By Shimon Fogel
As seen in today’s Toronto Star
In a few days, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will likely ask the United Nations General Assembly to pass a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state. To the casual observer, Abbasâ€™s move may seem entirely reasonable.
After all, Israel has been a state since 1948 while the Palestinians have remained stateless since then. So on the surface, it would only seem to make sense that anyone who supports the idea of a Palestinian state would also support any measure that would help bring that about, including the pending procedure at the UN.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs supports the creation of a state for the Palestinian people. We recognize that a Palestinian state existing alongside a Jewish state â€” two states for two peoples â€” is the best guarantor of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.
Yet it is precisely because we support a peaceful two-state solution that we are opposed to Abbasâ€™s UN gambit. For this move will lead us farther away from peace, and could even result in renewed violence between Palestinians and Israelis.
For the past 17 years, both sides have agreed that the only path to resolving their differences is through direct negotiations, according to the â€œland for peaceâ€ formula set out in UN Security Council Resolution 242. Since 1967, that resolution has been the internationally accepted bedrock of all Arab-Israeli peace agreements. Under this formula, any land that Israel withdraws from must be in exchange for peace, recognition and security guarantees from its Arab neighbours. But such an arrangement, including the drawing of borders, can be achieved through negotiations alone.
Itâ€™s important to remember that Israelâ€™s withdrawal from the Sinai occurred in this framework through the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace agreement. During the Oslo peace process, Israel relinquished further territory to the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for peace and security assurances.
Unfortunately, Israelâ€™s efforts to reach a final accord with the Palestinians at the Camp David talks with Yasser Arafat in 2000 collapsed when Arafat refused offers for viable, contiguous Palestinian statehood. President Bill Clinton was blunt in blaming Arafat for missing â€œthe opportunity to bring (a Palestinian) nation into being.â€
Nonetheless, Israel tried again during the 2007-2008 talks between Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas. Yet, like Arafat, Abbas failed to respond to an offer of Palestinian statehood that pro-Palestinian figures admit was even more generous than the 2000 proposal.
For more than two years, Israelâ€™s repeated offers to return to the negotiations without precondition have been spurned by Abbas, with the exception of a one-month period following a summit convened by President Barack Obama.
Abbas had other plans. He was preparing an end run around the peace process through a unilateral declaration of statehood under cover of the UN. In short, to obtain Palestinian statehood without having to compromise with Israel and recognize its right to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, as required by Resolution 242.
Canada, along with Obama and several EU countries, opposes the UN bid. On May 19, Obama captured the essence of Abbasâ€™s ploy when he said, â€œSymbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September wonâ€™t create an independent state.â€
To this day, the Palestinians refuse to accept the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. Abbas recently reiterated that he will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state, even as he approaches the UN body that called for this very recognition more than 60 years ago, when the Partition Resolution called for two states â€” one â€œJewishâ€ and one â€œArab.â€
What accounts for this abject rejection, this intolerance to a sovereign homeland for the Jewish people?
Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have not shied away from offering an explanation. If they accept that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, they would have to give up their insistence that the descendants of Palestinian refugees, now numbering in the millions, have a â€œright of returnâ€ to Israel (rather than settling in a future state of Palestine). Leaving aside the fact that no such â€œrightâ€ exists in international law, were this to occur, Israel would be demographically transformed and cease to exist as called for by the UN itself.
Palestinian statehood will come to fruition only when Palestinian leaders commit to a final peace agreement that secures the aspirations of two states â€” a Jewish homeland alongside a Palestinian homeland. The day that happens, the streets of Tel Aviv will be filled with Israelis celebrating the establishment of Palestine, on a foundation of peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Shimon Fogel is CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.