There is very little Israel can actually do to prevent the world from recognizing Palestine. So what are we waiting for?
What would be so terrible if the state of Palestine continues to gain more and more recognition, even from Israel’s friends and allies? That is the game in play today. Almost all of the world’s leaders have come to the conclusion that the Netanyahu government has nothing to offer the Palestinians and that another round of negotiations at this time will be fruitless.
The Americans are also coming to the same conclusion, but it is more difficult for the self-appointed mediator and policeman of the world to accept the failure of its intervention and the limits of its power.
At the same time, the same leaders understand that the two-state solution must be saved. If Israel is unwilling, or unable to act in its own best interests by ending the occupation, the international community does not have to sit idly by as the best chance of peace withers away once again. The risks and consequences of another round of violence are too great to the parties, the region and to the world to allow an irresponsible Israeli leader to dictate the possible death of the only solution that can end the conflict.
No one is a great supporter of unilateralism. No one really believes that the conflict will be resolved through unilateral steps. It is quite evident that a negotiated agreement must be reached that will determine permanent borders and other core issues. Security arrangements must be agreed by both parties and supported by international monitors and peacekeeping forces. The lessons of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza without agreement have hopefully been learned by all.
But in the face of Israeli refusal to seriously engage in real negotiations and Palestinian refusal to come to the table until they see Israeli seriousness, the rules of the game need to be changed to compel the parties to reach a negotiated agreement.
BINYAMIN NETANYAHU supports the two-state solution – at least that is what he claims. Our prime minister is intelligent enough to understand exactly what that means; he knows what the permanent status peace agreement looks like. He is well aware that his predecessor Ehud Olmert was quite close to reaching an agreement, and both he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud believe that with several more months of negotiations an agreement could have been reached.
That agreement would have brought about the birth of Palestine on more than 95 percent of the West Bank with territorial exchanges on a 1:1 basis, with two capitals in Jerusalem and some form of a special regime in the Old City. This is the agreement, there will be no other and this is also the vision of peace that almost every world leader supports.
So even if Netanyahu has a different vision of peace, in his heart of hearts he has to be aware that he cannot convince the Palestinians to accept less. He must also realize that Israel cannot allow itself to miss the possibility of reaching a negotiated agreement and there will probably never be a better opportunity than right now.
What can Israel do if the process of recognizing Palestine continues? Probably nothing. It can kick and scream, threaten and protest but unless it is interested in working against itself, there is actually very little that can be done to block the inevitable.
It can bring back checkpoints all over the West Bank as punishment. Will this help the security situation, which has never been better?
It can withhold taxes and customs which it collects for the Palestinians in the framework of one of the only aspects of the Oslo agreement still working. Will the US and the EU, which are bankrolling the establishment of the Palestinian state, sit idly in the face of breaches of working relationships which are so vital to stability and security?
It could prevent Palestinians from traveling because it controls all of the movements of the Palestinians. How long would that work and how could that be in its interest?
Israel could unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, but this would cross lines in international relations that no government before has even seriously considered. It could get the US Congress to write more letters to President Barack Obama and more House or Senate resolutions backing its policies, but that would not really help.
Let’s face it, there is very little that Israel can actually do to prevent the world from recognizing Palestine. Eventually the US will also recognize it and, at least according to Netanyahu, so will Israel. So what are we waiting for? For decades we have tried to prevent the creation of the Palestinian state. One prime minister after the other since Yitzhak Rabin has come to the conclusion that the only way to end the conflict is by accepting the logic that was behind the 1947 UN partition plan. So much blood could have been saved if we had been wise enough to accept the inevitable when our neighbors did in 1988 (41 years too late). How much more blood must be shed before the inevitable is implemented?
The conflict is resolvable. The two-state solution is the only solution. It can be achieved today and there is no better leader than Netanyahu to do it. Netanyahu and Abbas can lead their peoples to a new beginning – a new day when the slogan two states for two-peoples becomes a reality.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.