Opinions - 24.08.2011 - 00:00 

The Israel and Palestine impasse

Is there a benefit to the United Nations to recognising the Palestinian State? What would be the impact to its relationship with Israel? A comment by Professor James W. Davis.


24 August 2011. Perhaps the most frustrating feature of the ongoing impasse in Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations is the fact that the basic contours of a final peace agreement are well known and acknowledged by reasonable people on both sides of the divide. They have been articulated in numerous United Nations Security Council Resolutions, most importantly 242 (November 1967) and 338 (October 1973), and were repeated by U.S. President Barack Obama in his speech on May 20 of this year: "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."

Religious hardliners

The problem is not to be found in the complexity of the issues, although the status of Jerusalem - in particular the so-called "Holy Basin", which comprises the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher - will require painful compromises on both sides. Rather, the problem is one of Israeli domestic politics. Religious hardliners are simply unwilling to settle for anything less than their maximum demands and the current Israeli coalition government cannot maintain a majority in the Knesset without the support of the religious parties.

Violent attacks on Israeli towns

Thus far, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been lucky. The rise of Hamas has split the Palestinian leadership and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip has been an ongoing source of violent attacks on Israeli towns and settlements, most recently on August 18th. These developments provide Netanyahu welcome cover for adopting a hard line on the return of further territory to the Palestinians. Moreover, they have allowed him to tie up the Palestinian Authority (PA) in a seemingly irresolvable dilemma. On the one hand, Netanyahu has expressed his unwillingness to make peace with the Fatah-dominated PA so long as it does not speak for all Palestinians. But on the other hand, he is unwilling to negotiate with a PA that contains representatives of Hamas, which Israel, the US and the EU regard to be a terrorist organization.

Recognition of a Palestinian State
In an effort to cut through this Gordian knot, the PA plans to go before the United Nations in September and ask it to recognize a Palestinian State. The effort is likely to succeed before the General Assembly, but full UN membership requires the support of the Security Council where the United States, already on record as opposing a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, will surely exercise its veto. In the end, everyone will lose. Israel and the United States will be further isolated and in much of the Islamic and developing world.

Everybody looses

Moreover, there is no telling how the issue will play out in the unfolding process of the Arab Spring, which to date has not been focused on the Arab-Israeli dispute. But the Palestinians will also lose out. A hollow declaration of Statehood will not lead to sudden increases in foreign assistance. It will have little or no effect on the daily lives of Palestinians who have suffered the indignities of refugee status and occupation for too long. Worse, it is likely to lead to a hardening of the Israeli negotiating position, which in turn would encourage extremists on both sides. Instead of strengthening the Palestinian position, a hollow recognition of statehood would diminish the authority of the PA in the eyes of suffering Palestinians and further weaken the prospects for peace.

Direct negotiations

The best way to avoid a foreseeable train wreck would be to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has signaled a willingness to put off the question of statehood if negotiations resume. The big question is whether Prime Minister Netanyahu, now confronting massive street protests against social inequalities in Israel, is in a position to do so. Meanwhile, time trains keep rolling.

Picture: Photocase / DWerner

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