Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When it comes to premature recognition of a Palestinian state, it's not enough to oppose, we must also ask why

There's been considerable media attention lately surrounding efforts by Palestinian leaders to circumvent the peace process with Israel as they seek unilateral recognition from individual nation states and attempt to gain de facto legitimacy by acquiring the imprimatur of various international bodies. I, along with many others, have written in opposition to this effort, identifying it, I believe quite accurately, as a cynical ploy by Palestinian leaders to further their own agenda by increasing pressure on Israel in the international community, without advancing the actual cause of peace or Palestinian statehood.

I will not rehash the arguments against this quixotic approach again, but as I've been watching the media coverage of President Abbas I find myself wondering more and more what the motivation is for these nation-states and NGO's to acquiesce to his demands.

The short and easy answer, that these groups and countries have never liked Israel and this yet another way to express this sentiment, seems too simple to me. In a similar vein, the idea that countries like Sweden have done so only out of the moral conviction that the Palestinians deserve their own country, seems naive. Modern nation states, as ripe as they may sometimes be for criticism when it comes to their conduct of international relations, do not typically formulate foreign policy or conduct diplomacy merely out of spite or, conversely, act only in the service of morality. These things may be factors, and they may have contributed to Sweden's decision in this particular instance, but I doubt they were the only, or even the main, factors, driving this decision.

So why do it then? Why do countries like Sweden and bodies like the UN bend to the wishes of Palestinian leaders and their allies when it comes to ignoring the existing peace process and granting recognition to a country which does not yet exist? 

One possibility is that the people who lead these organizations and nations are chasing what could be characterized as the ultimate prize in modern peacemaking: finally bringing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end. From this perspective, it makes sense for those who have either failed at this in the past (the UN) or are not currently part of the peace process in a substantive way, to want to somehow link their names with good news about the conflict, even if that good news is made out of whole cloth. In this scenario, those recognizing an existing Palestine have likely given up on the established peace process, and consciously or not, are sending this signal to the rest of the world, including Palestinian and Israeli leaders. 

Another possibility is that those recognizing "Palestine" see Israeli leaders as the ones hindering and delaying peace, and they think that recognition of a Palestinian state outside the bounds of negotiations will put more pressure on Israel to make greater concessions. This scenario might be slightly more optimistic than the one outlined above, but it is no less unrealistic. 

Whatever the reason for Sweden's premature recognition of a Palestinian state and the apparent willingness of France (and others) to consider the same, I believe there is damage being done to the peace process as a result. What these international actors may intend as a show of support for the Palestinians in their negotiations, may very well have the reverse effect instead, intensifying a sense of isolation on the part of Israel, thus serving to further delay the realization of peace. 

Like many others who are ardently pro Israel and also believe in the importance of an equitable, lasting, two-state solution, I've been disappointed to see this trend toward unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. But being disappointed is not enough, and while speaking out against this movement is important, it's not enough on its own to adequately address this challenge. 

If we really want to move both sides back toward viable negotiations, we must also ask why Sweden and others have been willing to embrace the ideas that Palestinian leaders have been peddling in the world marketplace  - once we do this, perhaps we can have a meaningful conversation about the things that are really getting in the way of progress and turn the world's energy and attention away from the fantasies of President Abbas and back toward the real, if difficult, process of making peace.

Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2014.

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