For years, the Likud and the Right have been accused of fear-mongering, of
playing upon the country’s real security concerns to turn their backs on
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Time and time again Binyamin Netanyahu – during his first tenure
as prime minister, as leader of the opposition, as a member of Ariel Sharon’s
government, and now as prime minister for the second time – has been accused of
exaggerating the threats facing the country in order to avoid making concessions
to the Palestinians. Many were the times he was mocked before Israel’s
2005 withdrawal from Gaza for saying that rockets would fall on Ashdod and
Ashkelon if the IDF withdrew.
Over a decade before that, Yitzhak Rabin,
when he was prime minister, said in recorded comments currently making the
YouTube rounds, that “the nightmare stories of the Likud are well-known. They
promised us Katyushas from Gaza. For a year already the Gaza Strip is for the
most part under the Palestinian Authority; there hasn’t been a Katyusha, and
there won’t be one. Etc., Etc. Etc. All these words – the Likud is scared to
death of peace. Fearful of peace, that is the Likud of today, it is not the
Likud of Menachem Begin...” Forget for a moment that many of the
nightmare scenarios, such as the rockets on Ashkelon, have transpired; the Right is not the only part of the country’s
political map that can spread fear. These days it is coming from the Left (and
also from some in the Center), in the form of doomsday scenarios bandied about
over what will happen if the UN General Assembly passes a resolution in
September that recognizes a Palestinian state.
One argument gaining
currency is that if the UN General Assembly does indeed recognize a Palestinian
state, then the minute it does so the 600,000 Israelis living in east Jerusalem
and the West Bank will, under international law, be considered to be occupiers
of another UN state, and international consequences in the form of sanctions are
sure to be harsh and swift. But this is overwrought. Since the conquest
of the Golan Heights in 1967, Israel has been viewed by the international
community as occupying the territory of another country. Yet Israel was
not ostracized, nor were sanctions leveled against it.
international law there is no difference if one is occupying the territory of a
sovereign country, as would be the case if the UN recognized a Palestinian
state, or it is occupying non-sovereign territory, which is the case now in
Judea and Samaria.
If the UN recognizes a Palestinian state in September,
then the status of Israelis living there will be no different than the status of
Israelis living for more than three decades on the Golan Heights. Granted, there
is a cost for this over the long haul for Israel, in the region and in world
opinion, but it is a stretch to say this will automatically change Israel’s
legal position in the world.
But whether the General Assembly will
recognize a Palestinian state in September is in itself a “big if.” And any UN
move must be measured on three levels: What the declaration itself might say,
what operational steps it will call for, and what are the implications of such a
First of all, it is not clear what a resolution to recognize
a Palestinian state will say.
Since General Assembly resolutions are
primarily political and symbolic in nature, the Palestinians historically have
wanted to have as broad a majority of states on board as possible. The
Palestinians in the past have not aimed for resolutions that would push away the
European countries, but rather have sought the lowest common denominator that
would keep countries like Britain, France and Germany on board.
happens often is that the Palestinians bring a resolution, the Europeans propose
a counter-resolution, and after a great deal of diplomatic haggling, a middle
ground is hashed out.
On the recognition question, the Palestinians will
have to determine how far they can go without losing Europe. As a result, the
resolution that may, in the final analysis, come to the General Assembly is
likely to be much milder than many people fear, simply because many in the EU
are unlikely to support a Palestinian declaration recognizing a Palestinian
state as-is, within the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital, without
being able to ensure Palestinian control over that territory.
are deep disagreements between Israel and the Europeans over issues such as
settlements, many Europeans also understand that it is not reasonable to demand
that Israel withdraw from areas it captured in a defensive war, without first
providing for adequate security.
Another question is, what does
recognition mean? Will the resolution say that the state exists today and should
be recognized? Or will it say that recognition should be conferred when the
state is established? If the latter, then this resolution would not be much
different than scores of other UN resolutions calling for the establishment of a
Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines.
And if the former is the
case, and the UN recognizes a Palestinian state in situ, then it is unlikely to
get broad European support, since many in Europe understand that the situation
is too complicated – given Israel’s presence in the West Bank, Hamas’s control
of Gaza, and the negotiations that the EU says it wants to see
Regarding operational significance, UN General Assembly
resolutions are largely political and symbolic, with ramifications solely inside
the UN system. A recognitionof- statehood resolution could call for an advisory
opinion by the International Court of Justice, as was done in 2004 when the GA
sent the security barrier to The Hague. The ICJ ruled against Israel, but the
fence still remains.
Under the UN Charter, to become a member state, a
new nation needs a Security Council resolution, and a two-third majority inside
the GA. It is highly unlikely the US would let such a resolution through the
Security Council, so the Palestinians would be left with the General Assembly
In this scenario the Palestinian hope is that this would give
them full rights as a state within the UN system, including recognition of the
prohibition of the use of force against it. But even the UN recognizes the right
of self-defense, which means Israel would have legal rights to respond to
attacks coming from Palestinian territory.
Regarding sanctions, the
General Assembly can recommend sanctions, but this would not be legally binding
In 1981, when the UN General Assembly recommended sanctions
against South Africa to promote Namibian independence, these sanctions were
largely adopted because the world saw South Africa as illegitimate and was
interested in those types of sanctions. That is not our case regarding
Outside of settlement goods, there is no real conversation in
Europe at this time about a wholesale sanctioning of Israel. While the
idea has some traction on the radical Left and in college campuses, the
governments of the world’s democracies – despite all the Israel Apartheid Weeks
– are not there. The University of Johannesburg’s recent decision to cut ties
with Ben-Gurion University is the exception, not the rule.
the General Assembly can’t force Israel to withdraw. It’s important to remember
that the UN doesn’t create states, it recognizes them. On this note it is a bit
ironic that the Arabs, who in 1947 rejected the UN vote in favor of the
partition and then attacked the fledgling Jewish state, are now looking to that
same body as the moral authority for the creation of a Palestinian
The true question revolves around the consequences of this move
beyond the UN context, and this is by no means an insignificant question. Such a
declaration would be an energizer for those seeking to marginalize Israel, and
would illustrate the degree to which the world wants one thing, and Israel
Recognition of statehood would make a return to
negotiations much more difficult, empowering the false idea that an imposed
solution can take the place of an agreed-upon one, and changing the whole
“negotiation” trajectory of the diplomatic process of the past two
And, finally, such a move could possibly prompt another popular
But even with all that in mind, one should still
keep an honest eye on what it is exactly that the UN General Assembly can and
cannot do, and not exaggerate the impact of a GA resolution.