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Solid State

The Palestinians are laying the groundwork for unilaterally declared statehood. If Israel prepares properly, the move can be a boon for the Jewish state, too.

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Mahmoud Abbas lays the cornerstone for the Presidential Guest Palace in Ramallah on December 1, 2010. (Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)
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Bleak House

The prospects for a Palestinian state have rarely been more grim

Seventeen years after the Oslo process began, and following spectacular failures by Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008 to create a Palestinian state through bilateral negotiations, the cause of Israel-Arab peace is going nowhere. All three principal actors—Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. administration—are displaying political weakness, political or ideological reservations, or diplomatic ineptitude. They are seemingly incapable of convening meaningful talks, to say nothing of succeeding at them.

Against this glum backdrop, there is only one success story: the Palestinian Authority’s state-building effort, a unique example of positive Palestinian achievement in the fields of security, economics, and institution-building. Given that bilateral talks appear to have failed, the state-building plan has a political endgame—international recognition of a Palestinian state—that must be addressed soon. What’s more, it holds out the possibility of serving Israeli as well as Palestinian interests.

This is not the sort of unilateral declaration of independence that was trumpeted in the 1990s by Yasser Arafat. In contrast, this Palestinian plan is to be activated only if and when the institutions of state are in place in the West Bank and bilateral peace talks are deemed to have failed. Happily, the institutions increasingly are in place; sadly, the U.S.-sponsored peace talks are already a failure. At some point next September, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people, will have built up sufficient diplomatic momentum through the recognition of statehood by a growing community of nations that it is almost certain to ask the United Nations for recognition of a state within the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem.

Notably, the PLO is not expected to ask the United Nations to pronounce on refugees and their right of return or on control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This is important: These two existential issues have been the biggest deal breakers in the repeated attempts to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, both officially and in informal meetings, attempts with which I have been associated for more than two decades.

For it is here that the narratives of Israel and the PLO clash most resoundingly—even as the two parties agree on the need for two states side by side. In direct talks, the PLO insists there can be no formal deal on borders without Jerusalem acquiescing to a right-of-return agreement that certifies for future generations that Israel was “born in sin” in 1948. And it demands (because “there never was a temple there”) that Israel cede full sovereignty and control over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians. But within the framework of a unilateral/international partial solution at the United Nations, the PLO is prepared to postpone resolution of precisely these two issues in order to achieve a two-state solution.

In responding to this Palestinian plan, which is coordinated fully with the Arab League, Israel is in a paradoxical position. On the one hand, it supports the Palestinian Authority’s state-building program; on the other, it opposes the PLO’s effort to recruit international support for a U.N. declaration of Palestinian statehood. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government appears to be relying on an American veto in the Security Council. Yet this is not at all a certainty: The Obama Administration takes a much more international approach to Middle East issues than did its predecessors, and it is clearly unhappy with Netanyahu’s policies. Note that last fall, in the course of efforts to persuade Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze, President Barack Obama reportedly offered to oppose Palestinian efforts in the United Nations as long as active peace talks continued. This can be understood to mean that, without active peace talks, there is no promise of a veto.

As matters currently stand, a Palestinian statehood resolution is almost certain to reach the Security Council with the massive backing of the international community. If the United States does veto it, Israel’s international isolation and de-legitimization will be severely exacerbated. If Washington doesn’t use the veto but Israel opposes the resolution, Jerusalem will find itself totally isolated and at the center of a major international controversy over a U.N. decision to recognize a Palestinian state that Israel opposes.


There is one obvious alternative. Israel and the United States could begin, now, discussing ways in which U.N. creation of a Palestinian state could be leveraged by Israel to serve its larger purposes. Jerusalem and Washington could set about ensuring that the relevant Security Council resolution, along with U.S.-Israeli side agreements, reflect Israel’s strategic interests. This could conceivably be an opportunity to put Israel and the United States, and potentially the Palestinians and the Arab League as well, on the same page.

