The unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and its international recognition, would be a huge mistake. A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is essential, but it can only be achieved through honest negotiations –not by any party imposing a unilateral decision.
Over the past two years, the Palestinian Authority has refused to sit at the negotiating table with the Israeli government, hiding behind the excuse of Israeli construction work on a few West Bank settlements. At the same time, however, it has been negotiating the creation of a national unity government with Hamas, a terrorist group whose stated aim is the elimination of Israel.
A Palestinian “government” of a unilaterally established, self-declared “Palestinian state,” in which Hamas is a member of the governing coalition, will make negotiations, much less a peace agreement, impossible: no negotiation is possible, and no agreement is possible, when one side is committed to the other’s destruction.
US President Barack H. Obama has recently advocated a return to talks based on the pre-1967 lines with mutual land-swaps. But even those lines, as originally delineated in the 1949 Armistice Agreements, were subject to negotiations in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which both sides agreed at the time would be the basis for a future peace agreement. Any future border, according to these resolutions, must be the outcome of a negotiated agreement.
The unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood is also a clumsily concealed de-legitimization device. Serious Palestinians know very well that they do not meet the internal and external requirements to become a viable state, much less to become a new UN member-state with all its attendant obligations. Their objective is different: the unilateral declaration is, in reality, simply another tactic in a broader strategy of embarrassing and then de-legitimizing the State of Israel.
There is no historical, institutional or legal basis on which to recognize a Palestinian state today, except as a kind of “virtual state,” which exists in some fashion in the imaginations of various parties but which has no tether to reality. In the West Bank, Palestinians crucially depend on Israeli cooperation to function. Other more modern aspects of statehood, such as respect for human rights, freedom and a functioning democracy - all of which are required of other countries seeking recognition - are sadly lacking in the Palestinian case.
Indeed, this rush to a unilateral declaration of statehood, including the intra-Palestinian negotiations with Hamas, is impeding the deeper formation of civil society in the West Bank, which has made progress in recent years and which is essential to any enduring peace.
Blackmail will lead to disaster
A declaration of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly will be an act of political manoeuvring that will only make it even more difficult to find a solution. Unilateral action will have unforeseeable consequences, so the only true way forward is through a bilateral agreement.
This is not the time for destructive gestures: it is time to encourage everyone to sit down and negotiate, face to face, with no pre-conditions other than mutual and unequivocal recognition.
There cannot be two states, living in peace side by side, unless Palestinians accept that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and the Israelis accept that the Palestinian State will be the state for the Palestinian people. Absent that basis, no genuine progress will be made.
The government in Jerusalem has said on numerous occasions that it is ready to talk. Now is the moment of truth for the Palestinians. They must choose negotiation, with all that negotiating entails, including concessions by both parties.
The alternative is for the representatives of the Palestinian people to continue demonizing their only possible negotiating partner, while expecting the international community to tilt the scales in their own favour. But blackmail will lead to disaster. Negotiations must be conducted in good faith and not as a means of exerting various forms of international pressure.
It is time for the international community, starting with the UN, to say that the time for game-playing and wishful thinking is past. Serious negotiations can only be conducted by Israelis and Palestinians themselves, no matter how much help or goodwill is provided from the outside. A unilaterally declared Palestinian State, which is not the product of bilateral negotiations, is a demand that Israel accept the unacceptable.
Diplomacy demands, above all, negotiation and agreement, not unilateral demands imposed with contempt.
Only sincere dialogue and the unconditional recognition of each side by the other can be the basis for renewed negotiations. Only sincere dialogue and the unconditional recognition of each side by the other can set the foundations of a viable Palestinian state in the near future.
Jose Maria Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain
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