There are persistent reports that the Palestinian Authority, unable to achieve its diplomatic goals through negotiations, is considering upping the ante and unilaterally declaring statehood. This gambit was tried once before, in 1988, and did not quite excite themselves or the international community. But what are the potential consequences of such a declaration of statehood, and how would it affect Israel’s short-term and long-term interests ?
It should be stated that a unilateral declaration violates the Oslo Accords that specifically prohibited such actions, but Oslo has been a dead letter for so many years. Only Israel continued the charade that the agreements mattered and should be enforced. But the Accords, which, for example, prohibited terror, anti-Israel incitement in Arab schools and media, etc., have been a macabre joke for a decade and half. Few even mention it anymore, except in the context of the Yitzchak Rabin memorials. So a declaration of Palestinian statehood would not be the final nail in the coffin of Oslo (that nail has long been hammered) but just add another meter of soil on its grave, and perhaps end the pretense of its viability.
Several questions arise, each with important ramifications: how would such a declaration be made ? If the PA simply announces its statehood, countries may or may not extend it recognition. But most of those who would recognize it already recognized it in 1988. Nothing substantive changes unless the United States recognizes a Palestinian state, which is quite possible, and would increase President Obama’s estrangement from the Jewish community. (Diehard Jewish Democrats, for whom Israel is a peripheral concern, will surely rationalize that acceptance as courageous, far-sighted and an expression of his love of Jews.) Or, the PA can seek recognition through the UN Security Council, where such a resolution can be blocked by a US veto or not blocked at all, producing the same scenario mentioned above. In such a case, it will be fascinating to see how liberal Jews contort themselves to defend a president who has put the power and prestige of the United States behind a division of Jerusalem and a severance of the Jewish national connection to Hevron, Bet Lechem, and other parts of Judea and Samaria.
What will be the borders of such a state ? Declarations of statehood usually denote the extension of sovereignty by the declaring party over a particular population and geographical location. Declarations where the territory under the control of the new state is left undefined are uncommon, but they have occurred. If the PA, as is likely, declares its statehood at the 1967 borders, this engenders several interesting developments.
On the positive side, Israel now would have an address to which it can respond forcefully to a terrorist attack. A nation is responsible (novel concept for these Arabs) for all acts that take place within or emanate from its territory – like Lebanon should be held responsible today for Hezbollah aggression. So a Jew attacked in Hevron can – and should – lead to the immediate leveling by Israel of the PA headquarters in Ramallah. They become the responsible party, and can no longer hide behind the fig leaf of militants, guerrillas , or organizations with phony new names and acronyms. Such a state might not last long.
The Palestinian state would also be in the unenviable position of having to admit its essentially racist character when it asserts that Jews have no right to live there. How will European liberals tap dance around that one ? Arabs can live in the Jewish state and even be citizens, but Jews cannot live in the Arab state ? Even the UN might not be able to swallow that blatant hypocrisy, although, admittedly, the UN’s hypocrisy has thus far been limitless.
Unfortunately, the down side is more compelling. From the perspective of the “world community” (knaves and liars, all), a State of Palestine will render all Jewish settlement illegal, and intensive pressure – probably including the threatened imposition of sanctions – will be levied on Israel unless it ethnically cleanses the area of Jews. But it is the presence of Jews in the settlements of YESHA that keep the lid on that tinderbox, and prevents the extension of terror to Israel’s coastal plane. In one simple and sobering example, a Judenrein Judea and Samaria will leave planes landing at Ben Gurion Airport vulnerable to missile attacks. And Israeli raids into that “state” would undoubtedly generate the same hostile reaction from the “world” that Israel’s foray into Gaza – in self-defense – did almost two years ago.
One who thinks that Israel will simply be able to raid – or re-conquer – Judea and Samaria to pre-empt Arab missile attacks is engaging in wishful and fanciful thinking. (I recall a forum in DC in early 2005 in which the eminent Charles Krauthammer stated that he favored the Gaza surrender on the grounds that if the missiles from Gaza continued, Israel could then rightfully “blow it to smithereens.” When I challenged him that the “world” would object and found some pretext not to allow Israel to defend itself, he dismissed that as meaningless and unlikely. Guess again.)
Even more menacing would be the prospect of the new “state” being internationally accepted (UN membership and all, probably fast-tracked to a seat on the Security Council which Israel has always been denied), but with the war against Israel continuing unabated on the grounds of the need to “achieve justice for the refugees.” In essence, the Arabs will be able to claim the full benefits of statehood, accept none of the consequences, and continue to abet terror in pursuit of “justice.” Worse, the legitimization of a Palestinian state will begin to undo the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence, even as the ongoing claims for justice further weaken the liberal Jew’s willingness to support Israel – already enervated by decades of assimilation, spiritual ignorance and national indifference. If the world unites around the prospect that Jerusalem, Hevron, and Bethlehem are not Jewish cities, then challenges to Tel Aviv and Haifa are not far behind.
It is not too difficult to remember the day when Israel’s foreign policy was predicated on the notion that the existence of a Palestinian state is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. It was only 20 years ago that such a notion was universally accepted in Israel, if not among Israel’s friends. The Israelis and Oslo vitiated that concept, notwithstanding that it is as true today as it was in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, if not more true. That stance was always buttressed by the simple, irrefutable fact that between 1948 and 1967 – when Judea, Samaria and Gaza were governed by Arab states, not by Israel – there was no Arab interest in or movement towards the creation of a State of Palestine. None – and it could have been done with the stroke of a pen, and without Israel’s consent. The interest arose – that is to say, the farce began – only after the Six-Day War.
Since the declaration of a State of Palestine therefore poses a mortal danger to Israel’s existence, Israel should let it be known now that such a declaration will not only void any prior agreements made with the Palestinians but will also be construed as a declaration of war, and with all the attendant consequences of a declaration of war.
And to the unsympathetic Obama administration, Israel should state – privately and bluntly – what former PM Yitzchak Shamir told James Baker, Secretary of State for President Bush (41) and hostile to Israel to his core, when he made unreasonable demands on Israel and backed them up with threats:
“Mr. Secretary, you can demand what you choose to demand but this is our country and we will not agree to do anything that will harm its interests and future even if demanded by our best friend” (quoted by Yair Shamir, the former PM’ son, in the Jewish Press, October 13, 2010).
That type of backbone, inner strength and unshakeable convictions will come in handy in the near future – for Israel’s leaders, for the Jewish people, and our friends across the world.