On September 13 the Palestinian Authority announced their intention to travel to the UN general assembly to call on the international community to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state, based on the 1967 borders. The Palestinians have given up on the Netanyahu government making meaningful steps towards peace. Israel has responded to the Palestinian resolution with indignation. Many in Israeli, American, and even Canadian politics are calling the moves by the Palestinians “a mistake” intended to “delegitimize” Israel. While this all remains to be seen, there is significant gridlock in peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians. What is not being widely discussed is the very possible positive effects recognition of a Palestinian state could have for both Palestine and Israel?
Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank didn’t stop, nor did Palestinian violence towards Israel. Thus, negotiations have been sporadic yet ongoing.
After a 10-month settlement-freeze by the Israelis in September 2010, illegal Israeli-settlement construction in the West Bank resumed, and negotiations fell apart. Israeli PM Netanyahu has said that he is ready to renew negotiations at any time, but the Palestinian leadership remains adamant in their refusal to enter into negotiations as long as Israel continues to annex Palestinian land in the West Bank through settlement construction.
With negotiations stalled and Netanyahu unwilling to end settlement construction, the Palestinians are turning to the international community in an attempt at solidifying their claim to sovereignty. While many in Israel and the West remain apprehensive of the bid, an increasingly hostile regional environment, and growing internal unrest within Israel are showing that the possibility of recognition of a Palestinian state, and the entrenchment of the two-state reality, could in fact be beneficial for both parties.
In the summer of 2011, a growing social justice movement gained significant notoriety throughout Israel. In September upwards of 450,000 protesters took to the streets of Israel calling for increased social spending and lower rent. While Netanyahu has come out in support of reform, he maintains the importance of Israel’s ‘capitalist’ economy. Yet while people take to the streets to demand increased social spending, what is not being widely discussed is the fact that since 1967 over $50 billion has been spent on the occupation. In fact, while young Israelis who are unable to pay their rent sleep on the streets of Tel Aviv, the Israeli housing ministry is spending $540 million per year on settlement subsidies; the very settlements which today represent the primary obstacle to peace.
Netanyahu has, of course, steadily defended the settlements as necessary for Israel’s security. When President Obama recently called on both Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace negotiations based on the 1967 borders, Netanyahu called this unacceptable, as these borders represent an “indefensible” security situation. This was not the case in both 1948 and 1967, when Israel not only defended these borders but also expanded itself with combined offensives surrounding Arab countries. Today, Israel is a regional superpower and receives more US military aid then any other country in the world. Furthermore, when Netanyahu made a last ditch effort to persuade the Palestinians back into negotiations last month, he offered to base negotiations on the 1967 borders. While the Palestinians once again refused, it became clear that Netanyahu is willing to negotiate on the indefensible 1967 borders, but only if Israel was allowed to continue to build its settlements within them.
In 2011, the Middle East was a place of great upheaval; the regional norm changed significantly, and while many in the Arab world are calling for reform, Israel continues to face threats on all of its borders. With a string of recent attacks and further diplomatic isolation, as Israeli ambassadors are forced to leave both Ankara and Cairo, Israel is sitting at a crossroads. As the Palestinians, on the other hand, prepare to head to the UN, the World Bank has concluded that: “Palestinian public institutions compare favourably with other countries in the region.” Unfortunately, Hamas remains popular in Gaza. What does appear to be missing is a stamp of legitimacy, something the pro-peace Palestinian Authority in the West Bank could use to wrest power from Hamas if they attain UN recognition.
Both the Palestinians and Israelis are ready for the establishment of Palestine. Israel would be able to more easily address its growing social issues, and peace between the two parties could bring increased regional stability and normalization. If the Palestinian Authority attains UN recognition it can re-enter final status negotiations with the Israelis as a sovereign equal. Furthermore, Hamas will be significantly weakened, as Palestinians in Gaza may turn to the PA in hopes of a better future. When the Palestinian leadership travels to the UN in its bid for a Palestinian state, the world should support it — not only because it is pragmatic, but because it is just.