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Bypassing Israel: The necessity of recognition in European capitals
Scott Ratner
December 15, 2014

The recent wave of parliamentary and national resolutions to recognize the state of Palestine that has engulfed multiple European countries throughout the past few months has redirected the spotlight to how support from the international community can be harnessed for the purposes of ending the Israeli occupation and formally legalizing Palestine’s status as an official, sovereign entity. It also implicitly calls into question the utility of bypassing negotiations with Israel in order to achieve Palestinian statehood and to what extent unilateral actions should be embraced or shunned by the Palestinian national movement. Yet as the decades-long “peace process” has clearly shown, attempting to work through bilateral or even multilaterals tracks where Israel is assumed to be acting in good faith is utterly futile as long as the Israeli government exerts absolute control over the situation on the ground. Only the international arena offers a venue where Palestinian national aspirations are not encumbered by Israeli desiderata or obstacles that will forever prevent the materialization of a Palestinian state.

Essentially every state in the international community has made it clear since at least the 1970s that the Palestinian people are entitled to a sovereign state on the 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine that Zionist forces did not conquer in 1948. This recognition does not, nor has ever, come with the stipulation that such a state must be premised or conditioned upon adhering to what Israel defines as its “national security.” UNSCR 242 may uphold the “right (of all states in the region) to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force,” but it does not bestow Israel with the privileged right to define the nature and essence of “security” and then to subsequently subjugate the terms of Palestinian statehood to this vision. Israeli leaders, from Yitzhak Rabin, the often touted yet overly romanticized father of the modern-day peace process, to current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have all made it explicitly clear that Palestinian self-rule must serve, first and foremost, to police its citizens rather than build independent political, economic, or civil society institutions. A Palestinian state need also unreservedly accede to what Israeli politicians and generals consider their essential security requirements, meaning permanent Israeli military control over the borders and airspace (and most likely the Jordan Valley), the retention of Jewish-only settlements dispersed widely throughout the region, unfettered control over the internal movement of the civilian population, and the right to exploit the area’s natural resources as it sees fit.

Fuel the Momentum

The very notion that one state’s existence should be subject to the whims of an external power contravenes the most fundamental principle of sovereignty: reciprocity and a strict policy of non-intervention in another state’s internal affairs. Still, not a single leader of any mainstream Israeli political movement, even among the remnants of the shattered Israeli left, refers to Palestinian statehood in a language not rooted in “control and security.” Adhering to the dictates of a country that reserves the right to unilaterally determine whose national interest takes precedent can only continue to reinforce the moribund political process that Israel has cynically manipulated for decades to further entrench its dominance in and over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the international community, which bears ultimate responsibility for setting the agenda between friendly and rival nation-states, Israeli preconditions and biased interpretations of which national rights Palestinian are entitled to are wholly untenable. Appealing to states across Europe, Asia, and North and South America to recognize what has already been categorically accepted as the innate and inalienable right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign nation-state, unbridled by what an occupying power has decreed, has the greatest potential to foster the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Bypassing Israel should therefore not be seen as a dangerous political maneuver, but rather the only means to dispel the perception that Palestinians derive their national rights from an entity that has never harbored any serious intentions of fulfilling its commitment to work in unison with the Palestinian people.

In the short-term, recognition from countries around the globe will unfortunately not translate into tangible changes on the ground. Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its adamant refusal to abide by international law, and the continuous lackluster response of the international community to Israel’s transgressions only adds to its perceived immunity. In the long-term, however, a consolidated front of nations that recognize a Palestinian state can create a lobby for implementing a legal framework that holds Israel accountable for its actions and shifts the balance of international legitimacy in favor of Palestine. Perhaps most importantly, an international coalition of states recognizing Palestine can challenge American ascendency in the United Nations. This route offers better chances of enforcing the countless UN resolutions calling call upon Israel to remove its military and civilian presence from the occupied territories. Conversely, a united front that views a sovereign, independent state of Palestine and an illegally occupying state of Israel as established facts can also help ostracize Israel even further and generate diplomatic and economic sanctions that restrict its maneuverability in the international arena. Note that these benefits of unilateralism do not even mention the vast potential of utilizing the International Criminal Court to finally hold Israel’s political and military elites accountable for their decade’s long occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Of course, as any informed and neutral observer would readily grasp, nothing satisfies Israel’s national security more than a strong, sovereign, and prosperous Palestinian state. Contrary to the exhortations routinely heard from Israeli politicians, generals, and academics that the pre-1967 borders are indefensible, it is the occupation of another people that has eroded Israel’s military capability and international legitimacy. As long as the Israeli political establishment and social mainstream stubbornly insist that only through their good graces can Palestinians enjoy their natural claim to independence, then little can be achieved by including them in the Palestinian campaign for self-determination and justice. Instead, creating pressure through overwhelming international recognition constitutes the only means of compelling Israel to treat the Palestinian people and state as truly equal partners. Obtaining the status of an official country, with its attendant obligations and responsibilities, is thus the most appropriate and effective strategy for the Palestinian Authority to pursue, and we can only hope that it will continue to build the momentum in world capitals to hone up to their commitment to the Palestinian people.

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