Direct negotiations have always been – and will always be – the answer for the Arab-Israel conflict, write Einat Wilf and Shany Mor.
Australia showed moral leadership in its term on the UN Security Council, most notably when it stood with the US in December and voted against a highly biased and anti-Israel draft resolution put forward by the Arab League, recognising true peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved via direct negotiations.
The path to Palestinian statehood has always passed through reconciliation with Israel – a recognition of both the fact of a Jewish state in the Middle East and the acceptance of its legitimacy.
The Palestinians don’t need another UN Security Council resolution to achieve statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They could have it today by making peace with Israel. In fact, they could have had it in 2008 by accepting then-Prime Minister Olmert’s peace offer, or in 2000 by accepting the American-brokered Clinton Parameters.
As such, one should be very sceptical of internationally imposed settlements. But, if the international community are determined an outside arrangement must be forced on the two sides, then their resolution must go all the way. Picking and choosing only some of the issues on which to stake a position is the worst possible course of action.
The Security Council proposal was very specific on demands from the Israeli side, while leaving the obligations of the Palestinians and the Arab states up to “fair and agreed solution”. This left all the issues crucial to Israel up for negotiation, while whatever concessions Israel could have offered were already predetermined.
On the question of territory, the draft resolution called for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with agreed, mutual swaps, seemingly rewarding the Palestinian choice in 2000 to reject the Clinton Parameters, while making no constructive counter-proposal and instead embarking on a suicide bombing campaign. On Jerusalem, it insisted on a “shared capital” for both states.
Such specific and unequivocal demands of Israel could have been paired with equally forceful statements renouncing the Palestinian demand for the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war – which would effectively turn democratic Israel into an Arab country with a Jewish minority. But here, the resolution only asked for an “agreed, just, fair, and realistic” solution.
The resolution said it “reaffirms” the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, but said nothing of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in its historic homeland. It called for both states to be “independent, sovereign, and prosperous”, and specified only for Palestine, but not Israel, that it must be “sovereign, contiguous, and viable.” Israel, surrounded by an imploding Arab World and states who do not accept its legitimacy, has apparently no grounds for safeguarding its “viability.”
The resolution “looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations,” but did not look forward to the termination of all travel bans, cultural boycotts, and trade embargos on Israel maintained by the Arab States. It certainly doesn’t condemn them as unacceptable, as it does with Israeli settlement activity. Furthermore, it makes no mention of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, nor mention suicide bombings.
Most reckless of all is the resolution’s heedless indifference to Israel’s security concerns. Where it is specific about Israeli concessions on territory, it was very vague about the “security arrangements” that will come after an Israeli withdrawal. The details, apparently, are to be worked out in future negotiations, but one detail is already built in: “a full phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces”. Israel’s concerns that the West Bank, which overlooks every major Israeli city and town, could become a base for Gaza-style rocket attacks were not even considered.
Moreover, issues that do require an international push got the most cavalier treatment in the text. Regional normalisation was broached as a general desideratum, but no specific demands were made and no deadlines or enforcement mechanisms were suggested. No guarantees were made of an international security force.
A bilateral process that would force both sides to come to terms with each other’s respective, legitimate, occasionally overlapping, but sometimes fundamentally incompatible claims is the best path to a durable peace. To the extent that internationally imposed plans could succeed at all, it is by addressing all relevant issues in detail and in full. International proposals that include balanced-sounding banalities mixed with entirely unbalanced specific demands are guaranteed to fail.
Australia was wise to recognise this reality. Its national interests are best served by backing proposals that move the situation towards its declared policy goal of a two-state peace, not by seeking popularity in backing proposals that do the opposite.
Dr Einat Wilf is a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. She served as a member of the Knesset and is currently speaking in Australia.
Shany Mor has a PhD from the University of Oxford. Before that, he served as a director for foreign policy on the Israeli National Security Council.