Israel and the United States would ensure that U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders would also include a mandate to that state and to Israel to negotiate land swaps, security and water provisions, disposition of Israeli settlements remaining in Palestinian territory, and to work out the parameters for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. The holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere and resolution of the refugee issue would only be addressed once a Palestinian state begins functioning. But the creation of that state based on international recognition of successful Palestinian state-building would not be dependent on solving these issues.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would then become a state-to-state issue—no longer a conflict between Israel and an elusive and problematic nonstate actor, the PLO, that represents the Palestinian diaspora. Mahmoud Abbas would negotiate with Israel as president of Palestine, not chairman of the PLO. The U.N. resolution that creates the state of Palestine would be worded to refer back to Resolution 181 of 1947, which created “Arab and Jewish states” in mandatory Palestine and to reaffirm U.N. recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel could leverage its agreement and seek out significant security benefits from the United States to compensate it for the risks it would be taking. It could also bargain for incentives from the Arab League, whose Arab Peace Initiative offers Israel normalization and security in return for peace and for whom the emergence of a Palestinian state could conceivably open new channels of cooperation with Israel against Iran and the militant Islamist movements it fosters. Israel could, together with Washington, identify and neutralize any potential negative ramifications posed by international legal aspects of the emergence of a Palestinian state by dint of U.N. decree. Whatever bilateral talks Washington succeeds in convening between now and next September could be channeled toward facilitating the territorial aspects of U.N. creation of a Palestinian state.

Obviously, there are also drawbacks to the approach outlined here. It would only produce a partial, not final agreement, thereby leaving aspects of the conflict to fester. While the Gaza Strip would undoubtedly be declared a part of the state of Palestine, it would remain a separate and dangerous problem. Then, too, this is a best-case scenario that could go wrong; reliance on an international track could turn into a slippery slope for Israel, wherein Jerusalem loses control over the process.

Yet these dangers must be assessed not only in the context of U.N. creation of a Palestinian state but also against the backdrop of the likely alternative—the present situation. The absence of either a peace process or a Palestinian state almost certainly means an eventual return to violence. Hamas in Gaza threatens both Israel and the West Bank-based PLO whether or not a Palestinian state emerges. And Israel showed in 2005, during the Gaza withdrawal, and 2006, ending the war in Lebanon, that it is increasingly ready and able to work with the international community—but also to put on the brakes when necessary—if for no other reason than its inability to come up on its own with viable military or political strategies for dealing with the nonstate actors on its borders.

The current failure of the peace process and the risks for Israel that this project represents should impel both Washington and Jerusalem to engage urgently in an analytical exercise:

First, the two countries must acknowledge that the present approach for ending the conflict with a single agreement has, like its predecessors since 1993, failed.

Second, they must recognize that the Palestinian/Arab League plan for international recognition of a Palestinian state, backed by universally approved achievements in state-building in the West Bank, is gaining momentum and will confront Israel and the United States with a major challenge.

Third, they must acknowledge the dangers for Israel of an American veto of a Security Council resolution to recognize a Palestinian state, or, alternatively, of an American “yes” vote at the United Nations that is not coordinated with Israel on the basis of a joint effort to leverage the U.N. resolution to Israel’s advantage.

And finally, they must understand that the state-recognition plan embodies risks but also potential advantages for Israel and for U.S. interests in the region, which can and should be leveraged.

In short, it’s time we began talking seriously about this contingency.

Yossi Alpher, who edits Bitterlemons, is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. In 2000, he served as special adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the Camp David talks.

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Alpher’s recommendations appear to be pragmatic and helpful. These ideas should be discussed behind the diplomatic circles as well in the court of public opinion in Israel and the US. Jews, Arabs and Americans stand to benefit from thinking out of the box for progress in the Middle East peace process. Please G-d, help all us move forward.

