The Monitor's View

Middle East peace: Can Palestinians do an end run around Israel?

Palestinian leader Abbas tries to carry the Middle East peace process directly to the UN. But Israel's plans for 900 new homes in East Jerusalem only shows that it's just as willing to take unilateral action. No one wins when both sides refuse to negotiate.

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Israel's announcement this week that it's moving forward with plans to build 900 new homes in an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem – which Palestinians consider their capital – has sparked deserved outrage from just about everyone with an interest in Middle East peace.

President Obama warned on Fox News that the move "embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous." After violent Palestinian uprisings, countless rocket attacks, suicide bombs, and Israeli military reaction and preemptive action, the president's warning is well understood.

Indeed, Palestinian frustration is rapidly rising.

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Understandably dismayed by the stalled peace talks (they broke off last December), Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas looks to be tearing a page from the Sarah Palin playbook. He's "going rogue"; shaking things up.

He announced earlier this month he wants out of his job. He's fed up and won't seek reelection as president of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank (however, elections have since been delayed indefinitely).

Now he's dropped a diplomatic bombshell. He wants the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state defined by pre-1967 borders – before Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza strip in the Arab-Israeli conflict and later annexed east Jerusalem.

The European Union and Washington have rejected this idea. The United States supports "a Palestinian state that arises as a result of a process between the two parties," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday. Indeed, one-sided border setting won't produce lasting peace.

Mr. Abbas has good cause for frustration. President Obama has not been able to revive peace negotiations. And his administration, which tried to return to the role of honest broker by holding Israel to "road map" commitments of no new settlements, appears to have relaxed its grip on its ally.

On a recent trip to Israel, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised its approach to settlements as "unprecedented." Israel says it will slow (but not stop) construction of settlements in the West Bank. Ms. Clinton said her remarks were meant as merely "positive reinforcement," but the damage has been done. Indeed, Palestinians are angry that the White House does not back their position of a settlement freeze as a precondition of reviving the talks.

But a Palestinian end run around Israel at the UN would probably backfire, and not just in the form of a US veto. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it would justify "a whole range of possible responses." The building plan in East Jerusalem (which has one more procedural hurdle to clear) is a comparatively mild example of what Israel's own unilateral actions could look like. In 2001 and 2002, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reoccupied West Bank cities during a Palestinian uprising.

The desire of Abbas to shake things up and dislodge the talks may be justified. But he should keep in mind that no two-state solution is possible when only one side acts.

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