The Israeli government has brought us to absurdity, using all its powers of diplomatic persuasion to preempt UN recognition of a Palestinian state, when it is in Israel’s strategic interest that Palestine should be recognized as a state.
A march of folly has brought us to this point: the settlement policy of this and previous governments and Netanyahu’s failure to promote genuine negotiations with the moderate leadership of Abbas and Fayyad, to make concessions, which are in any case foregone conclusions, or to freeze building in occupied areas.
The recognition of a Palestinian state is as important to Israel as to the Palestinians. For Israel to continue to function as a democratic and Jewish state, it must bring about a symmetrical right of self-determination for the Palestinians.
This has been acknowledged by all our prime ministers since the Oslo Declaration of Principles. Continuing governance of the Arab population of the West Bank will result in their de facto incorporation in the Israeli body politic and undermines the necessary critical mass of a Jewish majority.
From an international relations perspective, UN recognition of a Palestinian state would complement, clarify and confirm the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in Israel and would do much to put an end to growing claims of illegitimacy, not only from hostile Muslim countries but also from neutral and sometimes friendly actors.
Although Israel’s statehood was settled on her admission to membership of the UN in 1949, Israel’s character as a state for self-determination of the Jewish people was only expressed in the General Assembly partition plan, whose intention was to create a Jewish state alongside an Arab state.
Against this historic background and in view of global and regional developments and the string of agreements and resolutions since, the stand of the international community is clear: an end to the conflict is possible only with creation of two states and territorial division.
An additional strategic advantage for Israel is that, once recognized as a state, Palestine’s jurisdiction will extend only to those who are living in Palestine. This is at present a contested concept: the Palestinian Authority is regarded as the exclusive representative of the Palestinian people and it is claimed that the current process of General Assembly recognition does not fully reflect their role in the resolution of the conflict.
Bypassing Hamas CharterGeneral Assembly recognition would obviate the need to reach a solution with the worldwide Palestinian Diaspora. Here too symmetry could facilitate rational negotiation regarding the solutions for overseas Palestinians, on a basis of immigration or compensation. It would also necessitate reformulation of UNRWA, which at present classifies Palestinians and generations of their offspring as refugees, even where they would not otherwise qualify for refugee status, and allow restriction of UNWRA welfare to existing refugees, predicating an imperative of assimilation for future generations.
Israel has a justified interest in preventing UN recognition of Hamas but it is questionable whether outright opposition to recognition of a Palestinian state would be the best way to achieve this. One of the conditions for membership of the UN is submission of an application stating adherence to the UN Charter - the Hamas Charter, which calls for elimination of Israel and the killing of Jews cannot conform to this requirement.
Hence, the signing Palestinian entity would have to bypass the Hamas Charter and undertake to regard the Palestinian Constitution, drafted by Abbas and Fayyad, as the determining document for Palestinian statehood.
Reliance on the Palestinian Constitution appears to conform with the spirit of the Memorandum of Understanding between Fatah and Hamas. In this matter, Israel has international support, as evidenced most recently by the Palmer Committee, set up by the Secretary General to report on the flotilla to Gaza, which determined that Israel is facing a real threat to its security from Gaza.
Hopefully, we can interpret the decision of Netanyahu to go himself to the General Assembly, instead of sending the president to make a merely diplomatic declaration, as signifying his willingness to open intensive negotiations. Optimism could lead us to hope that the purpose of negotiations would be the submission of a joint Israeli-Palestinian request for General Assembly recognition of the Palestinian state.
An initiative of this kind would, while securing Israel’s strategic interests, also influence those members of the international community, who are genuinely concerned about the status of Palestine and strongly condemn the continuing occupation, but who at the same time support and want to guarantee the secure existence of Israel.
Prof. Frances Raday serves as Chair, Concord Research Center for Integration of International Law in Israel -The Haim Striks School of Law, COLMAN
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