Yossi–Why no mention of the Jewish refugee problem? Why no mention of the fact that once Israel withdraws from the West bank it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 weeks before Hamas takes over. As for Palestinian state building being a success story; if you call having 60% of your budget come from donations then I guess it’s a big success.
Let’s stop living in la la land and deal with reality and not with wishful thinking. I think that your first sentence says it all. The Palestinians should be the ones interested in obtaining a state not Barak and Olmert. I haven’t seen any real sign that they want a peaceful state alongside Israel.

Thank you for this piece, Mr. Alper. I admire your thoughtful optimism.

You fail to address, however, what may (or will almost certainly) occur within (and at the edges of) the nascent state. Carl, writing above, does address it, but in oversimplified terms: “it shouldn’t take more than 2-3 weeks before Hamas takes over.”

While I don’t know that Hamas would “take over” (in 2, 3, or even 30 weeks) there will be attempts by Hamas and other groups to sabotage a tentative, uneasy peace. We must assume that Hamas will throw rockets into Israel (from closer, better vantage points, increasing their accuracy and Israeli mortality). In response, Israel could elect to sit on her hands, thereby granting the international eye time to see Hamas for what it is and, one hopes, to sympathize again with Israel. Doubtless, though, Israel will not sit on her hands, so this is just so much talk.

More interesting than the fact that Hamas (and others?) would attempt to break apart the two-state solution is the question of Palestinian governance and power-sharing. Following recognition of the Palestinian state, the power struggle within Palestine would almost certainly resemble Lebanon’s current cluster&*#%. Hezbollah versus Hamas. Iran versus Syria. Wouldn’t Jordan have a vested interest, too? Turkey? Sunni versus Shite?

As someone who longs for peace in the region, I don’t relish such a morass. If Iraq’s struggle to work out tribal alliances and blood feuds on the road to some semblance of governance is any kind of template, it doesn’t bode well for a peaceful future in Palestine. Still, allowing the various factions to, for lack of a better way to put it, work it out among themselves may be the best thing for Israel.

I’m interesting in read others’ thoughts.

Haya Molnar says:

Yossi Alpher’s article poses some of the most strategically sound and realistic ideas about having a two state solution actually happen in our life time and without bloodshed. It is important that all interested parties (Israel, the PLO, and the US) be proactive in pursuit of a timely solution, rather than have one imposed by the international community, who frankly does not fully understand the realities of living in the region for Israelis and Palestinians alike. To do nothing at this time is a dangerous, unrealistic tactic. To move forward with peace talks that have concrete objectives, while recognizing and avoiding the pitfalls is the only real option for a true and long-lasting peace.

Mark S. Devenow says:

“Note that last fall, in the course of efforts to persuade Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze, President Barack Obama reportedly offered to oppose Palestinian efforts in the United Nations as long as active peace talks continued. This can be understood to mean that, without active peace talks, there is no promise of a veto.”

Regarding the above statement, the author seems to forget that there will be a presidential election in 2012 and even Obama isn’t stupid enough to complicate prospects for reelection by placing burdens on his campaign in Fla., Ohio, Pennsylvania etc. Following that event the United States might be blessed with another President (accepting the premise that no one who might conceivably be elected could be worse for Israel than Obama). So, for the meantime at least, any UN resolution recognizing a Palestinian “state” within borders marking Israel’s eastward expansion via the results of a defensive war in 1967 is likely to be vetoed in any case. And assuming that the Palestinian leadership has enough control (in the interests of seeing such a resolution adopted) to get the timing right on averting the obstacle of US election seems to fly in the face of history which provides prolepsis for the likelihood that the Palestinian leadership will jump the gun on pressing the resolution.

Bottom line: the “good news” to be associated with such a declaration likely weighs/ bears too much weight upon dubious premises.

To Christopher–You are very optimistic about the international community seeing Hamas for what it really is. Israel withdrew from Gaza with no strings attached-the perfect opportunity for the Palestinians to show they want to live alongside Israel. Instead they shoot thousands of rockets into Israel and throw out the Fatah faction which they accomplish by throwing them off tall buildings and murdering them in hospitals. The world remained silent. When after years of this Israel woke up and did something, the world finally reacted–by condemning Israel.

