On Jan. 21, Hanan Ashrawi, the veteran Palestinian negotiator and politician, argued on these pages (“Palestinians, America and the U.N.”) that the Palestinians are justified in raising the issue of Israeli settlements before the U.N. Security Council, and that Washington should support them. The debate is joined.
A bad idea. If the Obama adminstration wants to avoid another potential stumble in the Middle East, it needs to come out hard and fast — and remain steadfast — against Palestinian efforts to take the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the United Nations. Action there will only make a bad situation worse and kill what hopes remain for serious efforts to forge a two-state solution.
Failing to make progress toward a real Palestinian state, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has embarked on a strategy to create a virtual one. The goal is to internationalize the problem by gaining as much recognition for the putative state of Palestine and shift focus from an arena where Palestinians lack leverage — dealing with Israel directly — to one where they have friends and support — the international community.
In the understandably desperate world of Palestinian politics, there might be some logic in this; in the cruel world of Washington, there isn’t. For the U.S. administration to acquiesce in or actively support the internationalization of the Israeli-Palestinian problem is a very bad idea. Here’s why:
•First, as grim as the prospects are for a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, it can only be achieved through negotiations, most likely brokered by the United States. This has been the position of successive administrations for half a century now.
To send any signal to Palestinians or the international community that there is some shortcut or imposed solution via U.N. mandate is a dangerous fantasy that will doom any hope for a solution. The Israelis and Palestinians need to own this process first if it is to work; not the international community.
•Second, to continue to beat the drum on the settlements issue — this time via a U.N. resolution — makes no sense. The Obama administration wasted 20 months trying to negotiate a settlements freeze with the Israelis and failed. Of what possible use will a resolution criticizing settlements be now to the main event: an agreement on the big issues of borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees?
•Third, why would the administration, given all its other priorities at home and abroad, want to pick a fight with the Republican Party and the pro-Israeli community on such a losing issue? Any action at the U.N. will be seen as part of a campaign to isolate and beat up on Israel; it could even lead, given the already firm opposition to foreign assistance in the Republican-controlled House, to restricting aid to Palestinians on the West Bank and jeopardizing the one part of the Palestinian state-building enterprise that makes sense — Salam Fayyad’s institution-building.
The Obama administration does not have great or even good options on Israeli–Palestinian peacemaking right now. But that does not mean the president and his team should go looking for bad ones. Probing for signs of life on the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, even working quietly with Israelis and Palestinians separately to see if the gaps on the end game issues can be bridged, makes more sense.
Focusing on U.N. resolutions — acquiescing in the Palestinian campaign to gain recognition for a state that doesn’t yet exist — will do nothing to create a real one. That will only come, if it comes, through Israeli and Palestinian will and a smart, tough and reassuring America able to assist them
Aaron David Miller was for nearly 20 years an adviser to U.S. administrations on Arab-Israeli negotiations. He is currently with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the author of the forthcoming book, “Can America Have Another Great President?”
We must speak out. For years, the Palestinian struggle for freedom and liberation from a foreign military occupation was criticized as two-faced. The late Yasser Arafat was dubbed a terrorist in sheep’s clothing; his attempts to simultaneously use military and political means to accomplish Palestinian goals were rejected by the Western world.
The current Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is dramatically different. Abbas has rejected all forms of anti-Israeli violence and has worked with U.S. security officials to set up a security plan that has reduced anti-Israeli violence and has been welcomed by even senior members of the Israeli Army.
Palestine television, which falls under the president’s powers, was totally revamped and cleaned of anti-Israeli incitement. Prime Minister Fayyad has worked hard to improve Palestinian education, health, women’s rights and the economy. He has championed building up the infrastructure of Palestinian statehood rather than cursing the Israeli occupation.
The international community, represented in the Quartet by the United States, Russia, Europe and the United Nations, was in return expected to get the Israelis to fulfill their obligations according to the Road Map for peace that the Quartet issued and both parties accepted. This included dismantling settlement outposts (buildings that are illegal according to Israeli law), suspending settlement activities, and bringing Israeli troops back to pre-October 2000 lines. The Israelis have refused to carry out these commitments.
Palestinians are committed to using nonviolent means — calling on the world to divest from Israel, to refuse Israeli settlement products that are sold as “made in Israel,” and to arbitrate on the continuation of illegal settlements.
The commitment of Palestinian leaders to their people requires them to use political means to accomplish freedom and liberty.
If they are not allowed to use all available political means, they would have no choice but to quit their jobs or dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist.
Toward a Palestinian state. Hanan Ashrawi’s demand that the United States support a U.N. Security Council condemnation of the settlements must be understood against the backdrop of a unique development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
After 17 years of failure, corruption and violence, Palestinian state-building in the West Bank under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is succeeding. The world is paying attention and beginning to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines.
Whether or not the United Nations condemns settlements, this is just a preliminary round. The Palestinian strategy is directed toward U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state next September.
In parallel, Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sinking hopelessly into international condemnation, the traditional Palestinian leadership is weak and conflicted, and the United States is stuck in a failed peace process.
Under these circumstances, the best thing both Israel and the U.S. can do is to recognize the positive potential of the Arab plan for U.N. recognition of a state. This could turn Israel’s hopeless conflict with a “liberation organization” into a manageable state-to-state peace-building process. It could set aside the deal-breaking issues of refugees and the Temple Mount while laying the groundwork for resolving the territorial and security issues.
Washington and Jerusalem should sit down now to assess Israel’s basic security and diplomatic needs in a two-state solution, then work them into a U.N. resolution that, as in 1947, recognizes both an Arab and a Jewish state — subject to immediate bilateral negotiations over borders, settlements and security.
When Mahmoud Abbas sits down to negotiate with Israel as president of the state of Palestine rather than as chairman of the P.L.O., there will be hope for progress.
Yossi Alpher coedits the bitterlemons group of Internet publications. He was previously director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.