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UNGA vote on Palestinians' status Photo: Reuters
UNGA vote on Palestinians' status Photo: Reuters
 
 

Seize the opportunity

Op-ed: Israel's leaders must recognize that Palestinians' upgraded UN status also presents opportunity to resume peace talks

Ami Ayalon
Published: 12.06.12, 12:34 / Israel Opinion

If there is one conclusion that can be drawn from the UN General Assembly vote on accepting Palestine as a non-member observer state, it is that the direct negotiations paradigm failed and has been replaced by a new concept: Constructive unilateralism. One hundred thirty-eight countries supported the Palestinians' UN bid, 41 abstained and only nine voted against the resolution, which adopted the agreements reached during previous rounds of talks: The establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 border alongside a Jewish state with secure borders.

 

The majority that supported the resolution was not the same majority that supported the criminal resolution which determined that Zionism was racism. This is not an anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli majority. It is a majority that would not have supported this resolution had it been convinced that direct negotiations were a practical solution to end the conflict in the framework of the two states for two peoples paradigm.

 

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This majority included three of the four members of the Mideast Quartet – Russia, the European Union and the UN. Only the US continues to support the old paradigm, which failed because significant progress towards a solution cannot be made when there is no trust between the sides.

 

It is not only the coalition headed by Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak that failed to identify this conceptual change – the opposition did not identify it either. Shelly Yachimovich, who claims to be the leader of the left-center bloc, is trying to convince the Israeli public that the Palestinian problem is no longer on the agenda, while Shaul Mofaz and Yair Lapid were too busy with their political maneuvering ahead of the elections. Those who limited the discourse to social justice issues and the Iranian nuclear threat failed to recognize the influence the Palestinian issue has on Israel's future.

 

Bolster the moderates

In the aftermath of the diplomatic failure, the coalition leaders are trying to convince us that "nothing has changed on the ground," but history speaks for itself. On November 29, 1948 it also appeared as though "nothing had changed," but today we know that everything changed on that day. The UN vote on the same day, 64 years later, also changed everything. From now on the international community will back every Palestinian move, even if it is one-sided, on the way to implementing the UN resolution.

 

Despite the failure, the UN vote also has some positive aspects to it: A Palestinian leader who declares that he does not believe in violence and asks the world to recognize Palestine alongside the State of Israel in the framework of a resolution that does not mention the right of return and relates to the 1967 borders. This is a framework most of the Israeli public can support. Meaning, despite its unilateral nature, the UN initiative does include some elements that can serve as a firm basis for advancing the process in a more constructive direction. The Israeli government must recognize this new paradigm and incorporate itself into it.

 

Punitive measures such as those Israel has already begun to introduce will not be recognized by the international community as constructive steps and may lead to counter-measures by the Palestinians, including turning to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israel will pay a heavy price for exacerbating the diplomatic crisis, to the point where it will lose international support and possibly lose the support of the US. These steps are not leading to a Jewish and democratic state that is secure within its borders.

 

The paradigm shift among Israel's decision-makers must begin with the recognition that the UN vote also presents an opportunity to resume peace negotiations that will lead to a two-state reality. Israel must declare its willingness to resume negotiations on borders, demographics and territorial contiguity. It must also declare that it realizes that any future solution will not include Israeli sovereignty over areas beyond the West Bank security barrier.

 

Israel must advance a number of key unilateral steps: The first is to offer compensation to settlers willing to return to Israel's borders now; the second is to introduce a national plan that will ease the absorption of those settlers who will return to the State of Israel following negotiations; the third step is putting the results of the negotiations up for a referendum.

 

Only by introducing a series of constructive one-sided measures will we be able to bolster the moderates on the Palestinian side and create a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel without another military conflict – and with the support of the international community.

 

General (ret.) Ami Ayalon served as head of the Shin Bet and commander of the Israeli Navy. He is also the founder of the Blue White Future movement.

 

 

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