July 11, 2011 Edition 20 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
An Israeli UN recognition proposal
Frequently asked questions  - Yossi Alpher
What's better, the Palestinian version, which will surely be approved if left unchallenged, or this one?

A question of will, not semantics  - Ghassan Khatib
The absence of an independent Palestinian state is part of the problem, but it is not the problem.

They don't let the facts confuse their theories  - Mordechai Kedar
Their opening sentence proves they do not understand the cultural environment surrounding Israel.

September needs Israel's awakening and not politicians' bluffs  - Mahdi Abdul Hadi
Israel would be well advised--before it is too late--to have its own "awakening".

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Frequently asked questions
 Yossi Alpher
Some three weeks ago I published, together with Colette Avital, Shlomo Gazit and Mark Heller, the following components of a proposed "win-win" United Nations resolution regarding Palestinian statehood:

  • Reaffirm support for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples and the right of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples to self-determination, without prejudice to the rights of all citizens and minority groups. Recall, in this context, UN General Assembly resolution 181 of 1947 that called for the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state.
  • Acknowledge institutional and security reform, economic development and state-building efforts--especially in the West Bank, under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, which have helped lay the foundations for Palestinian statehood--and endorse the position articulated by the World Bank and the United Nations that the Palestinian Authority is "well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future".
  • Accordingly, support the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem in parallel with Israel's recognized capital in West Jerusalem, and with mutually agreed territorial swaps and modifications, subject to negotiation--a state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and security.
  • Recognize that extending the authority of a Palestinian state to the Gaza Strip will depend on effective control there by a legitimate Palestinian government that exercises authority in the West Bank, is committed to the Quartet principles and the Arab Peace Initiative and respects the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
  • Call for both states to engage in good faith negotiations on the basis of this and previous relevant resolutions and agreements in order to resolve all outstanding issues between them, beginning with the issues of borders, settlements, water and security arrangements. Specifically, security arrangements--including multi-layered international, regional and bilateral guarantees--should confront and neutralize threats and enable the phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from a demilitarized Palestinian state with an effective internal security force and without compromising Israeli security.
  • Note the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by the Arab League in 2002, and call for regional states to assist in creating an atmosphere conducive to negotiation and agreement, including by intensifying efforts to advance coexistence and normalization of relations between Arab League members and Israel.

This proposal has generated a number of objections and questions from serious observers. Here I attempt to deal with some of them.

"Wouldn't a negotiated two-state solution be better?" Absolutely, but the current leaders of Israel and the PLO are too far apart on the substantive issues for a compromise to be conceivable. Besides, the United States, the only likely third party intervener, is also not interested in the kind of hands-on involvement and pressures that would be necessary to generate a peace process. The win-win resolution is not as good as a negotiated end-of-conflict solution, but it's a positive step forward because it transforms the conflict into a manageable two-state relationship.

"Why doesn't the resolution mention the Jerusalem holy places and the refugee issue?" Because the Palestinian leadership, in applying to the UN for recognition, does not refer to these final status issues. Herein lies the greatest attraction of this win-win route: at the UN, the Palestinians are prepared to settle for the partial, territorial solution that they reject at the negotiating table. The refugee and holy places issues, which are currently intractable deal-breakers, will still have to be negotiated, but at a later time and between clearly delineated states, thereby rendering these issues far more manageable.

"The Palestinians get a state, 1967 borders and a capital in East Jerusalem. What's in the resolution for Israel?" Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; long-delayed recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital; ample security guarantees; a commitment to negotiate all further outstanding issues; and a call for the Arab states to reward Israel with aspects of normalization.

"But you've left the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in Palestinian territory." That's where the provision for land swaps, the postponement of discussion of holy places and the determination that all issues will be solved through negotiations are relevant.

"Still, why the 1967 lines as the point of departure for land swaps?" Like it or not, repeated negotiating failures have fixed the green line/armistice line as the basis for agreement in international eyes. But they have also fixed the concept of land swaps as a way of dealing with Israel's demographic, national-symbolic and tactical security needs. And the win-win formula leaves adequate room for Israel to insist on its strategic security requirements in negotiations.

"How do you intend to deal with Hamas and Gaza?" Under the draft win-win resolution, Israel can deal separately with Gaza unless and until the Hamas leadership there accepts internationally-sanctioned principles of a two-state solution.

