Recognize Palestine – Alongside Israel

Justin Vaïsse
Justin Vaïsse Former Brookings Expert, Director, Policy Planning Staff - French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

June 21, 2011

Having no other political prospect and little leverage otherwise, the Palestinian Authority is determined to get a vote from the United Nations General Assembly this September recognizing a Palestinian state in its 1967 borders. However, such a move would not do much for Palestinians and would be harmful for all others, and it is up to Europe to offer a creative way out of the coming train wreck.

Even if the resolution is adopted at a large majority, it will not create a State of Palestine, nor will it give Palestinians membership at the UN. This requires a recommendation by the Security Council – which the United States would veto. But it will isolate Israel and be another diplomatic setback for Washington. And the European Union will once again showcase its divisions and impotence, with some member states voting in favour of the resolution, others against it, and others abstaining.

The logical solution is to use the pressure of this coming “diplomatic tsunami” to get the negotiations restarted in exchange for a withdrawal of the Palestinian diplomatic plans. This has been tried with great vigour by France in the recent weeks, with some support from Washington, but it seems to be getting nowhere, due to Israeli stonewalling – while the Palestinians are insisting on the Obama parameters as a basis for discussion. And the Obama administration does not seem to have a Plan B to avert the coming crash which will harm everybody.

Europe should step forward, because it is – quite uncharacteristically – at the centre of this diplomatic game. Europeans are seen as the arbiters of international legitimacy, and this gives them some leverage on the parties. While the most desirable solution would be to get the negotiations restarted, two fallback options, by order of preference, should be considered before it is too late.

The first, preferred option, would be for France and the United Kingdom, after extensive consultations with their EU partners and Catherine Ashton, to sponsor a Security Council resolution which would acknowledge the objective of creating a viable Palestinian state living alongside a secure state of Israel. The resolution would basically transcribe the Obama parameters (including the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, the rejection of violence and the mutual recognition), as a basis for negotiation, and would call on the two parties to return to the table as soon as possible. All Security Council members could vote in favour of such a resolution, and the United States could at least abstain – to avoid a worst outcome at the General Assembly. The Palestinians would get a serious international acknowledgement of their objective rather than a purely declaratory resolution at the General Assembly.

If this first option does not appear feasible, Europeans should consider a second option, this time through the General Assembly. After agreeing among themselves, they would sponsor a resolution putting forward their preferred vision and calling for the establishment of a viable State of Palestine living peacefully alongside a secure state of Israel, and created through negotiations (on the basis of 1967 borders with agreed land swaps). While all EU member states, and a large majority of countries in the world, could rally behind such a resolution – except rejectionists states like Iran or Syria – it is doubtful that the US would vote in favour of it. The outcome, however, would still be better for all than a badly voted resolution recognizing only Palestine.

If these two options are endorsed by Palestinians, a further advantage would be progress on the question of the acceptability of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, which divides Europeans and Americans. This UN process could be a way for Hamas to implicitly endorse the conditions of the Quartet (rejection of violence, recognition of Israel and of past agreements), without having to make an explicit and specific statement on its own. Overall, it would have the potential of opening up new possibilities rather than restating well known divisions.