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Editorial: What Palestinian State Would the U.N. Be Recognizing?

Roughly a month from now, the Palestinian Authority (PA) intends to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. This move signals the Palestinians’ rejection of the principle of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct negotiations. As Palestinian leaders have themselves admitted, including PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, it is dangerous and would only have negative repercussions for all actors involved. In addition to its detrimental consequences, the U.N. bid raises considerable practical problems.

This would not be the first time the Palestinians have tried to use the U.N. as a forum to achieve statehood. However, the current move is part of a broader effort by the PA to isolate Israel and impose its position on the Jewish state. It will only serve to pull the parties apart, impede the return to direct negotiations and harm the prospects for a lasting peace agreement. Israel, the Palestinians and the United States have much to lose from such an outcome.

“Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated.

What also distinguishes the proposed U.N. bid from previous Palestinian efforts is the fact that the Palestinians are currently divided, with the PA governing only the West Bank while Gaza is under Hamas rule. Thus, recognizing a Palestinian state would amount to implicit recognition of Hamas, a terrorist organization whose stated goal is to destroy Israel and build a radical Islamist society.

In case anyone had any illusions that Hamas has deviated from its founding charter, moderated its positions and rejected violence, the past few days demonstrated otherwise. Terrorists originating from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip launched three attacks in quick succession in southern Israel last Thursday, killing eight Israelis. Subsequently, more than 130 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, killing an Israeli civilian, wounding dozens of others, and forcing one million residents of southern Israel into bomb shelters. Recognition of a Palestinian state that includes Gaza would give legitimacy to this terrorism.

Moreover, the fact that the Palestinians are divided means that PA President Abbas does not control a substantial portion of the territory and population he claims sovereignty over. The Hamas government in Gaza does not recognize Abbas as president nor his authority to appoint Salam Fayyad as prime minister. Thus, the proposed Palestinian state would not meet the prevailing legal standard for statehood, which requires a functioning government – it would have two such competing governments.

Not only are the Palestinians unable to unite the West Bank and Gaza under one rule, they also face significant challenges in running a state of their own. This state would not be economically viable, given that the PA remains dependent on hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid. A symbolic show of hands at the U.N. in New York would raise expectations but not bring about any real change on the ground – it would not make the Palestinians self-sufficient. The gap between these elevated expectations and reality would only create frustration and increase the potential for violence.

The unilateral path that the Palestinians are pursuing must be rejected and replaced by bilateral negotiations, which are the only way to achieve an agreement. This message needs to be conveyed to the Palestinian leadership by the international community, whether by convincing them to abandon their U.N. gambit or refusing to support a resolution should it come up for a vote. BACK TO TOP