WASHINGTON — A new campaign orchestrated by the Palestinian Authority to score diplomatic points and win international recognition for a unilateral declaration of independence seems to be gathering some momentum — but the effort is self-defeating and will ultimately harm Palestinians more than Israel.
The campaign is being waged on three levels.
First, in the U.N. Security Council, the Palestinians are trying to steer through a resolution condemning Israeli settlements and demanding a halt to all construction in territories captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem.
The United States, which does not want to be put into a position where it is forced to use its veto, is trying to persuade the Palestinians not to move the resolution to a vote, so far without success.
Second, Palestinians are trying to persuade countries around the world to recognize their existence as an independent state with 1967 borders in preparation possibly for a U.N. General Assembly resolution in the fall followed by a unilateral declaration of independence.
They have scored some successes, especially in Latin America where important countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile have gone along with the charade. But most key players, including Russia, the United States and the European Union, realize that such declarations amount to nothing more than a scrap of paper.
Third, enemies of Israel are working around the world to persuade companies and institutions to disinvest from Israel, break off ties with their Israeli counterparts and boycott Israeli products and individuals.
The problem from the Palestinian viewpoint is that none of these tactics can ultimately deliver them what they most want or most need — true independence in their own state. This can only be achieved through tough negotiations to resolve difficult issues.
Sadly, these days, prospects of a negotiated peace agreement look bleak. Palestinian leaders walked out of the talks last September and say they won’t return unless Israel freezes all building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a demand they had never previously made in almost 20 years of direct negotiations.
(Editor’s note: Additionally, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Israel and then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 for unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip. With that in mind, current P.A. demands for unilateral action on the settlements and East Jerusalem are hypocritical.)
The fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is one of several legitimate issues that need to be resolved. But it is far from the only issue. Israel and the Palestinians share power grids, water resources and their economies are deeply entwined. How will they live together? How will they ensure mutual security? All this needs to be worked out.
The parties also need to negotiate about refugees, Israel’s status as a homeland for the Jewish people and the status of Jerusalem.
Rather than tackling these complex issues, Palestinians seem to have adopted a PR strategy aimed at isolating and weakening Israel. They tried it once before in the 1970s. It didn’t work then; it won’t work now.
Some people may not recall how diplomatically isolated Israel was at that time. The Soviet Union and the entire Eastern bloc with the single exception of Romania broke off diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 war. Then almost all of Africa, under heavy Arab pressure, severed ties after the 1973 war.
The United Nations passed one slanted resolution after another condemning Israel. In 1975, the Palestinians and their allies managed to engineer a U.N. General Assembly resolution declaring that Zionism was a form of racism.
Ultimately, none of this worked. When Soviet power collapsed, Eastern Europe, Russia and most former Soviet republics rushed to restore ties to Israel and several of these countries are now among its closest friends.
Africa followed suit in the 1990s. And “Zionism equals racism” was repealed by the same body that passed it in 1991. Today, Israel has diplomatic relations with 156 countries, including Egypt and Jordan.
The current Palestinian campaign may win some cheap PR successes and some empty votes – but it will make no difference to the daily lives of Palestinians, neither will it seriously dent Israel’s long-term security or international status. The big losers will not be Israelis – only Palestinians.
(Alan Elsner is the senior director of strategic communications and research at The Israel Project.)