The cease-fire that ended the latest round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has enhanced the popularity of the militant group Hamas. This extremist organization has become the only interlocutor for the Arab world, for the West and, indirectly, for Israel. But Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s existence or to negotiate with Israelis. Meanwhile, the pragmatic Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, is rapidly losing legitimacy and Israel’s recent strikes on Gaza will only weaken it further. Negotiating with Hamas may secure a lull, but Hamas cannot be a partner for peace.
If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside — not instead of — Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations. If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas.
It is paradoxical that Israel’s current government is so vehemently opposed to Mr. Abbas’s bid for recognition. After all, it was 65 years ago this week, on Nov. 29, 1947, that the Palestinians and their friends in the Arab world expressly rejected United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181, which recognized the need to establish a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the former British Mandate territory of Palestine.
Now, the Palestinians are admitting their mistake and asking the same assembly to recognize a state of Palestine alongside Israel, and requesting that the boundaries of their state be determined as a result of negotiations with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel’s right-wing parties — which in 1993 rejected the Oslo Accords that envisaged Israeli withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the establishment of Palestinian autonomy in those areas — are now using, and abusing, that same agreement to prevent Palestinian statehood.
This week’s request wouldn’t be taking place if both sides had abided by the Oslo Accords’ original time frame, if Israel’s peacemaking prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hadn’t been assassinated in 1995, and if we’d reached a permanent agreement by May 1999, as initially envisioned.
Since Rabin’s assassination, there has been little progress toward ending the conflict. No proper negotiations have taken place for four years. And because Mr. Abbas has committed to the principles of nonviolence, diplomatic means, like the statehood bid, are his only way of putting Palestinians back on the global agenda. In retaliation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now threatening to nullify the Oslo Accords, if the world recognizes a Palestinian state. This is preposterous.
The Oslo Accords have allowed Israel’s right-wing government to hide behind an interim agreement that, for almost 20 years, has permitted Israel to continue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank; to rid itself of the responsibility of day-to-day management in the Occupied Territories; to save itself the costs of occupation (as donor countries are financing the Palestinian budget); and to benefit from cooperation with Palestinian security forces. There is no chance that Israel will nullify the accords.
The claim that Palestinians are violating the Oslo agreement by presenting their proposal to the General Assembly is completely unfounded. The topic of Palestinian statehood was never one of the five issues (Jerusalem’s status, the fate of refugees, security arrangements, borders and settlements) that were considered “final status” issues in the 1993 Oslo accord. The Palestinians chose not to mention the issue of a state, as they saw self-determination as a basic right for their people; and it was convenient back then for Israel not to address the topic.
Moreover, Mr. Abbas has clarified that if the General Assembly decides to recognize a Palestinian state, he would agree to negotiations with Israel’s government without preconditions, a move that is in both America’s and Israel’s interests. The only difference is that these negotiations would take place between two internationally recognized states.
President Obama and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, should think twice before rejecting Mr. Abbas’s request. Blocking his bid for statehood will only empower extremists further.
There is no reason for the United States to oppose Mr. Abbas’s move, pressure the Palestinians not to raise this issue, or threaten to freeze their budget.
And Israel has no reason to wage a diplomatic war against the Palestinian appeal. Rather, Mr. Netanyahu should be the first to recognize a Palestinian state and Mr. Obama the last to prevent it.
Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, has served as Israel’s deputy foreign minister and minister of justice.