Later this month the United Nations will vote on statehood for Palestine. It appears the vote will take place in stages. First, a draft resolution will be presented to the Security Council, where the United States is expected to veto the proposal. If the veto is cast, then a resolution will be made for the General Assembly to recognize Palestine as an observer state. With that status, though lacking full membership, Palestine will be able to participate in General Assembly debates and to belong to other U.N.-system organizations. The main rationale the administration offers for casting the veto is that Palestinian independence ought to be settled in negotiations with Israel. Tying Palestinian statehood to negotiations is bogus. The two parties may be able to negotiate lesser issues, but Palestinian sovereignty and independence should not be negotiable.
In 1948 Israel did not wait for U.N. recognition or negotiation with its Arab neighbors before declaring independence. The U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine had projected Jewish and Arab states with a separate international zone around Jerusalem. As the British Mandate was about to expire in May 1948, David Ben-Gurion, executive head of the World Zionist Organization, declared the establishment of the modern state of Israel. During the Mandate and the subsequent Israeli War of Independence against neighboring Arab states, irregular Israeli fighters using terror tactics seized the territory, driving more than 700,000 Palestinians out of more than 400 villages and urban neighborhoods. U.N. requirements for minority protections were flagrantly violated. After 63 years, Palestinians should not have to wait any longer to enjoy their natural right to self-governance and statehood. Above all, their independence should not be dependent on Israeli agreement.
Claims by the United States that statehood should wait on negotiation are especially offensive. Previous rounds of negotiation and hope of negotiation have led to further Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land and water. Settlements have pushed farther and farther into the West Bank. Israel has seized more Palestinian land for its security barrier, settler highways and military zones. Palestinian homes have been demolished as illegal, and settlers’ forceful occupation of others has been upheld by the Israeli military. In previous negotiations, Israel always retained the upper hand. The piecemeal transfer of West Bank territory under the 1993 Oslo Accords left Israel in control of most of the West Bank. When it came to implementing Oslo, Israel repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians fulfill their part of the bargain first and then set new conditions before it would implement its own responsibilities.
U.S. policy also assumes that this country can successfully mediate a final status agreement between the two sides. But the Obama administration has failed to make headway even on the smallest issue. The Netanyahu government, for example, has flagrantly rebuffed the president’s repeated efforts to prevent further settlement construction and confiscations in East Jerusalem. Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has lately said he would take the 1967 ceasefire lines as a basis for negotiation, at an earlier televised White House meeting he contemptuously rejected President Obama’s proposal along those lines as a starting-point for talks.
For those serious about finding a negotiated end to the conflict, U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood makes very good sense as an incentive for productive talks. It will help create some leverage for Palestine in addressing issues that will have to be negotiated eventually, like final borders, Israeli security, Jerusalem, refugees and water. As a sovereign state, Palestine would be empowered under international law to demand an end to Israeli occupation and to place its claims before international courts. Its membership in international organizations would aid the further development of Palestinian state structures and help bring more pressure to bear on Israel to agree to a just and lasting settlement. The United States has failed to provide that kind of pressure. It is time to see whether, with broad international support for Palestinian statehood, the Palestinians may at least enter into negotiation on a more equal status with the Israelis.
The Palestinian Authority has gone far to make a peaceful transition to statehood possible. Most observers recognize the success of the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, in creating effective government on the West Bank, reducing corruption and shaping an able security force that is well coordinated with Israeli forces. At the same time, private enterprise has prospered in the territory with economic growth (G.D.P.) at an annual rate of 8 percent. Palestinian leaders, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have pledged that popular demonstrations on the occasion of the U.N. vote will be nonviolent and security will be maintained. Palestinians have come of age. It is past time to welcome Palestine into the community of nations.