In his weekly Canadian Jewish News media analysis column "According to Reports," Paul Michaels, CIC Director of Communications, looks at how the Palestinians seek to gain statehood while avoiding negotiations with Israel.
The heavy focus on the war for control of Libya and upheavals in several other Arab countries overshadowed reports that the Palestinians' pursuit of a unilateral declaration of statehood appears to be gaining momentum. It could culminate in a resolution being introduced in September at the UN General Assembly to recognize the "State of Palestine."
Israel is doing what it can diplomatically behind the scenes to try to thwart this outcome, but not because it doesn't believe that the Palestinians should have a state. Rather, it's because of the way the Palestinians have chosen to go about realizing that goal – by avoiding negotiations with Israel that require them to recognize the Jewish state and compromise on the key issues.
In the meantime, with the Arab world in turmoil, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was busy criticizing Israel last week during a two-day UN "Latin American and Caribbean Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace" in Uruguay. While pro-forma calling for the parties to return to the negotiating table to conclude final-status talks, Ban singled out Israel, declaring: "The occupation that started in 1967 is morally and politically unsustainable, and must end. The Palestinians have a legitimate right to the establishment of an independent and viable state of their own."
Ban's remarks were widely interpreted in Israel as supporting the Palestinians' unilateral move.
While this meeting was taking place, Avi Issacharoff reported (Ha'aretz, March 31) that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced in Ramallah that the PA would turn to the UN General Assembly only if all other options are exhausted.
That statement struck Israelis as utterly disingenuous, since Abbas has persistently rejected Israel's requests to return to negotiations without preconditions. Abbas also recently met with Hamas officials in Ramallah in order to strike a unity agreement. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been blunt about this effort: either Abbas wants a deal with Israel or with Hamas, but he can't have it both ways.
As if more proof were needed of Abbas' refusal to talk with Israeli leaders, Saeb Erekat, his former chief negotiator and current member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee, told the attendees in Uruguay (to whom he delivered the keynote address): “I believe negotiations are over between the Palestinians and Israel.” According to the official report of the meeting, Erekat (who, along with Abbas, walked away from former Israeli president Ehud Olmert's offer of a Palestinian state during the Annapolis talks in 2008), said that final status issues such as borders, refugees, settlements, etc., "had been dealt with [sic] and now was the time for decisions.” In short, it was now time for the international community to recognize "Palestine" based on the "1967 borders, which was required under international law."
The claim is nonsense. The "1967 borders" were never formal, internationally recognized borders. They only marked the armistice lines where fighting stopped between Israel and Jordan in 1949. UN Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the internationally accepted basis for all peace-making since the 1967 war, recognizes that border modifications would have to be made in a peace agreement, so that Israel could have the "defensible borders" it currently lacks. Ironically, Ban (drawing on the language of 242) noted that "Israel has the right to live in peace and security within internationally recognized and secure borders." Yet all his other statements criticizing Israel and supporting the Palestinians serve to render this recognition meaningless.
It’s critical to understand that a UN acceptance of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, especially one that insists upon a "return to the 1967 borders," would violate a key requirement for peace that the UN itself prescribed and has stood by for over 43 years.
Facts still matter, no matter what we hear about the increasing role of emotion and passion in determining the course of international affairs. And this fact, along with many others, such as the requirement for direct negotiations to reach peace, cannot be ignored.