The Palestinian leadership has made clear its intentions to declare statehood unilaterally and seek admission to the United Nations this upcoming fall. While such a move might indeed score the Palestinians a political win by serving to isolate Israel even further in the international arena, the “victory” for the Palestinians will be symbolic at best.
In practice, the situation on the ground for the Palestinian people is unlikely to change or improve. To the contrary, such a unilateral move threatens to unravel the delicate thread of legal and administrative cooperation that has been woven between Israel and the Palestinian Authority throughout the past 20 years under the framework of the Oslo peace process, including the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza that was signed by the parties in 1995. Indeed, ongoing cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in some 40 spheres of daily life - including security, water and taxation matters – has lead to relative calm in the West Bank and has engendered significant economic growth in the Palestinian economy. The aftermath of a bitter and highly politicized vote in the UN would undoubtedly threaten, to the detriment of all peoples in the area, the continuation of such strategic cooperation and its positive economic and societal results.
Furthermore, neither a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood nor a politicized move in the UN, will actually resolve the outstanding issues that remain on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinians. These issues include such crucial elements as the establishment of borders, the institution of security arrangements, the determination of the status of Jerusalem, the clarification of the refuge issue, and the allocation of vital water resources, among other things. A unilateral approach to trying to solve core issues by imposing a solution that is acceptable to only one party to the conflict will serve to deepen and intensify the conflict as well as to further entrench the opposing positions.
Another issue that demands clarity when considering the impending Palestinian move is the role that Hamas will play in a future Palestinian state. This question has become particularly relevant and acute in light of the recent reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. Certainly including Hamas as a key element in any future Palestinian state would be highly problematic. Hamas is a terrorist organization outlawed in numerous states throughout the world. It has openly asserted its rejection of the conditions put forth by the Quartet on the Middle East (UN, US, EU and Russia) - including recognition of Israel; renouncing violence; and acceptance of previously signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians - while unabashedly striving for the destruction of the State of Israel. It is unclear how support for a Palestinian state, in which the Hamas would play an integral role, would serve to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and encourage the vision of two states living peacefully side-by-side.
Both right- and left- wing governments in Israel have embraced the two-state vision and have, accordingly, recognized the Palestinian people's right to a national homeland and state. Israel now calls upon the Palestinians to do the same. Real and lasting peace in the region will not be achieved by unilateral political posturing in the UN or in any other forum, but rather by both sides coming together and negotiating in order to resolve outstanding issues mutually, without any preconditions.
Israel reiterates its call to the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table immediately in order to complete, once and for all, the peace process that was initiated almost 20 years ago. This can only be achieved by working together in good faith to turn the two state vision into a lasting reality. Without the mutual agreement of both sides, success at the UN will be little more than a pyrrhic victory for the Palestinians.
Shai Bazak, Consul General of Israel to New England