Responding to a Call for an International Unilateral Establishment of a Palestinian State

Purim is just around the corner!  One of the ways that Jews engage in the joviality of Purim is to engage in the fine art of spoof.  Of course, Purim plays and Purimspiels are the primary examples of such satire, but not the only ones.  Very often, synagogues, for example, will issue parody editions of their own newsletters.  Parody is truly a Purim prank.

I share this with you because I cannot make up my mind whether or not the author of the NY Times Op Ed piece below – apparently a Jew, based upon his name – was writing a serious proposal or merely engaging in a Purim parody on the debate over the establishment of a Palestinian state.  I pray that it is a Purim parody, the humor of which the folks at the Times failed to grasp.  For if it is meant to be a serious proposal, it shows how we have moved into the realm of the absurd.

At first glance, I thought that if this essay is serious, then it might have been written by a raving pro-Palestinian.  However, as I delved into the text, I found the author proposing how liberating it would be for Israel if the international community would simply take it upon itself to out-of-hand declare and recognize the existence of a Palestinian state, without conferring with either Israel or the Palestinians.  That, according to the author, would leave Israel completely free to close its borders to all Palestinians – as is the right of any state to close its borders to the nationals of another state.  The issue of the supposed Palestinian “right of return” would be moot, since they now would be citizens of the Palestinian state.  As the author states:  “Within the context of statehood, this difficulty is somewhat eased as it is largely untenable for any state to demand that millions of its citizens should be allowed to become citizens of another state.”  He also states that this would settle the matter of terrorism.  As with any state, there can only be one state sponsored military establishment.  It the terrorist groups continue to pursue their military operations, it will be up to the Palestinian state authorities to eliminate them.  Here the author states:  “A government’s maintenance of a monopoly of force within the area of its claimed sovereignty is one of the basic requirements of statehood.”  And so the article goes on, including the author’s denial that such an international recognition would have to include a recognition of borders.  Personally, I cannot imagine how one can declare a recognition of a state without at the same time recognizing the legitimate borders of that state.

The one thing this author did not point out is that should the international community actually take this action and unilaterally declare a legitimate Palestinian state into existence, then they would most certainly be setting the stage for an almost immediate war; a war between states, and not between one state and shadow insurgents, as the conflict stands now.  A war in which the State of Israel could legitimately claim that continued terrorist attacks constitute nothing less than acts of war, and therefore serve as grounds for a formal declaration of war.  In such a case, there would – at least theoretically – be do difference between a Hamas missile attack on an Israeli civilian population center and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  At that juncture, Israel could employ all its military might against the Palestinians until their either formally surrender and agree to Israeli imposed peace terms or their state is totally destroyed and dismantled, with extreme measures employed to finally effectively put an end to terrorism.

The consequences of such a decision to unilaterally declare Palestinian statehood under the present conditions of instability and violence are profound and frightening – even more for the Palestinian people than for Israel.  That is why I cannot wonder whether this article is indeed a Purim parody on the calls for such immediate statehood.  To consider it otherwise, is to consider it as a dark and devious plan, the ultimate agenda of which is to bring the Palestinian people to the point of truly reaping the bitter crop which has been sown for them by the terrorists within their midst.

Rabbi Henry Jay Karp

February 24, 2010

I.H.T. Op-Ed Contributor

Declare a Palestinian State

By JEROME M. SEGAL

France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has alarmed the Israeli government with his recent statement that “one can envision the proclamation soon of a Palestinian state, and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before negotiating its borders.”

Israel fears that this will develop into a full blown European Union initiative and has warned that with this approach the Palestinians will have no motivation to resume negotiations. But this argument is not convincing. Were the international community to recognize the State of Palestine, it is likely that it would do so without specifically recognizing the claimed borders of that state, just as the international community does not recognize Israel’s claimed borders.

For instance, the United States has never accepted Israeli claims to sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. Moreover, international recognition does not end the occupation, nor does it solve the refugee issue, nor the problem of Jerusalem. All of these issues will require negotiations, but early statehood, would put such negotiations on a state-to-state basis, and this would be valuable in a variety of ways.

Of most importance in future negotiations is the issue of security, whether Palestinian forces can prevent attacks on Israel, either suicide terrorists, or rockets fired from the West Bank. If they cannot, then Israel will not withdraw from the West Bank, regardless of what the international community says.

Over the last year, praise has been heaped on the performance of Palestinian security forces, trained under U.S. auspices, and operating under the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. However, without progress toward genuine statehood, what is today viewed as “successful security cooperation,” will in time dissolve as it comes to be viewed as Palestinian collaboration, with its security forces having become “the police of the occupation.”

Under early statehood, Israel’s refusal to allow non-state actors to operate militarily from the West Bank is on a much stronger footing. A government’s maintenance of a monopoly of force within the area of its claimed sovereignty is one of the basic requirements of statehood.

Early statehood will also contribute toward the resolution of the issues of refugees, Jerusalem and borders. On refugees, it is clear that very few of the six million Palestinian refugees will ever return to Israel. This however, is extremely difficult for the Palestinians to absorb politically. Within the context of statehood, this difficulty is somewhat eased as it is largely untenable for any state to demand that millions of its citizens should be allowed to become citizens of another state.

With respect to borders and security issues, the Israelis have often been tone-deaf in previous negotiations, failing to realize how demeaning to Palestinian dignity were their demands to control Palestinian airspace, or to have land swaps on an unequal basis.

In the context of state-to-state negotiations, there will be some natural evolution toward the symmetries that typified Israel’s negotiations with Jordan and Egypt. Similarly with Jerusalem, the state-to-state context will also be supportive of the need to find a way to share control of the holy sites and to make Jerusalem the capital of both states.

In addition, early statehood offers a way to reduce the likelihood that Hamas will undertake steps to derail negotiations. This can be attained if Hamas is assured that the international community will respect the results of Palestinian democracy, unlike 2006, when following its victory in legislative elections, Hamas was denied the ability to govern. Instead the international community laid down conditions that Hamas rejected. So far there has been no resolution.

Fortunately, the state-to-state context offers a way to deal with the problematic conditions of the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Thus, the demand that Hamas provide prior recognition of Israel becomes instead one of mutual state-to-state recognition, and the demand that Hamas accept previous agreements negotiated by its P.L.O. rival becomes the standard requirement of continuity of international treaties between state entities, when new governments are elected.

With early statehood there is a chance that the Palestinians will be able to put their house in order, and have a government with sufficient legitimacy to bind the Palestinian people through negotiations.

Finally, it should be noted that for the Palestinian leadership, achieving international recognition of the State of Palestine, without Israeli permission, will be an act of assertiveness that will enhance their ability to make difficult concessions in the negotiations.

For all of these reasons, while international recognition of Palestinian statehood prior to an agreement with Israel is not a magic solution, it is a highly constructive idea that may make successful negotiations a genuine possibility.

Jerome M. Segal directs the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He is co-author of “Negotiating Jerusalem.”

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