The Palestinian Authority was finally successful today in its attempt to achieve nonmember observer state status, provoking criticism from both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill and especially vociferous outcry from embattled UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
The vote was 138 in favor and nine opposed, with 41 abstentions; Norway even tweeted a photo of its representative voting yes. The “no” votes came from Canada, Czech Republic, Palau, Nauru, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Panama, the U.S., and Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office slammed as “defamatory and venomous” a 22-minute speech by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in which the PLO leader said the “rope of patience is shortening and hope is withering” as the international community faced “the last chance to save the two-state solution.”
Abbas said the Palestinians would accept “no less than the independence of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital” yet vowed to act “responsibly” if the General Assembly granted its new status.
“I have a simple message for those people gathered in the General Assembly today: No decision by the UN can break the 4,000-year-old bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel,” Netanyahu said before the vote.
Rice seemed to be moving to make up ground lost in her potential nomination for secretary of State as she made the rounds on Capitol Hill this week.
“Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade. And the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives has changed, save that the prospects of a durable peace have only receded,” she said at the UN. “…Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button here in this hall. Nor does passing any resolution create a state where none indeed exists or change the reality on the ground.”
“For this reason, today’s vote should not be misconstrued by any as constituting eligibility for UN membership. It does not. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state,” Rice added.
Rice then tweeted multiple bits of the speech. “Today’s unfortunate & counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. The U.S. therefore voted against it,” she said.
One of her biggest critics on the Hill, though, was joining hands with Democrats to take concrete punitive action against the UN vote.
“Granting United Nations membership to the Palestinian Authority is a nightmare in the making for the peace process,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Earlier in the day, Graham held a press conference with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to introduce legislation that would force the closure of the PLO’s office in Washington unless Palestinians have entered into “meaningful” negotiations with Israel.
It also would eliminate American foreign assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the International Criminal Court adjudicates any matter proposed or supported by the Palestinians. The PA is expected to use its new status to attempt to go after Israel in the ICC.
“We are committed to using every means at our disposal to ensure that this UN vote does not serve as a precedent for elevating the status of the PLO in other UN bodies or international forums,” Schumer said.
“We will not use American taxpayer dollars to support a Palestinian entity whose primary goal, if they file a complaint in the ICC, is to marginalize the Jewish state rather than live in peace with the people of Israel,” Graham said.
“We will not stand idly by and allow the Palestinians to evade the peace process by pressing their political cause through alternate means and we will not provide financial support, or political support in the form of offices in the U.S., if the Palestinians aren’t serious about pursuing real peace through real negotiations,” said Menendez. “The choice is theirs.”
The bill comes on the heels of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act introduced yesterday by Barrasso, along with Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah), that would cut 50 percent of the total U.S. funds to the PA and also to any UN entity that grants the Palestinians a status change. It also cuts all U.S. foreign assistance to any country voting for the status change by 20 percent.
“The Palestinian Authority’s attempt to change their United Nations’ status is a purely political maneuver that will circumvent direct peace process negotiations with Israel,” Barrasso said. “If the Palestinians move forward with this irresponsible plan, they will violate international agreements, undermine the peace process and threaten the security of our ally.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) echoed the sentiment that there should be consequences for today’s UN move.
“Abu Mazen, instead of condemning the Gaza rocket fire and negotiating with Israel for lasting peace, spent the past week congratulating Hamas for its efforts to murder Israeli civilians, while offering condolences for Hamas’s ‘martyrs.’ Now the UN’s vote to grant de facto UN recognition of a non-existent Palestinian state has pushed peace with Israel even further away,” she said.
“It’s crystal clear that Abu Mazen and his cronies are not partners for peace and do not value their relationship with the U.S. The U.S must stand with our ally Israel and offer no U.S. taxpayer dollars and no political support for the PLO,” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “As other UN bodies will no doubt use General Assembly resolution as an excuse to grant membership to a non-existent Palestinian state, U.S. law is clear: UN agencies that grant membership to a Palestinian state lose their U.S. funding. If the administration again seeks to gut U.S. law and keep funding those reckless UN agencies, Congress’ response must be simple: No.”
The White House didn’t issue comment after the vote.
“They’ve declared the state twice before. There’s no Palestinian state today,” Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said on CNN. “…If they move forward against us in an aggressive way, trying to declare Israeli soldiers, say, as war criminals, we’re going to have to defend ourselves, just the way defend ourselves against Hamas rockets a few days ago. But again, if they’re willing to sit down with us, we will talk to them.”
Jewish groups reacted swiftly to the move and Abbas’ violation of the Oslo Accords.
“In requesting this action, PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is effectively turning his back on talks with Israel and destroying his credibility as someone genuinely interested in a serious peace process,” AIPAC said in a statement. “Instead, Abbas has reinforced the message he sent in a May 2011 New York Times op-ed that he intends to widen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pursuing claims against Israel before international bodies that can neither bring peace nor well-being to his people.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center summed up today’s action as Abbas showing “he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace.”
“Today’s vote in the UN has nothing to do with reality. Peace in the Middle East will only come when the Palestinians sit down with the Israelis and negotiate,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier. “There is no other way to achieve peace in the Middle East.”
The Center announced a new initiative in coming weeks to counter the “Big Lie” — that the Jewish people are intruders in their own land.
But the National Jewish Democratic Council tried to use today’s vote as proof of their assertion that Obama moving away from Israel is just a big lie.
“Those who cried ‘wolf’ about an alleged radical change in the U.S.-Israel relationship during President Obama’s second term need to do some serious reflecting on the events of November 2012 and give the reelected pro-Israel President of the United States the thanks and respect that he is due,” NJDC Chairman Marc R. Stanley said.