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Column: Is a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood really a road to peace?

The Israeli Ambassador to Ireland writes that a bid to have an independent Palestinian state recognised by the UN, to live side by side with Israel, cannot be achieved in the present climate of violence.

Boaz Modai Israel Ambassador to Ireland

IT SEEMS HIGHLY likely that, in September, the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas will unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state and go to the UN General Assembly to seek its recognition.

An independent Palestinian state, many people will say, is long overdue.  Such a state living side by side in peace and security with the existing Jewish state of Israel is certainly a nice dream, one that most Israelis hope will one day become reality.  The big question is about how such a reality is to be achieved.

One way to proceed is to stoke up pressure against Israel in the international community, as President Abbas is now doing.  But, if the goal is peace, there are major obstacles blocking the way.  The proposed government for this independent state is a patched-up arrangement between Fatah, which controls the West Bank and is committed to the use of non-violent means, and Hamas, designated as a terrorist entity by the UN, EU, US and Russia and controlling Gaza, from where it continues to launch rockets and mortars towards Israeli towns.

A unilaterally declared Palestinian state governed by a Fatah-Hamas coalition (assuming it could hold together), with Hamas still refusing to recognise Israel’s right to exist, refusing to renounce violence and refusing to accept past agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians, and still guided by the genocidal principles of its Charter, is a recipe not for peace, but for intensified conflict with Israel.

A unilateral declaration won’t resolve the outstanding issues to be negotiated

It is a safe bet that, after the premature declaration, nothing will change on the ground for ordinary Palestinians.  Disappointed expectations raise a high risk of another outbreak of violence and destruction, as happened when the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks was followed by the Second Intifada.

Neither will a unilateral declaration do anything to resolve the outstanding issues that remain to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians – the definition of borders, security arrangements, the status of Jerusalem, the refugee issue and water resources.

Many important figures have realised these dangers, from President Obama and several European leaders to President Abbas’ own Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, and have thus come out against the unilateral statehood resolution at the UN in September.

The other path, the alternative to all this, is the one of direct negotiations with Israel.  If the conflict is to be resolved, President Abbas’ partner for peace can only be Israel.

Why does the Palestinian Authority stay away from the conference table, despite repeated calls by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Government since 2009 for direct talks without preconditions on all the issues?  And, more broadly, why is there no Palestinian state today?

Settlements did not prevent previous talks; they occupy less than 2 per cent of West Bank land

Spokespersons for President Abbas, including an envoy to Ireland, have recently given their reasons.  A key one is that Israel supposedly has ‘not respected’ any of the agreements since the 1993 Oslo Accords, so further talks are futile.  This means that Israel did not turn Palestinian autonomy into full statehood by 2000.  But it was the escalation of Palestinian terrorism in the wake of Oslo that made it difficult to bring the process to completion.  It takes two sides to respect agreements.

Despite the violence, Israel engaged in talks at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001 aimed at bringing a final end to the conflict.  Why did the Palestinians reject the generous offers made by Israel at those talks and the even more generous offer made by Prime Minister Olmert in 2008?
Another reason given is ‘settlement building’.  But settlements did not prevent previous talks; they actually occupy less than 2 per cent of West Bank land, and, in any case, the ‘building’ is not of new settlements, but the construction of kindergartens, community centres and house extensions in existing settlements.  Yet Israel is willing to negotiate the future of these settlements for peace.

Half of the 500,000 Jewish ‘settlers’ live in suburbs of Jerusalem, the historic capital of the Jewish people for over three thousand years, and never a capital of any other people, be they Muslims, Christians or others.  The rest form a 10 per cent minority population in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, the cradle of Jewish civilization).  Compare this with the 20% Arab minority enjoying full citizenship rights in Israel.

It is not too late for the Palestinians to return to the table

Palestinian spokespersons claim that Israel was built on their ‘historic homeland’ and make much of their willingness to settle for a mere ’22 per cent’ of this.  In fact, there never was a Palestinian state embodying such a homeland, and no attempt was made to create one when the West Bank and Gaza were under Arab rule between 1949 and 1967.  Nevertheless, both right- and left-wing Israeli governments headed by six prime ministers have embraced the two-state vision and have recognised the Palestinian people’s right to a national homeland and state.

Of the original British Mandate of Palestine, commissioned by the League of Nations in 1922, 77 per cent is today called Jordan, where over half of all Palestinians live.  That leaves 23 per cent west of the river that will be shared between the existing Jewish state of Israel and a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza if a peace agreement can be reached.

It is not too late for the Palestinians to return to the table to negotiate such a happy outcome.  The people of Israel are waiting. So is the whole world.

Boaz Modai,

Ambassador of Israel to Ireland

For the Embassy of Israel website, click here>

Column: The Palestinian people have an inalienable right to independence>

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About the author:

Boaz Modai  / Israel Ambassador to Ireland

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