Skip to main content

Why U.S., Israel should welcome Palestinian move at U.N.

By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Special to CNN
November 29, 2012 -- Updated 1034 GMT (1834 HKT)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, on November 21.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, on November 21.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner: Israel cannot achieve security by dominating Palestinians
  • He says the powerful should show more generosity to the relatively powerless
  • Israel, U.S. should support Palestinian move for nonmember state status at the U.N., he says
  • Lerner: Hamas serves Netanyahu's aim of marginalizing the Palestinian Authority

Editor's note: Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun: A Quarterly Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in Berkeley, California. He welcomes feedback: rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

(CNN) -- Israel's security can only be assured when its neighbors believe that it is no longer oppressing the Palestinian people but instead living in peace and harmony with them.

The de facto strategy of past and present Israeli governments of seeking security through domination and by pushing Palestinians out of their homes, or allowing right-wing religious fanatics to create settlements throughout the West Bank to ensure that no Palestinian state could have contiguous parts, has not and cannot work to provide safety for Israel.

Israel's fate and its well-being are intrinsically linked to the well-being of the Palestinian people. It's time for the powerful to show generosity to the relatively powerless.

So those in the U.S. and Israel who want Israel to be secure should welcome the Palestinian Authority's decision to seek observer status as a nonmember state in the United Nations. The authority has agreed to return to negotiations with Israel without conditions once that status has been granted. The goal is creation of a state living in peace with Israel in borders roughly approximating those of the before than 1967 war, with minor border changes mutually agreeable through negotiations.

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Rabbi Michael Lerner

So who opposes this? Hamas, Israel and the U.S.

Opinion: Palestinian move at U.N. won't solve anything

Why Hamas? Because Hamas' strategy is to keep their area so powerless that the Palestinian people will turn away from support for the secular and peace-oriented and nonviolence-committed Palestinian Authority. So the last thing Hamas wants is for the Palestinian Authority to win popular esteem by being seen as having "delivered" a real tangible accomplishment to the Palestinian people in the form of statehood.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



To the extent that even observer status is a step in that direction, powerful elements in Hamas want to undermine it. In fact, Hamas consistently tries to undermine the Palestinian Authority. That explains why it has been so unwilling in the past years to stop its war crimes against Israeli civilians by sending (thankfully, mostly inefficient) missiles toward Sderot and other parts of southern Israel. But even as they fall short of their targets, Hamas manages to create fear and trauma for millions of Israelis.

Why Israel? Because the Likud-Beiteinu dominated government does not want a Palestinian state to emerge that would limit the ability of the Israeli settlers to expand their hold on much of the West Bank. So while they sometimes talk about a two-state solution, they have in mind a tiny state that would not be economically or politically viable.

Its strategy: Insist that it cannot negotiate seriously with the Palestinian Authority on creation of a state because the authority cannot control Hamas. With that reasoning, they ask how can Israel be expected to work with the authority on terms for a peace treaty that would actually be viable? And then simultaneously, Israel strengthens Hamas in various predictable ways.

Palestinian United Nations bid explained

Palestinians push for U.N. status
Future of Israel, Palestinian Authority
Next steps in Israel-Hamas truce
Abbas slams Israel, seeks status upgrade

Its first move in this direction was to pull out of Gaza militarily without negotiating for the Palestinian Authority to take over control there, de facto leaving Gaza in the hands of Hamas. If the pull-out had been done in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, there would have been no missiles and hence no "proof" that giving up land to the Palestinians would only increase Israeli vulnerability.

To keep any substantial Palestinian state from developing, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed, in the latest Gaza war (whose cease-fire is for the moment holding) to strengthen Hamas. It allowed Hamas to show that it can fight back against Israeli assault in contrast to the Palestinian Authority who, Hamas points out, has gotten nothing in return for the past five years of complete non-violence and security cooperation with the Israeli Army (IDF).

Netanyahu is not stupid, and this is an intended outcome.

The shelling of Israeli sites killed five people. Israeli bombing killed 150 Palestinians. Yet the air raids and missiles aimed at Israel again stimulated the latent post-traumatic stress disorder among Israelis that leads so many to vote for right-wing parties against their own best interests out of fear of the Palestinian people, most of whom would like to live in peace with Israel.

(Palestinians told me when I visited a few weeks ago that the ongoing trauma of the occupation is so present it can't become post-traumatic).

Palestinians again take status case to U.N.

As long as Hamas is seen as the main face of Palestinians, even centrist and left-wing Israelis will support militarism rather than peace compromises.

Why the U.S.? The Obama administration gave a green light to Israel's attack on Gaza, refused to support calls for an immediate cease-fire and has now joined Israel in opposition to upping Palestinian status at the U.N.

The most charitable explanation is the Obama team believes the Netanyahu government will never negotiate a reasonable deal with the Palestinians and so has turned its attention to trying to gaining leverage with Israel to stop it from dragging the U.S. into a war with Iran. And for that, it's willing to ditch the Palestinian Authority, even though it certainly knows that the authority might soon collapse unless it can deliver something real for its people.

In my recent book, "Embracing Israel/Palestine" (North Atlantic Books, 2012), I show that Israel will be safe when it becomes famous not for its power but for its spirit of generosity and open-hearted caring for the Palestinian people.

I've outlined how a Marshall Plan to eliminate poverty in Israel and the surrounding states would totally change the political dynamics and create the preconditions for lasting peace. A similar path would make the U.S. far more popular and far more powerful around the world. But this strategy of generosity will take a major paradigm shift in the consciousness of Americans and Israelis, and for the moment, that seems unlikely. But it's worth fighting for.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rabbi Michael Lerner.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.
ADVERTISEMENT