Israeli and Palestinian panaceas

Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate a solution and cease their respective preoccupations with useless panaceas that only create more impasses.

Israel Pal flag (do not publish again) (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Israel Pal flag (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
A dispassionate observer of the Middle East could perhaps conclude that Israelis and Palestinians each have their own panaceas for settling the conflict between them.
RELATED:September Tsunami
The Palestinian panacea takes the form of a deus ex machina in which some external force (the likes of which could include the UN, EU, or the President of Venezuela) pressurizes Israel into accepting all Palestinian demands. It seems that the Palestinians are hoping that they won't have to ever actually sit down with Israelis to reach a realistic compromise. In his book "Through Secret Channels" - on the Oslo process - Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, writes that "any Palestinian leader who wants to embark on secret negotiations with the Israelis will face violent Arab and Palestinian opposition." Of course the reality is that any meaningful negotiations must be conducted directly and in private.
For their part, the Israelis often adopt the attitude of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir that the best policy is to sit, wait and do nothing. This policy is based on the belief that time is on Israel's side and if Israel can only hold out long enough, the world and the Palestinians will accept any reality on the ground created by Israel.
But panaceas, by their very definition, don't solve problems. The only two peace treaties that Israel has ever negotiated successfully - with Egypt and Jordan respectively - were achieved by direct and confidential negotiations. The United Nations played no part in the negotiations and the Europeans were but friendly kibitzers. Israeli and Arab negotiators, including this writer, conducted all talks in private - leaving only the issues that were thorniest to be resolved at the level of foreign ministers and heads of state.
I hear from European colleagues that the latest Palestinian initiative in avoiding negotiations comes in 2 stages. The first stage will be to request for the United Nations Security Council to formally accept "Palestine" as a member state of the UN. This move may happen before September – perhaps even as early as July.
Since the Palestinian assumption is that the United States will veto such a resolution, the second stage of the initiative is for a number of European states to then introduce a draft resolution to the Security Council adopting the Obama formula of welcoming a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. The European assumption is that the US will not be able to object to its own president’s plan.
However, this strategy is gravely flawed. Once again, it enables the Palestinians to believe that the UN will do the negotiating on their behalf and "deliver" Israel. As far as Israel is concerned, such a resolution will only reinforce the belief that the UN represents a hostile world. Furthermore, it will only exacerbate inaction - Israel will simply do what it can to batten down the hatches and just wait for the storm to pass.
Security Council resolutions are not binding unless adopted under Chapter Seven of the Charter which deals with acts of aggression and threats to the peace. No resolution relating to the Arab-Israel dispute has ever been explicitly adopted under Chapter Seven and neither is it likely to happen with a future resolution. However, even a non-binding resolution in accordance with the European vision would undermine Resolution 242 - the only agreed basis for negotiations. But in the past, the US has formally pledged to Israel to veto any initiative in the Security Council that would "change resolutions 242 and 338 in ways which are incompatible with their original purpose." It is to be hoped that the US will stand by its commitment and vote against such a resolution in the future too.
An agreed solution is vital for both Israelis and Palestinians. It will not be achieved by meaningless panaceas like passing resolutions at the UN or passively waiting for time to pass. The bottom line then? Quite simply, there is no alternative to negotiations.
The writer is a professor of international law at the Hebrew University and the former legal adviser to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.