Can Israel use the UN vote in September to end the conflict?

Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas

Yossi Alpher: Yes

One of the most depressing aspects of international involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent months is the insistence by world leaders that the parties are capable of negotiating a final settlement. Depressing, because by word and action, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have signalled clearly their inability to do so.

Yet this attitude does not necessarily render Abbas's threat to appeal to the UN a bad thing. The Palestinian UN gambit reflects a readiness on Abbas's part to make a huge concession at the UN that he will not or cannot make in negotiations. Under the Oslo terms of reference and negotiating understandings observed over the past 17 years of failure, "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" and the more easily discussed territorial and security issues are held hostage to the "existential", deal-breaking issues of the right of return and who "owns" the Temple Mount. At the UN, Abbas is prepared to accept a determination regarding statehood, territory and a capital in Jerusalem without immediate reference to the rest.

Sadly, for narrow political reasons, the Obama administration refuses to recognise the advantages of this opening.

But key European countries like Britain work under fewer constraints. They can lead a large European and moderate Arab bloc in leveraging the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN into a "win-win" resolution. They can award the Palestinians a state within the 1967 lines with its capital in East Jerusalem, but balance this with advantages for Israel: recalling UN recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; recognising Israel's own capital in Jerusalem; offering extensive security provisions; calling for negotiated land swaps; allowing that, until Hamas accepts Quartet conditions, Gaza will not be treated as part of a Palestinian state; and asking Arab states to reward Israel with aspects of normalisation.

True, a genuine "end of conflict" will still elude us because of the impossibility of resolving all final status issues. The Palestinian UN initiative implicitly recognises this and signals a desire to normalise relations as much as possible. European friends of Israel who want it to remain a Jewish, democratic state and know that this requires ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state, should seize on this initiative.

Yossi Alpher co-edits Bitterlemons and is former director of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies and a former senior official in the Mossad

Robin Shepherd: No

There are few ironies more revelatory of the wilful ignorance of much of the Western world in relation to Israel-Palestine than the seemingly unassailable belief in a two-state solution, despite voluminous evidence that the Palestinians simply do not want it.

The latest findings of a survey of Palestinian opinion by the Israel Project in partnership with Stanley Greenberg and the Palestinian Centre for Public Opinion merely confirm what those of us who are not in denial about Palestinian attitudes have known for years.

While a small majority of Palestinians could accept the bald proposition that there should be a two-state solution, a huge majority - more than two to one among those who expressed preferences - saw two states as a mere stepping stone to a one state solution, ie the destruction of Israel. Fully 84 per cent agreed with the proposition that: "Over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state", and 92 per cent were against the notion that Israel should have any sovereignty in Jerusalem.

What can be done with such findings? Either one puts them together with every other piece of evidence since 1947 to conclude that the bulk of Israeli political society is bang on the nail in recognising that the true root cause of this conflict is Palestinian rejectionism. Or, one can choose the path of denial taken by the BBC, the Guardian and an ever diminishing rump of Israeli leftists, and simply ignore them on the grounds that they blow liberal-left prejudices about this conflict out of the water, which of course they do.

The results of the latest survey clearly show why Palestinian plans to push for an imposed solution to the conflict on 1967 lines at the UN in September would be so reckless. Since no-one would concede territory to people who simply view it as a beach-head from which to launch future attacks (pace Gaza), Israel will simply ignore it. This in turn would give renewed impetus to violent Palestinian factions now possessed of further "evidence" that diplomatic solutions don't work, thus providing the setting for a third intifada.

The UN plan is a very poor substitute for facing up to the reality that there will be a resolution to this conflict when the Palestinians want one, not a moment before.

Robin Shepherd is owner/publisher of The Commentator

    Last updated: 1:00pm, July 28 2011