Enough already: That’s what a majority of world governments are preparing to say when they debate Palestinian statehood at the United Nations Enough of the blame game. Enough of wars and intifadas that target civilians. Enough of the disingenuous peace process and the stale narratives that make up the status quo. Enough of the occupation of one people by another, regardless of rationalizations.
It’s in Israel’s strategic interests to support what’s likely to be overwhelming recognition of Palestine. Whatever one thinks about the Palestinian effort to focus world attention on the plight of its people, it’s a showcase example of the shifting global order. The ground has moved, leaving Israel behind. International law and human rights have gained precedence in the past decade and, for the first time, “lawfare” has emerged as a bloodless alternative to warfare. The Palestinian bid for statehood is a bold attempt to introduce legal diplomacy into the arsenal of conflict resolution.
Israel should support the Palestinian bid because to do so is the lesser of two evils. Yes, it’s true the immediate outcome can’t be predicted, but going with the international flow will reduce Israel’s increasing isolation. Far from “delegitimizing” the Jewish state, positive support will relegitimize it in the eyes of the world.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “big stick” vision of security and settlements expansion has become increasingly unsustainable as the Arab Spring uprisings have challenged once-stable configurations: Hosni Mubarak is gone, and Egyptian rioters recently attacked the Israeli embassy; Israel’s refusal to offer a face-saving apology to Turkey over the killing of nine people in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla seriously upset ties with a former ally; Syria is in turmoil; Iran is challenging Israel’s nuclear hegemony in the region; radical West Bank settlers are attacking local Palestinians, increasing the likelihood of another intifada.
If these are not reasons enough for a policy review with regard to Palestinian aspirations, America’s diminishing power in the world should be. Israel relies on unconditional U.S. support, including billions of dollars in annual aid, armaments and the threat of back-up military force to maintain its position in the neighbourhood. But with the U.S. edging into economic depression, how long can this degree of aid be sustained? Furthermore, President Barack Obama has declared himself in favour of a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders, so there can be no succour in that quarter. Finally, is there stronger evidence of America’s waning influence than Saudi Arabia’s recent threat to review its special relationship (read oil and military bases) should the U.S. veto the Palestinian request for statehood in the Security Council?
The status of the Palestinians is about to change. Israel would do well to get on board and restart negotiations from the inside.
What Israeli officials fear is the International Criminal Court, and liability for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government has been fighting the trend toward international justice since the disastrous 2008 Gaza war, after which an investigation concluded that war crimes had been committed by both sides. Yes, the recognition of statehood, however attenuated, will allow the Palestinians to bring accusations of war crimes to the ICC, but it will also expose their own leaders to comparable charges. The prospect of criminal accountability may well encourage sober second thoughts on both sides.
Of course there’ll be problems. Israel will have to deal with its radical settlers, some of whom believe that God gave them the land, just as the radicals of Hamas may threaten the prospect of revived negotiations. On the other hand, the endemic questions of Jerusalem and the right of Palestinian return won’t be affected by state recognition, other than returning them to the negotiating table.
Does Mr. Netanyahu have the foresight and flexibility to represent his country at this game-changing event? Israel’s survival in a reconfigured world that increasingly privileges law and accountability will require a leader capable of recognizing and serving his nation’s long-term interests.
There are no panaceas in the Middle East. Only better choices.
Erna Paris is the author of Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History and The Garden and the Gun: A Journey Inside Israel .