If the Palestinians unilaterally declare a State of Palestine this year as they say they will, everything changes. This is not the first time they have announced such an intention: twelve years ago they proposed the same thing but took it no further. This time it seems they mean to do what they say, and if they do, all resolutions, agreements, proposals made in the past for the ending of the Arab-Israeli conflict by negotiation become instantly irrelevant. Resolution 242, Oslo, the Road Map … all will be dead.
The UN Security Council Resolution 242, pursuant to which the parties were to negotiate a settlement, envisaged the establishment of borders within which Israelis should be able to live in peace. Forty-four years have passed, and Israel’s borders are still not fixed and Israelis still do not live in peace.
The Oslo Accords called for a five-year transitional period in which Israel would withdraw forces from occupied territories and accept the creation of a Palestinian Authority in exchange for security undertakings by the Palestinians. This arrangement was supposed to lead to a permanent peace settlement. The agreement was signed September 17, 1993. More than seventeen years later a peace settlement is no nearer.
The Road Map for Peace – “a performance-based roadmap to a permanent two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict” – was put forward by “the Quartet” of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, on September 17, 2002. More than eight years have passed and the conflict continues.
There have also been the failed Camp David and Taba Summits – July 2000 and January 2001 – which were likewise concerned with Israel’s borders. And the Arab Peace Initiative, 2002 and 2007, had the same aims and met with the same failure.
Now the establishment of a State of Palestine, recognized by many if not all other countries, means there will be no more of all that. No more discussion of the “right of return” of Arab refugees. No more “land for peace”. And no more negotiations under international auspices over where borders should be drawn.
The Palestinians want to declare a state without defining their borders. Temporarily, they say, they will claim all the territory of erstwhile Mandate Palestine outside the armistice lines of 1949, drawn when Israel survived the invasion of Arab armies and won its War of Independence. (These lines are commonly referred to as “the 1967 borders,” meaning those Israel had until it fought off invasion in the Six Day War of June 1967, and expanded its territory by conquest.)
Why only temporarily? With those frontiers, wouldn’t the Palestinians have all the territory the world considers they have a right to?
Oh, yes. And that’s what they fear. If they accept those borders as permanent, they will have accepted Israel’s permanent borders too. They will have accepted the existence of the State of Israel, so there would be no pretext for refusing peace. And that is what they have resisted doing all these years since the Arabs rejected Resolution 181 of November 1947 which offered a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel and went to war instead.
In order to have peace, Israel went on proposing the creation of a Palestinians state as an inducement to the Arabs to agree on secure borders. Over and over again, the Palestinians balked. In all the years that they have been negotiating under Resolution 242, the very last thing the Palestinians wanted was an agreement on borders.