by Pierre Klochendler
A small rally by prominent Israeli left-wing intellectuals in support of Palestinian statehood revived the dormant debate about the morality and sustainability of Israel's 43-year occupation. Neither the choice of site nor timing was coincidental.
The civil society gathering took place during Passover, the holiday that marks the Biblical passage of the people of Israel from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. The activists signed their declaration of Palestinian independence outside Independence Hall where, on May 14, 1948, Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel.
"We call all peace- and freedom-seekers and nations to encourage the citizens of both states to maintain peace based of the 1967 borders...The complete end of occupation is a fundamental condition for the freedom of both peoples," the statement read.
The invitation to sign the document extended to passersby infuriated right-wing demonstrators who disrupted the rally. "Instead of being the first country to support Palestinian independence, Israel warns against it. It's a moral disaster. We'll be isolated like Apartheid South Africa," warned writer Sefi Rachlevsky, an organizer.
Middle-ground Israelis are increasingly perturbed by such Cassandra-like predictions. Hence, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s dire forecast of a "diplomatic tsunami" gets across as their government's loss of control over a chain of events foretold.
The "tsunami" will occur at the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in September. Then, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas will seek endorsement of statehood. Over 110 nations have already recognized Palestine. At least 30 more are expected to back the initiative. U.N. membership requires a Security Council recommendation plus a General Assembly approval by two-thirds, or 128 countries.
The embrace of Palestine will be proportionate to Israel's diplomatic isolation. Could it augur a Biblical rite of passage revisited, the final leg of a 40-plus-year Palestinian march in the wilderness towards liberation from Israel, the end of colonization? What are the implications?
When U.S.-brokered negotiations resumed last September, both parties accepted President Barack Obama's September 2011 target date for a peace agreement. The talks collapsed within weeks with Israel refusing to extend its partial settlement construction freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as their state. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that talks should be held without pre-conditions. Settlements didn't prevent previous negotiations, he maintained.
With recognition of statehood, occupation – not of "disputed" territories", but of a "U.N. member-state" – will thus be denounced in an unprecedented consensual manner.
Palestine will gain a status that allows it to demand international action and sanctions, against Israel's settlement policy – not mere symbolic denunciations. Future negotiations will no longer engage a powerful Israel and a non-descript entity with de jure attributes over parts of the land, but two states on equal footing, one with a rising aura of legality, the other with declining legitimacy.
And, whereas Israel's recognition of Palestine should have signified the end of conflict, with international recognition, the end of occupation will end the conflict.
Statehood might be mere semantic quibble. After all, it won't instantly translate into full sovereignty. Yet Israel will find it virtually impossible to continue imposing its settlements on a land designated as their neighbor’s state. The world will unilaterally, unequivocally, throw its support with Palestine.
What's more, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 will be circumvented. Passed in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the seminal Resolution enshrined the principle of "Land for Peace". It has since constituted the basis of all negotiations.
Yet, the absence of a definite article ("the") in the English version rendered ineffectual the Resolution's rationale. Should "territories" mean Israeli withdrawal from "all the" territories occupied by Israel in 1967 as Palestinians contended, or from "some" territories as Israel retorted?
The Palestine Papers recently leaked to Al-Jazeera and The Guardian expose Israel's reluctance to agree to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines as term of reference. A chief negotiator is quoted as telling his Palestinian counterpart, "We don’t see the 1967 border as a reference…Our guiding principles are UNSCR 242, the need for boundaries that can provide security for Israel. We’re talking about the situation on the ground as per President Bush’s letter."
The Bush letter guaranteed to Israel that any final status agreement would recognize "new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers (Israeli settlement blocks); it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome…will be a full and complete return to the (pre-1967 ceasefire) lines."
Obama didn't reiterate that commitment. With U.N.-endorsed recognition, the borders of the nascent state (subsequently, of Israel) will be defined solely on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
Haaretz Columnist Ari Shavit urges Netanyahu to boldly state that "Israel will not rule over the Palestinians and will eventually withdraw to adjusted 1967 borders. It's not about making peace and ending the conflict but about avoiding defeat and establishing the Jewish state's right to exist."
Were the U.S. to use its veto power at the Security Council, the Palestinians would still present their case for statehood before the General Assembly where there's no veto but where resolutions are non- binding. The option is familiar to Israelis.
Sixty-three years ago, the General Assembly approved Resolution 181. "The Partition Plan" called for the creation of two states on British Mandate Palestine, one Jewish, one Arab. Resolution 181 was accepted by Ben-Gurion, rejected by the Arabs countries which declared war on the nascent state, lost, and helped create the Palestinian "problem".
Yossi Sarid, a former left-wing minister, muses, "Perhaps Ben-Gurion – seeing his work drowning in the sea because of his successors' refusal to acknowledge the partition of the land – would've signed for Palestine."
Columnist Zvi Barel cautions against emulating past Arab attitudes: "Instead of fearing it, Israel should recognize Palestine," he writes in Haaretz. The General Assembly "needs not be a gladiator ring in which only one contestant remains alive," he notes.
Without a convincing peace initiative, Netanyahu will be the only gladiator to enter the arena in September, while the Palestinians and the international community sit in the stands, giving Palestine the thumbs-up of approval.
Originally published by IPS