Brad Hirschfield Live: U.N. recognizes state of Palestine. What does it mean?

Nov 30, 2012

The United Nations General Assembly recognized the Palestinian territories as a non-member state in a vote Thursday.

The 193-member world body endorsed upgrading the Palestinians' status despite opposition from the United States and Israel.

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Well, it's official -- Palestine is now a non-member observer state at the United Nations.  The US, Israel and a handful of other nations objected, dozens abstained, but the deal is done.  The real questions are: does it matter, what does it mean and how might it effect the future of the Middle East?


What do you think about the UN vote, about the ongoing violence in the region, and about the prosepects for peace?  You need not be an expert to have an opinion, you need only care about the situation, so jump in!


Let's get started.

Jews has accepted Resolution 181 in 1947 I was just reflecting, Rabbi, how this all goes back to the extermination of millions of Jews in Europe (Germany). Had that not happened, this would not be an issue because the Jews would not have tried to get back a safe homeland. But I digress. Resolution 181 was offered to the Arabs back in 1947 but was rejected by them. Why do they want it now and should the world, including the US, care? sjgl8032 responds: 6:19 PM ESTVolumes could be written about the olive branches burned over the years. A recognition of the status quo is the best that can be hoped for at this point.

First, let's get some history straight.  The state of Israel was NOT founded simply because of the Holcaust.  The nations of the world may have finally voted in favor of the State in 1947 because of their own feelings of guilt and/or compassion in light of the Holocaust, but that was their issue, not the Jews'.  The Jewish people had longed for, dreamed of, and prayed about returning to a reborn State of Israel for thousands of years, and the modern movement known as Zionism, was more than half a century old by the time the State of Israel was founded. 

I don't know what you mean by "the Arabs", but if you are referring to the Palestinian people, they care because they too want a nation of their own.  The fact that past events, especially the actions of other Arab states, may weaken their historic claims, actually does not matter.  They are a distinct community and seek political self-determination, and why should that claim not be recognized?


The world should care for any number of reasons, not least of which is that what goes on in the Middle East effects us here in the US, that Israel is a valuable ally with a society very much like our own, and that when possible, we seek to nurture peaceful, democratic movements whereever they may be.  While the real threats to the US arre not centered in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resolving it would strengthen our own strategic interests in the region.

As someone who lives thousands of miles of way from the conflict and doesn't belong to any of the religions involved, I'm far from qualified to decide the best way of resolving this. From what I can tell, the basic situation seems to be a minority living under the power of a majority. I can understand Palestinians not wanting to live under Israeli rule, but I don't understand why many Israelis would want the burden of trying to rule a minority that doesn't want to be ruled over. At least England benefitted economically to Ireland's detriment when it ruled that island for centuries. What am I missing about the basic nature of the conflict? I dread the possibility that this won't be resolved for centuries and that generations will know nothing but fear and suffering.

You may not be an expert, but you raise wise questions.  thank you.

In fact, the vast majority of Israelis do NOT want to rule over a a bunch of non-citizens, which is the real issue, not the fact that Palestinians are a religious or national minority.  The fact is, that there are more than a million non-Jewish citizens of Israel, most of them Arab Muslims.  They vote, pay taxes, and sit in the national assembly, the Kenesset.  But your point remains crucial, and why the creation of a Palestinian state is not only in the best interests of Palestinians, but of Israel.


For Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic, their must be a Palestine for those who live under Israeli control but are not citizans of Israel.  The concerns n the Israeli side about how to accmplish this include the results of it's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and a host of other issues about the fundamental security of Israel and it's citizens.  But that said, more could and should be done to speed up the creation of a Palestinian state, which, if done properly, will is in all people's long-term interests.

As the existence of Taiwan is inconvenient to China, so is Palestine to the United States.

The existence of Palestine is not the least bit inconvenient to the United States.  The United States simply insists that progress toward peace should be accomplsihed around a negotiating table at which all parties to the conflict can sit, not through UN votes.  Frankly, I am not sure I totally agree with that, but it is hardly a crazy proposition, especially as the State which the UN just recognized is governed by two distinct governments, and one of the them is a terrorist organization.

