Editor's Notes: The September showdown

Negotiators of good faith must sit down and work out a way that a Palestinian state and Israel can coexist.

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 negotiations.
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 head.
Instead of taking on the Palestinians in an arena known for its anti-Israel bent, Israeli leaders should be strategizing for the post- September situation.
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 future.
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 settlement.
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 world.”
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 against.”
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.
“Our 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.”
Israeli 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 veto.
For both sides, it’s all about international support and numbers, legitimacy and language.
And yes, above all, it’s a matter of principle.
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 solution.
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.”
Palestine will 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.