Elliott Abrams, writing in the Weekly Standard, suggests Israel be bold and unilateral in its response to the growing international pressure to recognize a Palestinian state. He identifies the problem that Israel faces:
“Bibi is torn,” one adviser to the Israeli government told me. “He understands the camp saying the momentum is strongly against Israel now, saying U.N. action to recognize a Palestinian state against Israel’s wishes could be dangerous. He understands pressure will grow, isolation may grow, boycotts in Europe may grow. He knows we could be a lot worse off in a year than we are now. But he knows what he wants to prevent, not what to do to prevent it. He has no real policy. He’s just like Obama.”
And Obama is a critical factor here. Entirely missing is a relationship of confidence between the United States and Israel that might foster boldness or risk-taking. In a situation in late 2003 where negotiations were dead in the water and diplomatic initiatives he viewed as dangerous were surfacing, Ariel Sharon acted: He decided to get out of Gaza. But in reaching and implementing that decision he had the full support of George W. Bush, with whom he carefully negotiated a series of supportive statements and pledges.
So with the Quartet and the United Nations howling outside Israel’s door (“Middle East quartet envoy Tony Blair said that the quartet would work with a ‘Palestinian’ unity government if Hamas would renounce violence. Despite being asked twice by reporters, Blair did not say that the terror group must recognize Israel’s right to exist”), what should Bibi Netanyahu do? Abrams offers this:
Perhaps the next country to recognize an independent Palestine should be Israel. This is, after all, a declared Israeli policy goal. As early as June 2003, Sharon said it at the Aqaba Summit: “Israel, like others, has lent its strong support for President Bush’s vision . . . of two states—Israel and a Palestinian state—living side by side in peace and security. . . . It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state.” His successors Olmert and Netanyahu have also endorsed this outcome. It is obvious that Israeli recognition would immediately devalue that Palestinian diplomatic campaign aimed at racking up additional endorsements each week, and could allow Israel to help define what “recognition” means anyway. For example, does Israel “recognize” Syria, a regime with which it has been in a state of war since the day it came into existence? “Recognizing” that Syria exists as a state eliminates none of the disputes between Israel and Syria. Many of the countries that have “recognized” Palestine have used different verbal formulas in doing so and mean different things by them, and Israel’s own formula would make that fact even clearer and therefore more confusing.
Israel should say that with this new state of Palestine it has a million practical issues to discuss, beginning with grave border disputes but continuing from customs issues to the management of the Allenby Bridge to possible use of Mediterranean ports. Personal status issues are dangerous and complex: What is the situation of Israelis in areas the state of Palestine views as its own? Is it the Palestinian position that the new state must be Judenrein, a position President Abbas has repeatedly taken? Israel should immediately challenge that position in every possible forum, for it is an indefensible racist view that the EU for one will have to denounce. Israel should demand immediate negotiations on all these complex matters, and remind the world that the dozens of statements “recognizing a Palestinian state” actually do nothing to advance the parties toward the resolution of the issues they face. In fact, commencement of practical negotiations on some of these issues between Israel and “Palestine” might lessen their appeal as great causes and turn them from emotional claims into tedious and detailed bargaining positions.
This is an intriguing idea. Certainly Bibi would have to argue these demands: “No ‘right of return’ for Palestinian ‘refugees’ except to the new state of Palestine; secure and defensible borders for Israel; no full return to the 1949 lines, given the new realities on the ground; final borders to be mutually agreed; Israel as a Jewish democratic state.” And Bibi would have to “explain that when acts of terror emerge from the West Bank they will evoke the air and land responses needed to keep Israel safe and keep those territories from terrorist control.”
This is no magic bullet. Whatever Israel proposes will almost certainly be dismissed by the Palestinians and their brokers in Europe and in the United Nations. Critics will call it “meaningless,” “insufficient,” “evidence of continued bad faith.” And more. When terrorism inevitably continues, Israeli “air and land responses” will face new criticism as Israel’s foes label such action as “invasion of a sovereign country.” (It was bad enough when Israel had to carry out a war against a non-sovereign Gaza.) And of course, this essentially throws in the towel on a cornerstone of the “peace process” — reciprocal recognition. Then there are the domestic political ramifications that Abrams points out.
And still, with all those caveats, it’s not clear what diplomatic move would be any better. Sometimes there are only bad alternatives. Bibi will need to figure out which is the least objectionable move for the Jewish state. And, meanwhile, the U.S. administration that presided over and encouraged this debacle might want to ponder what message is being sent to the region and the rest of the world when our most loyal ally in the Middle East finds itself with its back against the wall after two years of constant pressure from the U.S. Not exactly an advertisement for the benefits of friendship with the United States, is it?