Ron Ben-Yishai

UN bid good for Israel?

Op-ed: Palestinian UN bid serves Israel too, will reduce risk of another violent Intifada

Allow me to offer a somewhat different point of view on the Palestinian UN bid. I shall argue that Abbas’ decision to turn to the Security Council under the current circumstances serves as an impasse-breaking move that will make a great service to the Palestinian issue in the future. Yet surprisingly, Israel and the United States may also gain in the long term, despite the diplomatic and PR damage to be sustained in the short run


The main reason for this is that in the foreseeable future, and given the current regional reality, there is no reasonable chance to secure a final-status agreement that would resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This can be done neither by direct negotiations nor via an agreement forced by Washington.


An agreement cannot be secured even if Netanyahu agrees to hold talks based on the “Obama model,” that is, on the basis of the 1967 border and land swaps, gives up his demand for a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and freezes settlement construction for three months. A short while after such talks would be renewed they would hit a dead-end with all the inherent implications. Hence, it’s better not to embark on such negotiations at all.


Disagreements over security arrangements would lead negotiations to an almost certain impasse. The Arab world uprisings and the US withdrawal from Iraq raise the specter of terrorists penetrating into the West Bank. Israel would not be able to give up its presence in the Jordan Rift Valley and other dominating positions in order to prevent rocket attacks on central Israel, and also demand supervision over the border crossings and airspace between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. It is doubtful whether Abbas would accept that.


Secondly, Abbas, who faces pressure from Hamas and other elements, cannot compromise on several principles that are a must for Israel: An all-out renunciation of the “right of return” and an explicit declaration that Israel is the Jewish nation-state and that an agreement would end Palestinian demands.


Thirdly, the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers from Judea and Samaria communities is beyond the abilities of the current government and possibly of future governments as well. It is doubtful whether Israel’s security forces would be able to carry out such mission. The very agreement to undertake a massive evacuation would almost certainly topple the current government; yet new elections would likely produce the same results that brought the rightist bloc to power.


Long timeout needed  

Netanyahu also knows that the international community will blame Israel for the almost-certain failure of the negotiations, a fact that will reinforce Israel's isolation in a way that threatens its security and economic wellbeing. Under this state of affairs, both sides and all other parties involved need a relatively long timeout that would allow them to seek creative solutions. The UN initiative produces such timeout, which serves all parties.


For Abbas this is a brilliant move: The very approach to the UN reinforced the Palestinian right to a state within the 1967 borders in the global perception. Even if the Security Council bid is rejected, Abbas would be able to turn to the General Assembly for a "softer" recognition, which would grant him a better starting position for future talks with Israel. In the process, he is scoring many points and gaining prestige on the Palestinian street, if only for greatly embarrassing Israel and the US. This will serve him in his political struggle with Hamas as well.


The diplomatic damage to Israel is clear, yet as odd as it may sound, the UN bid also serves us; that is, the solid majority in Israel interested in disengaging from the Palestinians for good. First, because we can reasonably assume that a symbolic UN achievement would minimize Palestinian frustration over the ongoing diplomatic impasse, boost the faith in Abbas and minimize support for Hamas.


The UN move also minimizes the risk of another violent Intifada, while granting the sides, including the US and Europe, a vital timeout of some months at least. During this time, matters will be clarified in the domestic Palestinian arena and in the Arab world, enabling Israel to better define its interests for a future peace treaty.


Moreover, under the pressure of global public opinion, the Israeli government will have to emerge out of the bunker and undertake a genuine effort in order to end the diplomatic impasse and political isolation. Meanwhile, Abbas, fearing a UN Congress response for his UN bid, and possessing more prestige, would more easily agree to compromises.


And so, the UN timeout would enable the sides, with the International Quartet's assistance, to formulate a new, creative model for embarking on negotiations. This would allow for a phased solution to the conflict while future understandings and implementation will not risk Abbas and Netanyahu in a way that thwarts an agreement.


Ron Ben-Yishai is Ynet's defense commentator


פרסום ראשון: 09.20.11, 18:01
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