"Why should Israel rely on the United Nations?" Sixteen years after Oslo, the bilateral negotiating track has failed. In recent years, Israel has displayed increasing readiness to rely on UN intervention, e.g., the deployment of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon in 2006 and the commission to investigate the 2010 flotilla affair. Finally, we should ask ourselves what's better, the Palestinian version of UN recognition, which will surely be approved if left unchallenged, or a win-win version like this one.

"And who will push your win-win concept at the UN?" Countries in Europe and elsewhere that favor recognition of a Palestinian state but have no desire to harm Israel's basic interests. For domestic political reasons, the US is probably not among them.-Published 11/7/2011

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A question of will, not semantics
 Ghassan Khatib
The content of the article "Buying into Palestinian statehood" by a group of prominent Israelis represents a new, mature and responsible level of debate between Israelis and Palestinians--even when compared to official exchanges between the two sides.

Recently, discussion either ignores the substantive aspects of the conflict and escapes to ideology and history, or attempts to reflect the balance of power in the negotiations. This article is an attempt to address the most recent Palestinian approach, even while the details of that approach are still being discussed and developed among Palestinians.

While the article addresses in a serious manner concerns that Palestinians will raise in September at the United Nations, it may have missed the spirit of the Palestinian approach. Palestinians seem to have reached the conclusion that the bilateral negotiations, at least the way they have been handled over the last 18 months, have little chance of success. Thus, they will go to the United Nations to say: "Palestinians, who have a natural and legal right to freedom, self-determination and statehood, are also ready to govern themselves. We need the help of the international community to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state."

What Palestinians are asking of the international community is not a mechanical, bureaucratic or symbolic recognition that does not change or contribute to changing the reality of occupation on the ground. Palestinians are asking the world community at the UN to help "materialize" the international vision of peace in the Middle East, i.e., practical implementation of the two-state solution. And that, only because the bilateral negotiations approach adopted by the international community has not moved us forward in that direction.

This article, which suggests that negotiations proceed after UN recognition of a Palestinian state, does not explain why such talks will have a better chance of achieving the objective of two states on the borders of 1967. As long as Israel is not mature enough to end its illegal control of the occupied territories and the international community is not ready to pressure Israel to do that, we will not move towards ending the occupation and establishing a state, whether negotiations take place between "Palestine" and Israel, or the PLO and Israel.

The absence of an independent Palestinian state is part of the problem, but it is not the problem. The nature of the Palestinian entity negotiating with Israel is not the problem. The problem is whether there is room for compromise between the two sides on issues that were officially recognized as aspects of the conflict that need to be negotiated and resolved: mainly borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security.

That is why it is important that the governments of the world recognize Palestine as an independent state as part of a comprehensive effort to end the occupation and actualize the Palestinian state on the borders of 1967.

In conclusion, there are a few detailed issues in this article that need to be clarified. It is not good enough to call for a "Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with its capital in Jerusalem" because the capital is supposed to "be" East Jerusalem and not "in" East Jerusalem, which is part of the occupied West Bank.

Second, the reference to two states for two peoples is not clear enough. If it means "Palestinian people" and "Israeli people", then that might stand, but if what we are talking about is a state for "Jewish people" thereby excluding Palestinian citizens of Israel, then we are backtracking. The writers of this article know first-hand that the letter of recognition that PLO leader Yasser Arafat sent to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 was vetted and then publicly accepted by Israel. There is no reason to revisit this issue.

Finally, although it is a positive reference, to merely "note the importance" of the Arab Peace Initiative is not good enough. It is far from full acceptance of this initiative that gives Israel, on behalf of all Arab governments, all its legitimate demands of recognition, peace, and normalization.

Ultimately, the question of peace hinges on whether or not Israel is mature enough to accept a complete end to its illegal occupation in order to allow for the establishment of an actual Palestinian state.-Published 11/7/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

They don't let the facts confuse their theories
 Mordechai Kedar
I'm surprised by what Alpher, Avital, Gazit and Heller have written about the possibilities presented by international recognition of a Palestinian state. They are usually logical people. Unlike them, I look at the bitter experience of recent years and draw conclusions that are supported by healthy logic.

