Ambassador Rice: Palestinian Bid Is 'Unwise And Counterproductive'

Sep 22, 2011
Originally published on September 26, 2011 12:47 pm

In an interview with All Things Considered's Michele Norris, the United States' ambassador to the United Nations said the U.S. supports an independent Palestinian state, but trying to achieve that by asking the U.N. to recognize Palestine as a state is "unwise and counterproductive."

Ambassador Susan Rice echoed President Obama, saying "there's no shortcut; there's no magic wand," toward Palestinian statehood. She said the only way to reach a solution is for Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

This week has been tense diplomatically for the United States. President Obama vowed that he would veto the Palestinian bid for full U.N. membership and he's faced criticism that he hasn't been an ardent-enough supporter of Israel and, alternately, that the U.S. is picking and choosing which country's self-determination it will support.

Michele asked Rice about that. She pointed to the speeches the president has given praising the people of Tunisia and Egypt for their desire to govern themselves. Michele asked Rice if the U.S. stance on the Palestinian bid contradicts what the president has been saying about the Arab Spring.

"While we are very consistent in our principled stand that we want to see freedom, democracy, respect for human rights everywhere in the world, including throughout the Arab and Muslim world — that is the goal, of course, for the people of Palestine. But they want a state and they want a state that has defined borders, that has a capital, that has the viability to deliver goods and services and benefits to the people. That's what we want to see," she said. "But there's no way to accomplish that through a vote in the Security Council and in the General Assembly.

"A vote here is merely a statement on a piece of paper. It doesn't change anything on the ground for the Palestinian people the day after."

But, Michele told Rice that some people think the symbolism of that piece of paper would be a good thing.

"If it accelerated the negotiations, we would say yes," said Rice. "The reality is quite the opposite. The process that must occur will be that much more complicated in the wake of this kind of one-sided action."

She added: "This is not just a neutral, symbolic action. In our view it is unwise and counterproductive."

Much more of Michele and Rice's conversation on today's edition of All Things Considered. Tune into your local NPR member station to listen. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview a little later today.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

White House critics have come down hard on the president, on one side for not sufficiently supporting Israel, but he's also under fire from those who say he's undermining the Palestinians' push for recognition, considering what he said before the U.N. General Assembly just last year.

P: When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Here to explain the difference between this year and last is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice, welcome back to the program.

BLOCK: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Now we just heard from the president speaking last year. At best, the juxtaposition of that tape with the administration's current position is somewhat awkward, but to many, it's more than that. It's an outright contradiction. How do you reconcile those two things?

RICE: There's no resolution at the United Nations or any other magic wand that can be waved that shortcuts the process of the two sides deciding what are the borders, what happens to Jerusalem, what happens to refugees? All of these are crucial issues that are necessary to be resolved if, in fact, the Palestinians will really, in the real world, on the ground, have an independent state.

NORRIS: Now, the president has echoed what you're saying right now, that the vote is purely symbolic and it wouldn't improve life for Palestinians, wouldn't necessarily change a thing for them. But is there something to be said for symbolism on its own? Could you understand how the symbolism of a vote like this might feel like progress?

RICE: So the process that must occur will be that much more complicated in the wake of this kind of one-sided action than it would have otherwise been.

NORRIS: A number of key allies in the Middle East and North Africa support recognition of an independent Palestine. More importantly, this vote has overwhelming support among the people of Saudi Arabia, the people of Jordan, the people of Egypt, the people of Pakistan and Tunisia and Kuwait. We spent much of the past decade trying to repair the U.S. image in this region. Is opposing this vote worth the widespread anger and resentment that it's likely to create?

RICE: But the bottom line is there's no way to accomplish that short of the two sides coming back to the negotiating table. If there were, we would be for it.

NORRIS: King Abdullah of Jordan spoke to my colleague on MORNING EDITION, Steve Inskeep, today, and he said that a number of countries in this region are looking hard at their relationship with Israel or their - or looking hard at Israel and they're concerned because Israel is a country that, in their eyes, seems to be intransigent, unwilling to make any kind of concessions. He referred to it as fortress Israel. Is that an accurate rendering of what's going on right now? Is his view of Israel correct?

RICE: It is, in the current context, Israel is surrounded by neighbors, minus Jordan, that are more or less hostile, just as Palestinian children grow up feeling that they don't have the opportunity for charting their own future that they want and deserve. And what the president was saying yesterday is each side and all of us need to understand what it is like to be the other.

NORRIS: Susan Rice is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Rice, always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

RICE: Good to talk to you, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.