What factors are really behind the statehood bid?

Mahmoud Illustration
Jacob Wilson/Staff

On Sept. 23, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, submitted a formal request for the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian State. This measure is not supported by Israel or the United States because they see such a move outside the context of direct negotiations as counterproductive. In an address to the U.N. General Assembly, Abbas claimed that he has initiated this unilateral statehood bid only after pursuing every available channel to directly negotiate a peace agreement with Israel. But history says otherwise. Israel’s peace offers have gone ignored and their attempts to negotiate have been rebuffed by Palestinian leadership for years.

Since its inception, Israel has consistently strived to make peace with its neighbors. Whether it be accepting the U.N. partition plan in 1947, signing a treaty with Egypt in 1978 or striking a peace deal with Jordan in 1994, peace has always been Israel’s first priority. Yet, Palestinian leadership refuses to act on Israel’s attempts at peace. Yasser Arafat rejected Israel’s offer at Camp David in 2000 that included virtually everything the PA had ever demanded without a counter-offer, and instead launched the second intifada leaving over a thousand Israelis dead.

Furthermore, Abbas never responded to an even more generous offer in 2008. In 2005, Israel’s military and civilian disengagement from Gaza — a good faith measure to promote the creation of a Palestinian State—was met with years of rocket fire on Israeli civilian centers. A December 2009 settlement freeze ordered by the Israeli cabinet, which represented a halt on construction in part of the Jewish people’s national homeland, elicited no meaningful response from the Palestinian Authority.

Instead of acting on Israel’s offers to make peace, Abbas has chosen to unilaterally pursue recognition of a state in the entirety of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These borders encircle Judaism’s holiest sites and hundreds of thousands of Israelis, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority made it clear last week that no Israeli would be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. They leave Israel a mere 10 miles wide, making Israel’s borders indefensible without an agreement addressing its security needs. What’s more, the borders include the Gaza Strip, a territory administered by Hamas, which rejects the statehood bid and is committed to the destruction of Israel.

So if Israel has consistently proven its willingness to negotiate to achieve a just peace with its neighbors, why is Abbas unilaterally approaching the U.N.? If the state he is asking for contains a half million people his organization said cannot live therein, why does he refuse to negotiate with Israel to draw a viable border? And if the Palestinian Authority is serious about creating two states for two peoples, why does it refuse to accept Israel as the Jewish state?

Because Abbas’s statehood bid is a charade. Because it is a cynical attempt to draw attention away from the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to compromise and to work with Israel to find a permanent solution to this conflict. Because as Abbas reminds us time and again, he considers the occupation to be as old as the state of Israel, meaning that to the Palestinian Authority, Tel Aviv is as much a settlement as Ariel. If the Palestinian Authority were serious about making peace, there would be no reason for the current bid at the U.N.

It is time for the Palestinian leadership to act in the interest of the future of their people, to substitute diplomatic stagecraft for good faith talks that will ultimately lead to a viable Palestinian state. And once that solution is negotiated, Israel will accept the new state of Palestine with open arms.

Jacob Lewis is a junior at UC Berkeley and co-president of Tikvah: Students for Israel.