The truth is often a rare commodity in the Middle East. It can be hidden behind layers of mendacity and myths, distractions and deceptions. But some truths are so obvious that they cannot be ignored.
One such reality exists regarding relations between Israel and the Palestinians: No peace agreement will ever be reached and no peace agreement will ever be upheld unless it is attained through direct negotiations between the two parties.
The relevant parties must negotiate to resolve their outstanding issues. No other method can ensure that the demands of both sides will be addressed, that an agreement can be achieved that is at least acceptable to both sides, even if it does not fulfill all their aspirations. Yet the Palestinians seem determined to undermine that truth in their quest for UN recognition of their unilateral declaration of independence.
It is not surprising that the Palestinians have chosen to go to the UN. When, in 2009, a new administration took power in the United States, the Palestinian leadership made no secret of their hopes that the US would pressure Israel into accepting all Palestinian claims. When that failed, they chose a new strategy, pressuring Israel through the UN. Both plans had one thing in common: the avoidance of direct negotiations. And in fact, the Palestinians have avoided serious negotiations with Israel for two and a half years. Just this week, once again, Israel has called for a return to direct negotiations without preconditions from – or on – either side.
History has taught us that no third party can dictate terms that will be tolerable to the two parties. Peace cannot be imposed. Yet by turning to the UN and asking for premature recognition of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are trying to dictate their maximalist demands, bypassing the negotiating process that is the only hope for true peace.
Supporting the current Palestinian maneuvers at the UN will send a direct message to their leadership that negotiations are not important to peace. It will invalidate the need for compromise from the Palestinian side, when such compromises are required from both sides. Most disastrously, it will tell the Palestinians that they can bypass the peace process itself.
Israel has already made many of the concessions necessary for peace. The current government, following in the path of previous governments, has adopted the principle that the solution to the conflict will be found in two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in peace and security.
Contrary to popular belief, the current dispute at the UN is not over the establishment of a Palestinian state, but rather about the means to achieve that end. Should it be by UN fiat, or should it be by finding common ground between the parties?
It is clear that no UN declaration can resolve the important issues. The matter of Jerusalem, as well as security, borders, refugees, recognition, and water can only be determined by those whose futures will be affected by any decisions.
Future negotiations will also be negatively impinged upon by UN action. Existing Palestinian-Israeli bilateral peace agreements, most notable the Interim Agreement, expressly prohibit unilateral action by either side to change the status of the West Bank or Gaza prior to a negotiated peace accord. Israel cannot be expected to trust future agreements with the Palestinians when they so flagrantly violate existing accords.
Moreover, the UN should not allow itself to be exploited to violate these agreements, nor the accepted international frameworks for Mideast peace. UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1850, as well as statements by the Middle East Quartet – of which the UN is a member – all call for a mutually negotiated resolution of the conflict and all reject unilateral actions.
Then there is the matter of expected events in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority is encouraging mass demonstrations in support of their UN actions. One need only look at the situation in the Middle East over the past few months to see how easy it is for demonstrations in this region to slip into violence. The strong possibility of bloodshed is strengthened by the disappointment that will follow any UN declaration when it becomes clear that nothing has changed in the lives of the average Palestinian.
Unilateral measures at the UN will not bring about a Palestinian state. Indeed, a unilateral declaration of independence will drive hopes for a real Palestinian state farther away. The reality in this part of the Middle East will not change, only the political situation – and that for the worse. Negotiations will be postponed yet again, and the peace Israel so desires will be more of a dream than a reality. Those who support peace and support the idea of two states for two peoples should reject unilateral actions at the UN and instead call on the Palestinians to finally return to the negotiating table.
The annual assembly of the United Nations will eventually come to a close, and after it has ended, both Israel and the Palestinians will need to move forward – together – to finally achieve a real, lasting peace. This peace cannot begin with unilateral action in New York. It must begin by both sides simply sitting down and talking – then continuing the conversation in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Israel has clearly and distinctly called upon the Palestinian Authority to return to direct peace talks immediately. Instead of standing alone in the United Nations, Israel invites the Palestinians to pull up a chair and talk.