Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Waiting for the Tsunami

| May 23, 2011

Israel is going to lose the fight at the U.N. over Palestinian statehood, but it can at least limit the damage.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently described an impending U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders as a "diplomatic tsunami" for Israel. Indeed, the resolution, likely to be introduced in September, is assured of overwhelming support. Though a few countries may abstain or vote no — including the United States, of course — the reason will be process, not substance, arguing that a Palestinian state should only be established through negotiations.

A tsunami may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there's no doubt that the resolution will affect the nature of the conflict: Israel would be seen as occupying a proto-state, rather than territory of questionable status. It could also serve as the basis for international sanctions against Israel. On the ground, however, nothing will change; the Palestinians will be as far as ever from a state. Israel will retain control of the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority will probably remain divided in practice despite the recent unity pact. In any event, only the Security Council, not the General Assembly, can recognize and admit a new state — which makes Palestinian statehood an unlikely scenario given U.S. veto power. The Palestinians will, however, achieve a dramatic diplomatic and public relations victory.

It does not matter that the Palestinians would probably reject any peace proposal — witness their rejection of Barak and Ehud Olmert's dramatic proposals in 2000 and 2008 — or that no agreement is likely, even desirable, pending full reunification of Hamas and Fatah. The international community has swallowed the Arab narrative that the entire conflict boils down to two words — occupation and settlements — and could be resolved if only Israel would finally terminate them. Frustrated by Israel's perceived intransigence, the international community is seeking ways to impose a deal and will broadly support the U.N. resolution....

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For Academic Citation: Freilich, Charles.“Waiting for the Tsunami.” Foreign Policy, May 23, 2011.