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Palestine Melts Iceland

5:00 PM, Dec 16, 2011 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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On November 29th the Icelandic parliament voted to recognize Palestine as a state. Yesterday, a ceremony was held in Reykjavik in the presence of the Icelandic and PLO foreign ministers.

Here is the text of the resolution adopted by Althingi, the Icelandic parliament:

Althingi resolves to entrust the government to recognize Palestine as an independent and sovereign state within the pre-1967 Six Day War borders. Also, Althingi urges Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile through the means of peace agreements on the basis of international law and resolutions of the United Nations, including the mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

Althingi reaffirms that the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, is the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and also recalls the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in accordance with resolutions reaffirmed by the United Nations.

Althingi demands that the conflicting parties in the Arab-Israeli Conflict cease warfare and acts of violence forthwith and respect human rights and humanitarian law.

As Iceland is the first European state that has given Palestine full recognition, the Palestinians are of course celebrating; and one can expect that Icelanders are also celebrating their own enlightenment and progressive thinking. "Iceland didn't only talk the talk, we walked the walk. We stood by our word, we have supported the Palestinian cause and today will not be the end of that, we will continue to do so," said the Icelandic foreign minister. He continued: "They have had setbacks in the Security Council and that is why we thought it would be right not to wait, but to go ahead now and I hope it will put some wind in their sails...it is very symbolic for them that a western European nation, which is also in NATO, should at this moment step forward and recognise the sovereignty of Palestine."

In this context it is worth noting precisely what Iceland recognized, and it was Palestine within the "1967 borders." That means that according to Iceland, Palestinian sovereignty includes 100 percent of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. Palestine, as Icelanders see it, includes the Western Wall of the Second Temple, Judaism's holiest site. The judenrein policy enforced by Jordan during the years it ruled Jerusalem, would thus be reinstated. And Israel in any recognizable form would anyway disappear, for the Allthingi resolution calls for all Palestinian refugees--of whom according to the U.N. there are five million--to "return" to Israel. Finally, lest there be any of this nonsense about moral distinctions between U.N. member states and terrorist organizations, the resolution treats Israel and Hamas as equals by demanding that the "conflicting parties cease warfare and acts of violence forthwith."

There is a tragic irony here, for Iceland actually played a central role at the United Nations in 1949 during the debate over the partition resolution that Arab states were so doggedly fighting. Abba Eban told the story in his autobiography: 

The Political committee, in adopting the partition plan, had appointed a commission of three to see whether an “agreed solution” could be found. We knew that this was impossible. After all, if an agreed solution had been feasible, there would have been no need of an Assembly discussion at all. The members designated to explore an “agreed solution” were Australia, Thailand and Iceland. The Icelandic delegate, Ambassador Thor Thors, was to be the rapporteur....There was still some apprehension in Jewish Agency circles lest the Assembly seize on an optimistic remark by the Icelandic representative in order to defer a partition vote and explore the figment of an agreed solution. At any rate, Thor Thors would be the first speaker on that historic day, and it seemed urgent to ensure that he would set up a positive momentum. Accordingly, I began my day on November 29, 1947, with a visit to him at the Barclay Hotel.

I found my position quixotic, and I thought it best to tell him so frankly. The Jewish people was at a turning point. If we succeeded, we would realize a millennial dream. If we failed, that dream might be extinguished for generations to come. The key to this turning point in the first part of the UN meeting would lie in the hands of a small island country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of less than 175,000. It is a quality of multilateral diplomacy that governments may sometimes determine great issues in which they themselves are only remotely involved, but which are of desperate consequence to others far away. Our future as a people depended on its most decisive day on the momentum or atmosphere which would be created by a representative of Iceland. I invited Ambassador Thors to reflect on the historic mystery involved.

He replied with disconcerting emotion. He said that Iceland was far less remote from Jewish destiny than I presumed. In its culture it was deeply impregnated with Biblical memories. Moreover, it was a stubborn and tenacious democracy, guarding its national particularity within its rain-swept island boundaries for century upon century – a people determined to be itself, sharing its language and literature with no other nation, and refusing to abandon its remote island outpost for warmer and gentler climes elsewhere. Such a people could be relied upon to understand the perseverance with which the Jewish people clung to its own specificity and to the recollections of its own patrimony. Ambassador Thors fully accepted my argument that what was needed now was “decision,” not the vain pursuit of “agreement.” If the decision was clear and firmly upheld, it might have the chance of securing acquiescence later on. It was only because all prospects of an agreed solution had been exhausted in the three decades of Mandatory rule that the matter had come to the United Nations Assembly. He would say that if the General Assembly made no clear recommendation, it would be failing its duty, and with that failure some of mankind’s most cherished hopes would subside.

I made for the United Nations General Assembly headquarters, which was in ferment of tension. Newspapermen, television and radio correspondents from all over the world were concentrated in the lobbies, while the delegates’ seats and visitor’s gallery were crowded as they had never been before The United Nations was facing a momentous opportunity at a very early stage of its career. On the podium, pale and solemn were the President of the Assembly, Oswaldo Aranha, Trygve Lie and the equally well nourished Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Cordier. Aranha called the meeting to order and invited the representative of Iceland to the rostrum. Thors, to my relief, was magnificent….From that moment on, the debate went inexorably our way.

Finally the speechmaking came to an end, and a solemn hush descended on the hall. Aranha announced his intention to call for a vote in alphabetical order. Some of us who were present still retain a memory of the tone in which Cordier recited the votes. “Argentina?” “Abstain.” “Afghanistan?” “No.” “Australia?” “Yes.” “Belgium?” “Yes.” “Bolivia?” “Yes.” “Byelorussia?” “Yes.” And so it went on. When France loudly said “Oui,” there was an outbreak of applause in the hall, which Aranha sternly suppressed. By the time we had gone half way through the alphabet, we knew that we were safely home. Finally, after the announcement of Yugoslavia’s “abstention,” we heard the historic words: “Thirty three in favor, thirteen against, ten abstentions, one absent. The resolution is adopted." 

There will probably be very few Icelanders who know this story and wonder how their country fell from being a model of courage and principle to one of self-regard and mock bravery. One doubts it will be widely told in Reykjavik. 

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