Joint URJ-CCAR statement on 'Upgraded Palestinian Status at the United Nations'


On November 29, 2012, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138-9 to recognize Palestine as a "non-member observer state," with 41 abstentions. This change was opposed by Israel, the United States and Canada, among others, which rightly held that any steps toward Palestinian statehood must come through direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, rather than the international body. In the words of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "[O]nly through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis achieve the peace that both deserve: two states for two people, with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.''

The URJ and the CCAR have, for decades, been vocal and engaged proponents of a two-state peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has strongly opposed actions that would undercut prospects for peace. The ongoing failure to establish a viable peace poses security and other risks to Israel and is a disservice to those Palestinians who desire a peaceful future for their children and grandchildren. The U.N. vote undercuts incentives for a final arrangement that must be directly negotiated by the two impacted parties. This vote also has the potential to enable the Palestinians to challenge Israel, both diplomatically and legally, in U.N.-sponsored venues such as the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such a move would do serious damage to rebuilding the trust that needs to be fostered between Israel and the Palestinians.

A two-state solution, so vital to Israel's security and well-being, and its character as a Jewish and democratic state, as well as to the hopes for a viable Palestinian state, requires a Palestinian Authority (PA) strong enough to take political risks for peace. Endangering the viability of a PA already teetering on financial bankruptcy, or taking steps to make the prospects of returning to the negotiating table without preconditions more difficult, will only empower Hamas and its like-minded allies in Iran and elsewhere.

The recent violence in Gaza, with missiles reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and this U.N. action dramatize the urgency of resolving the underlying conflict. Many experts in Israel and the U.S. are expressing fears that prospects for a two-state solution are fading in the face of the growth of Hamas' influence, the weakening of the PA, the growth of settlements on the West Bank, and the instability in the region.

Strong steps must be taken by the U.S., Canada and the broader international community to foster the conditions for peace, including renewed negotiations and support for those voices among the Palestinians who seek peace through peaceful means. Foreign aid has historically been a key means of such support, including significant aid from the U.S. to the Palestinian Authority. This aid has, since its beginning, come with significant restrictions that have ensured it is used only by approved entities for approved purposes. (No U.S. aid is provided to Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip.)

In this context, we commended the Israeli government on its decision to refrain from calls for immediate cuts in aid. The day after the U.N. vote, however, the Israeli government announced the expansion of settlements on the West Bank, including in the critical "E1" area. (Settlements in E1-the area connecting Jerusalem to a city that is one of the larger Israeli settlements-would split the Ramallah region off from Bethlehem, effectively cutting the West Bank in two and making a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible. Because of this reality, previous Israeli governments have not proceeded with plans to build in this area.) Building there makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel's stated commitment to a two-state solution. At the same time, we recognize that this week's action-beginning the permitting process for new settlement-is only the first step in a long, and by no means inevitable, process.

In response to the Palestinians' successful bid to become a nonmember observer state at the U.N., members of the United States Senate have proposed legislation that would require retaliatory measures against the PA, primarily if they use their new status to file charges against Israel in the ICC or if they fail to engage in meaningful negotiations with Israel.

THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolve to:

1. Condemn the Palestinian Authority for the unilateral decision to seek upgraded status at the United Nation as counterproductive to the cause of peace , and express our deep concern to those countries that supported the upgraded status, and to those who abstained;

2. Commend the U.S. and Canada for their forceful and consistent efforts to prevent consideration of, and for their votes against, the General Assembly's decision to upgrade the formal status of the Palestinians, an action that is counterproductive to peace and undercuts negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians;

3. Call on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table immediately without preconditions, as Israel has committed to doing;

4. Urge the U.S. and Canada to act assertively in facilitating a return to negotiations and to take other steps that would strengthen the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution;

5. Support appropriate measures if the Palestinians use their new status at the U.N. to initiate formal action against Israel via the ICC or other agency;

6. Oppose actions taken after the U.N. vote that would undercut the prospects for renewing the peace process leading to a two-state solution, including:

a. Funding cuts in U.S. or Canadian support to the United Nations;

b. Funding cuts to the Palestinian Authority, which are likely to weaken the prospects for a two-state solution, endanger the viability of the Palestinian Authority, and empower Hamas and its like-minded allies; and

c. Any reduction in the currently recognized Palestinian diplomatic presence; and

7. Oppose increased settlement-building activity by Israel, especially in the critical "E1" area.