JERUSALEM — The prospect of the Palestinian Authority being transformed into a state adjacent to Israel is likely to become even more remote than it is today if the United Nations General Assembly endorses it, as expected, Sept. 20.
Under the Oslo Accords of 1993, the internationally advocated two-state solution is supposed to be achieved through negotiations between the two respective parties, not by a resolution adopted by the world organization or any other body. Therefore, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing government would be able to blame P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas for violating the rules of the diplomatic game and declare the long-stagnant bilateral talks irrelevant or pointless.
(Indeed, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Catherine Ashton, chief diplomat of the European Union, when she visited the country this past weekend, that the P.A. decision to pursue U.N. recognition was “very unfortunate and unproductive.”)
This would be a negative development insofar as the U.S. State Department and the Obama administration are concerned. That is one of the reasons why the U.S. veto is inevitable if the U.N. General Assembly resolution is submitted to the Security Council.
Both sides are to blame to a greater or lesser extent for the Palestinian decision to turn to the United Nations rather than go back to the negotiating table.
The Palestinian Authority and Israel have been at an impasse for more than a year, unable to make any meaningful progress. Among the causes: Netanyahu’s insistence upon P.A. recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has repeatedly rejected this definition of Israel mainly because it could be used as a rationale to bar the return of the several hundred thousand Arabs who fled Palestine in 1948 and 1949, during the first Arab-Jewish war. (Abbas can be regarded as an Arab refugee himself inasmuch as his family fled the Galilean city of Safed and took refuge in Syria during those hostilities.)
Technically, Netanyahu’s demand, which was not made by his predecessors who also engaged in talks with the Palestinians, is superfluous (in blunt language it could be termed “a red herring”) inasmuch as Israel was designated a Jewish state by the U.N. General Assembly, Nov. 29, 1947, when it voted for the partition of Palestine into two sovereign political states — one Jewish, the other Arab. The Palestinian Arabs rejected this initiative and welcomed the coalition of Arab states that attacked Israel one day after its declaration of independence, May 14, 1948.
In reality, Abbas’ latter-day acceptance of its Jewishness would be as meaningless as would be U.S. recognition of the United Kingdom as an Anglican state or of Pakistan as a Muslim state.
If Netanyahu, a fervent Zionist who believes that the Jewish people’s right to Palestine in its geographical entirety is pre-eminent, needs compelling reasons to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian Arab state in part of the biblical Holy Land, he could have argued that its formation is precluded by the fact that the Gaza Strip is ruled by the Islamic Hamas organization, which rejects Abbas’ and his secularist Fatah organization’s regime in the West Bank. (Authorization of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would be tantamount to the partition of historical Palestine into three states: Israel, the West Bank entity and Hamas’ Gaza Strip entity.)
In addition to these ideological impediments, the territorial claims being made by the Palestinian Authority also stand in the way of a viable agreement. Abbas wants Israel to withdraw from all the territory taken by its armed forces 44 years ago in the Six-Day War. This would include the abandonment of the Jewish settlements established there since 1967 and the repatriation of their estimated 350,000 Israeli inhabitants.
Unofficial, but reliable, estimates put Israel’s investment in these communities at more than $60 billion. Besides the financial implications, Netanyahu’s government would risk a stunning political crisis if it compelled the settlers to return to Israeli territory inside the Green line and tried to reintegrate them into contemporary Israeli society.
One realistic alternative to Abbas’ U.N. initiative would be for him and the Arabs living under his U.S.-funded administration to accept the fact that wars have lasting consequences, especially for the losing sides, i.e. that the Arab side lost the West Bank triggered by a war that was triggered by the threat of a coordinated attack by Soviet-backed Egypt and Syria and their Western-armed ally, Jordan. Another would be to work out a genuine rapprochement with Hamas so as to reconstitute the territory taken by Israel in 1967 (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) as a unified political entity.
If the latter option proved to be impossible, the political integration of Israel and the West Bank might be the only practical alternative. It might even be preferable to the two-state solution, which is based on political and social separation between the two nationalities that exist in the Holy Land.
The two-state solution would foster a tragic dead-end situation based on mindless and irrational separation, which Defense Minister Barak smugly touted in his successful campaign for the premiership in 1999, as, “We here; they there.”
(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at Jay@actcom.co.il.)