De kersverse Minister van Buitenlandse Zaken Timmermans stelde in de Tweede Kamer vorige week nog dat hij niet voor de Palestijnse aanvraag voor de opwaardering van de status zou stemmen “omdat het een negatief effect op het vredesproces zou hebben”. Ilan Baruch, oud-ambassadeur van Israel en één van de onderhandelaars in Oslo, en nu één van de Israelische partners van IKV Pax Christi denkt daar duidelijk anders over. Zijn advies: “Go for it, Mr Abbas”
Go for it, Mr. Abbas
A move in the General Assembly is crucial to ending the stalemate of the last four years, one that was exploited by the Netanyahu government.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is resolved to move ahead with his initiative to bring the Palestinian case to the international stage, despite the escalation that is taking place right now in Gaza. It seems that in spite of European objections, American pressures to prevent or delay his plan and Israeli threats to retaliate, he intends to introduce a draft resolution calling for recognition of the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders as a nonmember state of the UN General Assembly.
It looks as if the actual vote will take place on November 29, which is 65 years to the day when the 56 member states that then constituted the General Assembly participated in the vote on Resolution 181. That, of course, brought about the end to British Mandatory rule in Palestine, and led to the partition of the land into two states, Arab and Jewish.
It is clear that the Palestinian resolution will enjoy the support of most members of the General Assembly, possibly as many as 150 out of 193. This is a historic moment for all concerned, even if the significance of being a nonmember state is largely symbolic.
Jerusalem sees the Palestinian initiative as a threat. The reason is obvious: Abbas is engaged in a maneuver aimed at circumventing the policy of maintaining the status quo dictated by the Netanyahu-Lieberman government. By taking steps in an international forum, the Palestinians force Israel to respond in a theater of action where it is at a disadvantage. There is nearly universal opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to settlement activity beyond the 1967 borders. Europe and the United States are no exceptions to that rule.
Election time approaches in Israel, and Jerusalem has seen an opportunity to make political capital. The cabinet convened for a briefing by experts from the Foreign Ministry on what measures are available to deter Ramallah from moving ahead with the UN initiative. Avigdor Lieberman convened his senior ambassadors to Europe in Vienna last weekend, where he beat the diplomatic war drums. All possible sanctions, whether diplomatic, financial (freezing tax transfers ) or administrative (eliminating VIP status for Palestinian officials traveling to or through Israel ), are on the table, with the purpose of dissuading Abbas from pressing ahead.
The principal argument heard from Jerusalem is that, according to the 1993 Oslo Accords, a Palestinian state is to be declared only in the context of a peace agreement. Recognition of a state in the UN would thus preempt any peace process. According to Israel, declaration of an independent Palestine would also be a violation of the Montevideo Convention of 1933, since the Palestinian Authority does not control the area presumed to be included in its borders: The Gaza Strip is under Hamas administration and Area C of the West Bank is administered by the Israel Defense Forces.
Furthermore, a fundamental cornerstone in the Israeli perception of the conflict is the complete elimination of any reference to the 1967 borders as a basis for territorial negotiations. For Israel, the West Bank is “disputed” territory, not occupied. East Jerusalem is annexed to Israel, never to be conceded to the Palestinians. A reference in a General Assembly resolution to the 1967 borders would, according to Israel, preempt the outcome of such negotiations.
But the threats sounded by such cabinet officials as Lieberman and also Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz are futile: Israel is in no position to declare the Oslo Accords null and void; nor can it (unless for the sake of diplomatic fireworks ) delay transfer of tax revenues to the PA, if it does not want to harm sensitive Israeli security and economic interests. Specifically, withholding revenues will affect the salaries of the Palestinian police force. This could leave the PA without the organized security apparatus that is so vital for joint operations against terrorism – the one area in which it continues to have effective cooperation with Israel, intended to contain violence on the ground.
Annulment of the Paris Protocol, an agreement regulating the trade and economic relations of the two sides, is out of the question, unless Jerusalem is prepared to severely harm Israeli economic interests.
The Israeli government is eagerly echoing American threats to impose sanctions on the PA or even the UN if Abbas persists in pressing ahead with his initiative. Such threats, however, mainly serve the pyrotechnics of diplomatic confrontation, rather than carrying any real weight: Washington will not want to see the collapse of the PA after so many years and so many billions of dollars invested in its creation and maintenance.
The outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Gaza reminds us of the gravity of a military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Therefore, we in the Israeli peace camp say to President Abbas: Have no fear, brother. Press on with your initiative in the General Assembly. Such a move is crucial to ending the stalemate of the last four years, one that was exploited by the Netanyahu government to consolidate its grip over Area C and East Jerusalem, and make any future negotiations on a two-state solution near-impossible to conduct.
Better for there to be one diplomatic victory under the Palestinian belt of Abbas than boiling frustration that gives way to a third intifada that spirals out of control and sends us to yet another catastrophe.
Ambassador (ret. ) Ilan Baruch was a member of the Oslo Accords negotiation team.