Michael Oren on the Palestinian Authority’s Status at the UN

Transcript provided courtesy of NPR’s All Things Considered

Audio available here.

Guy Raz (Host of NPR News’ All Things Considered): Before the break, we heard from Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on what an upgraded status at the U.N. means for the Palestinian Authority. Israel and the U.S. strongly opposed that resolution. We asked Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, why his government sees it as a threat.

Michael Oren (Israeli Ambassador to the US): Because it represents an end run to the peace process. You know, the Palestinian Authority signed on agreements with Israel that said that there’d be no alternative to direct negotiations. The only way to reach a two-state solution for two people was for Israelis and Palestinians to sit and to work out the very complex issues between us. If you just run to the U.N. and declare that you’re a state, you get the territory without giving the peace, you really haven’t advanced the peace process. You’ve set it back.

Those are also violations of the Palestinians commitments to the United States. The United States is cosignatory to these agreements that say that there’s no alternative to direct negotiations, and that’s why President Obama also opposed the Palestinian move in the United Nations.

More after the jump.

RAZ: How, though, will nonmember observer status substantively change the political equation?

OREN: Well, they really won’t. And the only way it could be changed is if the Palestinians try to use this nonmember status in the General Assembly as a means of going to international bodies like the International Criminal Court and try to accuse Israel of war crimes; in which case, that will force us to take countermeasures that we don’t want to take. Actually, what we want to do…

RAZ: Countermeasures, what do you mean?

OREN: Well, the Palestinian Authority – President Abbas has now claimed he is the president of a state that includes the Gaza Strip. And the Gaza Strip is an organization called Hamas that has fired thousands of rockets against millions of Israeli citizens. Now, that is a war crime by any definition. And we could take him to an international court and accuse him of war crimes too.

We don’t want to do that. We want to negotiate with him. And if he declares his state and it’s a symbolic measure, if he keeps it as a symbolic measure and sits down and negotiate with us, he’ll find us to be a ready and eager partner and very anxious to reach this two-state solution.

RAZ: You say this just as news has come out this week of several thousand more housing units to be developed in the West Bank territory that the Palestinians see as their future state. So I mean, put yourself in their shoes for a moment. They have seen these settlements expand and expand and expand throughout this peace process, or so-called peace process, for the past 20 years, and it hasn’t really changed. I mean, they don’t have what they have sought. What other options do they have at this point? I mean, what else can a Palestinian leader do?

OREN: The settlements altogether take up something less than 2 percent of the entire West Bank. But settlements are part of the border issue, the part of the territorial issues. Those are one of what we call the core issues that have to be discussed at the negotiating table. But…

RAZ: And if they keep on expanding during these non-discussions, doesn’t it make it harder to dismantle them?

OREN: We understand that the Palestinians don’t like settlement expansion. We get it. But there are many things the Palestinians do that we don’t like. They name town squares after suicide bombers. They instruct their kids…

RAZ: But that’s easier to change than a settlement.

OREN: But they haven’t changed it. And it’s educating a young generation that Israel has no legitimacy, that terror is the way to approach Israel, rather than peace negotiations. It’s a serious problem. We don’t make it a precondition. We say, come, all right, let’s talk about it. Let’s sit at the table. We don’t like some of the things you do. We understand that you don’t like some of the things we do.

That’s the nature of negotiations. We are willing to discuss everything. Everything’s on the table, and just join us. The last four years, they’ve been refusing to join us. You ask what the Palestinians can do – they can negotiate.

RAZ: But what incentive do they have, Ambassador, I mean, if the settlement expansion is so problematic to them and many countries in the international community would argue it’s a violation of international law, why would they negotiate under those circumstances?

OREN: We froze settlement negotiations, settlement expansions, for 10 months in an attempt to induce the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. They did not avail themselves at that time. So even when we freeze settlements, they’re not negotiating. They may not be negotiating for many reasons, perhaps related to some of the changes going on in the Middle East.

But we strongly believe that the only way for the Palestinians to change the reality on the ground, to actually have a real Palestinian state, not a virtual Palestinian state, the great way to respond to Hamas, to terror, which cannot give the Palestinians any future other than continued strife, which is not investing in education, which is not investing in infrastructure, the only way to do that is through genuine peace. And the only way to reach genuine peace is through direct and candid negotiations.

RAZ: That’s Michael Oren. He’s Israel’s ambassador to the United States. He joined me here in the studio. Ambassador, thank you.

OREN: Thank you, Guy. Good to be with you.

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