Encountering Peace: Off to the UN we go

Recognition of the state of Palestine in September could be the game-changer needed to get the two sides back to the negotiating table.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly 311 (B (photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly 311 (B
(photo credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)
It is now quite evident that there can be no end to our conflict with the Palestinians, and no peace without a negotiated agreement. Yet without a fundamental change in relations between the parties, the option of a two-state solution will soon be off the table.
That is my assessment with regard to the Palestinian side. Once the current Palestinian leaders in Palestine come to believe that they can no longer advance the cause of peace and end the occupation, they will resign and turn the issue over to the next generation.
Having spent the past weeks meeting grassroots activists all over the West Bank and speaking to friends and contacts in Gaza, I can categorically affirm that increasing numbers of Palestinians are saying the two-state solution is not viable. They say that (I am paraphrasing) “the Palestinians offered Israel the best deal, the most generous deal it could ever expect. We offered them their state on 78 percent of the land between the river and the sea, but they wanted more. So now we say to them, we don’t want a mini-state on 22% of the land any more. Give us one thing and one thing only: the right to vote. One person, one vote – that’s all we want.”
If this scenario comes to pass, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be transformed from a territorial squabble resolvable through partition to an intractable identity conflict. Bosnia was essentially an identity conflict – everyone against everyone for everything. In Bosnia, 150,000 were killed in four years. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a territorial conflict, we can figure out how to resolve it. If we fail to end the occupation and allow the Palestinians to achieve statehood on 22% of the land, with Palestinian control of their borders (with agreed security arrangements with Israel), a formula for two capitals in Jerusalem with Palestinian control over the Muslim holy places and an agreed formula for dealing with refugees, then in about one year we will face an entirely new situation – one that even the greatest speeches in the US Congress will not be able to resolve.
When and if the Palestinians declare that they want only the right to vote within the Israeli state, it is only a matter of time before the world forgets the logic of two states and adopts the more compelling logic of democracy.
THAT IS why, in June 2009, while appearing before a UN conference on Palestine in Indonesia, I presented my assessment that with the new Netanyahu government in Israel there would be no possibility of reaching a negotiated end to the conflict. In the interest of preserving the two-state solution, which in my mind is a Zionist imperative, I suggested that we think outside the box. I proposed that since there would be no negotiated process to end the conflict, the rules of the game had to change. In its own interests (which it currently fails to see), Israel can no longer hold the veto on creating a Palestinian state.
I proposed that at first, the Palestinian Authority become the State of Palestine. Palestine must look like and act like a state. According to international law, a state must have four qualities: a defined territory, a defined population of similar identity, a functioning, accepted government, and the ability to enter into international agreements. The Palestinians have all four.
Recognition of a state is a bilateral affair; states recognize each other. The UN does not recognize states, it grants them membership. In 1988, Yasser Arafat declared the establishment of the State of Palestine; 104 nations recognized it. Since August 2009, the government of Salam Fayyad issued its policy doctrine “Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.”
Since then, Palestine has consolidated its state-building process and won approval from the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF. About 130 nations of the 192 members of the UN today recognize the State of Palestine.
I proposed that Palestine submit itself to the UN for membership. If Palestine became a member, from that very moment, the State of Israel would be a member state occupying another member state. This is unacceptable according to the UN Charter, and the Security Council would be required to take action under Chapter VII, which allows for military and non-military steps to “restore international peace and security.”
These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other means of communication, and even the severance of diplomatic relations.
I WANT none of this to happen, but the idea is to abruptly change the current freeze in the process and force Israel and the Palestinians to wake up to the need to get back to the table and negotiate in good faith.
To become a member of the UN, Palestine must submit a request to the Security Council. The request must indicate that Palestine is a state recognized by other states, that it will adhere to the UN charter, and that it is a peaceloving state. The Security Council forms a committee to review the request and make its recommendation to the General Assembly. Within 35 days the Security Council must vote. Nine of the 15 members must vote “yea,” with none of the five permanent members voting “nay.”
Then the recommendation is sent to the GA, where a two-thirds majority is needed.
If Palestine were to gain membership in the UN, the new state would apply for membership in dozens of UN organizations.
In each of those forums, Palestine would be able to petition to apply sanctions against Israel until it withdraws its forces from the Palestinian state.
With a US veto in the Security Council, however, there is no chance for Palestine to gain membership in the UN. Palestine could strengthen its case by also unilaterally issuing a peace treaty based on the Obama Parameters, leaving a space for Israel’s signature.
Even with a US veto, Palestine can be recognized by a vast majority of the world. The GA can also pass resolutions framing the parameters of Israeli-Palestinian peace, including defining the borders of the two states. Under “Uniting for Peace” (UN Resolution 377 from 1950), the GA has the right to pass Chapter VII resolutions that are nonbinding, but do in fact enable sanctions – which means that while UN members are not obligated to impose sanctions, if they wish to, there is a legal framework under which they can.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has stated repeatedly, even after the Obama and Netanyahu speeches last week, that the Palestinian preference is to return to negotiations, but that those negotiations must be based on what can now be called the “Obama Parameters.” Without an Israeli agreement on that baseline, the Palestinians will proceed with their plans for September.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can feel proud and secure that his popularity is high following his impressive Congressional speech, and his people can feel sure that their prime minister is the captain of the ship. Now it is only a matter of time until the passengers discover they are aboard the Titanic.
The writer is the co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and the founder of the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).