Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

UN vote may spur real talks

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The UN General Assembly's implicit recognition of Palestinian statehood Thursday is not a threat to Israel's security, or at least it does not have to be.

It could be an immediate threat, however, if Israel or its unquestioning allies -- the United States and Canada -- overreact and decide to punish the Palestinians by cutting aid, revoking work permits and imposing an even tougher security environment on the beleaguered people of the West Bank and Gaza. That could set in motion a new, deeper round of anger and frustration that would not be in the interests of either the Palestinians or Israel and its friends.

Israel itself adopted a threatening stance in the days leading to the vote, but when it became clear its position would not prevail and that most of its European allies were siding against it, the Jewish state adopted a more temperate approach. Israel now says it will not take any action against the Palestinians, on the condition they do not abuse their new status as a non-member state of the United Nations.

It's conceivable, for example, that the Palestinian Authority could now file a complaint against Israel to the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes related to its occupation of the West Bank.

Israel would, indeed, consider that a provocation and it would absolutely undermine the possibility of peace talks in the future, which would not be in anyone's interest. But the Palestinians must know by now they will not get what they want by war or terror, or by threats of court action -- and not by Thursday's decision of the General Assembly.

The Middle East, of course, is a complicated place, and there are all kinds of perverse agendas that reject peace with Israel. Some Palestinian factions, for example, still demand a right of return to Israel, while others deny its right to exist at all.

These challenges have not increased as a result of the UN resolution, but hopefully the moderate views will be strengthened. It's also significant that the resolution approved Thursday defines Palestinian lands as the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem -- the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, leaving Israel proper as it stands.

The only troubling reaction so far has been the sabre rattling in Ottawa and Washington. A group of American senators was threatening to cut financial aid to the Palestinians, while Foreign Minister John Baird hinted Canada might retaliate. But both countries should take a deep breath. If Israel is ready to concede a tactical defeat, but aim for long-term gains, then Canada and the United States should be able to do the same.

Israel does claim the resolution has set back the peace process, but there hasn't been a peace process since talks broke down four years ago on the latest of a seemingly endless series of fruitless efforts.

The overwhelming vote for Palestinian special status -- 138 to just nine opposed -- is also a message the world has grown weary of the lack of progress in resolving the conflict, which is a central issue in the other global-strategic questions in the region.

When the United Nations voted to create separate Jewish and Arab states in Palestine in 1947, more than 70 per cent of the member countries voted in favour. Even the Soviet Union supported the establishment of Israel. The goodwill for Israel is still there -- with exceptions in the Arab world -- but it is no longer as unquestioning and categorical as it was in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Israel should heed that message.

The Palestinians were poorly served by their leaders 65 years ago, but they should not have to continue paying the price for the mistakes of the past.

A two-state solution is still the best idea, but both sides will have to make more compromises and hard choices if they want to live in peace together. The alternative is more of the same, which the world will not tolerate.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2012 A12

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