Editorial: Declaring a Palestinian State

You’ve probably been reading that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is seeking international recognition of a Palestinian state without negotiating with Israel about the borders or the nature of that state. The first thing you should know about these theatrics is that they are not new.

Twenty-two years ago, on Nov. 15, 1988, then-Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasir Arafat proclaimed “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” The U.N. General Assembly “acknowledged” the proclamation exactly one month later by a majority of 104-2. Only the United States and Israel objected while 36 nations abstained.

Subsequently, more than 100 states—including major countries such as the then-Soviet Union, China, India, Turkey, and even Greece and Austria—recognized the Palestinian “state.”

Back then, there was no Palestinian government in the West Bank or Gaza. The PA didn’t even exist. Arafat’s 1988 proclamation did not make Palestinian statehood more likely. It was a political act designed to put Israel on the defensive.

Today, as is often the case in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, history is repeating itself. Palestinian officials are seeking international recognition—from individual countries as well as from the United Nations—of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders.” By that, they mean the armistice line that divided Israel from Jordan in 1949 after Israel’s War of Independence ended. Under these maximalist terms, the Palestinian state would include the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall.

Israel is under no obligation to withdraw to this indefensible line. As Israel and the PLO agreed in the 1993 Oslo accords, the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state is a final-status issue that must be negotiated between the parties.

Some countries don’t seem to care. As of this writing, the PA has secured recognition of a “Palestinian state” from Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ecuador.

There’s more to the story, though. As former Israeli negotiator Alan Baker points out, the Palestinian leadership is committed, under the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (Article XXXI, paragraph 7), not to "initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations."

True, the PA has not yet actually declared independence or sought to be treated as an independent state, but the PA is lobbying other states to support such a move. Those who are serious about peace should be discouraging such actions and instead be pressing for the PA to resume direct talks with Israel.

The United States is already pushing back against the Palestinian moves to substitute unilateral acts for negotiations. “Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a Dec. 10 policy address.

Two days earlier, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that “to end the conflict, you need an agreement. To get to an agreement, you're going to have to have direct negotiations. We continue to believe that is the only mechanism through which we achieve success. And we believe that bringing these issues to an international forum will be a distraction and will just add complexity to an already difficult circumstance.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), called the Palestinian strategy “self-defeating” and said it would “hurt their cause.” Berman also warned that a unilateral declaration of statehood could jeopardize U.S. funding to the PA.

In addition, the House of Representatives passed a resolution by voice vote opposing any PA efforts to unilaterally declare statehood or seek recognition for a state outside of talks with Israel. The resolution was cosponsored by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN).

If the PA were to declare a state tomorrow, nothing would change. We’d be right where we are today. None of the difficult issues—borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements and water—would be resolved. The only difference is that the atmosphere for negotiations would be worse than it already is today.

The United States can and should make clear, publicly and privately, that it will oppose unilateral Palestinian steps and will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to prevent it.

And beyond referring to Palestinian threats to unilaterally declare a state as “unhelpful,” the Obama administration should go a step further with its criticism and declare that Palestinian attempts to bypass direct talks are unacceptable. BACK TO TOP