Allan Leicht says:

Carl is vey much on e mark, but I am also intrigued by Mr. Alpher’s reasoned analysis. At the same time, any Palestinia state would require the military means by which to remain secular. It did not work in Gaza because Hamas is fanatic, powerful and bloodthirsty. Likewise, Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is no Arab on the Palestinian side who can stand up to them. The Arabs would therefore have to depend on either Jordan or Israel to keep the Islamists out. If Jordon does as much as Egypt is doing in Gaza, how long would it be before Palestine become the Islamic Republic of Palestine, Hamastan or worse?

You could do a lot better with the photo caption. How about: How many PA ministers does it take to build a guest palace?

Les Miller says:

Just as Israel’s national birth became a call for regional warfare, so too will the PLA version of a national birth invite regional warfare. Perhaps this is unavoidable; perhaps it is a necessary feature of national birthing within that region.

The core factors behind the regional rejection of the PLA state will be the PLA’s legitimacy and the fact that this act will finally bring official recognition of Israel by a Palestinian entity, even if only implicitly. Too many groups within the region reject the PLA’s legitimacy and will still be unwilling to soften their rejection of the “Zionist Entity” regardless of what tranpsires along the East River or the West Bank. This rejection will be enunciated militarily.

At that point in time, the most intriguing question for the PLA and Israel is this: will Israel, in some fashion, provide military support to the nascent PLA regime/state? Obviously,in a war over Paletinian statehood, Israel will be drawn into the combat that erupts between the PLA and its foes over statehood. Is the success of the PLA’s state worth Israel’s partnering with the new nation on the block? And will Israel be expected to do the regional dirty work for the Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and PLA yet again in a war that brings all of the same old enemies into a conflict?

Diplomacy by gunfire is simply large scaled Russian roulette. How many times can Israel get away with this lunatic game?

The people who call for a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines are never Palestinians. No Palestinian would accept this. They want all of what they call ‘Historical Palestine”. So the entire premise of a 2-state solution as outlined in UNSC Resolution 242 is fatally flawed.

I guess the problem is not recognition of the Palestinian state (many states recognized it long time ago, even before Oslo, as the president of Russia recently reminded forgetful Palestinians and Israeli leftists). The problem is – on which territory it is going to be recognized: on West Bank, in Jerusalem or in Tunisia, where USSR recognized it well in 1988? Recent declaration by few South American countries that they recognize Palestinian state “within 1967 borders” is a nonsense from the legal point of view since Palestinian state never existed and never had any borders. In essence such declaration recognizes not Palestinian state but the state of Israel (because only Israel, Jordan or Egypt could be recognized in 1967 “borders”) but that means that they denied existence of Israel earlier. I realize that for some people it might be difficult to understand the reason for such fastidious contemplation but from the legal point and from the point of view of the future generations the precise (and not absurd) definition of what the Palestinian state is, must be developed PRIOR to its recognition.

George One says:

Most of the problems of Israel and a possible Palestinian State living peacefully side-by-side seem to have been fully discussed above. An important initial move, however, should be for the Palestinians to stop demonising Israel and Jews in their schools – unless and until this is done, any peace would be an illusion (see the formal peace with Egypt and with Jordan). One major obstacle to real peace is the United Nations refugee agency which is a self-help institution with hundreds of millions of dollars at its disposal and hundreds of people employed – they certainly don’t want to be deprived of their livelyhood.

If the palestinians are interested in unilateral actions towards peace, why don’t they unilaterally end terrorism and violence? Suicide bombs and rocket attacks on civilian targets are NOT helping to bring peace to the region

Martin K says:

Those of you who fear a Hamas revolution in the WB seem to forget that the plans the Palestinians are pushing include NATO-troops manning the borderposts and helping out providing internal security. WB would, in all practical views, become a NATO protectorate. The palestinians are desperate for this, while Israel insists on maintaining an IDF presence for “security reasosns”. In other words they dont trust the US.

