This week ushers in two significant events.
The first is a milestone anniversary. On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 33 in favor, 13 opposed, and ten abstentions, endorsed Resolution 181, otherwise known as the Palestine Partition Plan.
That plan recommended the division of the land, then under British mandatory rule, into two states – one Jewish, the other Arab.
While the Jewish side was unhappy that the proposed boundaries of the Jewish state reduced the land envisioned in the 1917 Balfour Declaration to one-eighth its original size, it nevertheless accepted the plan.
However the Arab world rejected the very notion of partition, since it would not accept the legitimacy of any sovereign Jewish entity in the region.
The Iraqi delegate to the UN stated, “I wish to put on record that Iraq does not recognize the validity of this decision.”
His view was echoed by his Syrian counterpart, who declared: “Gentlemen, the [UN] Charter is dead. But it did not die a natural death; it was murdered, and you all know who is guilty. My country will never recognize such a decision.”
Their defiant views were rejected by a decisive majority of UN member states at the time. Nor did they find sympathy with UN Secretary General Trygve Lie.
In his memoirs, In the Cause of Peace: Seven Years with the United Nations, he wrote: “The partition of Palestine and the consequent creation of the State of Israel became one of the most dramatic chapters of early United Nations history. As Secretary-General, I put the full weight of my office consistently behind the Organization’s decision from the time it was first taken.”
Later, in describing the actual events of May 1948, the Secretary-General stated: “The Arab states launched their invasion of Palestine with the end of the [British] Mandate. This was armed defiance of the United Nations (emphasis added), and they openly proclaimed their aggression by telegraphing news of it to United Nations headquarters.”
Why is it so important, 65 years later, to recall these events?
First, to underscore the UN’s deliberative process. In 1947, the UN acted only after intensive investigation into the best outcome for two competing nationalisms – Jewish and Arab.
Second, to bear in mind that a two-state solution was the recommendation of the UN itself, and that the Jewish side accepted it both in principle and in practice.
And third, to remember that it was the UN Secretary-General who labeled the Arab military response, seeking the annihilation of the fledgling Jewish state, “armed defiance of the United Nations.”
Now fast forward to this week.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member observer state of the UN, a status currently held by the Holy See and previously by Switzerland, until it became a full member in 2002.
The issue is expected to come before the UN General Assembly on November 29, the same day, 65 years ago, that the world body endorsed the Partition Plan.
But unlike that plan, this Palestinian gambit was not the result of UN study missions and months-long discussions involving a range of countries. On the contrary, it is a Palestinian idea, endorsed, predictably, by the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which will have no beneficial impact on the ground.
If the Palestinian Authority today is serious about overcoming its many past rejections of a two-state deal, then progress can only be achieved at the negotiating table with Israel, the other party to the conflict.
Turning instead to the UN is actually avoidance diplomacy, bypassing the one party that really counts.
Since 1947, history has moved on. Unlike the situation then, today a Palestinian state can only emerge as a result of direct talks between the parties themselves.
Those nations truly committed to advancing the peace process should therefore think twice about what the Palestinians are asking them to endorse.
Support for this Palestinian move will only give license to the internationalization of the conflict, open the doors for an upgraded “Palestine” to wage war against Israel in the International Criminal Court and other UN agencies, and thereby widen, not narrow, the gulf between the parties.
And finally, what exactly constitutes the borders of Mr. Abbas’s “Palestine”?
For example, do they include Hamas-ruled Gaza, which he purports to represent but has been unable to enter for over five years, and over which he has no governing authority?
Yet even assuming he did represent it, how could he explain to UN member states the recent deadly violence that emanated from Gaza? This was a brazen act of aggression against Israel, a UN member state – an act which Mr. Abbas has refused to condemn.
Having made one tragic mistake in 1947 by spurning a proposed two-state deal, will the supporters of the Palestinian cause now make another in 2012, by rebuffing Israel’s latest offer to negotiate a two-state deal, and instead seek a UN end-run that will lead nowhere?
Given the record, I wouldn’t bet against it.