In the long and sorry history of Mideast peace negotiations, the Palestinians have often flirted with the idea of gaining through unilateral declarations or United Nations action what they couldn’t get through negotiations with Israel.
That was a bad idea in the past and it’s a bad idea today; the fact remains that the only route to the two-state solution Palestinian leaders say they support is through direct negotiations, with both sides willing and able to put internal politics aside and make the difficult compromises any settlement will require.
This week there were reports in the Israeli press that the Palestinians, frustrated by Israel’s reluctance to extend a West Bank settlement moratorium and unwilling to make their own confidence-building gestures, may seek a United Nations resolution calling for the evacuation of settlements.
There is growing talk in Israel that the Palestinians may go further and seek UN endorsement of a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Those aren’t new ideas; in the past, the Palestinian leadership has used that kind of threat to mobilize international pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions while avoiding living up to their own obligations.
Such threats haven’t worked in the past, and they are even less likely to work today.
No Israeli government — right, center or left — could accept a Palestinian state created by fiat, without the strict guarantees that only a carefully negotiated agreement can provide; no Israeli leader could accept the validity of that state without a formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist, strict assurances the new state will end the incitement that has so tragically prolonged the conflict and unequivocal agreement on all the critical “final status” issues.
Unilateral action is little more than a way of perpetuating and possibly escalating the conflict.
After an unfortunate start, the Obama administration’s dogged pursuit of renewed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has been admirable, if not fully successful. It would be making a tragic mistake if it did not speak out — forcefully and without reservation — against any unilateral Palestinian action to sidestep negotiations.
Not speaking out now can only encourage Palestinian leaders to believe in the chimera of unilateral action as a shortcut to statehood when, in fact, it is the worst kind of dead end.
Such public relations gambits can only undermine the negotiation process on which this administration has staked so much and add to the misery of the war-weary region.