Should Israel support Palestinian statehood in U.N. vote Yes

Yes: Two-state promise of 1947 should be fulfilled

My parents were the last to squeeze into Reuven’s room on Nov. 29, 1947. Anyone else who wanted to hear the broadcast on his radio, one of only two on the kibbutz, would have to do so through the open door. Everyone had to stand so as to squeeze themselves into the smallest possible space.  Like most people, my mother and father had brought a small notebook and pencil, prepared with a column for “yes” and another for “no,” to tally the vote on U.N. Resolution 181: the vote to end the British Mandate in Palestine and create two states in its place.

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My mother still remembers the slightly bloody taste in her mouth as she bit her lower lip in order to hold back her tears. Then she furtively looked at other people’s faces and saw theirs. She let go just when, a bit after 11 p.m., the final tally was announced: 33 in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions.  Now everyone cried, and cheered: The United Nations had just voted to recognize Israel as a new state. And Palestine.

But following the 1948 war, our “War of Independence” and the Palestinians’ “Nakba” (marking it or teaching about it in publicly sponsored events and schools is now outlawed in Israel!), Israel and, even more so, its Arab neighbors, aborted the creation of Palestine and abandoned the Palestinian people.  It has been nearly 64 years. How much longer can we deny that Palestinians, too, regardless of how belligerent, intransigent and diplomatically self-destructive they have been, deserve a state of their own?

Instead of fighting the upcoming vote in the United Nations, Israel should announce its support for finally implementing the second half of “The Partition Plan” — Palestine. Ethical and historical arguments should suffice. But there is an additional vital strategic one as well. By declaring in advance its affirmative vote, Israel will pre-emptively empty the rhetorical arsenals of its opponents and enemies (and there are plenty!). 

Israel should declare that, indeed, it favors the creation of a Palestinian state and is ready to meet face to face, nation to nation, with a democratically elected, socially responsible, ethically guided and politically realistic Palestinian government to negotiate all the points of disagreement. 

Israelis, with broad support from Jews in the United States and around the world, already accepted a Palestinian state in 1947. It was affirmed in the Oslo agreement and even by Benjamin Netanyahu. In a speech at Bar Ilan on June 14, 2009 (admittedly by far his most conciliatory statement), he stated Israel would accept a demilitarized Palestinian state (other preconditions having been met). Ariel Sharon accepted it, de facto, by stating that the occupation (his exact words: “ha-kibush”) cannot be sustained indefinitely. 

An Israeli vote for a Palestinian state might bring Israel and the Palestinians back to productive negotiations. It might not. If it does not, we will be back exactly where we are now. But we will be there without the damage that focusing on defeating the U.N. resolution will bring, making Israel, yet again, appear intransigent and combative, and straining its relationship with the United States nearly to the breaking point.

Less than six months after the U.N. vote, on May 14 — the day Resolution 181 set as the end of the British Mandate — David Ben-Gurion and his newly formed government announced the creation of the State of Israel. My parents were packed into Reuven’s room again, listening to Ben-Gurion read aloud Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I am still moved when I read it today. But I can’t help but think of it in the following, minimally altered way (only underlined words have been changed): 

“Eretz Yisrael was the birthplace of the Palestinian people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped … After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Palestinians strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland …  aspiring towards independent nationhood.”

The vote in the United Nations is not without problems, but its arrival cannot be fended off. Instead of fighting it, Israel should seize it as an opportunity to position itself squarely on the side of intellectual honesty, fairness and diplomatic advantage. We might even suggest to the Palestinians that they request rescheduling the vote for Nov. 29, 2011.


Rachel Biale lives in Berkeley. She worked as a professional in the Bay Area Jewish community for more than 20 years.