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Right Turn
Posted at 12:10 PM ET, 04/15/2011

Obama needs to shut the door on a unilateral Palestinian state

David Aaron Miller writes today in The Post:

In almost two decades of working on Arab-Israeli negotiations as a State Department adviser and negotiator, I’ve come up with more than my fair share of dumb ideas. But the notion Palestinians are cooking up, for U.N. action on Palestinian statehood this fall, takes dumb to a new level

He argues: “Yet another resolution won’t deliver Palestinians a state or even bring them closer to one.” Instead, such action, he says, will wind up “forcing the United States to oppose Palestinians’ efforts, energizing Congress to restrict much-needed assistance to Palestinian institution-building, and probably prompting Israel to do very real (and dumb) things on the ground.” I’m not sure what “dumb” things he has in mind, but we all know in such circumstances Israel will do what it deems necessary for its own national security.

It’s worth asking, however, why the Palestinians are indulging in this counterproductive behavior. For one thing, President Obama has so bollixed up the peace talks with his obsession with settlements that the Palestinians now feel entitled to seek other means of obtaining what they refuse to negotiate for at the bargaining table. But there is something else going on here.

The White House is encouraging such behavior with a lack of forthrightness. The United States, to keep the “conversation going,” as diplomats like to say, refuses to issue two simple declarative statements: 1) “The United States will oppose by all means possible the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, which would violate multiple U.N. resolutions and international agreements,” and 2) “Any attempt to pressure or to force Israel to accept a Palestinian state along borders that are not militarily defensible will be rejected by the United States.”

In my conversations with the State Department this week and in U.S. officials’ public utterances the administration refuses to be clear. I don’t actually think the United States would accept in any way a unilateral declaration or be seen egging on a 1967-type borders settlement with land swaps, for even this administration understands it would find itself politically isolated if it tried. But you sure can hear the wheels turning: Well, if there’s a little wiggle room we can talk to the Palestinian Authority, maybe. You know we should never shut the door on these things.

Wrong and wrong. If we are talking to the Palestinians in such terms we are misleading them and making Israelis even more insecure and unwilling to take risks for peace. If we leave any hint that the Palestinians might get what they want without sitting down with Israel, the PA will never come to the bargaining table. When the PA is convinced that the ONLY way to advance its aspirations is through direct negotiations, then the gamesmanship will end. And maybe not even then.

One final thought: Miller says the result of a unilateral declaration would be to encourage “Congress to restrict much-needed assistance to Palestinian institution-building.” In fact, Congress is and frankly should be looking at this situation prospectively. (The Senate just flexed its muscles on another Israel-related issue yesterday in a unanimous resolution calling on the U.N. to revoke the Goldstone report.) on Why are we aiding the PA, which is habitually in violation of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 and the Oslo Accords (e.g. inciting violence, attempting to predetermine final status issues)? Why isn’t U.S. aid conditioned on the Palestinians living up to existing obligations?

It’s actually high time the Congress got involved; if the administration can’t be crystal clear with the Palestinians I have every confidence that a bipartisan effort in Congress can set some bright lines both for the administration and for the Palestinians.

By  |  12:10 PM ET, 04/15/2011

Categories:  Israel

 
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