Reciprocal unilateralism

A unilateral Palestinian application to the UN for recognition of independence would prove to be a serious blunder.

Palestinian flag 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian flag 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Palestinian leadership is threatening to go to the UN and win recognition for a state along the 1967 lines. This unilateral move would abrogate the Oslo Accords, which provide for relations between the two sides to be decided by negotiation and which have governed Israeli-Palestinian relations (between intervals of warfare) since 1993. There seems little doubt that that the UN would approve an application for recognition if made. This threat has put Israeli politicians and journalists in a sweat.
Their concern is misplaced. In the near and middle term, a unilateral Palestinian application to the UN for recognition would produce bad press and a manageable level of international discomfort for Israel. In the long term, it would prove to be a serious Palestinian blunder.
The object of a unilateral application for recognition would not be to force Israel to recognize Palestinian independence in principle. Israel has already accepted the idea of “two states for two peoples.” Rather, the object would be to use UN recognition to force Israel to accede to Palestinian territorial claims in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem without the Palestinians making any concessions in return. In this the Palestinians would almost certainly fail.
History is strewn with the wreckage of international declarations that did not correspond to actual power relations on the ground. In the long run, the international community adjusts to de facto power, and declarations that are not founded on substance fade into oblivion. This will happen to the Palestinians’ attempt to claim territory without controlling it. Palestinians right now control some towns and villages in Judea and Samaria through their American-trained police force. The writ of the IDF runs everywhere else.
UNILATERALISM IS a two-way street. By abrogating the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians make it legitimate for Israel to withdraw from its own obligations to negotiate a final settlement and to recognize a Palestinian state. If the Palestinians unilaterally seek international recognition, Israel should move with all deliberate speed to create, unilaterally, a territorial arrangement that suits its interests: Separation from the Palestinians, while establishing control over territory needed for security, for its water resources and yes, for the security and further development of communities in Judea and Samaria.
This will require a few years. Roads and fences should be constructed to ensure that Palestinians can move freely between their own population centers while never entering territory to which Israel lays claim. Israel could end up controlling up to 60 percent of Judea and Samaria. After a decent interval, Israeli sovereignty should be extended to these areas.
The result will be a Palestinian entity that is cantonized but enjoys de facto independence. The Palestinians will object to cantonization. In response, Israel should say: “If you’d like to negotiate the matter, the prime minister’s number is in the phone book.”
This policy would accord with what we know of Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis do not want to rule the Palestinians. Neither do they want to uproot more Israeli communities, divide Jerusalem or surrender territory needed for security. Most do not expect to achieve a peace treaty with the Palestinians – and couldn’t care less.
As for Jerusalem, if the Palestinians make a move toward declaring independence unilaterally, Israel should move quickly to offer east Jerusalem residents a choice in a snap referendum: Either ratify the status quo, or else choose to join the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria – losing Israeli identity cards, the right to enter Israel, to work and to receive Israeli social services. The result is likely to be gratifying and to put paid to the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to a state “in the 1967 borders, including east Jerusalem.”
THIS POLICY needs to be accompanied by appropriate diplomacy, which should include three themes:
1. Having abrogated the Oslo Accords and embraced unilateralism, the Palestinians have no right to complain if Israel does so as well.
2. The “occupation” is a myth. Today the Palestinians govern themselves, police themselves and, after years of war and impoverishment, devote themselves to making money. All that is just fine with Israel.
3. Perhaps the most important argument is to assert that Israel is in Judea, Samaria and Gaza by right. This argument was set forth by Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy in his dissent in the case of Gaza Coast Regional Council vs. Knesset, and not challenged by the majority ruling in that case: The right of the Jewish people to return and to settle in the Land of Israel does not only derive from the fact that this land is the Jewish people’s birthplace, where it enjoyed political independence until driven into exile.
Since 1922 at least this right derives as well from the recognition it received from the family of nations, and its establishment as a norm of international law. This right of immigration and settlement extends to all parts of the Land of Israel west of the Jordan River.
For too long, Israel has refrained from asserting this right, for fear that doing so would hurt negotiations for peace. That was, and is, a strategic error. Israel should start asserting its rights, loudly and clearly, right now. Doing so will send a clear signal to the Palestinians, and may even avert the scenario that panicky politicians and press pundits are so afraid of.
The writer heads the Israel Policy Center, whose mission includes reinforcing Israel’s character as a Jewish, democratic state.