As a strong supporter of Israel, I believe that the desire of Fatah leaders to have the United Nations Security Council recognize Palestine is a positive move that can lead to peace. Any move that establishes a Palestinian state more or less along the 1967 lines is a guarantee for the future of the idea of two lands for two peoples: the Jews and the Palestinians. Indeed, as Hamas well understands, the absence of such a resolution would be anathema for the Jews and Israel.
Were the Palestinian people to give up their desire for such a resolution, they could and probably would do one of two things: demand an end to Israel, which I do not believe the world body would sanction as such a precedent would threaten every nation’s integrity, or demand they be made full-fledged citizens of Israel, with full rights.
That second option, of course, would be the death knell for the idea of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Israel’s non-Jewish citizens would in short order become the majority and naturally move away from the idea of a Jewish state, making Jews once again a minority where they live, as they have been for generations in so many other places. Since Israeli Jews would never allow that to happen, they would be forced to make Israel into a true apartheid state, keeping its non-Jewish majority in a second-class status.
We know there is and should be no future for such states in today’s world. Some Palestinians (I suspect Hamas leaders are among them) have already figured this out and therefore have essentially abandoned the two-state solution. Soon they will figure out that by asking to be absorbed into Israel, they can more easily and swiftly win control over the region than they can by violence and war. This means that Israel, more than the Palestinians, needs a two-state solution — and it needs it enshrined and legalized now, before the Palestinians and the world all realize that the other option would put an end to the Jewish state more efficiently and easily.
Opponents will protest that the 1967 lines are untenable and will lead to an end to Israel. To that I can only respond that two states can negotiate borders easily — perhaps even more easily than can a state and an occupied people. Moreover, the Security Council process will take time, time during which the Israelis and Palestinians will find it to their advantage to negotiate. And the Palestinians will be able to come to the table during that time without appearing to be in a position of weakness, but rather of strength. It will provide them a matter of honor that will give them cover in the Arab and Muslim world for many of the necessary compromises and land swaps that such a negotiation necessarily would require, for they can always say they have the recognition of the world for their state as insurance for the future.
Israel, too, would have cover for compromise because even its right wing would realize that a Palestinian state is inevitable, and they would do well to see to it that they get the best borders they can as quickly as they can.
Some will say that any UN declaration is a meaningless piece of paper. But it was on the basis of an even more meaningless piece of paper that the Jews began their march toward statehood. That declaration came in the 1917 letter from the foreign secretary of Britain, Lord Balfour in which he declared to the Jewish Baron Rothschild that “His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The UN declaration would in effect be a similar and even more important document for the Palestinians. If things work out for the Palestinians as well as they did for the Jews, we shall all see a new Middle East that will offer promise to both peoples for a better future. That is something none of us should fear or fight against.
Samuel Heilman is a professor of sociology at Queens College and holds the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies the CUNY Graduate Center.