What Exactly Do Israeli Leaders Want?

By Ahmed E. Souaiaia

A year ago, President Obama addressed the UNGA where he told world leaders that "when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel." He was back today but there was no agreement.

The Palestinians and the Israelis have signed an interim agreement on September 13, 1993 in Washington DC known as the Oslo Accords. The document stipulated that this arrangement is temporary, and that the two parties should negotiate and produce a permanent agreement and that the negotiations must start no later than May 1996. It is now September 21, 2012. Nearly 20 years since signing that accord and there is no permanent agreement, no negotiations. Consequently, the head of the Palestinian Authority decided to ask the world community to end the deadlock by recognizing a Palestinians state over the 1967 borders. The Israelis are opposed and they are asking the US to use its veto to deny the Palestinians statehood.

The pro-Israel commentator Thomas Friedman once said, to paraphrase, that Israel wants three things: A democratic Israel, a Jewish Israel, and more land. He then rightly argued that Israel cannot have all three. Israel cannot have all three, not because the Arabs will deny them, but because the three things that Israel wants are logically and practically incompatible elements.

If Israel wants to grab more land, the land will necessarily come with inhabitants who are not Jews. That will necessarily dilute the Jewish character of the state. If Israel wants to be a democratic state, it cannot absorb more non-Jewish people and expect them to be second class citizens. If Israel wants to be a Jewish state, it must give up the claim that it is a democracy where all citizens, including non-Jews are equal.

Of course, there are ways around these mutually exclusive elements but that would require violation of domestic and international laws. For instance, Israel could re-conquer all the land it wants, kill anyone who resists and then forcefully transfer those who survive, including non-Jewish Israelis, to other lands. That could happen… if the world would tolerate war crimes, crimes against humanity, forceful population transfer, ethnic cleansing, and murder all happening at once.

If the current Israeli rulers really want to embrace the two-state solution and settle this conflict that dragged for too long, they should vote to recognize the Palestinian state over the 1967 borders. If the world community, including the Arabs and the Palestinians, recognize Palestine at the 1967 borders, the world and the Arabs will be automatically recognizing Israel as occupying the remainder of the land—something the Arab and most Muslim countries have not done in 63 years. Such a vote will achieve what the UN, the UNSC, numerous US administrations, and the Oslo agreement have failed to achieve. This vote will give Israel an internationally recognizable border over which they can establish a Jewish state or a Martian state, a democratic state or a tyrannical state… whatever designation they want.

Israel has been demanding that the Arabs recognize Israel and normalize their relations with it for years. This vote for Palestinian statehood is a sure prescription for both: Israel will be recognized at once and, in due time, relations could be normalized. Through negotiations, they can reach agreements not only over the status of refugees and settlements but also over natural resources and trade. But current Israeli leadership is squandering what may be the last opportunity to gain recognition. Not only that, but the leadership is undoing whatever little achievement there was: they lost Egypt to the Arab Spring, they lost Turkey to Gaza War, and they will soon lose Jordan due to democratic transformation on the horizon. The current Israeli rulers are freefalling and dragging the US down with them.

The US worked hard to position itself on the side of the Arab peoples by giving up on dictators. This precious political capital will dissipate fast should the US administration use its veto to block the Palestinian statehood application. A US veto of the Palestinians’ application for statehood could mark the end of the two-state solution; that is how significant this moment is for all concerned parties. This is not just speculative analysis, even the most ardent supporters of Israel have concluded this much: “Israel today does not have a leader or a cabinet for such subtle diplomacy. One can only hope that the Israeli people will recognize this before this government plunges Israel into deeper global isolation and drags America along with it.” (Thomas Friedman, NYT, September 17, 2011).

– Professor Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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