J Street's Position on the Palestinian Bid at the United Nations General Assembly

November 27th, 2012

Executive Summary

This coming Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly will overwhelmingly pass a resolution making Palestine a non-member state observer at the UN. Less clear than the outcome of the vote is the meaning of the resolution for chances of achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

J Street is focusing on the day after the vote – because it is the actions of the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians following the vote that will determine whether we are moving toward or away from a negotiated resolution to the conflict.

We strongly oppose retaliatory measures against the PLO or the Palestinian Authority (PA) – in particular, Congressional efforts to cut funding, which could lead to the collapse of the PA and jeopardize the important progress it has made in recent years.

We urge Israel’s friends to focus their energy on a threat far more serious to the country’s long-term security and character than the vote at the UN – and that is the possible failure to achieve a two-state solution before it is too late.

To that end, our most important call at this time is on President Obama to fill the diplomatic vacuum and to launch, in early 2013, a renewed and bold diplomatic initiative to achieve a two-state solution.

The UN Resolution

This coming Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly will overwhelmingly pass a resolution making Palestine a non-member state observer at the UN. The resolution (as drafted) endorses a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the parameters J Street believes are urgently needed for Israel to survive as a secure, democratic, Jewish homeland – two states for two peoples, with borders based on the pre-1967 lines with agreed swaps.

Whether the resolution’s passage actually advances the two-state solution depends on how Israeli, Palestinian and American leaders choose to respond. For that reason, J Street is focusing its energy on what happens the day after the vote. Events of the past two weeks provide painful proof that, barring a dramatic change of course, chances for a negotiated two-state solution are fading. This is disastrous on many levels. The two-state solution is essential to Israel’s long-term security and is the only way for it to maintain its Jewish nature and democratic character. It is also only through an agreement accepted by the parties and establishing two states living side by side in peace and security that the Palestinian people can achieve their right to self-determination and freedom.

In advancing peace and stability in the region more broadly, the two-state solution is also a fundamental national interest of the United States. That is why J Street believes the United States must focus on the day after the UN vote and on launching a sustained, meaningful effort to save the two-state solution.

Opposition to Retaliation for the UN Resolution

J Street will actively oppose efforts to punish President Abbas, the PLO or the Palestinian Authority for bringing this resolution to the United Nations. We will also oppose any suggestion of closing the PLO mission in Washington. We should be looking for ways to encourage and deepen the chances of diplomacy, not for ways to cut it off.

Those chances will be seriously damaged if either Israel or the US Congress retaliates for the UN resolution by cutting funding to the Palestinian Authority. Such funding cuts could lead to the collapse of the PA and certainly jeopardize the important progress, including in security cooperation, made in recent years by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

We are very concerned about the continuing bias against Israel that surfaces in international fora. At the same time, we reject the notion that approaching the UN for enhanced status is an attempt to delegitimize Israel. Bringing the question of statehood to the General Assembly is a peaceful, non-violent move within the legal rights of the Palestinians.

By specifically referencing relevant UN precedents and other international statements, this resolution actually affirms Israel’s right to exist. As important, it incorporates the notion that the borders of Israel and of the new Palestinian state will be based on the June 4, 1967 Green Line with negotiated adjustments.

We urge those concerned about this UN resolution that their time and energy might be better spent focusing on the existential threat to Israel’s security and character that is posed by the lack of a two-state solution to the conflict.

The efforts of President Abbas and the Palestinian Liberation Organization to achieve their goals through peaceful and legal means stand in stark contrast to the actions of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror organizations. In just the past few weeks, we have seen vividly the consequences of the path being taken by those Palestinians who choose violence and terror and refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

The Actions of the Parties

Whether this resolution advances the chances of resolving the conflict depends, of course, on the actions of the PLO and Israel following the vote.

We urge President Abbas to act on his previously stated readiness to return to negotiations without preconditions after passage of the resolution. We would urge that he indicate clearly his willingness to entertain a new diplomatic initiative proposed by President Obama and the international community grounded in specific parameters and a concrete timeline.

A firm commitment to refrain from proceeding with any action at the International Criminal Court would also be an important sign of good intention to resolve the conflict through negotiation.

Similarly, we urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to consider taking meaningful steps – including halting settlement expansion, for instance – that would demonstrate genuine interest in pursuing a two-state solution. We also hope the Israeli government will express its readiness to engage in a new diplomatic initiative without preconditions and to discuss all outstanding issues including, but not limited to, borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees.

Our Call to Action

Most importantly, we call for strong, meaningful diplomatic leadership from the Obama administration in its second term.

We are deeply frustrated by the inaction on the diplomatic front in the past 18 months. The Palestinians’ approach to the UN, the increasing instability on the West Bank and the growing sway of more militant voices in Palestinian society are all at least partly rooted in the failure to achieve progress through traditional diplomacy.

We urge the president to launch, in early 2013, a bold new diplomatic initiative to achieve a two-state solution. American policy must go beyond voicing support for a two-state solution and urging the parties to talk.

We call on the president to appoint a strong team in his second term with a clear presidential mandate to end this conflict.

We call on the president, as well, to build on this new United Nations resolution to convene negotiations backed by a strong international coalition, including European and Arab leaders, under the auspices of the US or the Quartet, and on the basis of clear parameters and a timeline. Such parameters – relating to borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees and water – are well known and widely accepted as the basis for a successful agreement.

With parameters in hand and a broad coalition behind him, we call on President Obama to visit the region, including Israel and the Palestinian Territory, to lay out the new initiative and to challenge the Israeli and Palestinian peoples to enter serious talks under his leadership in early 2013.

With time working against Israel’s existential interest, it is imperative that friends of Israel recognize that it is the lack of a two-state solution, and not a non-violent political action at the United Nations, that threatens Israel’s future and American interests.

This moment demands boldness and leadership on all sides now to save the chances for the two-state solution.