The moment of truth

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About a week before the start of the annual meeting of the United Nations, during which Palestinians plan to submit an application for state membership, efforts are intensifying to either avoid the move entirely or influence it.

Different members of the international community are reacting in various ways to the bid. Israel and the United States are entirely opposed to raising the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the world body. The reason for their opposition is likely that such a move would embarrass them. The behavior of Israel and the Americans in the ongoing bilateral peace process has never been consistent with international legality and this is certain to come up in the United Nations, where international law is made. Further, it may mean that the US loses its monopoly on mediating the bilateral negotiations. Instead, the United States and Israel are insisting on continuing the bilateral track, despite its failure to move the two sides towards achieving their objectives over nearly 20 years of negotiations.

The position of European countries is somewhat contrasting. They do not oppose the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations, but believe that the UN General Assembly rather than the Security Council is the right venue. They also insist that the establishment of the Palestinian state–which they support–must be an outcome of bilateral negotiations.

The problem with this EU position is that Israel will always have a conflict of interest in this process because the establishment of an independent Palestinian state comes at the expense of its occupation–one Palestinians have learned over the decades Israel is loathe to give up. As such, the bilateral negotiations give Israel, an occupying power, veto power over the establishment of a Palestinian state and the internationally-sanctioned two-state solution.

World efforts to influence Palestinian plans for debating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the United Nations kicked off with the French initiative, which followed and was based on US President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech to the State Department. This speech called for a resumption of talks on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. The French initiative was rejected and dismissed by Israel and the US.

More recently, international efforts have intensified, involving the European Union, particularly through EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, the US through envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross, and the Quartet through Tony Blair. These parties are exploring a "package deal" that will give Palestinians a gesture towards their goal of statehood recognition, such as UN non-member state status, and call for the resumption of bilateral negotiations (with no preconditions) through terms of reference based on Obama’s speech and the EU’s December 2009 statement on the peace process. At the same time, the package satisfies the US by avoiding a resolution at the UN Security Council, addressing instead the General Assembly.

This EU effort has so far failed because Israel rejected the reference to the borders of 1967 and granting Palestinians non-member state status.

Palestinians see one major problem with this package. It calls for the resumption of negotiations without addressing the Palestinian need for an Israeli cessation of settlement expansion.

Let’s be clear: the Palestinian leadership cannot live with the continuation of the status quo. The Palestinian leadership cannot afford the continuation of the main features of the current reality: negotiations at the same time that Israel keeps building settlements, with little or no hope of ending the occupation, and in parallel with declining legitimacy as represented by the postponement of elections and the ongoing conflict with Hamas. This is even more true now that Palestinians’ Arab brethren are demanding freedom and democracy across the region. Many Palestinian politicians and analysts have warned time and time again that this status quo is unsustainable. We seem to be approaching the moment of truth.

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