PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
Earlier this year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made the
decision to cut off the PA’s negotiations with Israel and go to the UN in
September to bid for state recognition.
There, a US veto at the Security
Council is expected, while at the General Assembly, a large majority of its
members are likely to endorse a motion recognizing a Palestinian state within
the 1967 borders.
While such a resolution is not binding according to
international law, its prospects have elicited negative reactions from Israel,
the US and parts of the international community that deplore the Palestinian
unilateral approach and fear the consequences of UN approval.
Minister Ehud Barak has even warned of an impending “diplomatic
These fears are greatly exaggerated.
First, the UN lacks
legitimacy, as it is a morally bankrupt institution that gives an equal voice to
the worst aggressors and human rights offenders on the globe. It is unclear how
a resolution by such a powerless institution could possibly make a dent in a
century-old ethnic conflict in the Holy Land. What can the UN actually do to
implement the GA recommendations? The outcome will certainly be negative,
reinforcing Palestinian intransigence.
Unfortunately GA resolutions
cannot fix the Palestinian national movement, which is hopelessly fractured and
The UN cannot turn the Palestinian factions into one
political entity. Can the UN bring Gaza and the West Bank together to present
reasonable interlocutors for Israeli negotiators? Can the UN mellow the Hamas
lust to kill Jews and to eradicate Israel? Can it cure the Palestinians of the
shahid death culture? Is the UN in a position to infuse pragmatism into
Palestinian political culture? The Palestinians still insist on the invented
“right of return” for Palestinian refugees, which most of the world sees as an
unrealistic demand and a huge obstacle to peace. The Palestinians are trying to
rewrite history by denying Jewish history in Jerusalem. They are still not ready
to concede that they lost the struggle over Jerusalem, a united capital city,
which the Jews will adamantly defend.
Israel is unquestionably stronger,
and time is on its side. Nevertheless, the Palestinians remain “bad losers,” not
willing to make a pragmatic deal in order to achieve statehood.
cannot deliver a state. It can change neither the facts on the ground, nor
Palestinian behavior. The Palestinians had two historic opportunities to build a
state, in 1948 and again in 1993, but both opportunities were squandered by
failed leadership. Recently we have observed somewhat more successful efforts at
state-building by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. While he is arguably the best
thing that has happened to the Palestinians in their short history, his
popularity among his people is quite low, indicating the dysfunctional character
of Palestinian politics. The images of a blooming Ramallah, the fruits of
Fayyad’s efforts, are misleading.
CAN THE PA survive without begging for
international support every few months? Can it survive cutting down its bloated
and corrupt bureaucracy as a prerequisite for building a healthy economy? The
much-lauded, US-trained Palestinian troops have yet to meet the real test in the
main mission of state-building – monopoly over use of force. The current
abundance of illegal weapons poses an extraordinary domestic security challenge
for a nascent state. Can these troops be trusted to fight a serious challenge
from Hamas, or will we see them collapse just as an earlier version of UStrained
troops did in Gaza? Actually, regular Israeli military incursions against Hamas
infrastructure in the West Bank keep the PA safe. Moreover, access to Israel’s
labor market, money transfers, and many other services are critical to the PA’s
Would statehood bring the same benefits? The PA
leadership realizes that its options vis-à-vis Israel are limited and that
another terrorist campaign would turn out to be extremely destructive to the
Palestinians. The power differential between a democratic, prosperous and
militarily strong Israel and the corrupt, autocratic and fragmented Palestinians
is only growing. Israel managed to “win” the first two intifadas and can do so
again. Now it is preparing for the Palestinians’ nonviolent attempt to challenge
the IDF, which may affect the country’s image abroad and at
Actually, the Palestinian UN bid is an opportunity for Israeli
unilateral measures such as annexation of the settlement blocs and the Jordan
rift area – necessary for establishing a defensible border along the Jordan
River. Furthermore, Israel can implement economic sanctions to exact a cost for
the violation of the Oslo agreements, which left the decision on the nature of
the Palestinian entity for final-status talks.
The main challenge to
Israel, however, is not on the diplomatic front, where it is doing
its critics think. The Arab world is in the throes of a sociopolitical
hardly able to do anything but pay lip-service to support of a
state. Israel’s diplomats managed to prevent an international flotilla
breaking the Gaza naval siege. Israel was also successful in procuring
international understanding for its demand to be recognized by the
as a Jewish state. Furthermore, Washington is solidly behind Jerusalem
issues, and the strategic relationship is hardly affected by differences
What is at stake is the country’s social cohesion. A
united Israel behind a government perceived as doing enough for securing
will be able to sustain protracted conflict. Netanyahu’s stable
these requirements. So far, a huge number of Israelis strongly believe
Palestinians are not ready to make the necessary concessions for peace. A
resolution is unlikely to change public opinion in Israel, which regards
as incompetent and hostile.
Finally, the upheaval in the Arab world
reiterates a great need for caution and for insistence on defensible
Unless there emerges a more pragmatic Palestinian leadership,
the conflict will continue to simmer. In all probability, September will
followed by October and many other months without a Palestinian state in
offing.The writer is professor of political
studies at Bar-Ilan
University and director of the Begin- Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic
Studies. This is a revised version of a piece first published by
Bitterlemons.org on August 22.