The Declaration of Palestinian Statehood: An Unparalleled Political Opportunity?

This paper offers a framework for an Israeli political initiative on the Palestinian UDI. Among the principal potential benefits are: Anchoring the 'two-state solution,' positioning Israel as an asset to its allies, and lowering the prospects of confrontation with the Palestinian population

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Executive Summary


1. This paper offers a framework for an Israeli political initiative on the Palestinian unilateral motion to get United Nations recognition of the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an independent state (hereinafter "recognition of a Palestinian state") and to accept the Palestinian entity as a full member state of the UN. Israel should seize the Palestinian campaign as an opportunity to:
  • Enter into negotiations with the U.S. and the international community regarding the terms upon which the UN Security Council (UNSC) recognizes the Palestinian state. If Israeli prerequisites are met, it would also be able to recognize the Palestinian state, and to turn the Palestinian plan, which seems to have aimed primarily at embarrassing Israel, into a transformative breakthrough;

  • Shape "the day after" UN recognition of a Palestinian state, emphasizing that the Palestinian entity then constitutes the sole legal and political Palestinian representation of its citizens and residents, entailing inherent rights, duties, and responsibilities that are clear and bound by international law.
2. The principal potential benefits of such Israeli initiative are:
  • Anchoring the principle of 'two-states-for-two-peoples,' which strengthens the recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; guaranteeing security interests; diluting Palestinian refugee issue; breaking the deadlock in the negotiations; fortifying the status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; and improving relations with the U.S.;

  • Positioning Israel as an asset to its allies, rather than a liability, against the backdrop of regional instability and uncertainty; rising tensions between Israel and Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan; and the U.S. administration's frustration with its failure to achieve significant progress in the Israeli-Palestinian political process;

  • Lowering the prospects of confrontation between the IDF and the Palestinian population that may escalate into a strategic upset for Israel, as a result of a combination of lack of unity in Israel and the Jewish world behind the government’s policies, high regional turbulence, and rising tensions with the Israeli Arab citizens and Bedouin populations;

    The detrimental effects of such confrontation could be significant and long lasting, and include an escalation of the assault on Israel's legitimacy; a rift between Israel and the Jewish World; a crisis between the Government of Israel (GOI) and the U.S. administration; considerable constraints on Israel's ability to use its military force for self-defense; a domestic crisis in Israeli society within the Jewish population and with Israel's Arab and Bedouin citizens; and the dissolution of the PA and the paradigm of 'two-states-for-two-peoples.' These potential effects are distinct from, but may aggravate, the ongoing enmity with Iran, Hezbollah, and others. Thus, Israel may be walking into a political collision, which will at first seem a local and containable conflict against a relatively weak and unorganized opponent, but can in practice develop into a strategic setback.

3. These potential benefits are conditioned upon the consolidation of a political deal, which will enable Israel to waive its rejection of the recognition of the Palestinian state in the UNSC and of its reception as a full-fledged UN member state. This deal must be based on close coordination with the leading countries, primarily with the U.S. and ideally also with the Palestinians, on the essence and language of the UNSC resolution. Such a deal would enable the U.S. not to exercise its veto power.

4. The proposed political initiative of Israel is based on the following principles:

  • a. The Palestinian state will be established and recognized by the world, including by the U.S. and Israel, and accepted as a full member state of the UN, which requires a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR);

  • b. The principle of 'two-states-for-two-peoples' will be anchored by the UNSCR and would clearly refer to the ‘Jewish state’ or ‘nation-state of the Jewish people’ parallel to the ‘Arab / Palestinian state,’ or, at the minimum, to the principle of 'two-states-for-two-peoples';

  • c. The Palestinian state will inherit the PA, with all the powers and authorities accorded it in the Oslo accords and subsequent agreements. The Gaza Strip is part of the Palestinian state, but recognition of the Hamas regime would be conditional upon its fulfillment of the Quartet's demands and resumption of participation as an integral part of the Palestinian state;

