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APN Principles on the Palestinians, International Recognition & the UN

Palestinian_Flag_at_UN.jpgEarlier this month, APN's Board of Directors adopted principles to guide our approach on the issue of the Palestinians and efforts for international and UN recognition.  These principles underlie my recent op-ed on the topic published on, and will be the basis of forthcoming APN statements and commentary on the topic.


A great deal of attention is focused today on September 2011, when it is expected that the UN will take up some kind of initiative related to the Palestinians.   Both the form and the content of such an initiative remain unknown and in all likelihood are in fact still undecided - realities that have not stopped pundits and organizations from rushing to judgment and staking out hard-line positions opposing the effort.  
APN believes that this is an unwise and irresponsible response.   We believe a more responsible approach - an approach that has some chance of averting a crisis in September - must derive from the following basic principles. 

Principle 1:  UN action cannot resolve the conflict.  Negotiations can.
UN action regarding Palestine - be it a resolution calling on member states to recognize a state of Palestine, admission of Palestine into the UN General Assembly, or adoption of explicit UN-backed peace parameters - is not and cannot be an alternative to a negotiated settlement.  UN action on Palestine will not end the occupation.  Likewise, the issues of borders, refugees, security and Jerusalem will not be resolved by UN action.  These issues will only be resolved through negotiations that involve both Israel and the Palestinians - something that the Palestinian leadership itself has recognized even in the context of this effort.
Principle 2:  The Palestinians have the right to take their case to the UN.
Whether people like it or not, and whether they feel it is a good idea or not, it is the Palestinians' right to seek recognition of a state of Palestine, even under Israeli occupation.  This applies both to seeking recognition from specific countries or some sort of broader recognition at the UN.   Likewise, it is legitimate for the Palestinians to approach the UN with some other initiative, be it a request for admission to the UN General Assembly or an effort to have the UN adopt explicit Israeli-Palestinian peace parameters (for example, an "updated" version of Resolution 181 or 242).
Principle 3:  The Palestinians' resort to the UN does not reflect a rejection of the negotiations process; it reflects the failure of that process.
The decision of the Palestinians to take their case to the UN reflects, first and foremost, the loss of credibility of the current peace process and their understandable conviction that as things stand today, negotiations will never end the occupation or deliver statehood. Palestinian leaders, like leaders anywhere, need to address the concerns of their people and provide them a tangible path forward.  Their decision to take their case to the UN also reflects the recognition that the situation is nearing a tipping point - the point at which developments on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in particular expansion of settlements and settlement-related infrastructure, will make the two-state solution unworkable.
Principle 4:  The Palestinians' UN strategy is positive in a number of important senses (that have been largely overlooked).
The decision to appeal to the UN demonstrates, critically, the Palestinian leadership's determination to achieve progress through non-violent means. Likewise, while the content of a Palestinian initiative at the UN is still unknown, it appears likely that it will be consistent with a continued Palestinian commitment to the two-state solution, seeking recognition of a state based on the 1967 lines, not in all of historic Palestine.  Similarly, it appears likely that this effort will demonstrate the Palestinians' commitment to a permanent status agreement that is consistent with longstanding U.S. positions, including parameters laid out by President Obama and his predecessors, as well as with the Arab Peace Initiative and the more recent Israeli Peace Initiative.
Principle 5: The Palestinians' decision to go to the UN entails very real risks for all sides.
The Palestinian strategy of taking their case to the international community and the UN is intended, without question, to put pressure on Israel - and it is doing so.  Israeli concerns that in the wake of UN action, Israel could potentially be subjected to sanctions and multilateral enforcement mechanisms, are not unreasonable.  At the same time, this strategy holds risks, too, for the Palestinians.  Action at the UN could become a pretext for Israel to accelerate actions on the ground, particularly with respect to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which could hasten the demise of the two-state solution.  There is also the risk, in the wake of such action by the UN, of stepped-up pressure for sanctions and other punishment against the Palestinians (by the U.S., Israel, and others).
Moreover, this effort risks unintentionally strengthening rejectionists on both sides - Palestinians and Israelis alike, who oppose peace negotiations and a two-state solution and who would welcome confrontation and violence as a means of closing the door to both.
Principle 6: The U.S. should act boldly to transform the current challenge into an opportunity to advance peace.
The appropriate response by those concerned with the Palestinians' strategy of taking their case to the UN is not simply castigating the Palestinians and demanding they desist, but, rather, working urgently to give the Palestinians a real reason not to do so.  In this regard, the Palestinians need real reason to change course, not a transparent pretext that, rather than seriously advancing peace, merely defuses an immediate crisis.  Absent such a reason, support for a Palestinian initiative at the UN can be expected to gain momentum, and the Palestinians will have a difficult time backing off their UN strategy, even if they want to.
What is required today is bold U.S. action.  This means, for example, a serious initiative to re-accredit peace efforts and launch a meaningful process that can deliver tangible and quick results, or a U.S.-backed initiative to transform the proposed UN action on Palestine into something broader and far more significant - for example, a resolution at the Security Council embracing key peace parameters.   
Principle 7:  The US and Israel, for their own interests, should be working to avoid a confrontation at the UN in September.
In opposing UN action on Palestine, in whatever form it may take, Israel will find itself in an awkward position, given that it was the UN that gave birth to Israel after Israel's founders went to that body with their own demand for recognition.  Similarly, the U.S. will find itself in a painfully awkward position, forced to choose between opposing a resolution that could well be consistent with U.S. policy, or being portrayed in some circles as having abandoned Israel.  This is a situation that the U.S. should work assiduously to avoid.  Moreover, opposing UN action on Palestine will only exacerbate the growing U.S. and Israeli isolation on this issue, and further undermine the chances of achieving peace and security for Israel.
Principle 8:  If a Palestine-related initiative is ultimately brought to the UN in September, that initiative must be considered on its merits. 
If the U.S. fails to provide the Palestinians a positive alternative to their UN strategy, it is seems inevitable that the Palestinians will go ahead with an initiative of their own at the UN in September. 
In such a case, their initiative must be judged on its merits, and both the context and the content of the resolution matter.  Once we know the nature of the action and the language of the resolution itself, we must ask: were the Palestinians offered any reasonable, serious way forward in the wake of Netanyahu's hard-line speech in Washington in May 2011, or were they offered merely more of the same "trust us and wait" while settlements continued to expand?  We must also ask: is this initiative consistent with longstanding U.S. policy regarding permanent status issues, or does it stake out new ground that conflicts with U.S. policy and is inconsistent with a negotiated agreement that will resolve the actual details of permanent status?  Support for or opposition to such a resolution should be based on the answers to these questions, not on a predetermined, dogmatic rejection of any action by the UN on this issue.