First, let me put all my cards on the table. I believe that the intentional killing of civilians whether by Palestinian terrorists on the ground or by the Israeli Air Force from the sky is a war crime. As far as killing kids, I will paraphrase what Lincoln said about slavery: if killing a child, any child, is not wrong then nothing is wrong.
Nonetheless, Israel and the Palestinians resumed the cycle of violence again this week and, if not stopped, it will spiral into mass civilian carnage.
Both sides are responsible. But I do not hold a bunch of rag tag terrorist thugs to the same standards I apply to a powerful state. So, yes, I do expect more from Israel.
Besides, every bullet and bomb Israel uses against Palestinians is paid for by the American taxpayer. We oppose Hamas and have no leverage with it. But we subsidize Israel with more aid than any other country in the world. That gives us both authority and responsibility. More significantly, Israel's behavior endangers our interests, as General David Petraeus told Congress, including our men and women in the Middle East. After all, the whole world sees the U.S. and Israel as joined at the hip. Even our own vice president repeatedly says that there must be "no daylight" between Israel and the United States.
Although we have no leverage with Hamas, we can offer incentives that will make it more willing to stop the violence. Instead of telling Hamas that we won't deal with it unless it recognizes Israel prior to negotiations, we should tell it that our only requirement for working with all Palestinians is that it permanently end terror attacks against Israel. Hamas would be stupid to recognize Israel in advance of negotiations when the question of recognition would be the subject of the negotiations.
As for Israel, we need to insist that it end the blockade of Gaza. Inspections can prevent weapons from going in, but until Gaza controls its own borders, and not Israel, it remains occupied no matter what the Israelis say. Occupied, and living in poverty.
But most important of all, the United States should support the Palestinians' bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations. The Israelis have demanded for decades that the Palestinians drop violence and turn to diplomacy to achieve their goals. That is what going to the United Nations is. Diplomacy.
The United States should say that if Hamas will end the violence and join with the Palestinian Authority's effort to achieve UN recognition as a state, we will support it. Why not? The Palestinians are not seeking recognition of their sovereignty inside Israel, but only on occupied land that rightfully belongs to them: Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Nor would recognition by itself kick any Israeli out of those territories.
It would, however, change the political dynamic. Instead of Palestinians begging for a few crumbs from the State of Israel, there would be two states that could negotiate an agreement that would guarantee security for both. President Abbas himself says that following a UN vote, he will immediately return to the negotiating table.
In short, the Palestinian decision to turn to the UN is not a threat to Israel, it is an opportunity. And Israel cannot afford to miss any more opportunities, especially now that its two strongest friends in the region, Egypt and Turkey, are distancing themselves from Israel as fast as they can.
Of course, one can argue about who is right and who is wrong endlessly. But that leads nowhere but to the grave. The UN offers a way out, a way to guarantee security for two states and two peoples.
Frankly, I expect the U.S. to support Israel's rejection of UN action simply because 2012 is another election year and both the president and Congress live in fear of losing campaign contributions. But just maybe they can take a look at what is about to happen if the United States does not begin acting like an honest broker. There will be another war. And another. And, with Hezbollah's missiles at the ready, ultimately these wars won't be as one-sided as Israel's previous wars with the Palestinians.
People who care about Israel, about Palestine and, need I say, about our own country need to tell the president to do the right thing, not the politically expedient thing. He needs to instruct our ambassador at the United Nations to vote "yes" on the question of statehood for Palestine.
In addition to being right for America and for the Palestinians, voting "yes" is the most pro-Israel thing he could do. Because, simply put, the status quo is not just killing Palestinians, it is killing Israel, too -- if not the reality yet, then certainly the dream.