Israel and the U.S. Should Support Palestine UN Membership

Soon, judging from news reports, the UN Security Council and General Assembly, will be debating the Palestinian application for full UN membership. Israel most emphatically opposes the Palestinian application and the U.S. obliges and threatens to veto it in the Security Council. The contentious issue is not the manner and timing of the Palestinian membership application but that the new Palestinian State will be based on the pre-1967 borders.

While I am an admirer of the state of Israel for their exceptional achievements in almost every field of human endeavor, the Palestinian issue is one the Israelis have failed to manage in a wise and pragmatic manner. All sides, Israelis, Palestinians and American mediators, past and present, should share in the blame for the failure to resolve this issue.

The Palestinians, having waited for 20 years since the Oslo Accords, that promised them a full sovereign Palestinian State living along side with the state of Israel, have decided to seek full UN membership status now. They have every right to do so and I do not see how a Palestinian State that is a full member of the UN would be detrimental to Israel and US interests. Full UN membership carries with it not only rights but in equal manner duties and responsibilities, among them, the obligation to not allow its territory to be used to launch attacks on other countries.

The new Palestinian State will have additional responsibilities to mend fences with the Hamas faction in Gaza and replicate there the very successful state building process in West Bank. The Hamas leadership and other militant groups in the region will be under greater regional pressure to abandon their terrorist tactics against the state of Israel. To further reassure Israel of its security against potential aggression, the UN Security Council, NATO powers and the Arab League could work out security guarantees to both Israel and Palestine. Arab League members should impress upon Hamas and Hezbollah to desist from further attacks on Israel and encourage all Arab and Muslim countries to recognize the State of Israel.

All sides seem to agree that the 1967 borders should be adjusted to accommodate Israel's legitimate security concerns. But there are abundant cases in the world where land and maritime borders have not been settled decades and yet were not an impediment to a country achieving independence.

The dilemma and challenge for Israel is to vacate most of West Bank. But Israeli leaders and settlers are the ones who created this problem for themselves and must now have the courage and wisdom to leave West Bank and hand over the settlements to the Palestinian authorities.

A special fund could be set up, led by the US and Europe, to buy back from Israel the thousands of housing units, schools, health clinics, etc scattered in the West Bank. While no amount of money would ever suffice to buy back the lives lost, Palestinians would receive high quality infrastructures that in some way would constitute a small form of compensation for decades of humiliation and dispossession.

When in 1999 Indonesia decided to leave my country after 24 years of occupation, almost every building, houses, schools, clinics, factories, etc were razed to the ground. The departing forces left behind a country in complete ruins. Yet we celebrated our hard-won independence without anger and revenge. The new Timor-Leste born from the ashes of destruction and the new democratic Indonesia are today exemplary friends and neighbors.

To my friends in Israel and the US, I will say, do not oppose Palestinian UN membership; support it instead. Provide the financial means the Palestinian leaders need to turn their economy around. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told me in his office in Jerusalem earlier this year that he wanted to see an economically prosperous Palestinian state. I believe he meant it. Now is his chance to show vision and bold leadership by endorsing Palestinian UN membership, lift the Gaza blockade, and facilitate trade.

In the following days, Israelis and Palestinians should sit down face to face and begin the painstaking negotiations on the settlements and border issues and the status of Jerusalem.

I have heard arguments from all sides. Arguments against full Palestinian UN membership are not persuasive. After more than 60 years of absence, to a great extent due to past Palestinian and Arab leaderships miscalculations, it is time that the five million Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza, and the many others scattered in the region and elsewhere, see their national flag hoisted along aside that of other powers of the world, great and small, rich and poor.

* Jose Ramos-Horta, 1996 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and President of Timor-Leste, made State Visits to Israel and Palestine earlier this year. See Reflections on a Visit to Israel and Palestine.