Politics

What Matters is Negotiations, Not Palestinian Flag-Raising

Uri Dromi was the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments, 1992-96.

The decision of the U.N. General Assembly to allow the hoisting of the flag of Palestine—a non-member state—alongside the flags of member states, shouldn't have surprised anyone, especially not the Israelis. Already three years ago, UNESCO, a leading U.N. agency, accepted Palestine as member, and France has been recently working tirelessly to promote, in the words of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in March, a "U.N. Security Council resolution that would set out the steps for a negotiated end of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and a solution to the nearly 70-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Needless to say that any points the Palestinians may score at the U.N. are more symbolic and declaratory than real. It is worth reminding that according to its own charter, the U.N. "is open to all peace-loving States that accept the obligations contained in the United Nations Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations". It is hard to imagine how a state of Palestine can truly qualify, without defined borders and being split between the West Bank and Gaza which is ruled by Hamas—an organization that even by the most liberal interpretation can hardly be labeled as "peace-loving".

Still, the momentum all around the world to recognize Palestine is mounting, and whether or not such recognition changes any facts on the ground, it certainly puts pressure on Israel. Only recently, Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, received a blunt letter from the European Eminent Persons Group, which includes former prime ministers, foreign ministers and ambassadors, in which the signatories, who have spent years in trying to promote the two-state solution, urge her to adopt a harsher stance vis-à-vis Israel.

But why is all the onus being put on Israel, when everyone agrees that the only viable solution will come through a negotiated settlement, and at the same time it is the Palestinians who avoid the negotiating table by turning to the U.N.? Only last week the Israeli Prime Minister said he was willing to go to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and resume talks without any preconditions. And already in November 2013, Mr. Netanyahu invited Mr. Abbas to come to the Knesset and address the people of Israel, thus breaking the stalemate in the talks. These two appeals were ignored by the Palestinians, who kept pursuing the U.N. track instead.

In the eyes of most Israelis, the Palestinians are responsible for the deadlock. In a Peace Index poll conducted in December 2014 by the Israel Democracy Institute, 63% of Israelis favored peace talks being conducted between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, 70% of the same Israelis did not believe that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would lead to peace in the coming years. Why? Because Israelis just don't believe that there is a Palestinian partner who would – or could - be willing to make the heavy compromises needed to really put an end to the conflict.

The prime example is the 2000 Camp David talks, when then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian President Yasser Arafat the most far-reaching deal any Israeli leader had ever offered, only to be rejected. President Bill Clinton, who had invested all his prestige in the efforts to broker a deal, recalled a year later how Arafat called him just before he left the White House, addressing him as "a great man". "The hell I am," Clinton said he responded. "I'm a colossal failure, and you made me one." (Newsweek, 6/26/2001). Israelis love this kind of stories.

The problem for Israel, however, is not the flirting of the Palestinians with the U.N., but rather the American approach to it. If in the past, the U.S. was Israel's unwavering ally at the U.N., vetoing any anti-Israeli resolution at the Security Council, the last elections in Israel signaled a change. Following Mr. Netanyahu's pre-election statement that the two-state solution was not an option anymore, President Obama had second thoughts. "Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome", said Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, following the Israeli election on March 17. "Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution. That means we need to re-evaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward."

Israel should work pro-actively for a two-state solution, not in order to please the U.N. or President Obama, but rather to save both its democracy and Jewish character. In order to bypass the present deadlock, Israel—still the stronger party with the better cards—should initiate a regional conference, where the Sunni countries of the region, who share Israel's concerns vis-à-vis Iran and ISIS, could bring the Palestinians to the negotiation table. This should be followed by significant Israeli trust-building steps towards the Palestinians. In doing so, Israel will also improve its relations with the U.N. and with many countries in the world.

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