Salomon Mizrahi says:


Dorothy Wachsstock says:

Don’t hold your breath if you expect Pres. Obama to do anything to help Israel with vetos or assistance. He is now holding back in order to get Jewish money to get his second term. Sen. Reid had asked him to do so since Jews were not donating money to the democrat party as in previous years.

Pres.Obama showed what he thought of the Jewish STate when P.M.Netanyahu was shown the back door of the W.H. and after the republicans help the Pres. as sitting with the democrats at the State of the Union address, a boon to the President, he will really show his true hand in favor of the Palestinians and all of the countrys that are our enemies.

Look how he has treated our allies!

If you repeat lie many times it becomes truth for “progressively” minded individuals. How could someone recognize Palestinian state within 1967 borders if such “state” in 1967 did not have them? It is such absurd.

For those who believe President Obama will not with hold a veto for fear of losing the Jewish vote: NEWS FLASH! He knows he has lost the Jewish vote. Just read the comments in this column. What Obama will do is use the bully pulpit to generate anti-israel support. Why continue $Billions to Israel when people in the US are suffering? Trust me, such a platform will resonate with many Americans. The electorate no longer fears being labeled an anti-semite when criticizing Israel and supporting American interests. The anti-semite card has been played too frequently and its impact is now diluted.
Yossi is right when he says there is much to be gained by Israel if a Palestinian State is recognized. Israel must co-opt their Arab neighbors and show them how to turn a dessert into a garden of paradise. In the long run Israel has no other choice. It cannot prevail militarily for the next 500 years. In can prevail indefinitely through its collective brainpower just so long as it does not outsmart itself.

How could the truth and justice survive in the environment of “progressive” media lies and propaganda? Just look at today’s BBC report:

“The papers also show that the Palestinians were willing to accept demands that Israel be defined as a Jewish state – the Palestinians had previously resisted such a definition as it is opposed by Israel’s Arab citizens and would wipe out the right of return.
Mr Erakat is quoted as saying this was no longer an issue, telling Ms Livni in November 2007: “If YOU want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel YOU can call it what you want.”

It would be funny if it would not be so sad: where is moving previously impartial news media?

Recent events in Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt clearly illustrate how volatile, unpredictable and unforgiving the Middle East can be. Lebanon, for example, a neighbor state of Israel, has virtually fallen into Iran’s orbit and Jordan, another neighbor, is dangerously veering towards Iran’s pull. The fate of Egypt, Israel’s southern neighbor, has suddenly become uncertain as well. Israel is surrounded by Arab states in flux. In the Middle East, there are no guarantees, no certainty and no mercy. This will only make it harder for Israel to hold her own and survive.

So then why are “peace groups” such as Peace Now trying to sabotage Israel’s security? By advocating their “Two State Solution”, they are pushing for Israel to give up control over her valuable land assets, Judea and Samaria (a.k.a “West Bank”). If these groups have their way, Israel will be left with INDEFENSIBLE borders. A new cataclysmic war would then be inevitable.

Israel is an island of democracy, sanity and Judeo-Christian Western values in a sea of turmoil antithetical to the West and to peace. She has been correctly compared to the largest U.S. “battleship” floating in an enemy-infested sea. The last thing Israel and the West need are to be stabbed in the back by these “peace groups” who only work to undermine Israel’s security.

For a good, graphic look at Samaria, Israel’s critical land asset, log onto the SHOMRON CENTRAL blog here:

Jonathan says:

Excellent analysis.
The advantages of a UN decision declaring a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders are threefold:

For one it puts to rest any Palestinian aspirations and conversely Israeli paranoia (voiced in at least one comment above) that the Palestinians intend establishing a state in the entire geographical are of Israel. If the sides were to negotiate and agree on this concept with mutual land swaps it is then cast in stone.

