Saturday, June 11, 2011

Unilateral Declaration of Statehood

This post is a slightly revised version of an Israeli Citizens Action Network (ICAN) newsletter, written by Stuart Palmer. To subscribe to the newsletter, send a request to

Palmer's "Haifa Diary" blog may be found at Palmer is also associated with CoHaV, the Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, an international umbrella for Israel volunteer advocacy groups.

With the advent of a possible vote at the UN on Palestinian "Independence," it is important to be aware of the facts surrounding this push by the Palestinians to bypass the normal negotiating procedures. These are key talking points.

The PA does not meet the established legal tests for statehood

The Palestinian Authority currently fails the clearly established legal tests for statehood, particularly the test of effective government. The PA exercises varying degrees of control only over Areas A and B of the West Bank. Area C, which under the Interim Agreement constitutes 60% of the West Bank, remains primarily under Israeli control. Moreover, the PA does not have effective control over the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, even though Israel withdrew completely from this area six years ago. Recognition at this time of a unilateral declaration would be premature and could serve as a dangerous precedent in other regions regarding the recognition of new states.

Premature recognition rejects the basic principle of a negotiated peace.

Israel remains keen to engage in bilateral negotiations to resolve the conflict. The Palestinian leadership, on the other hand, has made a decision that it is no longer interested in direct negotiations with Israel, preferring to attempt to force their solution on Israel through international pressure.

A unilateral declaration undermines basic principles of Mideast peacemaking

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood undermines all internationally accepted frameworks for Mideast peace (UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1850; the Roadmap; Quartet statements, etc.), which call for a mutually-negotiated and agreed resolution of the conflict and have consistently rejected unilateral actions.

A unilateral declaration violates existing agreements

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would violate existing Palestinian-Israeli bilateral peace agreements, most notably the Interim Agreement from 1995, which expressly prohibits unilateral action by either side to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza prior to reaching a negotiated permanent status agreement.

Recognizing a Palestinian state now harms true peace

A unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood would intensify rather than end the conflict. It would not settle any of the key permanent status issues, including borders, Jerusalem and refugees. As has been agreed between the sides and supported by the international community, these complicated issues can only be resolved in direct negotiations between the parties, not by unilateral actions.

Premature recognition would ignore Israel's legitimate concerns, especially regarding security issues. It would also allow the Palestinians to continue to avoid the important step of mutual recognition, which includes Israel's right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Premature recognition means recognition of terrorists

In preparation for the unilateral declaration of a state, the Palestinian Authority has signed a reconciliation agreement with the Hamas. Hamas continues to call for the destruction of Israel and rejects the most basic conditions of the international community for recognition as a legitimate actor in the region. Supporting this agreement without any change in position by Hamas would serve as de facto international recognition of Hamas' legitimacy.

Hamas continues to be a recognized terrorist organization, outlawed in numerous states throughout the world, including the UK and the US. It seeks Israel destruction and rejects the three Quartet Principles (recognition of Israel's right to exist, acceptance of existing agreements and an end to violence).

A unilateral declaration of statehood will be exploited for 'lawfare' against Israel

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to use recognition of a Palestinian state as a springboard to launch a legal war against Israel (as directly stated in his May 2011 New York Times op-ed). Such statements demonstrate the danger of supporting Palestinian efforts to declare statehood unilaterally, as legal maneuvering only stokes the fires of the conflict.

Premature recognition threatens existing Israeli-Palestinian cooperation

The productive and successful legal and administrative frameworks that promote practical Israeli-Palestinian cooperation could unravel with the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Currently, bilateral arrangements exist in over 40 spheres of civilian activity and serve as the basis for real economic, legal and security cooperation, as well as the tax transfers from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Undermining such vital arrangements, which serve as a platform for the impressive economic growth and stability in the West Bank, could risk tangible economic difficulties and limit the potential for practical cooperation in spheres including in security matters. The tension inevitably following such a contentious unilateral declaration could render such cooperation impossible.

Israel remains committed to the quest for peace

Israel has a long proven track record of making strategic concessions for peace. It has proved its willing to negotiate land transfers, leaving Sinai for peace with Egypt and leaving Gaza and South Lebanon. The fact that Israeli peace steps in Gaza and South Lebanon were answered with rockets and violent attack should be a sobering warning about the risks Israel takes and the importance of reaching a solution that serves the interest of all sides to the conflict.

Israel has done much to improve conditions for Palestinians over the past two years, removing roadblocks and facilitating the improvement of the economy in the West Bank. It also removed restrictions on goods entering Gaza, banning only weapons and potentially dangerous items and taken measures to promote infrastructure improvements for Palestinians.

Premature recognition would render the negotiating process and the ideals of compromise and dialogue meaningless and would undermine Israeli efforts for peace.

Stuart Palmer
Director, ICAN

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