Their opening sentence proves they do not understand the cultural environment surrounding Israel. They speak of wasting time as a negative factor in a region whose entire behavior is extremely slow. In the Middle East, anyone seeking a quick solution ends up paying a heavy price. And vice versa: he who appears to be infinitely patient ultimately achieves his objective at a low price. The Quran states in several places, "Allah is with those who are patient." Until now, Israel has been in no hurry to solve its conflict with the Arab world: 63 years of hard struggle have persuaded our neighbors and enemies to accept us, at least de facto. Time is in our favor, and any attempt to hasten the psycho-sociological process that is leading the Arab world to recognize Israel's existence and right to exist will cost Israel a price it cannot pay.

The Palestinians are turning to the United Nations mainly because they despair of an Arab world that does nothing to liberate Palestine or even Jerusalem for them. The Arab world abandoned the Palestinians after realizing that they are trying to perpetuate their problem with Israel rather than solving it, that they prefer to live off charity rather than productive work.

The four writers refer to the 1967 lines as borders. They are wrong. The 1949 lines (that is what the green line should be called) are armistice lines between Israel and Jordan and Israel and Egypt. They had no legal significance as borders; they even lost their relevance as armistice lines with the signing of peace treaties and the delineation of international borders between Israel and Egypt (1979) and Israel and Jordan (1994). The writers deceive uninformed readers by creating the incorrect impression that the territory beyond these lines ever belonged to a sovereign country.

When it comes to Jerusalem, the article in question contains a serious internal contradiction. On the one hand, the authors call for recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state; on the other, they argue that this does not determine the ownership of the Temple Mount. The only way to argue that there is no contradiction here is if "East Jerusalem" does not include the Temple Mount. I doubt this was their intention. The writers go on to address West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby ignoring the large portion of the Israeli and Jewish people that see East Jerusalem, and particularly the Temple Mount, as the embodiment of Zionism.

The writers also mention "Hamas rule in Gaza" but fail to factor in the possibility that Hamas will take over Judea and Samaria after Israeli withdrawal, either by winning new elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council as in January 2006 or by force, as in Gaza in June 2007. The political weakness of Fateh, the backbone of the PLO, does not bode well for Fateh's capacity to withstand Hamas over time. Any commitment by the Fateh leadership to uphold conditions laid down by the Quartet or by any peace plan is worthless. Worse, if PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad sign an agreement with Israel, there is no guarantee that agreement will be respected by their successors.

The writers address the Palestinians as a "people" deserving of a state. They ignore the differences between the Bedouin culture predominant in Gaza, the urban culture of the cities of the West Bank, and the village culture prevailing elsewhere in the West Bank. They ignore the tribalism rooted in Palestinian society that prevents, for example, intermarriage between cities. A focus on politics and economy at the expense of sociology and religion have always characterized the superficial western attitude toward Middle East societies--in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen as well--and have generated the West's strategic mistakes in this part of the world.

I particularly enjoyed the writers' appeal to both sides to respect, based on good will, the agreements they have signed, and wonder when the Palestinians ever maintained their commitment to dismantle their terrorist infrastructure. Apropos, the writers recycle a useless slogan that embodies another internal contradiction: on the one hand, a demilitarized Palestinian state; on the other, a state with an effective internal security force. There is no such thing as a demilitarized state in the Middle East: look at Gaza, and at Hizballah in southern Lebanon under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 and despite the supervision of UNIFIL.

And why do the writers put their faith in the Arab Peace Initiative when even the API's signatories don't take it seriously--otherwise, why don't the Arab states try to promote it? When did the writers ever hear of contacts between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which initiated the API, to promote its implementation? When did the Arab League ever seriously negotiate its contents with Israel?

Nor do I understand why the writers "forgot" to list among the issues awaiting a solution the refugee question.

In conclusion, I would expect important people like the writers to have a more sophisticated view of Middle East affairs that do not always unfold according to our western concepts. They should know that in the Middle East, peace is only rewarded to the undefeated. Israel's neighbors will make peace with it only when they have internalized Israel's invincibility and despaired of eliminating it by belligerent, diplomatic, legalistic or media means. An approach like that of Alpher, Avital, Gazit and Heller gives Israel a defeatist image that increases pressure on it, thereby diminishing the chances of peace.

And by the way: how many of the writers read Arabic?-Published 11/7/2011 ©

Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.

September needs Israel's awakening and not politicians' bluffs
 Mahdi Abdul Hadi
The proposal made by Yossi Alpher and several other Israelis of "Buying into Palestinian Statehood" (New York Times, June 24, 2011) is based on several wishful assumptions for the "day after".

