September 22, 2011

Veering Off the Path to Peace

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On Sept. 9, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that Palestinian statehood is “long overdue.” We, as advocates for Israel, could not agree more. Indeed, it is in the best interest of Israel that a two-state solution guaranteeing peace for Israelis and Palestinians is achieved. However, by appealing to the U.N. today through a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not bringing the prospect of a just and lasting peace closer to reality. Instead, the UDI will impede the peace process, making future negotiations less likely to succeed. Worse yet, it could lead to disastrous consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike, jeopardizing the creation of a Palestinian state.

For the Palestinians to acquire full status as a U.N. member state, the U.N. Security Council, of which the United States is a permanent member, must vote in favor of the UDI. The Obama administration with near unanimous support from Congress has made clear its intention to veto the UDI, as it undermines U.S.-mediated peace efforts. If the UDI is vetoed, Abbas will likely appeal to the U.N. General Assembly, where a vote is expected to pass. Yet without the backing of the Security Council, this vote will not bring the Palestinians closer to true statehood or peace. While the resolution would be merely symbolic, the anticipated ramifications are real and dire.

The passing of the UDI at the General Assembly will add to a long list of hollow victories for the Palestinian people. Without seeking Israeli cooperation, Palestinians will find no substantial improvements on the ground on the days following the vote. The frustration that will build up as a result could be exploited by Hamas, the terrorist group ruling Gaza. International leaders fear an escalation in violence, which could further divide Israelis and Palestinians.

Additionally, by increasing tension between Israel and the Palestinians, the UDI could stifle the progress that negotiations have produced. Through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations we have seen improved training and increased deployment of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, a dramatic reduction in the number of security checkpoints from 41 to 14 in 2010 and a boom in the Palestinian economy. This cooperation led to an 8.5-percent increase in G.D.P. in the West Bank in 2009, compared to a 35-percent drop in 2001.

Israel knows firsthand that unilateral steps don’t work. In 2000 Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon without a negotiated treaty with the Lebanese government. As a result, the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah took over the region. Similarly, in 2005 Israel carried out the disengagement from Gaza, whereby more than 20 Jewish settlements were dismantled and all Israeli ground troops were withdrawn. The aftermath of this unilateral move was a violent coup in which Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, killed hundreds of Palestinians.

In contrast, negotiated agreements have consistently been positive steps towards peace. For example, Israel negotiated peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994, bringing peace and security to these partners. Moreover, Israel showed its willingness to concede strategic territories such as the Sinai Peninsula in order to win peace with its neighbors.

Additionally, the UDI in no way guarantees security for the Israelis. Only a month ago terrorists from Gaza carried out a string of attacks that killed eight Israelis. The inclusion of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority unity government earlier this year poses an unacceptable risk to the lives of Israeli civilians.

Lastly, Middle East peace and stability have been primary U.S. foreign policy concerns for decades. The U.S. was instrumental in bringing about negotiated peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors Egypt and Jordan, and continues to strongly support a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The UDI will polarize Israelis and Palestinians, making it harder to bring both parties back to the negotiating table.

Further, the U.S. has provided over $4 billion in aid to the Palestinians as support for the peace process. This summer, Congress passed House Resolution 268 (in a vote of 407-6) and Senate Resolution 185 (unanimous), which condemn the UDI and threaten to withdraw aid from the Palestinians. Without this U.S. aid, powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia could fill the financial void and expand their regional influence. Unfortunately, the foreign interests of such nations are not likely to align with ours.

The Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence will not bring peace to two peoples who have yearned for it for so long. Uncoupling the efforts to bring about Palestinian statehood and peace could cost lives and set back the security and economic progress that have been painstakingly achieved in recent years. Both parties must continue on the path of negotiations and resume direct talks to bring about a lasting resolution to the conflict. Of course, this will mean that both Israelis and Palestinians must make compromises on contentious issues such as borders, the status of Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. Outstanding issues such as these, however, can only be solved at the negotiating table.

Yotam Arens is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and is the co-president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee. He may be reached at ya83@cornell.edu. Eli Shaubi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the advocacy chair for CIPAC. He may be reached at ess76@corell.edu. Emily Rotbart ’12, co-president of CIPAC, contributed to this article. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Eli Shaubi