A question of will, not semantics

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The content of the article "Buying into Palestinian statehood" by a group of prominent Israelis represents a new, mature and responsible level of debate between Israelis and Palestinians–even when compared to official exchanges between the two sides.

Recently, discussion either ignores the substantive aspects of the conflict and escapes to ideology and history, or attempts to reflect the balance of power in the negotiations. This article is an attempt to address the most recent Palestinian approach, even while the details of that approach are still being discussed and developed among Palestinians.

While the article addresses in a serious manner concerns that Palestinians will raise in September at the United Nations, it may have missed the spirit of the Palestinian approach. Palestinians seem to have reached the conclusion that the bilateral negotiations, at least the way they have been handled over the last 18 months, have little chance of success. Thus, they will go to the United Nations to say: "Palestinians, who have a natural and legal right to freedom, self-determination and statehood, are also ready to govern themselves. We need the help of the international community to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, to allow the establishment of a Palestinian state."

What Palestinians are asking of the international community is not a mechanical, bureaucratic or symbolic recognition that does not change or contribute to changing the reality of occupation on the ground. Palestinians are asking the world community at the UN to help "materialize" the international vision of peace in the Middle East, i.e., practical implementation of the two-state solution. And that, only because the bilateral negotiations approach adopted by the international community has not moved us forward in that direction.

This article, which suggests that negotiations proceed after UN recognition of a Palestinian state, does not explain why such talks will have a better chance of achieving the objective of two states on the borders of 1967. As long as Israel is not mature enough to end its illegal control of the occupied territories and the international community is not ready to pressure Israel to do that, we will not move towards ending the occupation and establishing a state, whether negotiations take place between "Palestine" and Israel, or the PLO and Israel.

The absence of an independent Palestinian state is part of the problem, but it is not the problem. The nature of the Palestinian entity negotiating with Israel is not the problem. The problem is whether there is room for compromise between the two sides on issues that were officially recognized as aspects of the conflict that need to be negotiated and resolved: mainly borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security.

That is why it is important that the governments of the world recognize Palestine as an independent state as part of a comprehensive effort to end the occupation and actualize the Palestinian state on the borders of 1967.

In conclusion, there are a few detailed issues in this article that need to be clarified. It is not good enough to call for a "Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with its capital in Jerusalem" because the capital is supposed to "be" East Jerusalem and not "in" East Jerusalem, which is part of the occupied West Bank.

Second, the reference to two states for two peoples is not clear enough. If it means "Palestinian people" and "Israeli people", then that might stand, but if what we are talking about is a state for "Jewish people" thereby excluding Palestinian citizens of Israel, then we are backtracking. The writers of this article know first-hand that the letter of recognition that PLO leader Yasser Arafat sent to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993 was vetted and then publicly accepted by Israel. There is no reason to revisit this issue.

Finally, although it is a positive reference, to merely "note the importance" of the Arab Peace Initiative is not good enough. It is far from full acceptance of this initiative that gives Israel, on behalf of all Arab governments, all its legitimate demands of recognition, peace, and normalization.

Ultimately, the question of peace hinges on whether or not Israel is mature enough to accept a complete end to its illegal occupation in order to allow for the establishment of an actual Palestinian state.

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