The Dangers of Palestinian UDI

Aug 29, 2011

Update from AIJAC

August 29, 2011
Number 08/11 #07

This Update deals with some new writing exploring the problems and pitfalls associated with the Palestinian intention to unilaterally seek UN recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state – sometimes termed a “Unilateral Declaratation of Independence” or UDI – next month.

We lead with a short primer on the whole issue compiled by Uriel Heilman of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Heilman has a useful summary of the various legal rules relevant to the effort, including what the UN General Assembly can and cannot do for the Palestinians. He also has a brief but helpful examination of the many uncertainties that will follow the UN effort and the various ways it could lead to violence or make peace more difficult. For this valuable backgrounder on the whole issue, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, a more detailed discussion of the various ways in which the Palestinian bid for recognition is not consistent with international law related to the recognition of states comes from veteran Washington insider Steve Rosen.

Next up is noted Brussels-based commentator Emanuele Ottolenghi, who strongly makes the case that the Palestinian UN bid is dangerous and should be opposed by anyone who wants peace –  especially European governments. He is particularly good in debunking Palestinian claims that their proposal is innocuous and does not preclude negotiations later. Ottolenghi argues that the current Palestinian leadership is repeating the mistake made by Yasser Arafat in 2000 – rather than make the difficult strategic decisions needed for real peace, he sought to change the equation by creating a crisis that he hoped would help the Palestinian negotiating position, but instead created half a decade of violence. For all the details of what can go wrong with the Palestinian bid, CLICK HERE. Washington Post columnist and editor Jackson Diehl also raised the possibility that Abbas’ move might trigger a violent Intifada. More sanguine about the outcome of the Palestinian UN bid is veteran Israeli strategic expert and current visitor to Australia Prof. Efraim Inbar, who argues that the negative repercussions are likely to be small and containable.

Finally, former British MP Lorna Fitzsimmons takes on the problematical effects on future peacemaking of what the Palestinians are proposing to do at the UN. She explores from her own experience how Israelis and Palestinians can each develop an understanding of the core needs and worldview of the other side, which she argues is the key to peace and is undermined by unilateral initiatives like this one. She quotes a former Israeli negotiator that both sides must “think about the other side’s victory speech” and how they will sell a peace deal to their own people – but having Palestinian demands endorsed by the UN makes this much harder. For this look at the intellectual preconditions of peace, CLICK HERE.

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A primer on Palestinian statehood bid

By Uriel Heilman

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 15, 2011

NEW YORK (JTA) — On Sept. 20, when the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly opens, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to ask U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present a Palestinian request for statehood recognition to the U.N. Security Council.

The long-anticipated request will kick off a chain of events that some analysts are warning could result in a new paroxysm of violence in the Middle East.

Here is a guide to what might happen, and what it might mean.

What do the Palestinians want the United Nations to recognize?

The Palestinians want recognition of the state of Palestine in the entirety of the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem. The West Bank — an area controlled by Jordan from the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949 until it was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War — includes lands on which Jewish settlements now sit. Eastern Jerusalem was effectively annexed by Israel, but the international community views it as occupied territory. In total, more than 600,000 Jews reside in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

What’s the legal process for becoming a state?

The U.N. Security Council’s approval is required to become a U.N. member state. The United States, which is one of the 15-member council’s five permanent, veto-wielding members, has promised to veto a Palestinian statehood resolution.

Is there a way for the Palestinians to overcome a U.S. veto?

Not in the Security Council. However, the Palestinians still could seek statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly. While a General Assembly vote in favor of Palestinian statehood would not carry the force of law, the passage of such a resolution would be highly symbolic and represent a significant public relations defeat for Israel.

Is there any benefit short of full statehood recognition that the Palestinians can obtain at the United Nations?

Yes. The Palestinians already have non-member permanent observer status at the United Nations, which they obtained in 1974.

This time, the General Assembly could vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member U.N. state, which would put Palestinian U.N. membership on par with that of the Vatican. While being a non-member state wouldn’t give the Palestinians much more than they have now as a non-state observer, it would be another symbolic victory.

If the Palestinians can get a two-thirds majority in support of statehood in the General Assembly , they also could put forward a so-called Uniting for Peace resolution. This nonbinding, advisory resolution could provide legal cover to nations wanting to treat Palestine as a state — for example, allowing sanctions and lawsuits against Israel to go forward. The Uniting for Peace option was first used to circumvent a Soviet veto in the Security Council against action during the Korean War, and it was employed during the 1980s to protect countries that sanctioned apartheid South Africa from being sued under international trade laws.

Why are the Palestinians seeking statehood recognition from the United Nations rather than negotiating directly with Israel?

