The last days of November 2012 were an awkward time for Israel in the international arena. After years of presenting itself as the reasonable party in the conflict, saddled with a Palestinian negotiating partner that won’t negotiate, its ruling Likud party wound up a two-day Knesset primary vote on November 26 by choosing a slate of candidates dominated by hard-line rightists who oppose Israeli-Palestinian compromise and reject Palestinian statehood.
The next day, Tuesday the 27th, the Palestine Liberation Organization formally asked the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a non-member state “living side by side in peace and security with Israel.” As expected, the proposed state would be set up “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with delineation of final borders to be determined in final status negotiations.” The negotiations would let Israel seek border adjustments to protect its airport and preserve its main settlement blocs.
The timing of the two events could hardly be worse from Israel’s point of view. Israel objects to the very idea of the Palestinians asking the United Nations to grant them statehood. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestine’s ultimate status is to be decided in direct negotiations between them, not by an outside party.
Israeli spokesmen say the Palestinian U.N. gambit is a violation of the 1993 accords. This sounds a bit rich coming from people who’ve spent the last 19 years denouncing the accords as an Israeli “suicide pact,” but that’s politics for you.
More to the point, defining the contours of the Palestinian state “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders” is a poison pill, at least to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In his view, this pre-empts the biggest question before talks even begin, leaving only details to be negotiated. Netanyahu insists negotiations commence without such preconditions. The Palestinians’ U.N. bid looks like an end run. It lets them come to the table on his terms while the world body watches and keeps score.
However you slice it, the events make for terrible Israeli P.R. Just when the Palestinians are putting their best face forward, asking for international certification of their desire to live peacefully alongside Israel, Israel’s political system adopts a blueprint for a government after the January elections that seemingly has nothing to offer the Palestinians but the back of a fist.
Further complicating Israel’s position, the PLO resolution calls “for a way to be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states.” That should be music to Israeli ears. It’s the first formal international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, at least since the handful of embassies once located there decamped for Tel Aviv in the early 1980s. If the holy city’s status were resolved, it would clear the path for America and the other 85 countries with embassies in greater Tel Aviv to end the insult and move their offices to the capital. That is, if Israel were to willing to play ball and allow a Palestinian capital in the city’s eastern half.