Israel Should Recognize Palestinian Statehood

Instead of fearing a declaration of Palestinian statehood, Israel could join the international community and accept it, ceasing to view it as an enemy and existential threat.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The waiting and expectation are nerve-racking. Each day another page is ripped from the year's calendar, and the political seismographs are already going wild. In contrast to the Tsunami in Japan, the forecast regarding our own affairs is known in advance. "A political tsunami is anticipated," declared the defense minister. He, however, is just a forecaster and not a planner. Like any forecaster, the defense minister simply issued a report and has no control over events. Neither he nor anyone else decides when September will come, it being the month which follows August and precedes October. Nor is Barak locking himself in his office to draft political lines of defense. A diplomatic or strategic plan? A peace initiative? Not with Barak - in another five months, he is bound to yell "I told you so," and he will be right. After all, he talked about a political tsunami.

Barak is not the only member of the government who is issuing warnings. The garrulous leader who heads the government, and also the figure who is called the foreign minister, wave threatening fists and warn that "Israel will take unilateral steps should the Palestinians issue a statehood declaration." That such statements impress anyone is to be doubted. While these politicians articulate drivel, analysts at the United Nations say that 130, or perhaps 150 countries will recognize the Palestinian state, and even the U.S. position cannot be anticipated in advance.

When the U.S. cast a veto on a proposed resolution condemning the settlements, it made clear that this would be its last veto on the topic - but anything is possible. Will the U.S. be the last brick in a collapsing wall of resistance, or will it join the supporters of the statehood declaration? Obama does not seem to have an alternative plan, and has learned that Israeli promises do not come with timetables for their implementation.

Instead of waiting for a miracle - that is a new Israeli or American initiative - it is prudent to accept as a working assumption that a Palestinian state will win recognition this September, and that in the immediate aftermath of such recognition Ramallah will fill itself with official diplomatic installations of most countries of the world. Yet that will constitute just the symbolic side of recognition - it will represent a form of historic reckoning with Israeli leaderships that derisively dismissed the UN and its resolutions. What will Israel do? Boycott countries that send ambassadors to Palestine? Not allow them to enter Palestine via Ben-Gurion Airport?

As a member of the UN, the state of Palestine will have a new legal and international status, one which allows it to make claims against Israel in international criminal courts, or establish an airport without Israeli authorization. And the status will allow Palestine to demand international action against Israel's occupation - not just paper denunciations but genuine sanctions, and perhaps even the deployment of UN troops to protect the security of Palestine's citizens. The Palestinians will not even need to launch a new violent or nonviolent intifada. International anger with Israel has reached the point whereby the internationalization of the dispute will solve all the Palestinians' problems.

But there is another possibility. In this scenario, Israel could join the international community, recognize the Palestinian state, cease to view it as an enemy and existential threat, and even take part in a meeting of donor states that the Palestinians are sure to organize after their state wins recognition. September does not have to be a threat; it does not have to be a gladiator ring in which only one contestant remains alive.

The dread of September can turn into a constructive launching pad if Israel announces now that the negotiations it is asked to carry out, in order to leave the territories, will be conducted with an internationally recognized state and not with the Palestinian Authority. This will alter the agenda, but not necessarily to Israel's detriment. Negotiations would not beget a Palestinian state; the opposite would happen. The iron rule that has always derailed negotiation processes - this being the idea that Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state would come at the end of the process - would turn into the starting point of talks.

The new Palestinian state would also have to compromise. It would not be able to issue threats of leaving the process, or breaking the rules of the game. Once a state is established there is no turning back, and its borders can only be established after the state itself is established.

This will also be an opportunity to build a new alliance, including Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, and provide real content to the Arab proposal for regional peace. Those who fear international recognition being afforded to the Palestinian rebellion via the recognition of statehood should be at ease - the Palestinian cause already has international legitimacy. So September should just start already.



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