Kenneth Jacobson

The Dangers of Prematurely Recognizing a Palestinian State

As reports indicate that several European states are planning to recognize a Palestinian state, it is important to engage the issue as both a moral abomination as a reward for Hamas terrorism, and a practical disaster that will make any possibility of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even more difficult. This action follows the recent UN General Assembly vote in support of Palestinian membership, and the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution on the issue.

Let’s be clear at the outset: for many of us, the ultimate goal is to achieve a two-state solution that will bring peace and security to both peoples in the region. Opposition to unilateral decisions to recognize a Palestinian state is not only not an indicator of opposition to two states, but is, in fact, a necessary ingredient to achieving that goal.

To start with, unilateral recognition is morally bankrupt as a response to October 7. It is not only a reward for barbarous behavior— the brutality towards over 1,200 people in Israel, including murder, rape and kidnapping —but clearly a justification for that day by implying support for the notion, so widespread, that Hamas actions that day were actually a form of resistance to Israeli occupation and the absence of a Palestinian state.

Indeed, the appropriate response after October 7 should have been a clear rejection of Hamas, support for Israel’s goal to eliminate the terror organization, and an imperative to demand that Palestinians reject terror so that down the road real negotiations between the sides could begin.

Second, recognition of a Palestinian state seeks to sidestep the only path that could eventually lead to true peace and reconciliation between the parties, negotiations. This is not a pro-forma call as much as a necessary element in determining whether the Palestinians have finally given up their policies of rejection of Israel that have poisoned the atmosphere for decades, and hurt the Palestinians even more than the Israelis. A unilateral approach makes no effort to determine where Palestinian leadership stands and, particularly after the terrorism, will make Israelis more cynical about the idea of a Palestinian state, which would look to many as one more terrorist vehicle.

On the Israeli side, there have been repeated offers to the Palestinians which could have resulted in a sovereign state. Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000, Ariel Sharon in 2005 in Israel pulling out of Gaza, and Ehud Olmert at Annapolis in 2008, all took initiatives and actions that could have been converted into Palestinian independence, only to be rejected.

Having said that, Israel has not done enough in recent years to engage on these issues, including its approach to the building and expansion of West Bank settlements. It is legitimate for the international community to push both sides to come to the table and have serious conversations. Only through such direct talks can it be ascertained whether the parties are ready to move forward or whether the old obstacles, mostly Palestinian fantasies about destroying Israel – enhanced by October 7 and its aftermath – still dominate the field.

Unfortunately, the initiatives to recognize a Palestinian state undermine the already difficult task of creating an atmosphere for negotiations. Israelis are understandably cynical about Palestinian intentions not only due to the massacre but also to the significant support that it received from the broader Palestinian community.

And Israel’s current government is insisting that there can never be a Palestinian state which would reinforce terrorism and rejectionism.

What needs to be done therefore is the very opposite of unilateral recognition of a state which sends the worst kind of message to the Palestinians: reward for terror and no need to change their ways which have been so devastating for decades. Instead, there must be a three-stage process to generate a different environment.

First, pressure on the Palestinians to reform their leadership and to promote through education and political activity a policy and culture of accommodation with the Jewish state.

Second, with such movement, Israel would then have to get past this terrible year of massacre, rape and hostage-taking to reevaluate its attitude toward the Palestinians.

And third, pressure and persuasion on both sides is necessary to enter a new period of negotiations.

These steps, if implemented, offer hope. International recognition of a Palestinian state without such change offers the region more heartbreak and tragedy.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.