This isn't specifically linked to the UN vote, but I believe it's pertinent. We, as people, like nice, neat categories for our lives. But when it comes to others they don't help much. It may be easy to speak about worldwide or national [insert religious faith here], but it blinds us to the nuances of belief and individuality that are inherent in the human condition. Do you see this playing a role in the inability of the Israelis and Palestinians to reach accommodation with each other?

I certainly agree that re-hashing the same old stories and well-rehearsed historcial claims, is not a way to create a better future.  It's not that they are unimportant, but that they lack the nuance and complexity to which you refer.


There is no question that both sides need fresh thinking to create a fresh reality.  I think that the UN vote could have been a time for both sides to unleash some of that, but neither did.  For example, it would have been interesting for President Abbas to ask for a vote on a more modest proposal -- one which would not have been as provocative to many in Israel, and for Israel to have backed the notion of a UN vote which recognized a state of Palestine, at least in some broad sense. 

Hello, Thanks for doing these chats. I generally pride myself on being able to see and understand most sides to an issue, but I'm genuinely confused about why the US is so forcefully against this move, even after reading several articles on it. I don't have a dog in this Israeli/Palestinian conflict and consider myself pretty moderate in my political views, so I don't think any unintentional bias is the cause for my lack of understanding. Abbas has repeated over and over that "We did not come here to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel. Rather we came to affirm the legitimacy of a state that must now achieve its independence, and that is Palestine.” The US is in favor of a two-state solution. From what I read, the US is concerned that this move will stall peace talks. Why in the world does this have to stall peace talks? Totally don't get this. Hillary Clinton's response was "We have been clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace they both deserve: Two states for two peoples, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel." To me that doesn't address why they're specifically against this vote. So what's the big deal with the Palestinians being a non-member observer state? Netanyahu said that it won't advance peace or a two-state solution; rather it will push it back. Why? Why does this have to stall negotiations? Also, I read that people are worried that Palestinian membership in the ICC will lead to prosecutions of Israeli soldiers. a) I thought they were non-voting. b) Even if they were a voting member, how can one state commandeer the entire ICC? No news article I have read has addressed this, so please help me out here! Even if you can just comment on one or two things here, I'd really like to understand this better. I'm so lost I feel as though there's something fundamental that I'm missing. (Sorry for the length!)

Unilateralism can be damaging to the peace process, and that is what the Paelstinians did.  On the other hand, I do NOT think that this necessarily has to damage the peace process at all, as long as all sides remain cool, President Abbas is held to the words you quoted above (including a willingness to cut loose Hamas if they remain committed to the destruction of Israel), and Israel not take a punitive course in light of the Palestinian initiative.  After all, as PM Netanyahu said, "the vote changes nothing on the ground".  If that is so, then there is nothing to get so bent out of shape over.

With a rare handful of exceptions, its worth noting that the UN has an awful record of antisemitism at both the general assembly level and the High Committee on Human rights (which includes such illustrious countries as Syria, Libya and Cuba). The Durban conference on "racism' was basically nothing more than a antisemetic lovefest (which caused to the US to pull out). The number of condemnations has been laughably lopsided against Israel while nations with real human rights violations get free passes. Because of this the fact that the PA won a political victory is not a surprise at all. Its also a good time to remind readers of the type of countries who vote overwhelming against Israel are often the ones with the harshest dictators.

You are 100% correct about everything you wrote.  on the other hand, I am not sure that it matters in this instance.  If Israel agrees, as it clearly does, that the path to peace lies with the creation of two states for two peoples, and Palestinians are prepared to live alongside a Jewish State of Israel, as at least the PA leadership seems increasingly willing to do, then this vote could be a mometn of real opportunity.  I think those are the more important issues on which to focus, at least right now.

I know there are thousands of years of "he started it" justifications, but I'm clueless as to why Israel always get blamed for defending itself.The distances here are so tiny. Imagine if Bethesda was sending missiles into Arlington, Arlington wouldn't feel bad about firing back. It shouldn't be Arlington's fault that Bethesda's leaders hide in schools and churches. Honestly, please explain the side of Hamas so that I can see how they are seen as victims.

