If the standoff over continued Israeli settlements in the West Bank continues, the Palestinian Authority has threatened to abandon negotiations with Israel and appeal to the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian State within the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Such a unilateral move by the Palestinians would deal a coup de grace to the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Daniel Ayalon, dismissed the threat as a bluff intended to pressure Israel into capitulating to Palestinian demands to permanently halt all construction of new settlements as a prerequisite to peace negotiations. Ayalon also charged that this threat demonstrated that the Palestinian Authority was not serious about peace negotiations. But Israel is taking the threat seriously. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly will meet with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week to urge him to oppose such a back door route to statehood.
This would not be the first time that the Palestinians have unilaterally declared statehood. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat declared Palestinian statehood in 1988, prompting scores of third world and nonaligned countries to recognize that “state.” But Arafat’s statehood declaration had little effect, in large part because the United States strongly opposed the move and blocked the U.N. from formally recognizing a Palestinian state. This time a statehood declaration might gain more traction, in part due to the Obama Administration’s strained relations with Israel, as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has warned in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
The Obama Administration must go on the record to warn Palestinians that it would veto such a diplomatic end run if it were brought to the U.N. Security Council. Absent clear evidence of American opposition, the Palestinian Authority and its Arab allies are likely to pursue this perceived opportunity to outflank Israel at the United Nations and bolster their efforts to isolate and de-legitimize Israel.
Co-authored by Brett Schaefer