  • d. Attributes of sovereignty of the Palestinian state will be upgraded, except from outstanding issues that have been agreed to be negotiated. For example, the Palestinian state could issue its own currency and conduct international trade agreements, but its final borders and security arrangements with Israel would be negotiated on a state-to-state basis in the future (see below);
  • e. Borders and territories: The initial territory of the Palestinian state would be that of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank, and its permanent borders would be determined in negotiations. The illegitimate Hamas regime in Gaza would not be recognized by Israel and the international community. The U.S. could note the Palestinian demand for borders based on the June 4th 1967 Lines, which it has already done;

  • f. Security arrangements: The U.S. would guarantee to Israel that in Permanent Status, agreed-upon security arrangements – primarily on the perimeter of the West Bank, in coordination with Jordan, and on the territories of the Palestinian state – would be established. Gaza would not be connected to the West Bank through a safe passage until similar arrangements are established on its border with Egypt;

  • g. Self-defense and legal defense: Israel's right to defend itself from any threat emanating from the Palestinian territory would be recognized, as would the legitimacy of Israel’s judicial system to oversee its actions so as to validate the Complementarily Principle that protects from prosecution and procedures in international tribunals;

  • h. Representation: The Palestinian state would exclusively represent its Palestinian citizens, and would bear responsibility and be accountable for everything that happens in its territory according to international law. Israel and the Palestinians would establish mutual reciprocal diplomatic missions in Ramallah and Tel Aviv; all countries would be invited to establish an embassy to the Palestinian state in Ramallah, and their Jerusalem consulates would cease to cover the West Bank and Gaza; and Palestinian embassies around the world would serve the Palestinian state instead of the PLO;

  • i. Elections in the Palestinian state: The Palestinians would conduct elections in the West Bank (and in Gaza if possible) in order to establish a Palestinian leadership that legitimately represents its citizens and residents;

  • j. Resumption of the political process on a state-to-state basis, while focusing on issues under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian state, such as borders, security, economy, trade, environment, and even management of the Jerusalem area. The 'historic issues' that emanate from 1948, or issues that are resonant for the entire Palestinian people (for example, the refugee issue or the holy sites in Jerusalem), would be negotiated only at a later stage, and following the resolution of the crisis of Palestinian representation (see below);

  • k. Release of Palestinian prisoners to the West Bank as a goodwill gesture.
5. An Israeli initiative may generate additional benefits:
  • a. Diluting the refugee issue: Palestinian refugees would be able to return to the Palestinian state (subject to Israeli specific security considerations). Israel could press for the cessation of the UNWRA presence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the transfer of its responsibilities to the Palestinian government. In addition, Israel could campaign to change the reality in which certain individuals are both Palestinian refugees and citizens of third countries;

  • b. Receiving a unique and tailored security package from the U.S. that would guarantee Israel's capacities to confront future challenges arising from the Palestinian state and the dramatic changes in the Middle East. Examples include building a security fence along Israel's border with Egypt and Jordan, or acquiring Iron Dome systems to protect Israel's urban center;

  • c. Releasing Jonathan Pollard: An Israeli political initiative that spares the U.S. from using its veto power may lead to mutual goodwill that would pave the way for the release of Jonathan Pollard.

Now is the ideal time to launch such an Israeli initiative for the following reasons: (a) Israel may fail to circumvent the Palestinian bid for statehood, and experience a diplomatic defeat in the UN that will embarrass its allies and primarily the U.S.; (b) An Israeli political initiative that accepts Palestinian statehood places the 'burden of proof' on the Palestinians to meet Israel’s concerns; (c) The assembling of the General Assembly (GA) creates an opportunity for intensive dialogue between Israel and the world's leaders; (d) Such a political initiative could not have been launched earlier given that the Palestinian's guiding logic in this campaign is confrontational, i.e. had Israel supported it, the Palestinians would have probably withdrawn from it.

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