The United Nations route to solving this impasse is fools' gold

By Robin Shepherd, December 16, 2010
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It has been a mixed couple of weeks for the Palestinian Authority. With the breakdown of peace talks they have managed to land the blame where most of the world was only too ready to place it anyway: it's Israel's fault because of the settlements, and not theirs for their refusal to negotiate without pre-conditions. They also managed to secure pre-emptive recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 lines from Brazil and Argentina, with other Latin American states pledging to follow suit in 2011 as part of a Palestinian plan to get the United Nations to impose a solution in the middle of next year if a peace deal has not been sketched.

Nonetheless, European Union foreign ministers at their Council meeting in Brussels this week declined to do likewise, remaining, for now, in step with an American administration that is adamant there can be no peace without the agreement of the parties. That represents a serious blow to the Palestinians who will need European support if the UN route is to gain any traction.

It is important to understand what is at stake here. At first glance, the notion of using the UN to impose a two-state solution along 1967 lines looks innocent enough. After all, it might be argued, the 1967 borders broadly demarcate the international community's concept of what a two-state solution would look like, and they conform to international law.

But the argument is deeply flawed.

First, Israel will never agree to it. No sovereign democracy is going to allow outsiders to put its security in jeopardy as a cack-handed attempt to recreate the indefensible 1967 borders would do.

Second, the 1967 borders are not in fact borders. They are the armistice lines from the War of Independence. As Britain's Lord Caradon, the principal drafter of UN Resolution 242, put it they represent nothing more than the place "troops had to stop in 1948, just where they happened to be that night, that is not a permanent boundary." In other words, despite what you might have been told by the BBC, it is by no means clear that what is customarily referred to as the Green Line has meaning in international law anyway.

Third, the UN route is merely a ruse by the Palestinians to avoid having to make any concessions. The more countries that sign up to such a course of action the less likely they are to negotiate seriously.

Fourth, it would risk encouraging renewed violence. If the Israelis can be portrayed as "invaders" of a sovereign land rather than mere "occupiers" Palestinian terror groups could well use this as a pretext for a new Intifida.

The UN route is fools' gold. If the Palestinians want a state, they need to negotiate in good faith, end rejectionism, and recognize the Jewish state. Encouraging them to do otherwise is irresponsible and dangerous.

Robin Shepherd is director, international affairs, at the Henry Jackson Society. His latest book is A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel.

Last updated: 10:26am, December 17 2010