The New York Times (Editorial)
August 7, 2011 - 12:00am

In little more than a month, the Palestinians are expected to ask the United Nations to recognize their state. We have sympathy for their yearning and their frustration. For years, they have been promised a negotiated solution — President Obama called for a peace deal by September — and they are still empty-handed. But the consequences could be profoundly damaging for all involved.

If the Palestinians want full U.N. membership, they have to win the backing of the Security Council. The United States will undoubtedly veto any resolution, and that will further isolate both Israel and Washington. The Palestinians may instead ask the General Assembly to recognize them as a state or give them observer status as a state. Either would undoubtedly pass. But it would be in name only. After the initial exhilaration, Palestinians would be even more alienated, while extremists would try to exploit that disaffection.

The best way, likely the only way, to head off this debacle is with the start of serious negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The two sides haven’t even been in the same room together since September 2010.

All share blame for the stalemate. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has used any excuse he can find (regional turmoil, the weakness of his coalition government) to avoid negotiations. He has blustered and balked at President Obama’s prodding. Republican leaders in Washington — who seem mainly interested in embarrassing Mr. Obama — have encouraged his resistance.

Arab leaders haven’t given the Israelis any incentive to compromise. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, seemed to give up on diplomacy when Mr. Obama could not deliver a promised settlement freeze. We see no sign that he has thought even one step beyond the U.N. vote.

With the September deadline approaching, the Obama administration is back in the business of incremental diplomacy. The White House is working with Israel and the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) on a statement setting out parameters for negotiations. The core element: a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and guarantees for Israel’s security.

In May, President Obama endorsed that idea, which is widely accepted as the basis of any deal. At the time, Mr. Netanyahu scored points with hard-liners in Israel — and Republican lawmakers played the same game here — denouncing those boundaries as “indefensible.” Now the Israeli leader seems willing to accept them. It’s a start but not enough.

To have any chance of inducing the Palestinians to drop their statehood bid — and finally move the peace process forward — the United States and its partners should put a map and a deal on the table, with a timeline for concluding negotiations and a formal U.N. statehood vote. The Security Council and the Arab League need to throw their full weight behind it.

We see no sign that Washington or the Israelis are thinking beyond the incremental. The United States can veto a statehood resolution. But all sides will end up paying a high price.


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