Israel and the Palestinians are bracing for a confrontation at the United
Nations next month, and while both sides are sticking to their guns rather than
talking to each other, it’s already quite clear who the immediate victor will
be. Not Israel, that’s for sure.
The Israel Project’s executive director,
Marcus Scheff, calls the Palestinian ploy “UDI,” a unilateral declaration of
independence, reminiscent of the move made by Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1965.
Most Israelis are antipathetic to that acronym because it bypasses bilateral
But perhaps the outcome won’t be as detrimental to the
peace process as Israeli officials fear. It might even represent the turning
point toward a final-status agreement.
Israel’s present strategy isn’t
working; it should somehow use this opportunity to its advantage, not just to
make its case more convincingly, but to turn the situation on its
Instead of taking on the Palestinians in an arena known for its
anti-Israel bent, Israeli leaders should be strategizing for the post- September
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Malki told reporters in
Ramallah on Saturday that the Palestinians would make their bid for UN
membership on September 20.
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will
personally present the request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the
opening of the 66th session,” Malki said.
For his part, Abbas said this
week that bilateral negotiations had reached “a dead end,” and he believed the
UN resolution would boost the chances of serious negotiations in the
Abbas’s plan is to ask both the UN General Assembly and Security
Council to recognize the state of Palestine, originally proclaimed in Algiers on
November 15, 1988.
The 193-member General Assembly is set to vote
overwhelmingly in favor of the move, while the US is expected exercise its veto
in the 15-member Security Council because it favors a negotiated
Sitting at Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel, a Palestinian
official who asked not to be identified told me that September 20 was not a holy
date, and he believed Malki had been misunderstood.
“There is no date. We
know something will happen in September,” he said. “The 20th of September might
change. There’s only a decision to go for full membership in the UN, and this
decision is being supported by the Arab League and several friends we have in
The official said the PA had not expected Israel’s
“hysterical” opposition to the UN resolution, which he claimed was actually an
attempt to save the two-state solution.
“We refuse to say that the
two-state solution in 1967 borders is over, as many people are saying,” he said.
“We don’t really understand Israel’s reaction. This resolution will not be
passed if it doesn’t include ‘a Palestinian state living side by side in peace
and security with the state of Israel.’ When Iran votes for this resolution, it
will be voting in recognition of Israel.”
The official slammed Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon for flying across the globe to canvass support for
Israel’s opposition to Palestinian statehood.
“This campaign of Mr.
Ayalon going all over the world for this ‘moral minority’ is not going to bring
him more than five or six votes against any resolution on Palestine,” he said.
“We have 122 countries recognizing Palestine. I don’t think all of them will
vote for Palestine. We believe that maybe six of them will not, basically
eastern European countries, which does not mean that they will vote
Sitting in his office at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem,
ahead of a trip to Budapest, Ayalon acknowledged that the Palestinians had an
“automatic majority” in the UN General Assembly, but lashed out at the PA for
choosing the path of unilateralism rather than negotiation.
assumption is that they will push through this resolution,” he told me. “By
going to the UN, they are showing not only bad faith, but that they are not for
a solution, so this is why we will not enter any negotiations on a text, because
it would be ridiculous.”
Ayalon is hoping that up to 70 countries in the
General Assembly will back Israel’s position.
“We know they [the
Palestinians] have the numbers; we are not going to fight the numbers. This
would be a Sisyphean exercise,” Ayalon said. “What we’re working on, as you see
in the geography of where I’ve been visiting, is the countries which we believe
will vote on the principle of the resolution, and in the international interest,
and not be a rubber stamp to the Palestinians.
We believe we can coalesce
a group of between 50 and 70 countries which will not support a unilateral
decision because they understand that a unilateral resolution is a choice of
conflict and friction, and not cooperation and reconciliation.”
officials expressed concern that a vote in favor of a Palestinian state in the
General Assembly would give the Palestinians more ammunition in their diplomatic
arsenal against Israel in the international arena. As a UN member state,
Palestine could, for example, pursue Israelis for war crimes at the
International Criminal Court in The Hague.
One official said Israel
could, moreover, not accept a Palestinian resolution that called for a return to
the 1967 borders. This would put the Western Wall in Palestine rather than in
Israel, he noted.
Israeli and Palestinian officials declined comment on
whether the sides were already engaged in secret, back-channel contacts. In the
meantime, both sides have dug in their heels for the September showdown. The
Palestinians expect to win the vote in the General Assembly, while Israel
expects to win the vote in the Security Council by virtue of a US
For both sides, it’s all about international support and numbers,
legitimacy and language.
And yes, above all, it’s a matter of
Whatever the outcome, though, officials on both sides don’t
rule out the possibility that the UN vote might be a trigger not for another
violent confrontation, but for jump-starting new talks on a peaceful, two-state
If that’s the case, what they should be working on is a
final-status map of two states, Israel and Palestine, with which both the Jewish
and Palestinian states can feel secure.
The sociologist W.I. Thomas in
1928 formulated what was later dubbed the Thomas theorem: “If men define
situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”
soon be a reality, even if its boundaries have not been determined, and Israel
doesn’t accept it. Israel is already a reality, although its final borders have
not yet been set, either. What will be necessary after September is for
negotiators of good faith to sit down and work out a way the two can coexist.
For the sake of both.