Secondly the red herring brandished by the Netanyahu government that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland is thus by default irrelevant. Israel, without occupation will define itself by virtue of what it is, and as long as the Jewish majority defines it as such within its own borders, it will remain a Jewish state.

Thirdly, Israel walks away unscathed from the slippery slope of world isolation, the product of an impending reality of de facto apartheid by occupying territory and controlling a disenfranchised population mass.

The Netanyahu government should welcome the step with open hands and work with it to reach an equitable agreement. The wrong side of history is not a good place to be.

Yaakov Hillel says:

It is most important to understand from what and from where the machines that bring to life the Palestinian nationalism before trying to tackle the problem or looking for solutions through camp David agreements or Oslo accords.One book and one DVD a little bit o patience reading a book that is a documented documentary By Joan Peters “From time immemorial” and Joel Gilberts DVD superbly done,”Good bye Israel”.with these two media in the back of your mind you are prepared to speak about the best type of solution for the Arabs of the Middle east. One small anecdote, in the 1980’s Israel decided to take the Muslim refugees out of the refugee camps and give them an education decent housing in the Shech Radwan neighborhood of Gaza city. The Alarm went out to all the arab leaders of all Israels neigboring countries. They sent all the “Palestinian” Students from the universities immediately back to israel with the insructions of starting and organizing the first intifada. The first muslims that were taken from the refugee camps to the new housing had to be protected. I was yet relatively young at the time and did reseve duty in gaza protecting these refugees from the multitude of Gazan Arabs who came to kill them. It is understood that once a Palestinian refugee in a refugee camp always a refugee in a refugee camp. They are not allowed to own property, they are not allowed a highschool education, they are not allowed to leave the refugee camps, they are not allowed to do more then menial labor. They are forced by their brothers who live in the Towns and cities to remain refugees from birth to death, they are allowed to become shahids(suicide attackers) they are allowed to remain at home and keep their mouths shut they are allowed to dig tunnels under the security fences into Israel or Egypt. Their Brothers who are legal Gazans and not refugees are allowed all the above things. The Shech radwan Israeli attempt to stop the vicious cycle of refugees has failed.

Yaakov Hillel says:

Obama may be the best thing that happened to Israel in the 63 years of its existence. Even with out Israel recieving a red penny from the antisemite that is sitting in the white house Israel will prevail. I am sure that other countries like china and Russia would be more than happy to have the capitalistic Israel as a partner than any of the shaky Muslem states that are a threat to world peace. they would be interested in israel having defensible borders if it is to be their ally. Pollard is an example to how america has regarded and regards Israel. By putting a Muslim in the white house the Americans have jeopardized all that America ever stood for. After the request of putting a mosque at ground zero and Obama humming a muslim tune to it, the direction of america with obama is clear. I think the USA has to borrow the Prime minister of Austrailia to clean up the mess that Obama has made. Today europe is starting to wake up to the afflictions of ww3. The Shaaria soon will become law in much of Europe in the next generation. Geert Wilders May save Holland but I do not see enough of Geerts through out western europe. America has to take a good look at wesrern europe where every second child born is a muslim. If this is fact today in ten years time there will be two muslim births for every Christian-athiest-Jewish birth.Those born in ten years time will be voting in 30 years time. If the Europeans do not do some thing harsh ad fast Arabia will stretch from canada to indonesiia.In Israel Just like the percentage of Jews to Arabs have not changed in the last 60 years so it will not change in the next sixty years. Maybe God is Jewish. What I have written is fact.There is a necessity of America to wake up or they will find Israel selling agricultural equipment to americas competitors on Israels terms. The Chinese and Russians know exactly who the muslims are, better a tiny dependable partner than a twisted threat. Soon it will be too late to undo the damage Obama has done


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Solid State

The Palestinians are laying the groundwork for unilaterally declared statehood. If Israel prepares properly, the move can be a boon for the Jewish state, too.

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