Shortcuts won’t work in seeking peace in Middle East

Time after time it has been shown that two wrongs don’t make a right in the Middle East, so yet another example is hardly needed. And yet, that’s what the world got once again.

On Thursday, the United Nations approved by an overwhelming vote of 138-9 an upgrade of the Palestinian Authority to non-member observer status. Among those voting “no” were Israel, the United States and Canada.

The lopsided vote comes at a time when Israel is viewed by many as the wrongdoer for defending itself against missile attacks that any member nation of the United Nations would consider an act of war. A further irony lies in the fact that until a recent cease-fire, Israel was locked in battle with Hamas, the terrorist entity that oversees Gaza. The U.N.’s action benefits the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has been involved in off-and-on negotiations with Israel for years.

The U.N.’s action was greeted in the West Bank with cheers and fireworks because it was seen for what it was, an endorsement of an independent state of Palestine and support for Palestinian demands for sovereignty over lands lost to Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Regardless of how one feels about those Palestinian claims, the U.N.’s action was ill advised because it short-circuits the negotiation process that might eventually lead to peace in a troubled land.

So, if that was the first wrong, what was the second? That would be Israel’s reaction.

Pointless provocation

Less than 24 hours after the U.N. vote, the Israeli government approved the construction of another 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements on occupied land in the West Bank.

Obviously it galls Israel to see a diplomat sitting behind a “State of Palestine” nameplate at the United Nations. But responding to the U.N. loss with such a provocative act damages Israel’s standing even with its friends, including the United States.

There is no longer an alternative to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Further expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories makes that settlement all the more difficult. At some point, Israel is going to have to abandon at least some of those settlements, as it did in Gaza. And the larger the number of people it has to pull out, the more difficult that task is going to be.

Yet, the alternative is untenable. Israel was created as a Jewish state. By definition, it must be compact, and it must have a majority of Jews. A larger state, one in which demographics would eventually result in an Arab majority population rather than a Jewish majority, would cease to be Israel.

The thorny reality is that Palestinians and Israelis are going to have to find a way of living side by side was helped neither by the U.N.’s precipitous action Thursday nor Israel’s provocative response Friday.

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