Beware of good intentions over Palestinian statehood

By: MK Dr. Einat Wilf, Published on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN/Time Blog

When well-meaning people send destructive messages, even if unintentionally, it is worse than when those of ill will do. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally requests the U.N. General Assembly to pass tomorrow a resolution recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in east Jerusalem, he will be counting on the support of more than one hundred member states. Most of those will be continuing their well-established tradition of voting against Israel, towards which their ill will is known, well documented and expected.

But some countries will be voting Yay, or sympathetically abstaining, in the hope that recognizing a state of Palestine would keep the two-state solution alive as the path to peace. Yet doing half the job is worse than doing nothing at all. In their vote, those countries of goodwill, will be sending a dangerous message that would undermine, rather than increase, the chances for peace by privileging one aspect of the conflict while ignoring others.

For one, they will recognize east Jerusalem, home to the holiest sites to the Jewish people, as Arab Palestine, while glaringly omitting any parallel recognition of boringly residential west Jerusalem as Israel, even though both parts were deemed in the original partition resolution to be a “Corpus Separatum” that belongs neither to the Jewish nor the Arab state.

But the greater omission that would send a clear message that this vote in the United Nations is neither about peace nor a two-state solution is the issue of refugees. For 65 years, conferring refugee status on descendants of refugees from what became Israel following partition has been used as a tool of war. It has not only harmed the “refugees” themselves, who were encouraged to live their lives in the vain hope that one day they will be relocated to Israel, but was used to deny Israel legitimacy and peace. It was the means by which the Arab world expressed its rejection of the historic connection between the Jewish people and Israel, as well as the equal and legitimate right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the only land in which they were ever sovereign.

Well-meaning countries that truly care about peace cannot stoke the flames of conflict. They cannot seriously support a two-state solution at the same time that they condone, and even financially support, the perpetuation of hereditary refugee status for Palestinians. To argue that five million Palestinians, who were never born in Israel, have the right to relocate there is incompatible with the survival of Israel, and an honest two-state solution. Especially after a Palestinian state is recognized, there is no logical or legal basis for maintaining the refugee status of Palestinians. A refugee, after all, is a person who cannot return to his country – not someone who is a citizen of one country but insists on being relocated to another. Nowhere in the world is refugee status conferred on a person who is a citizen of the country in which he resides.

If well meaning countries truly seek to turn the U.N. resolution into a tool of promoting peace, they need to address the conflict in its entirety. This means that Palestinians born and living in their own state, as well as those who have settled and have citizenship elsewhere, will no longer be accorded the status of refugees. It should be clear that not a dime be taken away from supporting those who have this status today and are in need, so that financial considerations are not used to excuse rejecting this proposal.

This would truly turn the resolution in the U.N. General Assembly into an instrument of hope and peace. It would send a clear message to the Palestinians that recognizing their state means also recognizing that the Jewish people have a full and equal right to theirs. After all, this was the original spirit of the General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, which Abbas wishes to revive. If the Arabs truly want to erase the mistake they made 65 years ago in rejecting that resolution, they should accept a proposal that seriously addresses the conflict in its entirety. If they finally do so, peace-loving Israelis and honest people everywhere would be able to believe again that peace is possible – and that would be an immensely powerful message of hope.