Staying on Message


The problem is not whether there should be a future Palestinian state. It's about the Palestinian's abandonment of the peace process and a refusal to negotiate with Israel for the terms of such a state.

That's the message Israel, the United States and many Jewish groups are sending as the Palestinians push ahead seeking unilateral declaration of statehood in the United Nations.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to seek global support for what is known as UDI when the United Nations convenes its new session in New York next week.

Daniel Kutner, Israel's consul general in Philadelphia, thinks the message is being absorbed.

"Our points are well understood. Israel is not against a Palestinian state," said Kutner. "We are worried by the events in the United Nations that they may make it harder for a negotiated resolution, which is the only solution."

For months, many in the pro-Israel community have worried that while a vote in the United Nations — hardly a friendly institution to begin with as far as Israel is concerned — might not dramatically alter the political situation on the ground, it could have far-reaching repercussions.

They warn that Palestinians, unlikely to see any real change as a result of a mostly symbolic move, could engage in new violence. And they worry that Israel will face increasing diplomatic and legal pressures around the world.

"At this point, the Palestinian Authority has climbed a tree and they cannot back down," said Barak Mendelsohn, who teaches political science at Haverford College.

"It is in their interest to prevent violence," Mendelsohn, a former captain in the Israel Defense Forces, said of the P.A. "If it explodes, it could be the end of the Palestinian Authority. There is a huge question mark. These things are so unpredictable."

For Israel, the United Nations drama comes at a time of increased regional isolation as tensions mount with two of its closest Middle Eastern allies, Turkey and Egypt. It also is taking place as the United Nations plans to host its third conference on racism, the so-called Durban III gathering. The first conferences devolved into anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vitriol. Several countries this time around, including the United States, are boycotting the gathering.

The Obama administration has reiterated its intention to veto a Palestinian statehood resolution in the U.N. Security Council, but Abbas is expected to pursue a vote in the General Assembly.

Locally, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia convened a meeting of area Israel advocacy professionals to discuss the situation and has sent letters to foreign embassies in Washington urging them to oppose UDI. It has also helped collect more than 60,000 signatures on a petition to deliver to the United Nations.

The organization also has suggested that individuals and synagogues put up "Support Israel, Support Peace" yard signs.

Local groups have been involved in helping to formulate and back efforts to speak out against the Palestinian move in local and state government.

Last week, Philadelphia City Councilman Brian O'Neill (R-District 10) introduced a resolution expressing support for U.S. Senate Resolution 185. That resolution, introduced by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and others and passed in June, emphasized the importance of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and threatened to curtail aid to the P.A. if the body declares a state in the United Nations rather than through pursuing an accord with the Jewish state.

State Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R-District 162) said he's sponsoring a nearly identical resolution in the House in Harrisburg. Robin Schatz, director of government affairs at Federation, said a resolution is in the works in the State Senate as well.

Kutner, the Israeli consul general, and Tom Tropp, president of the local American Jewish Committee chapter, are among those who testified at the City Council hearing on Sept. 15. The council overwhelmingly approved the resolution.

O'Neill, who said he was asked to pursue the measure by members of the AJC, said that while his resolution won't influence international decision makers, it "raises awareness of the issue, which is an important one for everybody. The peace process there is so important for world peace."

David Cohen, the newly appointed Israel affairs associate at JCRC, said the resolutions are a way to take the issue beyond the Jewish community and make the case to the broader Philadelphia public.

Whether Congress will go through with its threat to cut off the close to $450 million in annual aid to the Palestinians, and how hard Jewish groups will lobby for such a move is still unclear.

Martin Raffel, the senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs who is overseeing a national advocacy effort known as the Israel Action Network, said that while support for such a move is being considered, there is not yet a consensus on it.

He said his member agencies, which include local community relations councils and national defense agencies, "agree that having it up for consideration post-UDI is appropriate, I don't believe a consensus has yet crystallized around the question of whether, in fact, there should be a total or partial suspension" of aid, he wrote in an email.

The Zionist Organization of America, for its part, has repeatedly lobbied against American aid to the P.A. and plans to press even harder for its elimination after UDI, said ZOA's president, Morton Klein.

"This is the biggest increase in the demand to cut aid to the Palestinians in my 18 years in this business. It has become a very loud movement," said Klein, referring to the mood in Congress. "Most congressmen are now sick and tired of the Palestinian Authority refusing to negotiate. They now believe, the Arabs have no serious interest in peace."


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