By Alan Dershowitz ~
As Egypt and Turkey increase tensions with Israel, the Palestinian Authority seeks to isolate the Jewish state even further by demanding that the United Nations accord Palestine recognition as a “state” without a negotiated peace with Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas described his playbook for seeking U.N. recognition while bypassing the step of negotiating a two-state solution: “We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years.”
What exactly happened 63 years ago? The U.N. recommended partitioning the former British mandate into two states: one Jewish, the other Arab. Israel and most of the rest of the world accepted that partition plan, and Israel declared itself the nation-state of the Jewish people. The United States, the Soviet Union and all the great powers recognized this declaration and the two-state solution that it represented.
The Arab world unanimously rejected the U.N. partition plan and the declaration of statehood by Israel. The Arab population within Israel and in the area set aside for an Arab state joined the surrounding Arab nations in taking up arms.
In defending its right to exist, Israel lost 1% of its population, many of whom were civilians and survivors of the recent Holocaust. Yet the current Palestinian leadership still insists on calling the self-inflicted wounds caused by its rejection of a two-state solution the “nakba,” meaning the catastrophe.
By claiming that the Palestinians “have been under occupation for 63 years” (as distinguished from the 44 years since the Arab states attacked Israel in 1967 and Israel occupied some lands of the invading nations), the Palestinian president is trying to turn the clock back to a time prior to Israel’s establishment as a state based on the U.N.’s two-state proposal. In other words, the push for recognition by the U.N. of Palestine as a state, based on Mr. Abbas’s complaint that the Palestinians have been under occupation for 63 years, is an attempt to undo the old work of the U.N. that resulted in Israel’s statehood 63 years ago.
Mr. Abbas’s occupation complaint also explains why he is so adamant in refusing to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Every Arab state is officially a Muslim state and yet, as in 1948, none of them is prepared to accept the permanent existence of a state for the Jewish people in the Middle East.
Certainly some, including the Palestinian Authority, are prepared to mouth recognition of Israel as a state, so long as the so-called right of return remains for four million so-called refugees who, if they were to return en masse, would soon turn Israel into yet another Arab state.
Mahmoud Abbas is generally a reasonable man, and many of the things he has recently said about the need for the two-state solution are also reasonable. But he talks out of two sides of his mouth: one for consumption by the international community and the other for consumption by the Palestinian street. His complaint about a 63-year occupation is clearly designed to signal to his constituents that he won’t give up on the ultimate goal of turning Israel into a Palestinian state.
If the General Assembly recognizes Palestine as a state without the need to negotiate with Israel, it will, in effect, be undercutting many of its own past resolutions, as well as many bilateral agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Such recognition would set back the prospects for a negotiated peaceful resolution and would encourage the use of violence by frustrated Palestinians who will gain nothing concrete from the U.N.’s hollow action but will expect much from it.
We saw what happened when the Palestinian people came close to achieving statehood in 2000-’01—a prospect that was shattered by Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the Clinton-Barak peace plan. Arafat’s rejection, which even the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Bandar bin Sultan, later called a “crime” against the Palestinian people, resulted in a bloody intifada uprising among Palestinians in which thousands of Palestinians and Israelis were killed. The U.N. will be responsible for any ensuing bloodshed if it stokes the flames of violence by raising Palestinian expectations while lowering the prospects for a negotiated peace.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the Palestinians to return immediately to the negotiating table without any preconditions. There is no downside in doing so, since everything would then be on the table for negotiation, including the borders, the right of return, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, the settlements and anything else the Palestinians would seek as part of a negotiated two-state peace.
The job of the U.N. is to promote peace, not to retard it. So instead of discouraging negotiations by promising recognition, the U.N. should be demanding that the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government begin negotiations immediately without any preconditions. That would be a positive step.
Alan Dershowitz is a law professor at Harvard. His latest book is “Trials of Zion” (Grand Central Publishing, 2010).