Aaron Jacob
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Unilaterally declaring Palestine a state will torpedo peace prospects

The UN may adopt a measure to recognize Palestinian statehood, but no real peace process is possible without direct negotiations
File - Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks during a session of the United Nations Security Council, at the UN headquarters in New York, March 25, 2024.(Angela Weiss/AFP)
File - Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour speaks during a session of the United Nations Security Council, at the UN headquarters in New York, March 25, 2024.(Angela Weiss/AFP)

Two initiatives that claim to help the Palestinian people are currently making waves at the UN. Both support the unilateral and unconditional advancement of Palestinian statehood. Sadly, if successful, these resolutions would have the opposite effect, setting back the fulfillment of Palestinian national aspirations.

The first is a draft resolution, championed by France and circulated among the Security Council members, advocating for the recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. The second is a Palestinian application for the admission of a purported Palestinian state as a full member of the world body. What’s striking is the timing. The Palestinian request was submitted a day after France publicized its draft proposal, suggesting a coordinated effort between France and the Palestinians.

The French draft resolution highlights the two objectives of these initiatives: recognition of a Palestinian state and its admission to the UN. The draft notes that “139 Member States have recognized the State of Palestine, and that other Member States are considering such recognition.” It also expresses “intent to welcome the State of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations.” This resolution, if adopted, could potentially lead to the recognition of “Palestine” by other UN members, thus adversely affecting the prospects of future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Israel’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abba Eban, famously quipped that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Sadly, Palestinian leadership seems determined to continue this tradition.

In November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the historic partition resolution that divided Palestine into two states, one Jewish (with about 60 percent of the land) and the other Palestinian Arab (with about 40 percent), with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area internationalized as a corpus separatum (meaning an area with a separate legal and political status). The Jewish side accepted the offer, while the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states rejected it, instead initiating war against the newly born State of Israel.

It took more than 50 years for the idea of partition to surface again. In 2000, seven years after the Oslo process was launched, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried to conclude a two-state agreement with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Barak offered Arafat the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and the bulk of the West Bank. He further agreed to a long-held essential Palestinian demand that the capital be in East Jerusalem, despite its deep unpopularity with many Israelis. His initial offer of 80 percent of the West Bank gradually increased to 90-91 percent, and with then-President Clinton’s so-called parameters, that percentage increased to 94-96 percent. But Arafat declined the offer to create Palestinian sovereignty.

Now, the Palestinians seek full UN membership for a one-sidedly declared Palestinian state. However, according to the UN Charter, new members can be admitted only upon the recommendation of the UN Security Council, followed by a decision by the UN General Assembly. In 2011, the Palestinians applied for full membership but fell short of the required nine affirmative votes in the Council.

On April 2, the Palestinian observer to the UN sent a letter requesting that the Security Council resume consideration of the Palestinian application from 2011. It appears, however, that, unlike 2011, the Palestinian application might have the support of at least nine Council members, meaning that it would now fall on the U.S. to use its veto power to block this harmful motion.

Why is a premature recognition of a Palestinian state, let alone its admission to the UN, an obstacle to lasting peace? Here are the four main reasons:

First, endorsement of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state at this time, after Hamas’s massacre of more than 1,200 Israelis on October 7, would be perceived as a huge victory for this terrorist organization, sending a signal to militant extremists and belligerent states around the world to follow suit.

Second, recognition of such a state and its admission to the UN will undermine any efforts to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. It will reward Palestinians who believe they can rely on international pressure on Israel rather than make the necessary compromises for peace.

Third, the Palestinian Authority does not satisfy the traditional criteria for statehood, including control over defined territory, a permanent population, and an effective government. The war between Israel and Hamas underscores that the Palestinian Authority does not control the Gaza Strip, although Gaza is considered part of the purported Palestinian state. The Authority’s inability to rein in Hamas violates a fundamental attribute of any effective government: monopoly over the use of force. Likewise, with some Palestinian voices accepting two states whose territorial boundaries will be negotiated with Israel, others declare that all of the land between the river and the sea is Palestine.

Lastly, unilateral Palestinian attempts to acquire attributes of statehood outside the negotiating process violate existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements, which clearly state that permanent status issues are subject to agreement between the parties. These same agreements are the legal basis for the existence of the Palestinian Authority. Seemingly, undermining the contours of those agreements will dissolve the PA.

The basic premise of the Middle East peace process is direct negotiations between the parties. Direct talks imply mutual recognition, without which no real peace is possible. Historically, all breakthroughs in the Arab-Israeli peace process – including the creation of the Palestinian Authority as well as establishing full diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt, Israel and Jordan, and most recently, the Abraham Accords with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco – were achieved through direct bilateral negotiations.

It is only through direct talks with Israel that the Palestinians can fully realize their national aspirations. Any attempted shortcut, either at the UN or elsewhere, will only delay a solution, thus unnecessarily prolonging the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians.

About the Author
Aaron Jacob is American Jewish Committee (AJC) Director of Diplomatic Affairs. From 1998-2002, he served as Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN at the rank of ambassador.