Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Palestinian UN bid - 'land for war'?

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Fears are growing among Israelis and Palestinians as they head towards the September deadline, where the outcome of the Palestinian bid to seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state will be decided.

Israel expects the General Assembly vote to pass, but is seeking a ‘moral majority' of Western countries to vote against it. However, a resolution would largely be symbolic as it has no force of law, yet is still dangerous, as former American Middle East Correspondent Joel Brinkely notes:

"both sides predict grievous consequences - a sustained international legal assault on Israel, and at the same time deep frustration and possible violence among Palestinians when the vote does not instantly create a fully sovereign state. After the vote, senior Israeli officials predict, the Palestinians will take their case to the International Criminal Court, charging Israel with war crimes and other assorted infractions."

Further, many commentators have noted that the Palestinian UN bid appears contrary to international law both because it violates the Oslo Accords and other international agreements, and because it does not meet the requirements for statehood under international law.

According to the prevailing legal standard for recognition of statehood, the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, a "state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states."

Veteran Washington insider Steven Rosen noted in Foreign Policy that while it is arguable that both the Hamas-controlled Palestinian entity in Gaza and the rival Fatah-governed Palestinian entity in the West Bank could meet the requirements for statehood, the current proposal for UN consideration does not meet the requirements for statehood because it asks for an independent Palestinian state on all of West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. He writes:

"Fatah, the PA, and the PLO are demanding title to lands and authority over populations they do not control, being as they are under the rule of Hamas and Israel. Unlike the two Palestinian entities that already exist, either of which could be recognized as a Palestinian state because they seem to fulfill the legal requirements, the Palestinian entity that a General Assembly majority will recognize as a state this September does not actually exist on Earth. It is imaginary and aspirational, not real. And it does not meet the legal requirements."

Rosen also explains that the Palestinians do not have a functioning government given that they have: two rival presidents with conflicting policies - Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, and Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza; two rival prime ministers and a legislature that never meets. Elected on January 25, 2006, for a term of four years, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has conducted no meetings since 2007.

Therefore, Rosen says:

"the General Assembly will create an imaginary state that has two incompatible presidents, two rival prime ministers, a constitution whose most central provisions are violated by both sides, no functioning legislature, no ability to hold elections, a population mostly not under its control, borders that would annex territory under the control of other powers, and no clear path to resolve any of these conflicts. It is a resolution that plants the seeds for civil and international wars, not one that advances peace."

Efarim Karsh and Asaf Romirowsky have written an article in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Palestinian UN bid threatens to create a precedent of "land for war" rather than "land for peace", violating UN Security Council Resolution 242, the basis for all peace talks since 1967.

Resolution 242 was passed in the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, and established the principle of ‘land for peace' as the basis of future peace agreements between Israel and the Arabs, to be reached in negotiations between the two sides. It required that Israel withdraw ‘from territories occupied in the recent conflict' - the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. However, it intentionally did not state ‘the territories' recognising that the 1949 Armistice Line established an indefensible border and that the Arabs would need to negotiate with Israel to establish "secure and recognised" borders for Israel.

They write that the Palestinians initially rejected Resolution 242 because it would require recognition of Israel, and now they have intentionally misinterpreted the resolution:

"The Palestinians have consistently misrepresented the resolution as calling for Israel's complete withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines, while claiming that its stipulation for "a just settlement of the refugee problem" meant endorsement of the Palestinian "right of return"-the standard Arab euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion. They also sought to undermine the resolution's insistence on the need for a negotiated settlement, seeking time and again to engineer an internationally imposed dictate despite their commitment to a negotiated settlement through the Oslo process."

They argue that given that the Palestinian leadership has continually rejected generous Israeli offers of virtually the entire territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem for a Palestinian state, UN recognition would not end the conflict but allow ‘land for war'.

And today Israel is trying to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. This week Israel announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is willing to negotiate a "package" which specifies that the borders of the Palestinian state were to be based on 1967 lines with mutual land swaps,  if the Palestinians drop the UN bid and give some ground on recognising Israel as a Jewish state.

Benedict Brogan, Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph writes that Netanyahu's gesture demands a "swift and positive response from David Cameron and William Hague". He writes:

"This is where Britain can make a difference, in particular at the UN. So far, there has been silence. I gather that Israeli government negotiators have taken to asking outsiders for advice, because they do not even know which official in Mr Cameron's office to approach to discuss the negotiations. It is speculated in Whitehall that the Foreign Office, with Mr Hague's approval, has encouraged the Palestinian side to believe that they can extract concessions from Israel on borders without the need to accept Israel as a Jewish state. Yet if Mr Cameron's threat to oppose Israel at the UN was a negotiating ploy, then it has worked; it is now time for him to switch targets and play hard-ball with the Palestinians, who do not hear often enough from the Europeans that they, too, must give ground on their sacred issues."

Brogan is correct that the Israeli gesture should be welcomed by both the Palestinians and the international community. Hopefuly more sensible observers, especially in Europe, will come to understand that a UN resolution will not create a Palestinian state and is likely to lead to conflict, and therefore the international community must encourage the Palestinians to drop their bid and return to the negotiating table.


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