Palestinians are on the wrong path to statehood
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems firmly embarked on an attempt to win recognition of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations General Assembly this September but his strategy will only further delay real independence for his people.
Abbas himself outlined his strategy in an oped in The New York Times on May 16, which made it clear that achieving a state through negotiations with Israel was not his immediate aim. Instead, he intends to try to mobilize the international community to impose a peace on Palestinian terms by hounding Israel in every international forum — to isolate and weaken the Jewish state so it will be forced to settle.
“Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice,” Abbas wrote.
A week of intense Middle East activity in Washington, highlighted by major addresses by U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to change the equation. Palestinian leaders reaffirmed their determination to move ahead with their plan.
There are two major problems with this strategy: first, resolutions at the General Assembly are not binding and have no force in international law. Palestine cannot be admitted as a full member of the U.N. without Security Council approval and the United States is virtually certain to exercise its veto if necessary to prevent this from happening.
Second, as a strong democracy with a formidable military and an economy that would be the envy of many in Europe, Israelis are not about to bow to international pressure. Even countries like China and India, which will probably cast their ritual, symbolic votes with the Palestinians in September, are unlikely to do anything that would endanger their burgeoning bilateral trade relationships with Israel. Israel-China trade was $6.7 billion in 2010 while Israel’s trade with India, excluding military exports, was around $5 billion last year and is forecast to triple in the next decade with the signing of a free trade agreement.
Of course, as usual, Palestinians will try to take advantage of a symbolic victory in the General Assembly by passing anti-Israel resolutions in other international organizations. Israel has been singled out and persecuted in such bodies for decades without any effect on its determination to defend itself. The Israeli people have withstood wars, intifadas, countless terrorist incursions and suicide attacks as well as boycotts and delegitimization campaigns — none have weakened their determination to endure.
Abbas was quick to dismiss Netanyahu’s speech but in fact there were several important concessions contained within it that might have provided a basis for a resumption of negotiations. The Israeli leader said openly for the first time that some Israeli settlements on the West Bank would have to be evacuated; he also reiterated his commitment to substantial territorial concessions so that Palestinians could build a viable and prosperous state.
“They (the Palestinians) should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish,” Netanyahu said.
Since the beginning of the peace process, the international community has always assumed that the only way to end this conflict would be through a negotiated solution acceptable to both sides. Every single step forward, from the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty to the Oslo Accords of 1993, was achieved through negotiations. Never has one party succeeded in imposing its will on the other.
By going the U.N. route, Abbas is leading his people down a blind alley. He is squandering precious time and energy on a strategy that will lead nowhere. For the sake of the Palestinians, he should return to the negotiations without delay.
Alan Elsner is the senior director of communications for The Israel Project.
Photo: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seen during his meeting with Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (unseen) in the West Bank city of Ramallah May 19, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman