The Palestinian decision to advance their statehood drive via the United Nations, and outside the framework of negotiations with Israel, is a diplomatic turning point that creates risks but also offers new openings for progress toward peace. For the benefit of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, we urge the government of Israel to focus on the positive elements we expect to be contained in the Palestinian request, as outlined below, and to refrain from precipitous responses that would escalate tension and serve the agenda of both sides' extremists. Such responses, hinted at in the press, would include a decision to annex West Bank territory, the annulment by Israel of current Israeli-Palestinian agreements, and the easing of rules of engagement to allow live fire to be directed at unarmed Palestinian protesters.
The unilateral Palestinian application for full UN membership is not a development we hoped for when the peace process began. More than anything, it represents the failure of that process to produce a mutually satisfactory outcome, 18 years after the first Oslo agreement was signed and more than a dozen years after a final-status agreement was supposed to have been reached to end the occupation.
We regard the current move by Palestinian President Abbas as an act of desperation, brought on in large part by the Netanyahu government's refusal to resume negotiations where they left off under the government of Ehud Olmert, and to negotiate seriously on the basis of the 1967 lines, adjusted by mutually agreed territorial swaps.
Over the last two decades, and more, governments, organizations and individuals on both sides committed actions that were counterproductive to the spirit of compromise and reconciliation. Acts of terror and the indiscriminate killing of civilians were foremost among these. But the failure of negotiations was also brought on by other factors, including the expansion of Israeli settlements and a rhetoric of intolerance on both sides that has dismissed the other's historical narrative and legitimate national aspirations.
Regardless of whether or not the Palestinian application at the UN is approved, it will not replace the need for a bilateral Israeli-Palestinian accord, and Israelis and Palestinians will still have to learn to live alongside one another in peace and security. We therefore urge the government of Israel to embrace the positive elements that we hope and expect the Palestinian request to contain:
- Non-violence: The Palestinian application is a diplomatic gambit, not a military offensive. It is imperative that this be the playing field on which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.
- Two-state solution reinforced: By referring to the 1967 lines as the basis for their state, we expect that the Palestinian application will reinforce the concept of the two-state solution, and weaken the idea, promoted by each side's extreme elements, that one side or the other should dominate the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
- Recognition of Jewish rights to statehood: By hopefully incorporating a reference to UN General Assembly resolution 181, the international basis for Israel's creation, the Palestinian move could serve to implicitly recognize the Jewish people's right to national self-determination and statehood.
- The 1967 lines will not be the final borders: We expect the Palestinian application to indicate that the pre-war 1967 lines will be adjusted in subsequent negotiations with Israel to take into account Israel's security needs and some of the demographic results of its settlement policy.
Should the Palestinians go forward with their application to the UN, we urge President Abbas and his government to include these elements in their proposal - 1) Non-Violence, 2) A Two-State Solution, 3) Reference to the UN partition plan, 4) Final border based on the 1967 lines with negotiated land swaps - and to continue expressing their readiness for renewed peace talks with Israel. We urge Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government not to waste time, and to engage with the representatives of the Palestinian people on the basis of these principles.
While we believe the tactic of seeking UN affirmation of a Palestinian state outside the framework of direct negotiations is far from ideal, approval of a Palestinian request containing the elements noted above could have two positive outcomes for future negotiations. By elevating Palestine to the level of a state, it will reduce (though not eliminate) the asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians that has complicated the process to date. It will also determine the general territorial outline of the conflict's resolution. These two outcomes will allow Israel and Palestine to recommence negotiations from a more productive baseline, and be better positioned to utilize the accepted tools of statecraft to engage with one another constructively.
Palestinian moves at the UN will not bring peace or end the occupation on their own. If handled properly, however, they can serve as the basis for a reenergized and revamped diplomatic process with the potential for resolving the conflict on a bilateral basis.