I stand with Palestine. As an Israeli citizen and committed Zionist, I support Palestinian statehood both because it’s necessary for asuccessful peace-process, and because I believe in the right of self-determination for both people in the region—Jews and Palestinians.
My first reaction then, to the Palestinian Authority’s induction as nonmember state in the UN last month, was delight; this seemed like a substantive—read, legally enforceable—step toward sovereignty, widely recognized by the international community.
After some further reflection during winter break, though, I’m more hesitant.
The upgraded status is good insofar as it leverages the Palestinian Authority(PA) over Hamas, a group that embraces violence and does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. The bid was also understandable as a tactical move given the egregious recalcitrance on many issues exhibited by Israeli right who are currently in control. This may be even truer now given the expected lurch rightward in the coming Israeli elections. Without a readily willing partner for compromise, a unilateral appeal to the third party of the international community makes sense.
And yet, I feel cautious about full-throated support precisely because of how unilateral the move was. I fear the bid may threaten the prospects of bilateral negotiations—the only path to a sustainable resolution. There were lots of good things that came out of the bid, but all these positive outcomes strengthen and incentivize unilateral moves, making bilateral negotiations necessary for a lasting peace ever more precarious.
Let me elaborate.
Unfortunately, Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last month strengthened Hamas. Immediately after the ceasefire, the PA looked feeble in comparison: they had been speaking about negotiations with the Israel for years but nothing substantive came of it. Contrast this with what was actually a success for Hamas in resisting the Israeli Occupation. As part of the ceasefire agreement, Israel relaxed some of its blockade measures compared with the conditions before the conflict. Additionally, Hamas gained the public support of Egypt, one of the most powerful nations in the region, whose previous ruler, Hosni Mumbarak, kept a begrudging distance from the Palestinian people.
In light of this apparent success, popular support for Hamas rose in the West Bank—fragmenting the territory controlled by the moderate PA who disavow violence and recognize the right of Israel to exist.
In this sense, the UN bid was a relief because it demonstrated an appreciable success on the part of the PA, and also, more broadly, because it conveyed the benefits of peaceful, non-violent negotiation.
Nonetheless, an appeal to the international community, rather than direct engagement with the Israeli government, threatens the prospects of peace. Israel’s official policy right now is to welcome negotiations without preconditions. The PA, however, insists on a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations. I agree with the PA that the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is lamentable, but this should not be an excuse for refusing to come to the negotiating table. The bid—which was a political victory for the PA—is detrimental to peace because it reinforces their already obstinate orientation.
Currently, a majority of Israelis support a two state solution, as do a majority of Palestinians. This underlies my optimism about bilateral negotiations achieving lasting peace. Obviously there are thorny obstacles that need to be tackled. These include negotiating the exact borders between the two states, the status of Israeli civilian settlements in the West bank, Palestinian refugees who claim ownership to thousands of homes in Israel, and the status of East Jerusalem, the likely capital of the Palestinian state, currently controlled by the Israeli government.
These issues are surmountable though. A wide consensus exists on at least the direction to resolve these problems. (Border negotiations, for example, could annex most civilian settlements into Israel, and swap back equally valuable territory in the future Palestinian state. Of course, the details need to be worked out).
With negotiations as an option, the UN bid is suspect because it severely alienated Israel in the service of no productive end. Sure, the PA can now levy injunctions through the International Criminal Court, but these “successes” would pail in comparison to the gains achievable by direct negotiations.
I’m torn about criticizing what was, in some senses, a step forward for the Palestinian people. But I’m more concerned about fundamental peace between the two sides, and the UN upgrade may have threatened this prospect.