On a recent trip back to Israel from the east, my El Al jet flew over the hills of the West Bank before making its descent into Ben-Gurion International Airport. The view from the airplane's windows said more than a thousand words could have possibly said about the problems facing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
- The time is now: Support Palestine’s UN bid
- With Palestinians near certain to win UN recognition, Israel increasingly isolated
Almost every Israeli settlement on the ground below sported new construction, in process or complete.
What I saw at a glance from the plane's window, Abbas' people see every day. The Israeli government is working hard to change the map on the ground, while telling the people and the world that we have no partner with whom to talk.
I visited Abbas in Ramallah not long ago, together with a group of top army officers serving in the reserves. The truth is the categorical opposite: The man is practically begging to negotiate; he repeats and reiterates his commitment not to fall into the ways of terrorism and violence.
Abbas' distress grew all the more extreme following the Muslim Brotherhood's triumph in the Egyptian elections. Not only did he lose what Egyptian backing he had; its backing passed to his bitter enemy.
In effect, the Gulf states have also removed their support from Abbas. Qatar generously supports Hamas, while the Al Jazeera news network owned by the Gulf rulers is a mouthpiece of the Hamas rejection and terrorism machine. The ruling party in Turkey, an important Muslim nation that once had pretensions of being a regional peacemaker, embraces Hamas as its little sister. For the Palestinian president, threatened at home and isolated above, with an Israeli government that wants him gone, what choices remain?
Aside from resorting to violence, turning to the UN is Abbas' very last option. It is the only body in the world that could give him support. Abbas explicitly says that he would enter negotiations without preconditions with any Israeli prime minister right after the UN vote.
UN recognition of Palestine as an observer nation wouldn't be bad for Israel. On the contrary: Such a move would have two positive ramifications, neither tangible but both very material.
A UN decision to recognize Palestine as a nation creates an obstacle, granted a constitutional one, before a single bi-national nation. The decision also rules, 65 years after the UN resolution on Israel, that the land shall be divided: The Jewish nation gets 78% and the Arab nation gets 22%, roughly half of what it received in 1947.
After six wars and two intifadas, that is an important victory for Zionism.
Recognizing Palestine as a nation-not-a-people does not contradict or contravene the Oslo agreements. Those accords make a simple statement: If the Palestinians fight terrorism, Israel will help them get a state. The Palestinian Authority has been efficiently fighting terrorism; Israeli army and intelligence officers confirm as much. Yet the Palestinian people did not get their promised land.
The punitive threats voiced by inflammatory ministers posturing ahead of the elections are without substance. They reflect belligerence and anxiety, but if the threats are realized, Israel won't be shooting itself in the foot. It will be shooting itself in the gut.
If the Palestinian Authority collapses, the Israeli army will have to run the West Bank at terrific financial and diplomatic cost. Dismantling the Palestinian security forces would require Israel to enormously beef up its own forces to levels last seen during the Palestinian Intifada.
With the Sinai and Syria's part of the Golan Heights controlled by extremists, just keeping the quiet will gobble up the army's resources and eat away at its abilities. We saw this happen before the Second Lebanon War.
Israel and its allies should place just one condition before the Palestinian Authority: that it vow not to exploit its new status for hostile, corrupt purposes such as suing Israel at the Hague, or promoting boycotts. If Abbas can undertake that, his request should be accepted and he should be spared hysterical, inflammatory attacks.
The author has served as a minister in different Israeli governments and is presently chairman of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue at the Netanya Academic College.