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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Backgrounder: The Palestinian Authority’s Bid for Statehood at the UN

Source: The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs supports the creation of a prosperous, independent, democratic Palestinian state established on the basis of a peace agreement with Israel. The Centre further affirms that Israeli and Palestinian aspirations - for security and independence respectively - are compatible and bound together under international law as a singular agenda for resolving the conflict. This concept is central to the two-state solution, in which a Jewish homeland and a Palestinian homeland exist side-by-side in peace and security.

The Centre recognizes that this will require difficult, even painful, compromises by both Israelis and Palestinians alike. It is therefore essential that the Palestinian leadership end its policy of placing preconditions on negotiations with Israel and, instead, return to direct talks in order to arrive at a comprehensive peace agreement upon which a Palestinian state will be founded.

Overview of the Issue
On September 27th, 2012, the Palestinian Authority announced its intention to re-launch its bid to obtain a unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations. This is an important first step toward full recognition of Palestinian statehood by the Security Council and is in fact the very procedure used by several European and Asian governments to join the UN as full member states. Virtually every group accorded non-member observer state status has gone on to become a full UN member state. Unfortunately, for the Palestinian Authority to do so would be to undermine the very basis for a resolution to the conflict: negotiations as the means to peace and Palestinian statehood.

Perhaps most significantly, an acclamation of Palestinian statehood by the General Assembly could open the doors for Palestinian use of the International Criminal Court as a new battleground to wage diplomatic war against Israel. A number of Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have indicated that this is their real objective – to access additional organs of the United Nations and use them to isolate the Jewish State on the world stage.

Points to Consider
This current Palestinian Authority bid, and indeed all similar diplomatic initiatives, should be subject to a simple litmus test: does it bring the two sides any closer to peace? Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority’s bid to obtain unilateral recognition is a setback for the cause of peace.

A unilateral declaration of independence splits up the objectives of peace and Palestinian statehood. In so doing, the Palestinian Authority is attempting to avoid its responsibility not only to negotiate a peace agreement, but ultimately to accept the Jewish state’s very legitimacy.

This is not simply a new tactic on the part of the Palestinian leadership. It is an effort to bypass the established peace process – and is extremely reckless in three ways:

1) It avoids direct negotiations.
2) It contravenes international law and violates signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
3) It endangers a final resolution to the conflict by attempting to obtain statehood without a peace accord.

1) It avoids direct negotiations.

· Israel has repeatedly stated that it is prepared to negotiate without precondition for the express purpose of creating an independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

· The Palestinian Authority has, since late 2008 for all but one month of 2010, refused to enter into direct talks – effectively abandoning peace negotiations.

· Canada, the United States and a number of European Countries (including Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands) are all on record opposing the Palestinian bid at the UN, considering it counterproductive for both peace-building and eventual Palestinian statehood. The Government of Canada’s rejection of the Palestinian initiative has received cross-party support at the federal level.

· As President Obama stated in response to this issue: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” (May 19, 2011)

· Israel has taken great risks for the cause of peace, signing agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. In both cases, Israel gave up land for peace, most notably when Israel handed over the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, an area 3 times the size of Israel.

· In 2000, Israel proposed a Palestinian state on the entire Gaza Strip and 95% of the West Bank, including compensating land swaps and shared sovereignty in Jerusalem. The Palestinian leadership refused, made no counter-offer, and incited a wave of suicide bombings that killed more than 1,000 Israelis. In 2008, Israel offered a similar statehood proposal to the Palestinians in top-level behind-the-scenes talks. The Palestinian leadership rejected it.

2) It contravenes international law and violates signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

· UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) is the only internationally-accepted path to Israeli-Palestinian peace, offering a framework for resolving the conflict and creating the conditions for a Palestinian state to emerge. Under Resolution 242, Israeli withdrawal from territories is only required once the Arab (and Palestinian) leadership provide Israel with full recognition, security guarantees, and lasting peace.

· Reaffirming UNSC Resolution 242, UN Security Council Resolution 338 (1973) calls for direct talks between both parties as the only solution to the conflict.

· The Government of Canada has supported UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338 for decades, as well as international law in this matter, and upheld the principle that Palestinian statehood and genuine peace cannot be divided from one another.

· Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (then the PLO) pledged to uphold this approach upon signing the Oslo Accords in 1993, with both sides declaring their support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict only through direct negotiations, as per 242 and 338.

· Any efforts on the part of the Palestinian leadership to obtain statehood without negotiating peace are in violation of the Oslo Accords. It is only via direct talks and a comprehensive peace accord between the two parties that the goal of two states for two peoples can be realized.

3) The current move by the Palestinian leadership is aimed at creating a state without peace with Israel – and is, therefore, a prescription for permanent conflict.

· In principle, the symbolic acceptance of a Palestinian state without peace would remove every incentive for the Palestinian leadership to negotiate a peace agreement at all – condemning future generations of Israeli and Palestinian children alike to further violence.

· In practice, even should the current bid succeed at the UN, a Palestinian state will fail to be established absent a final peace agreement.

· Moreover, Hamas and its violent affiliate groups in Gaza have recently stepped up their campaign of missile and mortar attacks against southern Israel (on October 23rd-24th alone, more than 70 such strikes took place).

· If moderate Palestinian leaders refuse to crack down on extremists and return to direct talks with Israel as the only path to statehood, there is little hope that Hamas and their affiliates will cease their violent campaign against Israeli civilians. The Palestinian people deserve leaders who will make peace and build a prosperous state, not two factions committed to endless conflict with Israel.

Additional Reading

“Symbolic Palestinian Statehood is not a Path to Peace” by David Koschitzky, Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (The Toronto Sun)

“Bid for UN Statehood won’t bring Peace” by Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (The Toronto Star)

“The Time Isn’t Right for Statehood Bid” by Irwin Cotler, Member of Parliament (The Montreal Gazette)

“Canada will not Support U.N. Statehood Bid by Palestinians” (The JTA)

“Minister Baird Disappointed at UNESCO Approval of Palestinian Membership” (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada)

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