Palestine: Statehood now, borders later

By Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The New York Times and other media have reported that the Palestinian Authority, having “despaired” over the possibility of a negotiated settlement with Israel based on a two-state solution, has “shifted focus” in its strategy to achieve statehood by doing an end- run around the stalled peace process and attempting to attain recognition by other nations and international bodies affiliated with the United Nations. As reported by Ethan Bonner in a lengthy article in the Oct. 21 New York Times, the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmoud Abbas is “increasingly focusing on how to get international bodies and courts to declare a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.”

The idea, Bonner explains, “is to appeal to the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the signatories of the Geneva Conventions for opposition to Israeli settlements and occupation and ultimately a kind of global assertion of Palestinian statehood that will tie Israel’s hands.”

Another article on the same topic by John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, that appeared in the Oct. 20 Wall Street Journal warns of efforts by the Palestinian Authority to persuade the United States to recognize an independent Palestine in May 1967 borders, or “to have the U.N. Security Council call upon U.N. members to recognize ‘Palestine’ within those lines.” If such an approach is successful, the entire Middle East peace process would be scuttled and the Palestinians will have achieved total victory through this channel that they could not achieve either through terrorism or its version of “diplomacy.”

The problem is not with the issue of an independent Arab State of Palestine. All interested parties, including Israel, the P.A., the U.N., the E.U., Russia and the United States (“the Quartet”) are in agreement that an independent State of Palestine should be a major result of the peace talks. But the proposed “package” being sought by the P.A. would give the new State of Palestine total control of all of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip and all of the Old City of Jerusalem, including control over the holy places to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Such a “solution” would only prolong the stalemate and make the achievement of peace even more elusive than it is now.

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A possible way out of the threat being posed by the latest Palestinian moves would be to recognize the Palestinian Authority as the State of Palestine, but with the proviso that the final borders of the new state are to be determined in the context of the “Road Map.”

No Israeli government, no matter how dovish could afford to agree up front to the dismantling of all of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the ceding of the Old City of Jerusalem to Palestinian control. There has been a general consensus among foreign policy and strategic leaders in both major American parties that a two-state solution must involve border changes, exchanges of lands between Israel and the Palestinians and a new geographic configuration which would not leave Israel vulnerable to a coordinated attack by its Arab neighbors. A new State of Palestine would presumably leave Gaza under the control of Hamas, the terrorist group that remains adamantly committed to Israel’s outright destruction. For the 19 years that the “moderate” regime in Jordan illegally occupied the Old City of Jerusalem (it was to be an international trusteeship under the U.N. in the 1947 Partition Plan), the ancient Jewish Quarter was razed to the ground, Medieval synagogues built by Maimonides and Nahmanides were leveled to the ground and Jews were blocked from visiting the Old City and the Western Wall of the Second Temple, the holiest site in Judaism. After Israel liberated the Old City of Jerusalem, it wisely permitted the various religions to maintain control of their respective holy sites. All of that would be abrogated in the scheme proposed by the Palestinian Authority.

A two-state solution has been proposed repeatedly as the way of achieving peace since the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

If the international community wants to recognize an independent Palestine now, that would be fine, as long as its borders, like those between Israel and Syria or Israel and Lebanon, are deferred until a negotiated settlement. Forcing an independent State of Palestine with pre-determined borders based on May 1967 would only assure that the painstaking efforts to re-start the long-stalled peace talks fail once more.

So for Palestine: Statehood Now; Final Borders Later!

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Jewish Light.