The Palestinian leadership has eschewed renewed peace talks with Israel, either because Abbas believes that talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t produce desired results or because Abbas believes he has more to gain by going to the international arena — or both.

Abbas essentially is gambling that the U.N. move will give him more leverage vis-a-vis Israel, making it more difficult for the Israelis to stick to their current negotiating positions and establishing the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations.

What tools does Israel have to respond to the Palestinian bid?

Israel’s strategy now is trying to persuade as many nations as possible — as well as the Palestinians — that a U.N. vote favoring Palestinian statehood would set back the peace track. The argument is that it would make it less likely that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would succeed, forcing Israel to dig in its heels.

Beyond that, Israeli experts have warned, Israel may consider the unilateral Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition an abrogation of the Oslo Accords, which stipulated that the framework for resolution of the conflict be negotiations between the two parties. If the Oslo Accords, which provides the basis for the limited autonomy the Palestinians currently have in the West Bank, are nullified, Israel may re-occupy portions of the West Bank from which its forces have withdrawn, end security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

What are some of the other possible negative consequences for the Palestinians of U.N. statehood recognition?

The U.S. Congress has threatened to ban assistance to the Palestinian Authority if it pursues recognition of statehood at the United Nations. That could cost the Palestinians as much as $500 million annually, potentially crippling the Palestinian government.

What’s the plan for the day after the U.N. vote?

It’s not clear. The Palestinian leadership doesn’t seem to have a plan. The Palestinian public is expected to stage mass demonstrations. Israel is preparing for a host of worst-case scenarios, including violence.

If the United Nations does endorse Palestinian statehood in some form, it will be seen as a public relations victory for the Palestinians. But in the absence of progress on the ground in the Middle East, a U.N. vote could set off popular Palestinian protests against Israel that could escalate into another Palestinian intifada.

No one knows what another Palestinian intifada will look like. It’s possible that soon after a U.N. vote, Palestinians will march on Israeli settlements and military positions much like Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon marched on Israel’s borders in mid-May to commemorate Nakba Day — the day marking the anniversary of the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding.

Or a U.N. vote could unleash a new wave of violence, with attacks and counterattacks that destroy the relative calm that has held between Israel and West Bank Palestinians since the second intifada waned in 2004.

The outbreak of violence, however, could undermine Palestinian interests. In the relative absence of Palestinian terrorism in recent years, the Palestinians have managed to get increased economic assistance, established upgraded diplomatic ties with nations throughout the world, rallied more global support for their cause, and seen a considerable rise in their GDP and quality of life in the West Bank. They don’t want to throw that all away.

That may leave the Palestinians and Israel back where they started before talk of U.N. recognition began: at a standstill.

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The grave dangers of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence

Emanuele Ottolenghi

Aspenia online (http://www.aspeninstitute.it/aspenia-online)

Mideast Flashpoints – 25/8/2011

The diplomatic offensive that the Palestinian Authority launched last year to persuade the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a state will come to fruition this September. Unless there is a last-minute turnaround, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are determined to forge ahead, despite an already-announced US veto at the Security Council.

European governments are scrambling to find a unified EU position while bickering about the desirability of such a move.

What would be the consequences of a Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI)?

To pour water on the fire and persuade hesitant, mostly European governments to support their bid, Palestinian spokespersons have insisted that their effort is innocuous. At a recent closed door meeting on the prospects of UDI, held last January in a European capital, one high ranking official called it a “post-dated check” and admitted that the PA had no working plans to enforce its declaration on the ground. By their own admission, Palestinians, despite their efforts to obtain recognition, do not aspire to actually establish a state through the vote. Pressed about questions such as border controls, issuance of passports or national currency, control of water resources and airspace, supply of electricity from Israel, manning the checkpoints inside the West Bank, on the Green Line and along the Jordanian border, the PA team had no answer to offer. Their goal, this official insisted, was to cash in on a recognition that Palestine has slowly been gaining over the last twenty years and use the newly acquired status to put Israel on the defensive.

Since then, Palestinian officials have voiced this view publicly. PA Foreign Minister, Nabil Shaath announced in an interview with Arabic News Broadcast on July 13, that “This act… will enable us to exert pressure on Israel. At the end of the day, we want to exert pressure on Israel, in order to force it to recognize us and to leave our country. This is our long-term goal.” More than an effort to establish a state, the September diplomatic offensive at the UN looks like a maneuver to extract more concessions from Israel through international pressure, without the need for the PA to offer anything in return.

