Eliav Benjamin, the Counselor for Political Affairs at of the Embassy of Israel, gave a briefing regarding the upcoming vote on the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the UN on September 13th. This event, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, took place at the DC Jewish Community Center.
The Jewish community was fortunate to have Mr. Benjamin, who has extensive diplomatic experience, come to speak about Israel’s stance on the unilateral declaration and the state’s struggle to maintain peace in a rapidly changing Middle East. Prior to being posted in DC, he served as the Policy Advisor to the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as the Deputy Head of Mission in Shanghai.
Mr. Benjamin spoke about the possibility that the Palestinian Authority will receive non-member state status, similar to that of the Vatican, even without the consent of the UN Security Council (the United States may veto a motion to recognize Palestinian statehood through the Security Council, which is required for approval for official statehood).
With this upgrade in status, Arab leaders would have even greater leverage in harassing Israel through various motions in the UN, which is already employed disproportionately to attack the Jewish state (for example: during the height of the genocide in Darfur, the UN General Assembly failed to condemn Sudan once, but passed 22 resolutions condemning Israel). Israel is already frequently targeted by unbalanced UN resolutions regarding human rights violations, and this would be expected to increase. Additionally, pressing human rights violations, such as the situation of political prisoners in Iran, would likely be further ignored because of limited time and resources at the UN. The upgrade in status would not solve the Arab refugee problem.
Mr. Benjamin repeatedly stated that Israel is making every attempt to bring the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table. He stated that Israel knows how to walk away from settlements and pay a difficult price for peace, as was represented historically by the 2005 disengagement from all settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the northern West Bank. The Palestinian Authority also understands this fact. Unfortunately, its leaders currently refuse to return to negotiations without nearly impossible preconditions.
He also reiterated that it is important to differentiate between support for independent Palestinian statehood—a position the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, also supports—and support for this particular unilateral resolution. Bypassing joint negotiations with Israel would not create a stable state; it would mainly only allow Arab leaders to have more power to bash Israel through UN forums.
Mr. Benjamin also spoke about security measures Israel is taking, including drills by the Israel Defense Forces, given the changing situation in the Middle East. For example, after the recent terrorist attack near the southern city of Eilat, Israel has stepped up security measures near the Egyptian border. Although he noted Palestinian security forces were cooperating with the IDF, he noted that history has proven that the Jewish people must rely first and foremost on themselves for defense.
In closing, he noted that Israel has been engaging in multiple humanitarian missions throughout the world—Israel built the first field hospital in Haiti after their earthquake, and it was one of the few countries to assist Japan during the tsunami disaster. He reiterated that in this situation the world’s pressure should not be on Israel but rather on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table in order to claim what Israel believes they deserve – their own independent state—through direct negotiations.
If you are interested in getting involved, consider signing the petition against a unilaterally declared Palestine, available here.