Pete Souza

World News


Like Two Toddlers Fighting

In a schoolyard battle, which kid always wins? The one with the biggest friends, of course. After picking up my daughter from school and observing the interaction of the children, it occurred to me that Palestine’s activities at the United Nations (UN) have become like a schoolyard fight between three three-year-olds; Palestine and Israel on their respective sides, the US in the middle.

It was reported weeks ago that Palestine would no longer be seeking full UN membership. This is after a draft report by a key UN Security Council committee revealed that members have not been able to reach consensus on whether the Palestinians’ UN statehood bid should be accepted.

But like a school-yard bickering spat between children this situation has the potential to turn into a tit-for-tat between these nations and of course we want to know who will be the victor. It’s unclear at this point because the one three year old [US] gets in a devastating and hurtful bite to the others one’s [Palestine] arm. This is after Palestine was caught pulling both the US and Israel’s hair (the UNESCO victory).

Palestine screams as the US pulls its teeth out of Palestine’s flesh, but is so frustrated it doesn’t know what to do. Should it smack both the US and Israel (put forth a vote for observer status), continue to look for the double knockout blow opportunity (full UN membership), throw a fit, or retreat?

Right now Palestine doesn’t know what to do because not only did the US bite them and slap them (stopping millions more in humanitarian aid), Israel also punched them in the face by withholding US$100 million in tax and customs revenues in order to punish them for their UN advances. It’s reported that the customs and tax revenues Israel collects under the terms of an internationally brokered agreement in 1994 make up 2/3’s of the Palestine Authority’s (PA) government revenues, with the rest largely coming from foreign aid. Ouch, now that hurts!

Palestine stomps its feet in frustration and says it will now defer an application for a Palestinian state to be admitted to the UN General Assembly as an observer state until at least late January. It needs those tax revenues and the only chance it will get at securing them will be if it decides to play nicely with the other kids; the rich kids. But there’s a caveat to Palestine’s good heartedness. It will only defer its application if Israel releases between 500 and 700 PA prisoners held in the Jewish State and gives them their money back. From an outsider’s point-of-view, this seems like a fruitless threat, but overall this schoolyard bickering and fighting is not helping anyone.

Abbas better hope he soon gets his money because his people and his political party will soon starve, placing more power into the hands of Hamas and raising security concerns for Israel. Palestinian officials have already told the media on Sunday 27 November that they won’t be able to pay the next round of public sector salaries that support nearly one-third of Palestinians.

Top diplomats such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to release the funds, but no luck so far. Israel has temporarily suspended tax transfers in the past, but usually restored them after a few months of international pressure. Like the Palestinian Authority at the moment, UNESCO is also desperate. America withheld its US$60 million November payment. The only one who seems to benefiting from all this drama is US President Barack Obama who continues to see his 2012 campaign budget rise due to the influx of donations from Jewish supporters.

I think it is time for Israeli and Palestinian diplomats and others to do what diplomats should do, and that is to be diplomatic. They need to sit down around the table — like adults — and discuss the real problems such as Hamas and Fatah unity, 1967 borders, and security concerns.

It seems that talks are taking place all over the world, however the ones who really need to talk, Israel and Palestine, are not speaking to each other. Netanyahu has offered to resume negotiations, but Abbas is sulking and insists Israel must first halt all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem first. Middle East peace talks have been suspended including whatever help the Quartet of Middle East advisers (the US, Russia, the European Community and the UN) can provide.

“Our strategy now is to continue knocking on the door of the Security Council and not other doors,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Reyad Al-Malki told Voice of Palestine radio on 15 November. Others, like the Vatican, are advocating the non-member observer state option, which Palestine should have no problem obtaining. Regardless of the persistent pressure on the Security Council strategy or the non-member observer state strategy, it appears the real goal of peace (which many may have forgotten) is not even close.