January 3, 2011

Israel can beat Palestinian statehood, but it won't come cheap

Regardless of missteps during the past two years, the Obama administration’s greatest handicap in Arab-Israeli diplomacy is the legacy of eight years of benign neglect from 2001 through 2008. The resulting absence of trust, the surrender of Gaza to Hamas, the abdication of Palestinian legitimacy and initiative to the Arab League, the loss of faith by centrist Israelis -- the catastrophic despair and desperation among Palestinians on the ground -- have put us in a situation where nothing good might happen for another ten years. 
One negative development that could come to pass in 2011, however, is a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, which would be the first since the Palestinians have controlled territory by agreement with the State of Israel. Several Latin American nations have already ‘pre-recognized’ this statehood, and the U.S. Government’s effort to keep alive some dialogue in the region will be compromised if it has to veto a UN Security Council decision on recognizing Palestinian statehood -- which it will almost certainly have to do. 
As my Algonquin cohort Micah Halpern has pointed out, the Palestinians and the Arab League effectively assumed this strategy many months ago: Return to negotiations for a limited period, biding the time for negotiations to fail, at which point they would have enough political capital to sway European and Latin American governments. We may have reached this point.
Israel can probably count on a U.S. veto, but following on the abortive effort to renew talks late last year, there will be little value for Washington to pursue the kind of energetic engagement to Israelis and Palestinians that keeps Israel relevant to U.S. politics. 
No matter how much an Israeli government wants to avoid U.S. pressure or stark choices on the Palestinian issue, Israelis will understand sooner or later that their $100 billion economy and enviable military arsenal have a short shelf life if they are not relevant in Washington. And in such an eventuality, they won’t be able to look to Europe for a shoulder to cry on, either.
So maybe it’s time to go “jump a shark”, run a “Hail Mary” play, or otherwise “go for broke”. Turning-points are not always thrilling or climactic, as the next six months may prove, but they are no less dangerous. And that is a lesson which will not come cheap.


  1. How tragic this all sounds when combined in one article. Both the Israelis and Palestinians seem to be facing significant loses the longer an agreement eludes them. Israel, already on the verge of EU sanctions and being isolated by others, probably would lose the most, at least on a proportional basis.
    But it is the Palestinians who, when it comes to the bottom line, appear to be stepping back at each opportunity. Each time there is light at the end of the tunnel, they make unrealistic demands in an effort to circumvent and sabotage negotiations.

  2. As a condition to resume peace talks, the Palestinian leadership continues to demand Israel cease development construction in the West Bank and areas it claims as East Jerusalem. With a long-term peace accord in the interest of both parties, Israel is presented with an opportunity to move the talks ahead while gaging how serious the Palestinians are at recognizing the Jewish state. Additionally, this would be an occasion for Israel to gain bonus points in the court of world opinion.
    In return for this building moratorium, Israel should require the Abbas leadership to yield on one of its negotiating terms.
    It is time the Palestinians realize their position as a serious counterpart in the negotiating process and cease its infantile obstinacy by creating new demands each time peace appears just over the hill. Whether or not it is a tactical bluff, the Ramallah leadership must understand that insisting Israel unilaterally surrender any of its bargaining chips is an unacceptable precondition. Rather, it is a point that should be discussed during the negotiating process, in good faith with Israel.
    If the Palestinians are allowed by the US and international community to dictate preconditions prior to sitting down at the negotiating table, the process for an equitable outcome is severely flawed.