Another Missed Opportunity?

The horrible events of the past week in Paris — about which I mourn along with much of the world — have temporarily eclipsed significant developments in Israeli-Palestinian relations two weeks ago.  I return to those developments here:

On December 30, a draft resolution that set a one-year deadline to complete negotiations with Israel over recognition of a Palestinian state, and that included an end-of-2017 deadline for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank, got only eight of the nine votes needed for its adoption by the UN Security Council.  France voted yes, Britain abstained, and the United States voted no.  The next day, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas applied for membership in the International Criminal Court.  Israel responded by withholding tax revenues due to transferred to the PA, and by lobbying Congress to cut off $400 million in aid payments.  Hence, the stage is set for more acrimony and worse, in the diplomatic arena and beyond.  What set this latest maelstrom in motion?

Following the collapse last spring of the Kerry-led peace talks, a devastating war on Gaza that left Hamas stronger, continued settlement building and ongoing occupation in the West Bank, and an Israeli government that in recent months has shown itself to be less and less inclined to accept a two-state solution, Abbas and his team undoubtedly saw few remaining cards to play.  Polling numbers show the Palestinian populace increasingly disheartened with Abbas’ failure to deliver the goods.  After almost 50 years under Israeli occupation, it’s not hard to fathom why the Palestinian “street” has had enough.

So, with the calamitously disappointing “peace process” moribund at best and not likely to be resuscitated any time soon, Abbas went to the Security Council with a plan to deliver a Palestinian state

What’s striking about the December 30 resolution – derided as it’s been by Prime Minister Netanyahu as a grievous attack on Israel’s security, and criticized by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power as “deeply imbalanced” – is that in virtually every respect it embraces a peaceful two-state solution along the lines so often articulated in frameworks like the “Clinton parameters,” the Geneva Accord, and the Olmert-Abbas talks.  Here are a few of its key provisions:

It reiterates a “vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,” as part of a lasting settlement that “resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties.”  It calls for arrangements “that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region.”  It calls for “a just resolution of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the two States . . . and protects freedom of worship,” and for “a just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions.”

These principles envision a negotiated two-state resolution in which a secure Israel co-exists in peace with a viable Palestinian state, and with the other Arab states in the region.

Recall, in particular, that the Arab Peace Initiative offers full peace, diplomatic recognition and “normal relations” between the Arab states and Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal to borders based on the pre-1967 armistice lines, with negotiated land swaps, and a “just” and mutually “agreed” compromise solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.  It’s a formulation endorsed by former Armored Corps commander, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, who recently initiated a letter, signed by a group of 106 retired army generals, Mossad directors and national police commissioners, urging Netanyahu to “initiate a diplomatic process” based on a regional framework for peace with the Palestinians.  These aren’t starry-eyed peaceniks.

Had the resolution passed — and had the U.S. withheld its veto, or even voted in favor — it would have filled the void that the “peace process” has become.  It could have served as an internationally supported framework for negotiating a fair two-state resolution to the conflict.  Instead, a downward spiral of reaction and recrimination is underway.  If this resolution appears again, the U.S. – as Israel’s foremost ally — would do well to find a way to support it, with the aim, at long last, of charting that elusive path to peace.


About the Author
Michael Felsen's op-eds on Israel/Palestine, American Jewish-Muslim relations, and secular humanism have been published in Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post, the Boston Globe, The Forward, Common Ground News Service, and elsewhere. He has been a practicing attorney for 35 years, and is the recent past president of the Boston chapter of Workmen’s Circle, a 113-year old communal organization dedicated to secular Jewish education, culture, and social justice.