Once again, the Palestinians, with the help of their international enablers, are about to shoot themselves in the foot – or worse.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Palestinian leadership will soon turn to the UN to seek support for unilateral recognition of statehood.
Since Washington has indicated it will veto any effort in the Security Council, the Palestinians will look to the General Assembly (GA).
The GA cannot admit a new state to the UN, but can elevate the Palestinians’ current status to non-member observer state. It can also offer symbolic support, by majority vote, for a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, with the eastern part of Jerusalem as its capital.
For those interested in a two-state outcome, the Palestinian gambit should be opposed. The strategy is self-defeating. And the sooner the Palestinians get the message, especially from key democratic countries whose support they crave, the more likely they are to reconsider.
First, it does an end-run around face-to-face talks. Responsible political leaders should be encouraging the Palestinians to return to the table with Israel, not undermining the prospect of direct negotiations. No lasting peace can emerge by trying to force Israel’s hand through GA resolutions.
And speaking of hands, Israel’s has been extended in peace, through successive governments, yet the Palestinians have always managed to spurn it, while counting on their supporters to embrace unthinkingly every imaginable excuse.
Second, if a Palestinian state is recognized along the 1967 lines (in point of fact, nothing more than the 1949 armistice lines), this undermines UN Security Council Resolution 242 and 338 and the Camp David Accords, which call for a negotiated outcome and do not predetermine final boundaries.
Indeed, think about it. Once the GA endorses a Palestinian state’s borders, then, in the real world, how will the Palestinians ever climb down from that tree to accept the territorial adjustments diplomats know will be required to address the minimum needs of both sides – not just one party – to reach a deal?
Third, countries that support the Palestinian strategy may well contribute to a resurgence of violence.
After all, when Palestinians on the street realize that no UN General Assembly vote will actually produce a state, how long will it be before disappointment turns to protests and more? And when they grasp that annual US aid of about $500 million may come to a screeching halt, as Congress has already indicated, what then?
Why feed false expectations?
Fourth, to be a state entails certain criteria, including control of defined borders.
Can PA President Abbas legitimately claim control over the West Bank, where unresolved issues with Israel remain, and Gaza?
If he says yes to the latter, for instance, he acknowledges a partnership with Hamas, the governing authority in Gaza. But Hamas is a terrorist organization that has not met any of the three conditions for engagement set by the Quartet, including, notably, the UN.
If he says no, then he seeks to include Gaza in his envisioned state, but has no actual control over it, which is, in fact, currently the case.
Even if the GA vote is largely symbolic, countries should consider carefully if “Palestine” today has the necessary elements of statehood. And they should do it for a larger reason as well – they may be creating a precedent that could come back to haunt them.
After all, this is not the only case of disputed territory. If every secessionist, insurgent, or so-called independence group felt it might get validation from the UN General Assembly, regardless of actual conditions on the ground, all hell could break loose. Some affected countries smugly feel they can avoid the outcome through deft – read strong-arm – diplomacy. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. We’ll see.
And fifth, a GA vote would send precisely the wrong message to Israel. It would say we are prepared to: (a) ignore your vital interests in the process, (b) overlook your determined efforts to reach a negotiated two-state agreement, (c) hand over, among other land, Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and sacred Western Wall to Palestinian control, and (d) reinforce your long-held distrust of the world body, whose automatic majority today won’t give Israel a fair hearing.
At the end of the day, of course, that majority will support whatever the Palestinians decide to do. It’s simply the way the UN works. The Arab League (22 members), Organization of the Islamic Conference (56 members), and Non-Aligned Movement (118 members) have the numbers. With rare exceptions, they robotically go along with every Palestinian whim, however counter-factual or counter-productive.
Still, the Palestinians don’t simply want the vote of the likes of Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Rather, they seek the endorsement of democratic countries, especially the 27-member European Union. A few EU states, including Italy, Germany, Netherlands, and Romania, have declared their opposition, but, disturbingly, most are playing their cards close to the vest.
To support the Palestinians at the UN offers the path of least diplomatic resistance, some nations conclude. If we vote against Israel, as a practical matter, nothing will happen to us. But if we stand with Israel, the price can be high. Look at Canada, they say, which lost its bid last year for a Security Council seat because it voted with Israel rather than succumb to the herd mentality.
Even if we are not keen on the Palestinian strategy, as many top officials from Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America have told visiting AJC groups behind closed doors, do we really want to have the automatic majority block our aspirations in the UN system? And could there also be bilateral consequences (energy, investments, trade, etc.) for taking a principled stand on such a vote? In actuality, Israel’s foes at the UN don’t play according to Hoyle.
We’ll know soon enough how countries line up.
And then we’ll have a pretty good sense of what democratic nations have the courage to embrace principle in the pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and what countries are ready to throw it to the wind.