The Palestinians’ treacherous path to the UN

Obama must be creative in order to prevent Middle East chaos prior to unilateral Palestinian statehood UN bid.

palestinian flag_311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)
palestinian flag_311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)
The Palestinians’ plans to seek UN recognition are a bad omen for both themselves and Israel. Instead, US President Barack Obama should seek a UN resolution that reflects his own conviction of a two-state solution.
Policymakers are grappling with the pros and cons concerning the PA’s plans to seek recognition from the UN General Assembly. Regardless of the wisdom of such a move, the Palestinians seem determined to proceed unless given a viable alternative that could lead to the same result – a Palestinian state within a reasonable time frame. Although both detractors and supporters of the plan make convincing arguments, neither side has been willing to demonstrate its professed desire to enter serious negotiations to conclude a peace agreement that meets each other’s principal requirements.
The failure to reengage in negotiations before September would usher in a period of instability with unpredictable consequences for the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.
First, the clear consequences of the UN plan include a marginalization of the US. Long believed to be the only credible mediator of the Arab-Israeli dispute, the internationalization of the conflict serves as a de facto vote of no confidence in the Obama administration’s ability to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.
Second, Israel would face unprecedented delegitimization efforts. Increasingly the international community will join with the Palestinians, whether for demonstrations in the newly declared “state,” boycotts of Israeli products, or calls for a trial at international criminal courts. Furthermore, the marginalization of the US will decrease its influence in the Arab-Israeli arena, and as a result increase tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.
Finally, the Palestinians will face an unprecedented test. After a two-year period during which the Palestinian leaders devoted themselves to preparing for statehood, where will the public now turn to advance the Palestinian national cause? The test for the PA will be managing in the post-UNGA environment, alongside the elevated expectations that have come with the international push to recognize Palestine. All the while, the PA will be challenged by its rival Hamas and other extremist groups that are ready and willing to return to violence – a ploy that could have horrific consequences.
So what can be done?
Both Israel and the Palestinians are weary of the unending conflict, but have been pursuing counterproductive policies. If Netanyahu wants to prevent the Palestinians from going to the UN, he must table an alluring and realistic proposal to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas a face-saving way out. Meanwhile, the Palestinians must demonstrate that they mean what they say and stop promoting old narratives, particularly about the return of Palestinian refugees, thereby deterring the Israelis from taking the Palestinians seriously.
The Arab states’ endorsement of the Palestinian move at the UN would have had far greater resonance in Israel if they had demanded that the endorsement be conditional on Hamas permanently renouncing violence and accepting the Arab Peace Initiative. By failing to do so, they, too, have signaled that they are motivated by posturing rather than genuinely advancing the cause of peace.
The stark reality is that each side is heavily invested in posturing, and is unable to relent in advance of the September showdown. The only way to avoid an unprecedented period of uncertainty is for the US and the EU to lead the way. They must find an alternative before September that can help each side save face. To that end, the Obama administration could choose between two options:
Reaffirming the post-1967 lines with land swap. In his recent speech about the Arab Spring and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama reaffirmed what has been the basis for negotiations in all previous negotiations when he stated that “what America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows – a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people... We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”
The US should ask the UNSC to empower America to implement this position. It has been recently reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has privately intimated that he is willing to accept the president’s proposals, provided that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas has already indicated that he is willing to reenter negotiations with Israel again on the basis of Obama’s proposals, without asking to amend the US leader’s reference to a Jewish state.
There is no doubt that such a resolution will be adopted by the Security Council. As recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with land swaps would reaffirm the existence of two entities between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in this sense it would be a motion declaring that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states. Only this time, the Palestinians and Arab states will be at the forefront promoting the formula, rather than rejecting it in favor of renewed violence. With this support for two states, Israel’s position against radical groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad will be considerably strengthened. The UN vote’s locking in the two-state formula would undermine extremist arguments to wipe out the Jewish state. As such, the international community is likely to be more receptive to Israel’s security concerns vis-à-vis these fringe groups, which will be opposing not only peace with Israel, but also the internationally endorsed formula for a two-state solution.
Offering specific parameters for a solution. Less preferable, especially to the Israelis, would be for the US to simply veto the proposed resolution; the Obama administration would lead a campaign to introduce a resolution that could garner the support of the UNSC with provisions that would be accepted by both Israel and the Palestinians. The US should join leading EU members like Britain, France and Germany, which are considering four goals that any future negotiations will have to accomplish: 1) establish the future border based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps; 2) make security arrangements that both end any sign of occupation and prevent terrorism; 3) share a capital in Jerusalem; and 4) offer a just solution to the Palestinian refugees.
Rather than offer a detailed framework that would be rejected by each side, these terms provide a general framework regarding the need to establish two states and address the core final-status issues, starting with borders and security as proposed by Obama. The resolution should be framed as a continuation of the efforts the UN has made since the end of the 1967 war. In this regard, the resolution could serve to reaffirm the spirit of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which endorse the land-for-peace formula. Finally, such a resolution must recognize all legitimate security needs and require that all forms of incitement and terrorism be renounced.
Having failed to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process, it would be understandable if the Obama administration simply tried to veto the resolution and thus curry favor with Israel’s American advocates prior to the upcoming presidential election. But it would be a major mistake. Without successful diplomacy, the US position will be considerably undermined in the Middle East. The administration must be realistic. A final peace agreement in the short term simply is not possible, given the current political postures of the two sides.
Yet a different, nuanced and creative resolution could prevent both Israelis and Palestinians from racing toward a new quagmire with unpredictable consequences.
The writer is adjunct professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.