The Palestinians’ plans to seek UN recognition are a bad omen for both
themselves and Israel. Instead, US President Barack Obama should seek a UN
resolution that reflects his own conviction of a two-state
Policymakers are grappling with the pros and cons concerning
the PA’s plans to seek recognition from the UN General
Assembly. Regardless of the wisdom of such a move, the Palestinians seem
determined to proceed unless given a viable alternative that could lead to the
same result – a Palestinian state within a reasonable time frame. Although both
detractors and supporters of the plan make convincing arguments, neither side
has been willing to demonstrate its professed desire to enter serious
negotiations to conclude a peace agreement that meets each other’s principal
The failure to reengage in negotiations before September
would usher in a period of instability with unpredictable consequences for the
United States, Israel and the Palestinians.
First, the clear consequences
of the UN plan include a marginalization of the US. Long believed to be the only
credible mediator of the Arab-Israeli dispute, the internationalization of the
conflict serves as a de facto vote of no confidence in the Obama
administration’s ability to bring the parties back to the negotiating
Second, Israel would face unprecedented delegitimization efforts.
Increasingly the international community will join with the Palestinians,
whether for demonstrations in the newly declared “state,” boycotts of Israeli
products, or calls for a trial at international criminal courts. Furthermore,
the marginalization of the US will decrease its influence in the Arab-Israeli
arena, and as a result increase tensions between Washington and
Finally, the Palestinians will face an unprecedented test.
After a two-year period during which the Palestinian leaders devoted themselves
to preparing for statehood, where will the public now turn to advance the
Palestinian national cause? The test for the PA will be managing in the
post-UNGA environment, alongside the elevated expectations that have come with
the international push to recognize Palestine. All the while, the PA will
be challenged by its rival Hamas and other extremist groups that are ready and
willing to return to violence – a ploy that could have horrific
So what can be done?
Both Israel and the Palestinians are
weary of the unending conflict, but have been pursuing counterproductive
policies. If Netanyahu wants to prevent the Palestinians from going to the UN,
he must table an alluring and realistic proposal to give PA President Mahmoud
Abbas a face-saving way out. Meanwhile, the Palestinians must demonstrate that
they mean what they say and stop promoting old narratives, particularly about
the return of Palestinian refugees, thereby deterring the Israelis from taking
the Palestinians seriously.
The Arab states’ endorsement of the
Palestinian move at the UN would have had far greater resonance in Israel if
they had demanded that the endorsement be conditional on Hamas permanently
renouncing violence and accepting the Arab Peace Initiative. By failing to do
so, they, too, have signaled that they are motivated by posturing rather than
genuinely advancing the cause of peace.
The stark reality is that each
side is heavily invested in posturing, and is unable to relent in advance of the
September showdown. The only way to avoid an unprecedented period of uncertainty
is for the US and the EU to lead the way. They must find an alternative before
September that can help each side save face. To that end, the Obama
administration could choose between two options:
Reaffirming the post-1967 lines
with land swap. In his recent speech about the Arab Spring and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama reaffirmed what has been the basis for
negotiations in all previous negotiations when he stated that “what America and
the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows – a
lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state
and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the
homeland for the Palestinian people... We believe the borders of Israel and
Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that
secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
should ask the UNSC to empower America to implement this position. It has been
recently reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has privately intimated
that he is willing to accept the president’s proposals, provided that the
Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas has already
indicated that he is willing to reenter negotiations with Israel again on the
basis of Obama’s proposals, without asking to amend the US leader’s reference to
a Jewish state.
There is no doubt that such a resolution will be adopted
by the Security Council. As recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967
borders with land swaps would reaffirm the existence of two entities between the
Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in this sense it would be a motion
declaring that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states.
Only this time, the Palestinians and Arab states will be at the forefront
promoting the formula, rather than rejecting it in favor of renewed violence.
With this support for two states, Israel’s position against radical groups like
Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad will be considerably strengthened. The UN
vote’s locking in the two-state formula would undermine extremist arguments to
wipe out the Jewish state. As such, the international community is likely to be
more receptive to Israel’s security concerns vis-à-vis these fringe groups,
which will be opposing not only peace with Israel, but also the internationally
endorsed formula for a two-state solution.
Offering specific parameters
for a solution. Less preferable, especially to the Israelis, would be for
the US to simply veto the proposed resolution; the Obama administration would
lead a campaign to introduce a resolution that could garner the support of the
UNSC with provisions that would be accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians.
The US should join leading EU members like Britain, France and Germany, which
are considering four goals that any future negotiations will have to accomplish:
1) establish the future border based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land
swaps; 2) make security arrangements that both end any sign of occupation and
prevent terrorism; 3) share a capital in Jerusalem; and 4) offer a just solution
to the Palestinian refugees.
Rather than offer a detailed framework that
would be rejected by each side, these terms provide a general framework
regarding the need to establish two states and address the core final-status
issues, starting with borders and security as proposed by Obama. The resolution
should be framed as a continuation of the efforts the UN has made since the end
of the 1967 war. In this regard, the resolution could serve to reaffirm the
spirit of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which endorse the
land-for-peace formula. Finally, such a resolution must recognize all legitimate
security needs and require that all forms of incitement and terrorism be
Having failed to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, it
would be understandable if the Obama administration simply tried to veto the
resolution and thus curry favor with Israel’s American advocates prior to the
upcoming presidential election. But it would be a major mistake. Without
successful diplomacy, the US position will be considerably undermined in the
Middle East. The administration must be realistic. A final peace agreement in
the short term simply is not possible, given the current political postures of
the two sides.
Yet a different, nuanced and creative resolution could
prevent both Israelis and Palestinians from racing toward a new quagmire with
The writer is adjunct professor of
international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He
teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.