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Mahmoud and the Wizards of Turtle Bay
Declarations and resolutions do not a state make.


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Clifford D. May

At the United Nations last week, amid great fanfare and to thunderous applause, Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinian people want a state of their own. The obvious question: What’s stopping them?

Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the U.N. has no power to award statehood, except perhaps in the sense that the Wizard of Oz awarded courage to the Lion, a heart to the Tin Man, and a brain to the Scarecrow.

By definition, in both custom and international law, a state has specific attributes. Among them: It controls territory. Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA) do not control Gaza, one of the two principal territories composing what could become a Palestinian state.

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Since the brutal (if underreported) Palestinian civil war of 2007, in which Hamas gunmen slaughtered PA gunmen and, in the end, seized control of Gaza, Abbas has not set foot on that stretch of Mediterranean coast and, apparently, dares not do so now. This is despite his performance at the U.N. and despite the fact that the PA recently concluded a pact with Hamas, a terrorist/jihadi organization funded by Iran and openly committed to exterminating Israel.

As for the West Bank, Israel can exercise superior power there if it chooses. When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed Abbas on the U.N. podium, he made clear, not for the first time, that Israel is willing to give up its claims to most of the West Bank —  also known as Judea and Samaria — but only as a component of a durable peace achieved through negotiations.

Abbas, however, says he will resume negotiations only if concessions are made in advance and for nothing in return — not even recognition of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancient homeland.

In his speech to the Wizards of Turtle Bay, Abbas complained that the Palestinians have been denied statehood for over six decades. That is simply untrue. The area we call “Palestine,” was for centuries a possession of the Ottoman Empire. Following World War I, the British Empire assumed authority. The British gave 75 percent of Palestine to an Arabian monarch who had been deprived of his throne when Ibn Saud conquered Mecca in 1925. That’s how the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan — named for the clan and the river — was born.

In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly voted to partition what was left of Palestine into two additional states: one for Jews, one for Arabs — not “Palestinians” because, in those days, the term actually referred to the Jews who had long been working to re-establish a national home in Palestine.

The Jews accepted the U.N.’s two-state solution. The Arabs rejected it. Both local Arab militias and armies from five neighboring Arab states immediately launched a war to drive the Jews into the sea.

That effort failed. Within the lines — not borders — where Arab forces were stopped, Israelis proceeded to build cities, farms, and factories as well as a vibrant democracy in which more than a million Arabs — those who decided neither to fight nor to flee, as well as their descendants — today enjoy freedoms and rights unavailable in other countries of the Middle East.

In 1967, Israel’s Arab neighbors, led by Egypt and joined by Jordan, planned another war, again with the intention of killing off the Jewish state. Over six bloody days, the Israelis defended themselves and, this time, they pushed back the lines — taking Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.

On many occasions, nations have annexed territory taken in defensive wars. The Israelis, however, thought it might be possible to trade land for peace. Over the past 34 years, that formula has failed — despite Israeli peace proposals in 2000 and 2008 that would have led to the creation of a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, in more than 95 percent of the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem as well.

And in 2005, Israel exited unilaterally from Gaza with the hope — if not the expectation — that doing so might lead to more productive negotiations. Instead, as noted above, Gaza was quickly taken over by Hamas, which has rained thousands of missiles on Israelis ever since.

At the U.N., Abbas characterized Israel’s presence in the West Bank as “the only occupation in the world.” That is another lie — a lie which the U.N., accurately described by Netanyahu as a “house of lies,” helps facilitate. Can you imagine a Tibetan, a Uyghur, or a Chechen being permitted to stand up at the U.N. and demand statehood for his people? A Georgian insisting the international community end the Russian military presence in his country? Would Greeks, Armenians, and Kurds be applauded for decrying the Turkish annexation of lands in which their ancestors lived? Or if Hindus and Sikhs told how they were forced to abandon their homes and temples in what became Pakistan? What if the Jews expelled from Egypt, Libya, and Iraq demanded a right of return? Has Abbas heard of the Basques and the Tamils?

Back in 2002, Pres. George W. Bush announced that the United States would “support the creation of a provisional state of Palestine” if Palestinians will only “embrace democracy, confront corruption, and firmly reject terror.” President Obama, it is only fair to say, also would undoubtedly like to see the birth of such a Palestinian state.

Abbas has responded to this offer of support by saying, in effect, that he agrees — except about rejecting terror (Abbas selected the mother of four terrorists to launch the Palestinian statehood campaign), confronting corruption (questions finally are being raised about how Abbas and his sons have become so wealthy), and embracing democracy (Abbas’s term as PA president expired almost three years ago).

Someone might say to Abbas: “If you want a state, don’t ask the U.N. to give it to you: Build it. Establish an honest and functioning government. Come up with an economic plan that gets your population off the international dole. Let Salam Fayyad, the PA prime minister, help you — or do it for you since he is capable and, to be candid, you are not. Stop expecting Israelis to protect you from Hamas in private while you castigate them in public. And understand that if a Palestinian state won’t make peace with Israel, if you won’t negotiate, and if your citizens continue to fire missiles into their communities, Israelis will have a right and, indeed, a responsibility to respond with force sufficient to deter future attacks — a course of action they have not taken in the past.”

Yes, I know: People may talk like that in Kansas but not in the Land of Oz on the Hudson.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.



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