Gidi Grinstein
Haaretz (Opinion)
July 24, 2011 - 12:00am

Israel and the Palestinians may be advancing toward understandings with regard to recognition of Palestinian statehood in 2011. While it seems that both parties are determinedly heading toward confrontation, this outcome is made possible by the powerful interests that are at stake.

It is the fierce opposition by Israel that provides the most powerful motivation for the Palestinian initiative to achieve recognition for statehood from the United Nations. After all, many of UN members have grave reservations about the usefulness and consequences of such an act. In a mirror image, Israel fights against this motion, which actually holds strategic benefits for it. And both parties have serious concerns about the conflict that may erupt as a consequence of their confrontation.

One could easily imagine a strategic assessment in the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel or in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, which reaches the following conclusions:

1. Since the electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006 and its subsequent forcible take over of Gaza in June 2007, there has been no prospect of achieving a formal agreement between Israel and the Palestinians - either on a permanent status agreement or an interim arrangement.

2. The result of a direct confrontation between Palestinian citizens and the IDF is unpredictable; in the worst case, it may lead to full Israeli control over the Palestinian population in the West Bank, and the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. This would then not only exacerbate the divide in Israeli society and military, as well as within the Jewish world, but also pour fuel on the fire of the efforts to delegitimize Israel. Therefore, successful thwarting of the Palestinians' UN initiative may actually create a threat to Israel.

Moreover, this imaginary team may have also concluded that Israel may stand to gain several strategic advantages from the success of Palestinians' UN motion. For example, this is the only scenario where Israel and the Palestinians can shape the permanent status of their relations, while Israel initially controls all security assets, including the air space and the external borders. Furthermore, a Palestinian state is the most promising way to dilute the refugee problem, as it will render UNWRA redundant and may change the status of refugees. Lastly, establishment of such a state will allow for direct state-to-state engagement on gradually shaping permanent status and determining permanent borders, particularly with regards to the delicate issue of swapping of populated areas adjacent to the border on both sides.

Now, let’s imagine that debate progressing to the operational phase and asking: what should Israel do to ensure that the Palestinian UN initiative matures? The answer is clear: Israel must oppose it with all its force until the Palestinians pursue it beyond the point of no return. Paradoxically, it is Israel’s determined opposition which keeps the loose coalition of Palestinians together, in spite of their deep divide over the strategic logic of the move. Their grievances not only reflect the mirror image of the aforementioned advantages to Israel, but also a concern that such a move will undermine the Palestinian national struggle by turning the conflict into an ordinary territorial dispute.

The Prime Minister of Israel could have bestowed a kiss-of-death upon the Palestinian initiative by endorsing it and praising its benefits for Israel. Instead, Israel decisively launched a global diplomatic campaign against the Palestinian initiative, which is only encouraging them to push it forward with greater force.

During the final act in the UN, after the Palestinians are locked into their initiative, and both sides are staring into the abyss, the door will open for negotiations with the United States on ensuring that the recognition of Palestinian statehood is in accord with Israeli interests. Hence, it is precisely the stand-off and diplomatic confrontation that create the opportunity for pinning down the principle and reality of two-states-for-two-peoples in 2011, which is the stated objective of the present government.


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