Like other PA officials, Shaath is not resigned to the fact that Israelis and Palestinians can only ever hope to coexist in peace if a two-state-for-two-people formula is implemented through negotiations. Many before him have put their trust in confrontational approaches, in the hope that once cornered, Israel would concede more. In this, they keep with Palestinian precedent – chiefly, with Yasser Arafat’s theory of al-huroub ila al-amam (escape by running forward). Arafat applied this principle in September 2000, when, rather than accept a peace plan that fell short of all his people’s aspirations, he launched the Second Intifada against Israel.

His logic was simple – create a chaotic situation that leans the balance of power in the Palestinians’ favor. The problem with such approach is that it has always had disastrous consequences for the Palestinians – and there is no guarantee that this time will be different. The Second Intifada only temporarily improved the Palestinians’ negotiating position vis-à-vis Israel. In the long term, it hurt their cause significantly and delayed their path to statehood.

Unwilling to negotiate with Israel and unable to convince Israel to surrender to Palestinian demands, Arafat’s successors are about to repeat his mistake. By creating a crisis that could dramatically up the ante, they seek to avoid the difficult predicament of hard strategic choices, and enable the Palestinians – if all goes well – to reap significant diplomatic benefits from the wave of international recognition and support that could dramatically improve their diplomatic position in the event that negotiations were to resume.

But it is far from certain that this will be the case, beyond the short-term gain of recognition, diplomatic upgrade of Palestinian missions abroad to embassy status, and possibly the ability to confront and challenge Israel more effectively through legal means in the international arena. UDI could very well put the Palestinian Authority farther away, rather than closer, to real statehood.

The risk with this approach is that it will likely trigger an escalation on the ground, lead to Israeli unilateral responses, and unleash a crisis that will reverberate far beyond the region.

First, Israel may view a Palestinian unilateral move as a breach of the Oslo Accords and move to nullify them. Critics of this approach note that the end of the Oslo Accords would reinstate Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power in the West Bank and would require a return of Israel’s civil administration to deliver services. Instead, Israel will view its obligations as an occupying power superseded by the Palestinian declaration and proceed to unilaterally annex vast swaths of territory in the West Bank – very likely the Jordan Valley, the large settlements of Ariel, Ma’alei Adumim and the Etzion Bloc. Israel will also retain control of the access roads to smaller and more remote settlements and may decide to annex them too. Secondly, as noted violence may spiral out of control – its pattern could very well follow the events of late September 2000.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has already urged “Arab Spring-like popular resistance” to support UDI; and jailed Fatah leader, Marwan Barghouti recently openly invoked “struggle and resistance on the ground”. If heeded, these calls could easily lead to a Palestinian version of the al-Nakba and al-Naksa Syrian- and Iranian-orchestrated provocations against Israel that occurred along the Israel-Lebanon border and the Syrian-Israel ceasefire line late last spring. Inside the West Bank, against the backdrop of a UDI and a complete breakdown in the peace process, these recurrences could quickly escalate into a full-fledged conflict. Such a clash, in the end, and not an empty UN General Assembly resolution, would define the future borders of Palestine and, indeed, its very existence.

Violence is always a possibility in the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, but this time an escalation could conceivably spill over and inflame the region. The previous Intifada occurred against the backdrop of a very stable regional system, where moderate Arab regimes were firmly in control of their polities. While images of violence inflamed their public opinions, Arab regimes could afford to offer little, beyond the customary rhetoric of condemnation, to Arab indignation.

In 2011, the backdrop of the Arab Spring offers a different picture – one where rampant populism, dramatic economic setbacks, revolutionary transitions, and fragile regimes fighting for their own survival, all conjure up a very different Arab response to an Israeli-Palestinian flare-up.

The terrorist attacks against an Israeli bus and private cars along the Israeli-Egyptian border on August 18 and the decision, less than 24 hours later, by Hamas to unilaterally end a ceasefire with Israel and launch a barrage of rockets against Israeli population centers highlighted the potential for radical forces to exploit volatility to ensure that violence spirals out of control. Egypt’s confrontational response to Israel – and its denial that its forces have lost control of the Sinai Peninsula – may be a harbinger of things to come as tensions escalate between Israel and the PA.

Radical forces are keen to exploit any whiff of instability in the region to advance their agendas – Iran in particular may choose to turn Hezbollah against Israel both as a way to heat up the region and to consolidate its control in the Land of the Cedars. It should not be forgotten that the moderate Arab regimes in the region – which includes the GCC countries, Jordan, Morocco, and of course Tunisia and Egypt prior to their domestic upheavals – have always been primarily concerned about regime survival but also about Iran’s rising influence in the region.

