, Salem, MA


December 10, 2012

Watson: Palestinian UN vote is a smart step


President Abbas accepts Israel’s right to exist, and he has repeatedly affirmed the need for nonviolent initiatives to create two states alongside one another. Hamas, on the other hand, does not recognize Israel, and has not renounced violence. It permits random rocket attacks against Israel, and it allows fundamentalist Muslims a large role in determining the norms of everyday society in the Gaza Strip.

In the competition between Hamas and Fatah — between violence and diplomacy — Israel and the rest of the world should be giving young Arab Palestinians reason to choose Fatah. The sense of disempowerment in the Strip, and the constant friction with Israel, are realities that add to the radicalization of Muslim youths.

By contrast, Abbas’ win at the U.N. may help empower the moderate majority of Palestinians.

At the same time, the vote puts pressure on Israel to take steps that advance the peace process. It is quite clear that the world is becoming impatient with Israel. Its constant settlement expansions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem seem incredibly counterproductive and self-destructive. Already with 520,000 settlers in the Palestinian territory of a future state, Israel just compounds the intractability of this conflict with every new, illegal, in-your-face outpost it builds.

Israel’s response to the U.N. vote — saying it will build yet more settlements — was the response of almost a rogue state. Thumbing its nose at world opinion, and rejecting the universal advice of true friends who are warning against what appears to be deliberate provocation, Israel seems poised to embrace its worst dysfunctions and increase its isolation.

While the jihadi and extremist Salafis of the Gaza Strip are truly frightening and deadly — and possess medieval ideologies that must be countered and marginalized — the Palestinians of the West Bank could be engaged immediately by an Israel willing to halt its own illogical expansionism.

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