2011-11-25 "Can moral nations abandon Palestine? UN membership for Palestine should hasten peace and avert an oncoming catastrophe" by Stephen Robert
The writer is co-founder of The Source of Hope Foundation, which
provides food, water, health care, education and micro-finance
opportunities to desperate populations. He is a member of the Council on
Foreign Relationsand was Chancellor of Brown University from 1998-2007.
The United States Congress is threatening to cut funds to UN agencies that admit Palestine as a state, along with roughly $500 million in USAID funds to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That's on top of the $60 million the U.S. is withholding from UNESCO. The USAID mission for the West Bank and Gaza is preparing to dismiss half of its staff. For its part, Israel is withholding $100 million in tax receipts they collect for the Palestinian Authority.
Why does the United States punish the already beleaguered Palestinians for pursuing international recognition, for realizing that negotiating with a potent occupying force, backed by the world's sole superpower, simply isn't a winnable equation? The American government argues that peace can only come from direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. But Palestinian membership in the United Nations does not preclude negotiations. More likely, membership would bring a two-party accord closer by leveling the playing field, and internationalizing the negotiations beyond Washington and its partners in the Quartet, which have proved dismally ineffective.
America is hurting itself. It is not in the country's interest to weaken the United Nations or reduce its voice on environmental issues, nuclear proliferation, the fight against AIDS, malaria, hunger, etc. Much of the world no longer views the United States as a reliable or effective force for Middle East peace. They have lost the moral high ground which served them and the world so well over the last 60 years.
Though a superpower, no longer is America seen as a benevolent protector of human rights.
Can a moral nation withhold humanitarian aid from 4 million desperate people?
Four million Palestinians will not forever tolerate living in an open air prison, no matter what Congress says. An infant born in the occupied territories today faces a life of hopelessness and desperation. Citizens of nowhere, they cannot leave the territories, nor are many foreigners allowed entry. Palestinians are often denied adequate water, medical care and work opportunities, to name a few missing human rights, yet the world dithers while watching a train wreck in slow motion. Like the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenites, Bahrainis and Syrians, the Palestinians will demand their freedom. The longer we wait for the tipping point, the more likely its arrival will be ugly. Hopefully it won't be violent as well.
U.S. President Barack Obama's Cairo speech in 2009 gave hope to the world's 1 billion Muslims that the United States recognized them as full partners in addressing the great global issues. Obama must make good on that hope. Supporting retribution against the brutalized Palestinians diminishes the credibility of his elegant words. After decades of supporting abhorrent dictators in the Arab world, Washington now gives sustenance to the fledgling democratic movements that replaced them. Are the Palestinians an exception?
I was raised to be a strong supporter of Israel. I have been, and I remain one. Yet any system that denies millions of people their freedom is doomed to fail. The question is how many more lives will be ruined, how many more futures stunted, before America's politicians see the light. True supporters of Israel must not stay silent. They must remember that the strongest often stand alone.
A real friend does not let their friends drive drunk, as Thomas Freidman wrote. It is time for the moral majority to speak out, and demand that we stand on the side of freedom, equality and human rights; just as the Obama promised in Cairo.
UN membership for Palestine should hasten peace and avert an oncoming catastrophe. "We can easily forgive a child for being afraid of the dark," Plato said. "The tragedy is when grown people are afraid of the light." Only a Palestinian state can bring light to a Jewish-Arab conflict that has stained both peoples for too long. It is time we stopped being afraid.