If Palestinians are bent on taking the unilateral course come September, Israel should be ready with its own set of unilateral moves.
I am always astounded to hear the anthems of Israel’s defeatists. This week, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, reminded us all that Israel’s international standing is at an all-time low. Sounding the alarm balls, she suggested there is nothing Israel can do to prevent the UN General Assembly’s endorsement of a Palestinian state in September of this year.
Shalev is wrong. And throwing one’s hands up in the air is hardly a justified government policy, nor one that should be flaunted as such. Saying there is nothing Israel can do is both foolish and misleading, at best, and dangerous at worst. There is lots that can be done. The question is: does Israel’s leadership and its people have the stomach to make the hard choices that need to be made, and the will to take the difficult steps that need to be taken?
Israel should announce its readiness to recognize a Palestinian state, one that is demilitarized and lives up to its obligations under international law. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can use his meeting with President Obama next week, as well as his platforms at AIPAC and the U.S. Congress, to do just that. At the same time, I should remind Obama, Congress and anyone watching, that is was the first (and only) country in the region to recognize the principals of two-states in the 1940s.
Israel should also announce that it is prepared to take its own unilateral actions should the Palestinians wish to pursue a unilateral course. If such a call is not answered by September, Israel should preempt Palestinian activity at the General Assembly (and thus stave off embarrassment) by taking the following steps:
1) Israel should withdrawal settlers and effectively withdraw troops from the territory of the West Bank it intends to return to the Palestinians anyway in exchange for a future peace deal. This will involve the dismantling of outposts deep in the heart of the West Bank, a move that will be perceived by many in the Israeli public as a retreat. A strong Israeli leader should be able to explain to his/her people that it is the right – and only – thing to do.
2) At the same time, Israel should unilaterally annex the Jewish settlements that are contiguous to the State (or are now an integral part of the State) and offer a like-sized chunk of land to the Palestinians as part of their future-state. Undoubtedly some naysayers in the international arena and indeed on the Palestinian side will ignore the overall gesture and decry the move as blatant annexation. They will need to be reminded that the Palestinian leadership and Quartet already recognized the need for such an eventual land-swamp.
3) Israel should unilaterally recognize the Palestinian state with Ramallah as its temporary administrative capital. In doing so, it should stress the word “temporary” and recognize Palestinian aspirations to establish a future capital in East Jerusalem. (It should also insist on Palestinian recognition, protection and access to sites holy to the Jewish people that will then sit inside the Palestinian state.) Israel should immediately invite the Palestinians to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, and Israel should state its intentions to open an embassy in Ramallah. Israel should remind the world that Jerusalem (and Bethlehem, too) was never included in the original partition plan, and that its status was always meant to be determined by a future plebiscite.
4) Israel should announce that its 1948 war for independence created both Jewish and Palestinian refugees, of roughly equal proportions, and that it is prepared to join the other warring states (including Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Iraq) in accepting joint responsibility for the suffering of refugees and for finding a solution. It should announce the creation of an international compensation fund for both Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from the Arab world, and it should invite global donor countries to contribute. In doing so, it should also acknowledge Palestinian aspirations for a right of return to present-day Israel, though reiterate its position that such a claim – if executed – would be suicidal for the State and thus unenforceable. Again, the international fund could be used to compensate not just those Palestinians living in the West Bank and in the refugees camps of Lebanon and Jordan, but also those living on the High Street in London’s St. John’s Wood and in the penthouses of Dubai who are unlikely not accept funds, but wanted global recognition of their Diaspora status and should thus, in theory, appreciate the gesture.
5) Israel should use the General Assembly’s meeting later this year as a forum to encourage the international community to both recognize Israel’s final status borders (while acknowledging that such borders with the Palestinians will still need to be worked out), and also invite the international community to assist in a joint-patrolling and securing of those borders. While Israel’s ego would prevent it from seeing foreign coalition troops patrolling a border from the inside, it should recognize this as a legitimate by-invitation option and not as a loss of sovereignty. Israel should also use its presence on the podium in New York to call on the Arab and Muslim countries in attendance to recognize the State of Israel. (If it wants them to recognize the “Jewish State of Israel,” there is a name change form in the UN office that Israel could fill out immediately afterwards. If they cannot find it, I am pretty sure they could check with the ambassador from the Islamic Republic of Iran, which likely filled out the same form.) Israel should insist that a resolution recognizing the State of Palestine also recognize alongside it the State of Israel. The Europeans can be swayed to draft such an alternate resolution, one which calls on all countries of the world to recognize both Israel and Palestine, and the Palestinians would not be able to push through their one-sided resolution without the Europeans.
Come September, if all of this fails and nothing happens and the Palestinian do indeed push through an draft resolution at the General Assembly that effectively recognizes the Palestinian state, Israel should insist that it be the first country to officially recognize it, and then it should immediately declare at the UN a legal territory dispute.
See? There is lots that can be done. Ambassador Shalev, please do not mislead the Israeli public in saying there isn’t. I cannot implement the solution. I am not a policy-maker, but rather a journalist who can call your bluff and can expect more. Israel can change history, it can redeem its name, it can be a light unto the nations as its founders prophesized it would be. Or it can sit by and respond to everything everyone else does. The choice is out there. Pretending it does not exist is hardly good policy, much less good leadership.