Recent developments are strengthening some of these concerns. Civil war in Libya was exploited to smuggle better weapons to Gaza; Egypt’s revolution offered an opportunity to radicals to improve their presence and activities in the Sinai Peninsula; Syria’s uprising has become the new frontline in the battle for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran; Yemen’s uprising has curtailed any Western anti-terror activity in the troubled country – and so on. For radicals, a looming conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would be a godsend. Those regimes that have so far weathered the storm of internal unrest would probably act with the same measured restraint adopted eleven years ago. But for those regimes in transition – Egypt first and foremost – things would be different and the temptation to be dragged into an escalation against Israel would be stronger than in the past.

In such a volatile situation, UDI could supply the spark and the fuel for a regional conflagration.

Finally, another important development which has been neglected in virtually all discussions of the UDI and its consequences is the fact that a recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN with the 1949 armistice lines as its borders and East Jerusalem as its capital would nullify the stipulations of UN Security Council Resolution 242 – the foundational document and the central legal basis for any peace process in the region. A collapse in negotiations and the attempt by the Palestinian Authority to get a border settlement decided by a UN vote rather than through direct negotiations would spell the death of 242 and put to rest any notion of a peace process for a long time to come.

Against the backdrop of mounting violence, attempts to exploit the UN vote diplomatically through Israel’s isolation in Europe and legally through challenges at the International Court of Justice and in other UN forums will not change the situation on the ground – as indeed Palestinians failed to do over the past 11 years.

In short, UDI is a recipe for conflict – one where at best the Palestinians can hope for a protracted stalemate where they might lose some ground and at worst the entire region could be dragged into conflict.

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Understanding is key to a two-state future for Israelis and Palestinians

A Palestinian state can become a reality, but only through an agreement with Israel that meets the requirements of both sides

Lorna Fitzsimons

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 August 2011

Many have become disillusioned with the idea of a negotiated two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. They think that a deal is unachievable and the two peoples are incapable of the necessary compromises. They are calling for an abandonment of the two-state paradigm, or for the international community to impose a solution at the UN. Some even think the conflict can be resolved by boycotting Israel in order to bully it into accepting all of the demands of the Palestinians.

But those who have lost faith in a negotiated two-state solution are underestimating the capacity of Palestinians and Israelis to look beyond their current disagreements and conceive of a better shared future.

A recent event facilitated by Bicom illustrated this. We organised an unusual roundtable discussion in Israel for a group of young media professionals from the UK. The guest speakers were a young leader of the centre-right Israeli Likud party from Tel Aviv and a young Palestinian activist from the Fatah party in Ramallah.

The two had an unusual story to tell. They had met in the context of an internationally sponsored forum for young Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Despite their deeply entrenched and firmly opposed personal and national narratives, they had struck up a close friendship, clearly visible in the warmth they showed for one another.

Over the course of the discussion each of them spoke about the conflict from their perspective. Their versions of the present reality and how we got here were starkly different. But they did not argue with one another. They listened respectfully to each other’s stories.

The Likud activist spoke for both of them when he told the British participants, “I don’t expect the other side to accept my version of events, but it is important that we each learn to understand how the other side sees the situation. On this basis we can build a shared future.”

This is the key to resolving the conflict. Both sides have core strategic concerns that need to be reconciled. Neither side is going to abandon its national narrative or its claim to self-determination. What these two had learned through meeting one another was that the conflict cannot be resolved by one side forcing the other to accept its claims.

The only way to solve the conflict is if each side comes to understand the other side’s claims, and finds ways to reconcile competing demands through dialogue and negotiation. This will require considerable flexibility and difficult concessions on both sides. But these concessions can be made if leaders on both sides can convince their publics that the deal represents the best available option.

A former Israeli negotiator told me: “You need to think about the other side’s victory speech.” In other words, peace cannot be a zero-sum game. In order to reach a final status accord, each side needs to think about how the other side will sell the deal to its constituents. The leaders on both sides need to be able to set out a vision for a post-agreement future, which will be better for their children than the status quo.

From my long experience of Israel, I have learned that most Israelis would be ready to back the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. This is consistently confirmed by opinion polls. However, they can only be sold on the deal if their core requirements are met in return. In essence, in return for Israel giving up its control of the occupied territories, the Palestinians have to give up their claim to the territory which is now Israel. This means there cannot be a mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

This is why the Palestinian attempt to have their claims endorsed at the UN is not only misdirected, but also dangerous. For negotiations to have the best chance of success, both sides need to go in with as few constraints as possible.

Each side will bring demands, but they must be prepared to moderate them. If the UN endorses maximalist Palestinian positions, it will make it harder for them to compromise on them around the negotiating table. As well as complicating future negotiations, the Palestinian leadership is creating expectations among its public that will not be matched by real change on the ground.

Two states remain the only conceivable solution that balances the needs of Israelis and Palestinians. The international community must promote an environment which makes that negotiated two-state solution more likely. They must avoid steps at the UN which will make it harder for either side to make painful but necessary compromises in the future.

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