Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has formally submitted an application to the United Nations for that international body to recognize Palestinian statehood regardless of ongoing territorial disputes with Israel.
While the press will focus on the immediate aftermath—violence in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli reaction, and who voted for or against—the move is a game-changer in a number of ways.
• Goodbye, Land for Peace. Since the Camp David Accords in 1978, the basis of the Middle East peace process has been land for peace: Israel would offer land, and Arab partners would outline the degree of peace which they would provide. What Abbas is now doing—with majority international support—is demanding territory unilaterally without offering any peace. Add to this reversal of past diplomacy the possibility that Egypt will “revise” its peace agreement with Israel to remove the peace component, and all bets are off.
• Is Foreign Aid an Entitlement? The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars since agreeing to the Oslo Accords, but this aid was predicated on acceptance of Israel and acceptance of the peace process. If the Palestinians have violated this quid pro quo, then Congress should not approach the cut-off of aid as punishment, but rather as necessary to shore up the very foundations of diplomacy. Agreements must mean something, not simply provide an a la carte menu of optional clauses.
• Right of Return? Abbas, in his speech, has cited the “catastrophe” that befell Palestinians and led to the creation of a Palestinian refugee problem. Never mind that many of the Palestinians who claim to be refugees aren’t refugees according to the definition of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza—part of historical Palestine—are not technically refugees since they never left their “country.” The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has its own special definition for Palestinian refugees. If the UNRWA definition of multigenerational refugees were applied to the disruption that accompanied the partition of India, then today India and Pakistan would host 140 million refugees. If the Palestinians now have a state, however, then they will have in effect undermined one of their key demands: The right of return to Israel proper. That will force Abbas to either welcome the many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and other Arab countries to the West Bank and Gaza, or be in the hypocritical position of informing them that Palestinian Arabs are not welcome in Palestine.
• Retroactive Occupation. Until now, the West Bank has technically been a disputed territory rather than an occupied territory. This is because there never was a state of Palestine, the Palestinians had rejected the original partition of Palestine and therefore the territories assigned to them, and the international community never formally recognized the pre-1967 Jordanian occupation of the West Bank and the Egyptian occupation of Gaza. But if the international community, with a show of hands, recognizes the disputed West Bank territories as part of Palestine, then it changes the legal framework of the dispute. This gets complicated even further by the fact that the United Nations Human Rights Commission, back in 2002, legitimized terrorism against civilians to resist occupation. Many human rights advocates in the United States believe that international law keeps peace. Unfortunately, thanks to Mary Robinson’s stewardship at the Commission, in this case humanitarian law actually encourages murder.
• The Palestine Model, Exported. What happens in Palestine doesn’t stay in Palestine. The Palestinians are not the only people who lament their lack of statehood. The Kurds, especially in Turkey, lament the fact that they are the largest people without a state. The Baluch in Pakistan and Iran have waged a violent separatist campaign for decades. Republika Srbska would like to secede from Bosnia. Basque terrorists demand freedom from Spain. In the Western Sahara, the Algerian-backed Polisario Front has conducted a decades-long terrorist campaign against Morocco. The terrorists whom Pakistan supports in Kashmir make the violence wrought by Palestinians appear the stuff of amateurs. Now, the Turks, for example, can claim that there has never been a Kurdish state and so they are not guilty of occupation. But certainly the Kurds want their freedom and should they be able to rally the international community to retroactively recognize their occupation, then all bets are off.
The 1815 Congress of Vienna helped establish the modern system of diplomacy. Diplomats may believe they are voting for Palestinian aspiration or, perhaps, for an opportunity to embarrass the United States. They are wrong, however: For a number of reasons, they are voting for precedents which undercut the very basis of international diplomacy and promise to usher in a period of conflict not only in Israel and the Middle East, but much more broadly across the globe.