Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The age-old Palestinian strategy

The age-old Palestinian strategy

Zalman Shoval

The decision by the U.N. General Assembly last Thursday to recognize "Palestine" as a nonmember state is not a disaster, but it is also not a reason to celebrate. A real state was not established there and nothing has changed on the ground; but in the areas of politics and perception, the Palestinians have made enormous headway on the road to achieving their ultimate goal of statehood.

The large majority of countries that supported the Palestinians was not surprising. The U.S. perhaps could have done more to influence the Europeans not to join the tide against Israel, but morality, as the Jews have discovered time and time again, is not one of Europe's most outstanding characteristics (even the "new" Germany did not vote against the bid).

The Israeli Left claimed that the decision to award the Palestinians a state was in Israel's interest and Israel should have supported it. But even those who promote a Palestinian state as the solution to the Arab-Israel conflict — and one may of course argue that point even though Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared in Washington over the weekend that the government is committed to a two-state solution — must ask themselves if they would really accept a state two steps away from our population centers as a result of a unilateral move, without a peace agreement and without acceptance by that state of the right of the Jews to their own homeland. Do they accept a state that has not given up its so-called "right of return" of millions of Arab refugees who would return and settle within Israel's borders, without any security guarantees, with a racist character, whose leaders openly declare that no Jew would be allowed to reside in their state? Do they accept a state whose leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has recently stated that in his view, Israel's territory west of the pre-1967 borders is also "occupied territory?"

Hatnuah ("The Movement") party Chairwoman Tzipi Livni described the move at the U.N. as a "strategic assault," and she was right. As a continuation of their "resistance," the Palestinian bid was just another step in their age-old strategy of advancing their cause without direct and genuine negotiations with Israel, which would have forced them to commit to concessions and compromises. This strategy has many components, with the common point among them being a refusal to negotiate with Israel and employing terrorism and violence. The strategy also aims at coaxing the international community, and especially the U.S., to pressure Israel to accept preconditions that would render the negotiations a farce devoid of content and to make their case in international forums in the hope of ultimately relegating the negotiations to the garbage bin of history.

The Palestinians have never approached the negotiations with clean hands and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert knows that better than anyone else after discussing the issues for more than a year with Abbas and ending up only with a cold shoulder.

The Palestinian move at the U.N. was a clear violation of all of its existing international agreements with Israel due to what is known as "rebus sic stantibus" (Latin for "things thus standing"), which in international law is the legal doctrine rendering treaties inapplicable due to fundamental changes of circumstances. If Israel so desired, it could declare itself no longer bound by the Oslo Accords, the Hebron agreement, the Wye River Memorandum and other similar agreements, though consideration of whether to abandon those agreements should be political rather than legal. Israel should not punish the Palestinians, but rather work to ensure that their success will be offset by their own loss.

Israel can employ a variety of measures, such as building more housing units beyond the pre-1967 borders, mainly in Jerusalem and areas that in any agreement would most likely remain under Israeli control (a measure that would perhaps be the most moderate one available to the government), changing the legal status of areas within Judea and Samaria, and economic steps like the freezing of Palestinian tax payments. Each of these measures has its advantages and disadvantages. Israel, could, if it wants, employ all of them together, only some of them or none of them. Any such move must, however, be considered only within the context of long-term political gain and loss, including, for example, within the context of the Iranian issue.

These possibilities further raise the fundamental question of which direction Israel will take with regard to the Palestinians, a question that will no doubt wait for Netanyahu to answer after he forms the next government, as expected. Israel's internal politics will also be affected by that question, depending on the composition of the internal and external coalitions Netanyahu will have to work with.