A better plan than premature recognition

I confess to being a fan of both Matt Duss and Michael Cohen, respectively President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and a Fellow at the Century Foundation. Like them, I am also a supporter of the two-state solution and a territorial settlement based on the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps. But they are wrong in thinking that the United States should recognize the state of Palestine. The time will come, but the situation is not yet ripe for this major diplomatic move.

Even they seem to have their doubts about giving Palestinian President Abbas the recognition “seal of approval.” But the best arguments against diplomatic recognition have little to do with Abbas, who they admit refused an American-proposed framework for a settlement, resists Palestinian Authority responsibility for Gaza’s borders and has postponed elections indefinitely. The bigger problem is that there is no Palestine to recognize: governance is split between the West Bank and Gaza and the purported state territory (and capital) is uncertain. The fact that 130 countries have recognized Palestine demonstrates that the “organized hypocrisy” we know as sovereignty is poorly organized at best.

The better move for the United States is to dust off the settlement framework it presented to Abbas in March 2014, complete the details, add a deadline for declaration of a Palestinian state and try to get it approved in the UN Security Council, which is something the current French Presidency would welcome. This would correct one of the original shortcomings of the Middle East peace process:  the UN General Assembly, not the Security Council, decided the 1948 partition. It would also be an unequivocal step towards a two-state solution, without however giving Abbas the shiny trophy of American recognition he covets but does not merit.

Israel would of course oppose Security Council approval of a peace plan and ultimatum, even if it left open key issues for Palestine and Israel to resolve in subsequent negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to hold on to the West Bank indefinitely, his post-election “correction” notwithstanding. Washington needs to break definitively with this ambition, signaling to the Palestinians and the Arab world generally that America will not be held hostage by its Israeli ally’s hunger for all the land west of the Jordan River. With Republicans in Congress lining up behind Netanyahu, it is vital and urgent that the Administration irreversibly sign on to a Security Council plan that makes Palestinian sovereignty inevitable, without however recognizing it prematurely.

The odds of successful implementation of such a Security Council resolution with Netanyahu in power are minimal. But the move would push both Netanyahu and Abbas in the right direction: towards direct, bilateral negotiations of outstanding issues, perhaps with the aid of a UN special envoy. The Americans have exhausted their willingness to mediate the Israel/Palestine dispute. It is time to return it to the United Nations, where it really belongs.

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