestinian community at home and around the world, and to the rest of the international community.

Abbas spoke to the refugee experience, including his own, while leaving wiggle room for a future solution and embracing the Arab Peace Initiative on this score. He clarified that the PLO would continue to represent all Palestinians until all issues are definitively resolved, urged that this not become a religious struggle (pushing back on Netanyahu’s attempt to make this about a Jewish state), and linked the Palestinian struggle for rights to the so-called Arab Spring, albeit something that will have to be born out in reality beyond the made-for-TV pictures from Ramallah’s town square.

Abbas could also not have been more explicit on this being a Palestine alongside Israel, on the 67 lines, on only 22% of Mandatory Palestine — and thus calling the lie on Netanyahu’s claim that Abbas wants to have a state that would come at Israel’s expense, replacing Israel.

Netanyahu was playing to the Israeli public and to the American and Jewish right. His speech represented a doubling down of the porcupine strategy that guides his government’s policy. He told the world body that its Security Council was being presided over by terrorists and posed as the champion of the “Clash of Civilizations” narrative. In reminding his audience of the sacrifices entailed by Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza six years ago, he somehow overlooked the fact that this was a withdrawal that he himself vociferously opposed. In referring several times to Israel’s peace with Egypt, Netanyahu may have left some reminiscing that in that agreement Israel withdrew to the last centimeter of the 67 lines, removed every settler and IDF position, and entrusted security to an international force — the MFO.

In response to their respective speeches, Abbas received overwhelming applause from the delegates in the GA hall while Netanyahu’s support came only from his own delegation and from the peanut gallery — perhaps that was filled with a U.S. congressional delegation on a daytrip to the U.N.!

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