There’s nothing new in the threat to unilaterally declare statehood, which seems to resurface every time Palestinian leaders confront the consequences of their own failure to negotiate responsibly with Israel. And there’s nothing new in the arguments about why such an action would only heap new fuel on the region’s simmering conflicts.
A two-state solution is a core goal of U.S. and Israeli policy, but it has been recognized from the outset that it can be accomplished only through a negotiated settlement that will provide Israel with the security assurances it needs to return critical territory.
As nearly two decades of negotiations have demonstrated, that process is a tortuous one, but shortcuts can only exacerbate the problems that have kept the Palestinians from their stated goal of an independent state.
Too often, public threats of unilateral action have been little more than crude attempts by Palestinian leaders to get Washington to pressure Israel as an alternative to honest negotiations; too often those threats reflect an unwillingness to give as well as take.
The dangers of such an approach should be obvious. Unilateral action can only undercut support for Palestinian statehood among an Israeli electorate with good reasons to be wary of relinquishing land without the protections only a carefully negotiated settlement can provide.
Unilateral action by the Palestinians invites similar moves by Israel, eroding the very foundation of past peace efforts, and would represent a victory for Israeli extremists who oppose any territorial compromise, under any circumstances.
Such an action could also abrogate prior agreements that have expanded Palestinian autonomy on the West Bank, invite the re-imposition of Israeli control and restrictions on movement and stop recent economic advances in the West Bank dead in their tracks.
The latest iteration of the unilateral declaration gambit comes as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plays a similar game about his political future. Is his threat to quit next year’s presidential election a serious reflection of his frustration with the continuing stalemate — or a clumsy ploy meant to pressure Washington into putting the squeeze on Israel?
The Palestinian people need leaders who recognize that the only path to statehood involves serious, direct bilateral negotiations with Israel, arduous as they will be, and not diplomatic gimmicks meant to short-circuit the process.