A mere six weeks ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stood in the White House and declared his commitment to direct, bilateral peace negotiations with Israel.

“We will work on all the final status issues - Jerusalem, the settlements, the borders, security, water, and also releasing the detainees,” he said, “ in order to end the occupation that started in 1967, the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and in order to create the state of Palestine that lives side by side with the state of Israel, in order to end the conflict and end the historic demands in the Middle East, and to bring peace and security for the two peoples and all the peoples of the region.”

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Yet, now we read reports that the Palestinian Authority has all but abandoned negotiations with Israel and is seriously considering preemptively and unilaterally declaring statehood, and will seek international recognition of this declaration through the United Nations Security Council.

The implications of such a rash step are serious. A unilateral declaration would leave unresolved all core issues in the conflict.

Moreover, this Palestinian state would be established on the basis of confrontation with Israel and would force Israel to view it as a hostile entity, and not a partner in the pursuit of reconciliation and peace.

Indeed, no less a critic of Israeli policy than the International Herald Tribune’s Roger Cohen wrote that if the Palestinians pursue this path, “…they will add another big mistake to a long chapter of strategic errors.  Abandoning talks in favor of seeking recognition of independence from international bodies like the United Nations for a Palestinian state would take Palestine-in-waiting down a blind alley.  Such recognition, if attainable, would not open roads, deliver water, create ports or airports, enhance security, remove Israeli troops or usher Palestinians from unsustainable victimhood to viable sovereignty.  It’s the “fix” that solves nothing.”

The Obama Administration has expended great efforts trying to resurrect direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. They spent months publicly harping on the issue of Israeli settlement construction and continue to work furiously to have Israel extend the moratorium on settlement building.  

This focus on settlements is excessive, and a distraction from direct negotiations on the key issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, this undue focus on settlements provides the Palestinian Authority with a justification to walk away from negotiations.

Not only are the Palestinians saying no to direct negotiations, but they are sabotaging their own declarations of good faith to the Israeli public with their continued promotion of the efforts of economic boycotts of Israeli products and efforts to attack Israel through the misapplication of international law at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and other legal venues. These campaigns to delegitimize Israel violate the letter and the spirit of Israel-Palestinian negotiations and are simply unacceptable.

The Obama Administration must take an immediate stand against these counterproductive diversions, which would be so devastating for regional stability and for the deep hopes of Israelis and Palestinians for a peaceful future. The Administration must tell the Palestinian leadership privately and publicly that the road to Palestinian statehood is through direct, bilateral negotiations with Israel.

And the US must be clear in stating that all activities seeking to delegitimize Israel promoted by the Palestinian Authority are themselves illegitimate and will be vigorously opposed by the US

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a start in her speech to the American Task Force on Palestine, saying: “There is no substitute for face-to-face discussion and, ultimately, for an agreement that leads to a just and lasting peace. That is the only path that will lead to the fulfillment of the Palestinian national aspirations and the necessary outcome of two states for two peoples.” This message must be stated and restated.

The US has spent much time focusing on what Israel needs to do to get negotiations going. It is now time for Washington to focus on the Palestinians, and get them to once and for all reject the dead end strategy of unilateralism, delegitimization, and the permanent policy of “no,” and come back to the negotiation table.


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