You want me to explain why the people who sent my daughter and many other members of my family into bomb shelters last week are victims?  The funny thing is, I could, and some of it would actually be true.  Gaza is hardly a great place to live, and at a fundamental human level, when Gazans suffer, it should bother all people.  Of course, that is hardly an excuse for pursuing a policy which calls for the destruction of the Israel, as Hamas government does, and why virtually the entire world backed an end to recetn hostilities based on the principle of "quiet for quiet" i.e. no politcal advantage would be gained by Hamas by virtue of it's rocket campaign.


Do you view this move as anti-Semitic, as most Israelis view it (and many Americans)? Why give the Palestinians anything when all they care about is wiping Israel off the map? Will the UN force the Palestinians to officially recognize Israel's right to exist?

Most Israelis do not view this move as anti-Semitic.  They view it as wrong-headed and unhelpful, but not anti-Semitic.  And your claim about the only thing which all Palestinians want is to destroy Israel, is simply wrong.  I do not even think that is what all Gazans want, but until they choose a new government -- one not committed to that -- it may be a more justifiable claim in their case.


The UN can not force anyone to accept anything.  They can not force Israel and the US to accept this vote, not can they force Palestine to accept Israel.  The latter, is something which Palestinians must do for themselves.  but when they make moves in that direction, as Mahmoud Abbas has done, I think that such moves must be rewarded and built upon.

What I don’t understand is why isn’t the entire world (or at least as much of it as just supported Palestine’s petition yesterday) not up in arms against Israel for (among many other similar violations) colonizing conquered territory, which is a clear violation of international law?

Because it's not.  You may not like that answer, but in fact, that is the truth according to international law.


I think that like the previous questioner, you confuse what you would like to believe with what others have actually determined.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that Israel is perfect by any means.  but it is somewhat irnic that you invoke international law just weeks after Hamas used military tactics which all agree are in fact, violations of the laws you invoked.

With a Palestine, wouldn't terrorists have more power over the Israelis, which could lead to the demise evenutally of Israel?

Depends upon what kind of Palestine.  Believe it or not, not all Palestinians are terrorists.


If you are asking about the necessity for Israel to remain militarily strong as a foundational element of it's secure existance, I could not agree more.  I also think that one of the ethical obligations that comes with real strength, is the obligation to take certain chances, especially when those chances are reasonable and in everybody's long-term best interest.

This must be the most troubling question of our times. I've struggled most of my adult life to come to grips with the Israeli-Palestine problem, and I don't feel any further ahead. From my Canadian WASP perspective, I see three paths to a solution: one, total annihilation of Jews in Israel. The world would not stand for that, even if it were possible. Two: total annihilation of Arab states and Iran. Not possible. Third: both sides find a way to coexist. That's the easy and obvious answer, but how to implement it? Especially since both sides continue to inflict death and pain on each other, building up a wall of grudges that will be difficult to dismantle.

I do hear you, but implore you not to despair, especially because you recognize that only option 3, as you describe it, is the way to go.  Not only that, however one feels about yesterday's vote at the UN, the President of the Palestinian Authority stood at the podium and declared that his cause was no less, and therefre also no greater, than that of Israel.  Whether one believes him or not, that is an amazing and promising thing.  If you had said 20 years ago, that the move toward Palestinian Statehood would draw strength not from the deligitimization of Israel, but from an affirmation of its legitimacy, they would have said you were crazy.  But that is what happened yesterday.  It's actually rather amazing.  We can not be naive, but we need not lose hope either.

If most Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state and the U.S. is openly in support of a Palestinian state, how is this move provocative? I just don't get it. Please help me understand.

Because it opened the door to equvalence between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, because it declared borders rather than negotiated them, and many other issues which circumvented the negotiating process through which this must be resolved.


Having said all that, I appreciate the need for public and official recognition of their cause, and believe that it could signal a moment of opportunity in which both sides re-engage each other. 

Well, the hour is at hand, and my hands are tired.  Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments and questions.


Whatever your views on Israel and Palestine, I invite you to take a moment to imagine a future in which both could co-exist in peace and in security.  What might you do t furhter that cause in a way that could be appreciated and understood even by those who view things differently than you do?  That's how peace is made.


Don't forget that we can continue the conversation when you friend me on facebook and follow me on twitter.


"Til next week,


In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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