Summary of the July 13th Panel Discussion: Preventing the Declaration of a Palestinian State at the UN

Speakers at the panel discussion. From left: Rabbi Michael Safra of B'nai Israel Congregation; Larry Sidman of Congregation Beth El Men's Club; Amb. Richard Schifter; Rep. Elliot Engel; and Eilav Benjamin, Counselor for Political Affairs, Embassy of Israel.

A standing-room only crowd of close to 400 people packed the Swoff Chapel to hear three prominent individuals discuss the background and implications of a proposed initiative by the Palestinians to have the U.N. approve Palestinian Statehood. Guests included:  Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY); Embassy of Israel Counselor for Political Affairs Eliav Benjamin; and U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Richard Schifter. Click here to see a slide show of the event.

This event was co-sponsored by eight area synagogues as well as by the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Washington. The Beth El event was covered by the Washington Jewish Week which published a front page story and photo.   In addition, the WJW ran a very complimentary editorial in support of the grass-roots campaign organized by the Beth El Men’s Club and its special subcommittee.

Nearly people attended the discussion

Among the most poignant “take-aways” were the following:

  • Although almost certain to be vetoed in the Security Council, the Palestinian Authority (PA) delegation is still prepared to ask for a non-binding vote by the General Assembly where passage is likely.
  • While passage in the General Assembly can’t officially create a legitimate Palestinian State, the “PR” value of the vote is significant and its ramifications could wreck the peace process and set the U.N. stage for additional anti-Israel initiatives – such as boycotts, divestment and further isolation.
  • The Jewish Community as a whole favors a two-state solution through a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. However, it is believed that this ill-conceived UN initiative not only violates the original agreement by the PA to negotiate with Israel for a peaceful resolution, it unilaterally demands that:
  1. The state be given borders based strictly on pre-’67 lines (with no mention of land swaps.)
  2. The capital of this new state be Jerusalem
  3. The right of return of ALL Palestinians to Israel be included (a number that could exceed 5 million people that include the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and in-laws of those who left in ’48.) This is, perhaps, the biggest obstacle to a final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly supports the negotiated peace process and Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State as confirmed by the passage of two recent resolutions – one by the House and one by the Senate. Both the House and Senate condemn the Palestinian initiative to seek a U.N. declaration of Statehood and threaten to cut off funding to the PA as a possible counter-measure, should they proceed or succeed with the vote.
  • Ambassador Schifter explained the three basic categories of how and why certain countries vote in the U.N. Some, like those in and aligned with the Arab League, will always vote against Israel; Others, like China (which has excellent relations with Israel) will continually vote against the interests of the U.S. as a way of courting other nations; Still others, like many of the smaller and normally U.S. -friendly nations of Latin America, the Caribbean, sub-Sahran Africa, and East Asia may vote against Israel for reasons that have nothing to do with ideology or political policy. These are the critical votes that can be changed over time. And, in the UN General Assembly, the vote of even the smallest nation is equal to that of the greatest world powers – one vote each.
  • At the conclusion of the panel discussion, attendees were asked to join the community-wide effort to change votes in the U.N. by staying informed and signing up to attend future meetings. The goal is to get representatives from more than a dozen Washington area synagogues involved in order to build a closer, long-term relationship between the embassies of key countries and the Washington Jewish Community.