Obama and UN: Recognize Palestine AND Re-affirm Israel’s Right to Exist as a Jewish State
Rabbi Michael Lerner
September 14, 2011
American and Israeli diplomats acknowledge that they do not have the votes to prevent the General Assembly of the United Nations from recognizing Palestine and granting it some of the rights of member states. The U.S. can block full membership only by exercising its veto in the Security Council, an act likely to intensify hatred of the U.S. in many countries around the world.
A far wiser strategy is for the U.S. (even better, with Israel) to introduce a resolution to the Security Council providing full membership in the U.N. to Palestine while simultaneously reaffirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Both sides win. Israel will feel less isolated, and Palestinians will get full instead of the only partial and largely symbolic membership in the U.N. it could get from the General Assembly once the U.S. vetoes membership in a Security Council resolution.
The resolution should make clear that this recognition is contingent on both Palestine and Israel respecting the rights of all its citizens and offering them equal protection under the law, and not imposing any religious practices on any of its citizens. Calling Israel a Jewish state does not mean sanctioning existing forms of discrimination that currently exist there against Palestinians, or against its own secular majority which currently suffers from religious coercion by the Orthodox minority (which gets its way because it has enough votes in the Knesset for the major parties to need the religious groups in any coaliton government secular parties might hope to put together).
The primary concern that Palestinians have voiced about calling Israel a Jewish state is the fear that this would a. validate the right of Israel to continue to discriminate against its Arab citizens in housing, employment, education and allocations to Israel’s municipalities, and b. close the door to the Palestinian “right of return.”
The primary concern that the U.S. has voiced about supporting Palestinian membership is that doing so might end any inclination by Palestinians to engage in negotiations with Israel.
The resolution that the U.S. should introduce could deal with these concerns, using the following formulations:
We call upon both Israel and Palestine to give equal rights in protection, employment, voting, housing, education, health, and all other government-supported activities and programs to all their minority citizens.We call upon Israel and Palestine to negotiate (in a spirit of open-heartedness, generosity and understanding that both sides’ well-being is intrinsically tied to the well-being of the other side and the other side’s perception that it is being dealt with respectfully and justly) a lasting peace, to affirm each other’s right to exist, and, to make territorial swaps of equivalent territory and strategic and economic value — based on the pre-1967 border of Israel, as part of creating borders agreed upon by both sides.
Once an agreement has been reached between Israel and Palestine, we call upon all other states in the region to recognize and create warm relationships with Israel and Palestine and to take necessary steps toward the creation of a Middle East common market.
Nothing in this resolution is meant to determine the detailed outcome of those negotiations or to take a stand beyond previous U.N. resolutions on how to best deal with the legitimate security needs of Israel or the best way to end the suffering of Palestinian refugees.
Israel was the first affirmative action state, recognized by the United Nations primarily out of a global recognition that the Jewish people had faced extraordinary persecution through much of the past two thousand years, culminating in the Holocaust. Its policy of giving a special right of return and special rights to immigrant housing is a legitimate response to the vulnerability the Jewish people continue to face in light of continuing hatred of Jews based on prejudicial views of who Jews are and what we stand for.
But that affirmative action should not extend to treating Palestinian citizens of Israel in discriminatory ways in any other respect except immigration. Israel can continue to privilege Jewish culture and history, while encouraging its citizens to also learn Arabic and supporting its Muslim and Christian minorities to celebrate their own holidays and teaching their cultures in Israeli schools, as well.
Similarly, the Palestinian state that is now emerging should be recognized as an affirmation action state, recognized by the United Nations before it has control over any territory of its own as a way to alleviate the special suffering of the Palestinian people. It should have a special right of return and special rights to immigrant housing for Palestinians living anywhere in the world in light of the suffering that Palestinian refugees have faced under occupation by Israel and in Arab countries which have often treated Palestinians in harsh and discriminatory ways.
Why not turn this moment into a victory for both the Israeli and Palestinian people, and one in which the U.S. emerges as a hero rather than a villain?