September: Palestine, stalemate or Armageddon?

September has become a confluence date for the detrimental developments of the last several years, coupled with the sense of ad nauseum saturation of the peace process and an increasing intolerance toward the government's policies (or lack thereof).

September cartoon 521 (photo credit: Michal Cohen)
September cartoon 521
(photo credit: Michal Cohen)
THE PANIC-PRONE AND POLICY-DEVOID GOVERNment led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted the Roman interpretation of September. The Romans believed that September (then the seventh month in the calendar) lies in the realm of Vulcan, god of the fire, and expected September to be associated with fires, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
For the Israeli government, like for the Romans, September is not merely a month on the calendar and has metamorphosed into some endof- the-world deadline after which the universe might change. Defense Minister Ehud Barak warns of an impending tsunami and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calls our attention to possibly “the worst and most violent riots.”
And all this because the Palestinians have announced that they would apply to the UN for recognition as a member state. Israel, a country with $30,000 GDP per capita, equipped with F-15s, F-16s, Dolphin-class submarines, civilian satellites, spy satellites and sophisticated weaponry, is deeply scared and completely intimidated by the possibility that the UN will recognize “Palestine.”
While I would not dismiss the potentially explosive nature of September gone badly, let’s at least try keep it in cool perspective. To begin with, there will not be an independent and sovereign “Palestine” come October. In fact, hard as it may be for Israeli politicians to understand, after September comes October, not Armageddon.
If the Palestinians petition the UN Security Council, the US will veto the resolution. True, the US could have sidetracked the whole issue by being more proactive, but that is moot now. The resolution will then be moved to the General Assembly where a Palestinian virtual-state will be recognized by a huge – yet indifferent and utterly unenthusiastic – majority.
“Palestine” cannot be admitted as the 194th member of the UN because only the Council can recommend admittance.
Yet this September could very well be unique. It has become a confluence date for the detrimental developments that Israel has experienced over the last several years. Agrowing impatience and intolerance toward Israeli policies (or lack thereof), coupled with a sense of ad nauseum saturation with the endless Israeli-Palestinian bickering over “the process” and “whose fault” it is, resulted in increased international aloofness and antipathy toward anything and everything Israeli.
The unrest and instability in the broader Middle East only serves to magnify these sentiments, while the global economic woes and contractions enhance the impatience with the perpetual “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict/peace process/crisis/stalemate.
The Palestinians have recognized this trend and are taking full advantage of it. They are consistently and effectively branding Israel as intransigent and refusing to negotiate based on previous understandings. In essence, by going the UN route, the Palestinians have changed their strategy: they recognized some time ago that negotiations with the current Israeli government will produce no tangible benefits. Now, instead of demanding that the peace process be internationalized through conferences, summits and multi-participants, they are seeking to internationalize the solution. Rather than have the international community participate in the process, they are asking it to recognize their state, or more practically, to explicitly and unequivocally proclaim the illegitimacy of Israeli occupation.
Israel on the other hand is on the defensive, reflexively and bitterly complaining that the Palestinians are not partners and that everything is tied to Iran anyway.
There is a discernible default scenario with a design component built into Palestinian diplomatic strategy. By default the Palestinians seem to have concluded that a meaningful peace process is not tenable since finalstatus core issues cannot conceivably be negotiated with a Netanyahuled government.
Enter the design dimension: Since a “let’s pretend” process will expend time and political capital and inevitably set back Palestinian goals by diverting world attention to more pressing issues, the Palestinians have recognized that there is a disincentive for them to enter negotiations. So, by design, they are intent on proving that there is no Israeli partner, and consequently they actively seek to “internationalize” the solution.
This is achieved by asking the world to recognize a Palestinian state without negotiations. This tactic means negotiations can only resume between two sovereign states and renders Israeli presence in the West Bank as an “invasion” rather than “occupation.” That, the Palestinians hope, will entail economic sanctions and further delegitimization of Israel. Like it or not, this is what a “game changer” looks like.
What did Israel do to prepare for, confront and avert this development? Not much really. We did not come up with a peace plan. We did not express willingness to entertain the “Arab League Peace Plan” (a.k.a.
the Saudi plan). Regardless of the [dubious] feasibility of those plans, we simply forfeited the initiative and sat back, in love with the status quo.
Now, as September nears, Israel is begging countries to vote against the Palestinian resolution, warns itself of the impending disaster and threatens that the Palestinians are self-inflicting further wounds, and announce our eternal willingness to negotiate.
Not much of a policy.
Israel, which for decades prided itself on being lean, mean, muscular, flexible and creative, has turned into an atrophied diplomatic dinosaur.
We have become slow to recognize reality, paralyzed when reaction is required, cumbersome, devoid of ideas and actually believing we are too big to fail.
Regardless if you are right- or left-wing in your opinions or policy recommendations, September is a cruel reminder that if you don’t come up with a policy, others will. If you waste your time arguing with the president of the US and lose his support, the world watches and takes note.
The writer is a former chief of staff and foreign policy adviser to four foreign ministers and Consul General in New York.