What Is the Wording?

Struggling With the Palestinian Unilateral Push for Statehood

Destination Point: The effort to get world recognition of Palestine will play out in September at the United Nations General Assembly.
Getty Images
Destination Point: The effort to get world recognition of Palestine will play out in September at the United Nations General Assembly.

By Kathleen Peratis

Published May 25, 2011, issue of June 03, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

This fall, the Palestine Liberation Organization will ask the 192 member states of the United Nations to declare an independent state of Palestine. In my view, this is a bad idea; if I could, I would stop it. But since the peace process (apparently) is dead and it is unlikely that anything will occur to dissuade the Palestinians, we’d best understand what this actually means.

First, a vote in the General Assembly has little legal consequence. Without Security Council approval (not likely here, because the United States would veto), a vote in the General Assembly would render Palestine not a “member state” but an “observer state,” a status with rights similar to what the PLO already has.

But immediate legal consequence is not what the PLO is going for. If it wins a lopsided victory in the G.A. — as is expected (how lopsided may depend on the results of President Obama’s recent visit to the capitals of Europe) — the “Independent State of Palestine” would have instant international legitimacy and perhaps, over time, rights and privileges far beyond what an “observer state” normally has. (The Holy See is the other current observer state.) But there are other consequences that could prove catastrophic. Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, recently told me, after I visited his Ramallah office with a group in April: “A week or two or three after such a vote, Palestinians would say to each other, ‘So where is my state?’ Nothing would have actually changed on the ground, and their anger and frustration would boil over. They would blame us, and they would be right.” He added, “I don’t need the recognition of the world, I need recognition from Israel.”

In the wake of such a vote, many countries, one by one, would surely take the legally consequential step of “recognizing” Palestine as a full-fledged state and open bilateral state-to-state relations — a separate matter from member state status in the U.N. And what will these countries do about an Israel that continues to occupy the (according to them) full-fledged independent state of Palestine? This is not rocket science. They would sanction, punish and further isolate Israel, perhaps in ways that we cannot even imagine today.

These are good reasons, then, that one would hope to avoid such a U.N. resolution. But if it is presented, which now seems all but inevitable, what then?

I know plenty of Israelis, and also American lovers of Israel — I count myself among them — who deeply believe that the creation of an independent state of Palestine is the only way to ensure a secure democratic Jewish Israel. So when the question of Palestinian independence is laid before the world in the form of a U.N. resolution, what do we do? How do we see this moment? Is this a vote of monumental historic significance? Is this a pivot of history? Will it be like the U.N. vote on Israel in 1947, seared into the world’s memory? Or will it be just another irrelevant and forgotten misadventure of the United Nations?

I would bet that it will be the former. And if I am right, then on which side of history will American Jews and American Jewish organizations stand? Where will our hearts be? What should we urge the United States to do? Vote yes? Vote no? Which vote would you be ashamed of? Which vote would you regret forever? Can you advocate abstention without being a complete coward?

In the play “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More commits a supreme act of moral courage by refusing to sign the king’s loyalty oath, which would, in effect, mean renouncing the supremacy of the pope. Before finally concluding that he cannot sign, thus signing his own death warrant, he asks his daughter about the oath. “But what is the wording?” he asks. His daughter says: “Do the words matter? We know what it means.” “Tell me the words,” More says. “An oath is made of words. It may be possible to take it.” I think of this in my struggle with the U.N. resolution. The resolution will be made of words. What will they be? If it strictly defines Palestine’s borders as being the 1967 Green Line and does not make room for agreed upon land swaps, then I would oppose it.

But what if the resolution is cast in language that tracks Obama’s recent speech? What if it defines Israel as a Jewish state and acknowledges Israel’s right to secure borders? What if its provisions for Jerusalem are acceptable? What if? What if?

Will we direct our efforts only to stopping this Palestinian initiative but make no investment in trying to shape it? Will we give up in advance on the possibility that we can be a partner in drafting a good resolution, one that actually reflects our vision of peace?

This resolution is going to happen. Think of Thomas More: What is the wording?

Kathleen Peratis, a partner in the New York law firm Outten & Golden LLP, is co-chair of the Middle East North Africa Committee of Human Rights Watch and an executive committee member of J Street. Her opinions here are her own and not those of these organizations.     


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.