There is no such thing as a Palestinian state, and the United Nations can’t conjure one into existence. That apparently won’t stop the Palestinians from seeking recognition as a state in the Security Council this week. We should veto the Palestinian effort without hesitation.
On top of its legal nullity, the push for recognition at the U.N. trashes the spirit of the Oslo Accords, which commit both the Israelis and the Palestinians to addressing their differences through negotiations. Thwarted at the Security Council, the Palestinians will likely go to the rabble in the General Assembly, where we don’t have a veto and they will presumably succeed in putting a fig leaf on a fraud.
The General Assembly can change the status of the PLO from an observer “entity,” as it is now, to a “non-member state” observer, like the Vatican, and thereby recognize it indirectly as a state. But this won’t create a real state, either in law or in fact. Under international law, the Montevideo Convention of 1933 explicitly provides that the existence of a sovereign state is independent of recognition by other states, and further provides that a state must have a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The Palestinians arguably have none of those things. By their own admission, they don’t have a defined territory. Their government, meanwhile, is riven: Terrorists control one half of the territories and the other half is controlled by a former terrorist whose term of office expired two years ago.
Nobody would like to see the Palestinians under a functioning state of laws more than the Israelis. But a state must have a monopoly of violence, and Hamas has always rejected the monopoly of violence in favor of the inherent individual right of resistance to occupation. The Palestinians have barely managed to maintain political institutions of any kind, and a declaration of statehood will do nothing to solve that problem.
Any action in the cause of Palestinian statehood at the U.N. will serve to isolate Israel further, and could make its government subject to international legal proceedings. But the main danger is the effect it could have in the Muslim world, including the occupied territories. Another intifada would force Israel to resort to military measures, giving Egypt and Turkey another excuse to express their growing hostility to the Jewish state.
The Middle East has come to this pass despite President Obama’s blithe belief at the inception of his administration that he could forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace. From the start, Obama cast his role in the Middle East as one of impartial mediator, not realizing that America’s influence among the Palestinians requires Israel’s confidence that we will protect the Jewish state come what may. Anyone can play the role of mediator, but only America can underwrite the risks of a negotiated settlement for both sides. The strategic prerequisites for Israeli-Palestinian peace are the same as they were for peace between Israel and Egypt in the 1970s: We must convince the Arabs that they can get what they want from the Israelis only by going through us, and we can deliver Israeli concessions only if we can guarantee Israel’s security.
Yet the Obama administration has reprised the Clinton administration’s childish schoolyard spats with Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. By embracing the Palestinian insistence on a halt to settlement construction as a precondition for talks, Obama encouraged the Palestinians to dig in their heels. Now the Palestinians think they can get what they want by forcing the issue at the U.N. and encouraging Egyptian and Turkish belligerence.
The new government of Egypt is seeking legitimacy by embracing the worst anti-Israeli sentiments of its populace. The army recently stood by as a Cairo mob ransacked the Israeli embassy. The Camp David Accords of 1979 are starting to crumble. Because no combination of Arab states could afford to go to war with Israel without Egypt’s help, Henry Kissinger realized that peace between Israel and Egypt would end the era of Arab-Israeli wars. The fraying of the Camp David Accords, which preserved a tenuous peace for more than three decades, is ominous. So is the reemergence of Turkey as a regional power. Turkey has pledged a military escort for the next “humanitarian flotilla” aimed at forcibly breaching the Gaza blockade, a fully legal blockade even according to the United Nations.
The Middle East is again on the cusp of crisis, with the U.N. about to stoke the flames and the Obama administration caught in a self-imposed impotence.