When Israel signed the Oslo accords with the Palestinians, it did so with great hopes for peace in its heart. It also did so with the understanding that both sides would respect the agreements.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians are perched on the brink of a material breach of these accords, most specifically the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In that historic document, both sides pledged that nothing would be done that changes the status of the West Bank and Gaza, that no unilateral act would be undertaken to alter the basic nature of these disputed territories.
Now the Palestinians are going to the UN to have these disputed territories declared a Palestinian state. This unilateral act will not only undermine the accords, it will deal a severe blow to prospects for peace.
If they move forward with violating one of their most basic accords with Israel, how can the Israeli people be expected to trust any future agreements with the Palestinians? How can the Israelis rely on the international community if it lends its support to the Palestinians in this illegitimate act? To do so will harm one of the most basic principles of international law: respect for agreements.
But the greatest injury to the peace process will arise from the effect unilateral actions will have on the Palestinians. It has long been their dream to see an settlement imposed on Israel. The history of the peace process has proven that the Palestinians are unwilling to make the compromises that both sides must undertake for peace to be achieved. Recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN will strengthen this tendency of Palestinian negotiators, driving true peace even further away.
The danger is not only political, it is also physical. According to reports, the Palestinians are planning large-scale demonstrations concurrent with their UN offensive. Even if the demonstrations were designed to be peaceful, in this region rallies have the habit of turning violent. The last thing anyone wants is another round of violence in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the question must arise of what kind of Palestinian state is to be declared.
According to international law, there are four conditions for establishing a state: a defined territory, a permanent population, the capacity to enter into relations with other states and finally, effective government. It is this last precondition that the Palestinians do not meet. The Palestinian Authority does not control the Gaza Strip and its reconciliation agreement with the Hamas rulers of Gaza has yet to be implemented. Yet even if the reconciliation succeeds, there is still the matter of the West Bank, where Israel is in full control of 60% of the territory and partially rules the remaining 40%.
And if the Palestinians settle their internal feud - without Hamas changing its actions and policies - there will be negative consequences for the nature of a future Palestinian state. International recognition of a state that includes Hamas means international recognition of a terrorist organization. This group, dedicated to Israel's destruction by the most violent means, refuses to recognize the three conditions of the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) by negating the existence of Israel, by continuing to use terrorism and by repudiating the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas’ recognition can only serve to legitimize terrorism and push peace farther away.
There may be those that think that by supporting this premature bid for statehood they are helping the Palestinians. But this UN maneuver is meaningless on the ground. It will do nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinians or solve the key issues that must be decided by the parties - mainly Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees and water. Instead, it will only delay negotiations.
If the international community wants to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it needs to tell the Palestinians that there are no shortcuts to peace, no instant solutions. The Palestinians must stop looking for excuses to avoid negotiations and instead return to the table. Nothing can be resolved without direct talks between the parties and compromises from both sides. The only true resolution is a negotiated resolution. The only path to peace is a negotiated path.
Shai Bazak is Consul General of Israel to New England.