The architects of the 1993 Oslo accords, upon which the Middle East peace negotiations have been based wisely, barred unilateral action by either Israel or the Palestinians, and insisted on a permanent agreement reached through negotiation. They recognized the fact that only a mutual understanding between the two parties could bring lasting peace. Yet much of Europe is today enamored of the idea of recognizing a state of “Palestine” in the absence of negotiations, leaving Israel, which actually administers much of the territory that “state” aspires to, out of the discussion. This attempt at imposing a solution unrealistically raises Palestinian expectations, and is a recipe for failure.
By encouraging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s misguided strategy of leapfrogging over the negotiations stage with Israel in pursuit of a theoretical statehood, the Europeans reinforce the Palestinian view that they need not compromise and can somehow get their state on a silver platter. Israelis, meanwhile, having been excluded from the decision, will feel abandoned by European countries, embittered about their treatment, and less likely than ever to make on-the-ground concessions to the Palestinians.
The latest phase of the anti-peace process came on December 2, when the French National Assembly, the lower house of that country’s parliament, overwhelmingly passed a resolution urging recognition of a state of Palestine. Like similar resolutions passed by the legislative bodies of Great Britain, Ireland, and Spain, it is not binding on its government. Sweden is the only major Western European state so far to actually recognize “Palestine.” Nevertheless, these parliamentary moves reflect public opinion — a recent survey in France showed some 60% in favor of recognition — and build up the momentum of Palestinian unilateralism.
Indeed, more steps in this direction are in the works. The European Parliament is scheduled to discuss this month forging a joint European position on the issue; Belgium’s parliament will soon vote on a measure to recognize Palestine; French Foreign Minister Fabius has suggested a two-year deadline for diplomacy after which France would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state; and the Palestinian Authority is planning to bring a statehood resolution before the UN Security Council after the first of the year, when the new makeup of that body could make it easier for the Palestinians to get the nine votes (out of fifteen members) it needs, so that only an American veto will stand between Israel and an internationally recognized “Palestine.”
Israel has long accepted the need for a Palestinian state, and has, over the years, engaged in peace talks with Palestinian leaders — most recently under the sponsorship of American Secretary of State Kerry– to reach a two-state solution. Israel is prepared for further territorial compromises, but comes to the negotiating table with its own set of requirements that premature European recognition of a Palestinian state cannot possibly ensure.
Israel insists on guarantees of its own security. These must take into consideration not only the horrendous bloodshed that brutal regimes and Islamist extremists are inflicting elsewhere in the region, but also the recent upsurge in terrorism against Israelis. The continuing power of Hamas, which controls Gaza and refuses to even consider recognizing Israel, has also to be taken into account in any peace deal, since the Palestinian Authority will have no more control than it does today over Hamas even after an agreement with Israel is reached.
Israel is also surely justified in resisting the “return” of the hundreds of thousands of descendants of Palestinians who left in 1948 and are currently kept in refugee camps and not allowed to build new lives in their countries of residence. Palestinian insistence on the “right of return” is meant to put an end to the Jewish character of the Jewish state. This is why Palestinian leaders are so averse to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, a designation that remains valid in fact, whether or not Israel officially passes legislation enshrining it.
An independent Palestine can only flourish if Israel’s needs are met through the process of negotiation. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it: “Unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state would not move us forward on the way to a two-state solution.”