First, it assumes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after a bid to the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, will not consider his mission accomplished and resign, but stay on to rule and negotiate. Moreover, "the president's men" will stay in office or survive in any election and negotiations will continue on, business as usual. It also assumes that Palestinian society will remain divided between Fateh and Hamas, and the latter will not change its positions.

Second, the proposal presumes that a Palestinian state can be reached without compromising on Jerusalem and a fair and just implementation of UN resolution 194 (1948) on the right of return. Palestinians, it is believed, will accept the term "Jewish state", agree on territorial swaps and not demand full implementation of UN partition resolution 181 (1947), which allotted 56.47 percent of historic Palestine for the Israeli state and 42.88 percent for the Arab state, with an international zone of approximately 0.65 percent.

Finally, it takes for granted that Palestinians will continue under the prison culture of 44 years of occupation, carrying out Israeli instructions to extend conditionally their "municipal authority" into Gaza and crush Hamas, notwithstanding Palestinian reconciliation. It presupposes that Israel's "security arrangements" in the Palestinian state will resemble those in place today, in disregard of both Palestinian security needs and the new state's call for international protection. It also maintains that the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 is still on the negotiations table after a decade of Israeli refusal and reservations.

Israel would be well advised--before it is too late--to have its own "awakening" on the September episode and free itself from the bluffs of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his like.

The Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority are determined to submit their bid for recognition of the state of Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, to the UN General Assembly by July 20. This historic decision is of equal importance to that of the mutual PLO-Israel recognition that took place in 1993. A look at the internal, regional and international factors that led to this decision demonstrates why the above assumptions are really beside the point.

Internally, the UN vote will empower Palestine's position in the international arena and, as a result, unite the people behind their leadership and strengthen Palestinian reconciliation. It will also fill the political vacuum of futile negotiations and free the PLO/PA of its dependency on initiatives, offers and favors from external players, moving the conflict into a new arena.

The UN bid will likely mobilize Palestinian youth to develop a non-violent movement and become part of the culture of the "Arab spring". It will end the "prison culture" that affects all aspects of life (education, health, economy, tourism, etc.) in the occupied territories. It will also open the door for Palestinians from the Diaspora to return unconditionally, and end the siege, closure and separation of Gaza.

Regionally, several factors are significant. The Arab spring has spread its contagious jasmine fever with the yearning for civil states, democracy, rule of law and Arab dignity--Palestine being no exception.

New Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi believes that the negotiations process has reached a dead end. The Quartet conditions and the Bin Laden era are of the past. US President Barack Obama will not act during his re-election campaign, the 27 European Union member states will not reach consensus, and current Arab rulers (while political, diplomatically and financially supportive of the Palestinians) are not holding tight to the Arab Peace Initiative and seek neither direct involvement nor a conflict with Washington. Thus, al-Arabi favors initiating an international conference under UN auspices and sees September as a "test" in that direction.

The Arab League and the new Egypt are in full support of the September mission, and Turkey has repeatedly confirmed its backing for Palestine's statehood bid.

Globally, internationalization of the conflict at the UN General Assembly will open all Palestine files for debate at the world body, including unimplemented UN resolutions from more than six decades. It will renew discussion on Jerusalem as "corpus separatum" (including Bethlehem) and ideas for an open, shared (rather than exclusively Israeli) city.

Further, it will expose the vetoes of the US and a number of others against ending Israeli occupation and against the Palestinian right to self determination. An estimated two-thirds or more of the UN's 192 member states are expected to stand in clear support and recognition of Palestinian rights.

Subsequently, Palestine will be a full member in all international bodies, including the International Court of Justice. This will open up the opportunity to request protection through international forces and be part of international efforts towards ending Israel's colonization drive in Palestine. Ultimately, it will end the Oslo culture of draft agreements, vague negotiations, and the PA system, and thereby assist the PLO's transformation into a state.

One thing is sure: Palestinians will not be the same after September. They will have to translate statehood recognition into real issues on the ground, such as travel (citizenship) and economy (open trade), to name but a few. The most important challenge, however, will be to block Israel from disrupting the new Palestine's sovereignty. Then, international protection will be the key to following words (embodied in recognition) with deeds.-Published 11/7/2011 ©

Mahdi Abdul Hadi is chairman of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem and a political analyst.