For the Best Argument Against a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood, Look to the Palestinians Themselves

The Risks of Statehood: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a recent visit to France, embracing French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Getty Images
The Risks of Statehood: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on a recent visit to France, embracing French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

By Abraham H. Foxman

Published May 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

With the Palestinian Authority intent on declaring unilateral statehood in September, voices in Israel and in the United States have started to argue with increasing vociferousness against this idea. But for the clearest articulation of why Palestinian unilateral action is a wrongheaded approach one has to look no further than to the Palestinians themselves.

Among the wealth of information contained in the so-called Palestine Papers ­­— the nearly 1,700 confidential P.A. documents released by Al-Jazeera in January — are memos penned by the Palestinian negotiating team arguing that announcing a de facto state without first achieving an agreement would be a mistake.

In these many memos, the negotiators’ biggest concern is that any Palestine that the P.A. could give birth to alone — even with international recognition — would not fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people and might even undermine them.

For one thing, the P.A. could claim practical control only over sections of the West Bank that it already commands under the Oslo Accords, those known as Area A, and perhaps part of Area B, where there is joint Israeli-Palestinian oversight. Area C, which is about 62% controlled by Israel, would still be out of its grasp.

As the Palestinian strategists argue in these memos, a state declared outside negotiations with Israel would encompass then only about 40% of the West Bank (what happens to Gaza post-reconciliation is another question), creating what they call a “state with provisional borders.”

In a March 2009 memo to the Palestinian leadership, the negotiating unit worried that if the International Criminal Court recognizes this truncated version of Palestine as a state before “the termination of the Israeli occupation,” it would not only “prejudice border negotiations from both legal/political and physical points of view,” but could also “weaken Palestine’s claim to the remaining part of the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Indeed, the memo’s authors continue, the Palestinians’ claim “to the remaining parts of the occupied Palestinian territory could be weakened if the international community were to recognize the provisional border. Furthermore, a provisional border would weaken the status of the 1967 border.”

Moreover, the authors fear that once these provisional borders are recognized, the international community could lose interest in the issue, move on to other pressing world matters and forget about the other key issues of the conflict, such as refugees, Jerusalem, settlements and final borders. “The international community may come to regard the Palestine problem as a mere border dispute, rather than as a case of military occupation, thereby diminishing political pressure for prompt resolution of remaining issues,” the March 2009 memo argues.

The “take away” advice to Palestinian leadership was, as one August 2008 strategy paper put it: “It would be wrong to assume that nominal statehood, in and of itself, is the only goal for Palestinians. In reality, statehood is pointless without sovereignty and viability, the fulfillment of the rights that these entail, and the satisfaction of Palestinian refugee rights.”

To be sure, Israeli policymakers have another long list of arguments that underscore the inadvisability of unilateral action, not the least of which is the point alluded to in another Palestinian memo, from June 2000: Such a move would violate the 1995 Interim Agreement with Israel which states that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations.”

So why are Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pursuing a strategy that could undercut the Palestinians’ own declared priorities and aspirations? Why seek to declare a state outside the context of negotiations with Israel when that state would (even in the most optimistic Palestinian scenario) lack the sovereignty, viability, physical infrastructure and real benefits of statehood?

We may need to wait for another disgruntled Palestinian strategist to leak internal memos from 2010 and 2011 for us to understand the rationale.

However, as these leaked memos make clear, given all the risks and drawbacks of a unilateral declaration, the only effective path to a viable and recognized Palestinian statehood and resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be through direct and bilateral negotiation.

There is understandable frustration and discouragement at the pace, violations and regular breakdowns of the negotiation process. The P.A. has also refused to sit down with Israel, and the recent Fatah-Hamas reconciliation further complicates the prospect for peace talks. Ultimately, however, Israel, the Palestinians and the international community must persevere and recognize that negotiation offers the best means for arriving at a two-state solution, with the Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.