Why Israel should vote for Palestinian independence
A symbolic chair that a Palestinian delegation is using to campaign for membership in the United Nations September 15, 2011 at UN headquarters in New York. (Getty Images)
September 16th, 2011
09:56 AM ET

Why Israel should vote for Palestinian independence

Editor's Note: Isaac Herzog, a former Israeli cabinet minister, is a member of the Foreign and Defense Committee, on behalf of the Israeli Labor Party, in the Knesset.

By Isaac Herzog, Foreign Affairs

This coming week, the Palestinian Authority intends to ask the United Nations to vote for Palestinian statehood during the annual session of the General Assembly. The Palestinian bid represents Israel’s greatest political challenge in years. Although the United States has promised to veto the resolution in the Security Council, it is likely that more than 140 countries in the General Assembly will vote in favor and grant the Palestinians the status of non-member state in the UN.

Israel’s current leadership considers the resolution a dire threat to the country’s strategic interests and has made it a top priority to limit the Palestinians’ diplomatic coup. But Israel could achieve its own desperately needed coup by doing what no one expects: voting, under several critical conditions, for Palestinian statehood.

There is no question that the Palestinian state that could be recognized by this vote would be far different from the one that most Israelis envisage. The vast majority of Israelis support a two-state solution and want a Palestinian state to emerge from bilateral negotiations rather than from a unilateral action at the UN. The proposal put before the UN, for example, could claim the 1967 lines as its borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. Such a resolution would render any Israeli presence within these lines inherently illegal and consequently make it harder for Israel to retain control over Jewish holy sites, such as the Western Wall, and the major settlement blocs, which bolster Israeli security and are generally expected to remain a part of Israel in exchange for land swaps. Palestinians will subsequently have trouble compromising on such internationally endorsed positions, and Israelis will find it hard to negotiate under such one-sided terms of reference.

Any Israeli rejection of the resolution could also lead to violence on the ground. Israel could be forced to respond to unrest in a way that deepens its international isolation and paves the way for increasing calls to boycott Israeli goods and companies and for countries to levy sanctions on Israel.

Moreover, the showdown at the UN comes amid the historic transition now taking place across the Middle East, leaving Israel’s strategic position uncertain. Israelis have watched with concern as the revolution in Egypt has created a power vacuum in the Sinai Peninsula and sparked anti-Israel sentiment in Cairo. The protests against Bashar al-Assad in Syria have made Israel’s northern borders unpredictable as well. Relations with Turkey, Israel’s traditional ally, continue to deteriorate. And in the midst of the upheaval, Iran continues to develop its nuclear program.

Read: Another perspective on the UN vote and Palestinian statehood.

With instability and shifting sands all around them, Israeli leaders have called for caution and patience, especially in terms of advancing the peace process. The Israeli government has therefore launched a massive diplomatic campaign against the UN vote in September, attempting to build, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a “moral majority” of Western nations opposing the Palestinian effort.

But rather than oppose the resolution, Israel should seize the initiative and use it to its advantage by agreeing to support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. Voting for Palestinian statehood may finally open the door for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, strengthen the possibility of a two-state solution, and greatly improve Israel’s position in the region and in the international community.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has all but disintegrated over the past two years. The cooperative spirit of the Oslo process during the 1990s and the two rounds of serious permanent status negotiations over the last decade gave way to mutual distrust and blame.

This stalemate has proven dangerous to Israel. It has energized radicals on both sides of the conflict, fueled anti-Israel sentiment, harmed Israel’s international status, and jeopardized Israel’s alliances. But rather than attempt to break the deadlock and rescue Israel from these debilitating circumstances, Israel’s current leadership has resisted taking the lead. Last September, for example, Netanyahu refused U.S. President Barack Obama’s request that Israel extend its ten-month settlement freeze for an additional 60 to 90 days, harming Israel’s relations with its most important ally and painting the country as an obstacle to peace. Should Israel continue down this road, it may risk having a final settlement imposed on it by the international community.

Read: Globalization and unemployment.

To reverse course and revive the peace process, Israel should support Palestinian aspirations at the UN - but only in exchange for several preconditions to be agreed on with the Palestinians, who bear equal responsibility for moving negotiations forward. Israel should announce its support for the UN resolution on the condition that the Palestinians agree to return to the table as soon as possible and without preconditions, fully backed and supported by the international community, and to determine the final settlement through bilateral negotiations. The UN resolution must reflect this aspiration and include Israel’s perspective as well. In addition, the two parties must agree to a framework for an interim process that will allow for negotiations based on Israel’s recognition of a Palestinian state. This formula will defuse tensions and may prevent wide-scale violence from erupting.

As part of these understandings, Israel should affirm the parameters that former U.S. President Bill Clinton set in 2000 and which President Barack Obama further developed in May 2011: a two-state solution that realizes both the right to self-determination for both Jews and Palestinians, ends all historic claims, and establishes a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed territorial swaps and security arrangements that meet Israel’s vital security needs. This will allow Israel to annex major settlement blocs and Jewish holy places - areas that most Israelis agree should remain part of their country.

To begin the interim negotiating process, Israel should take several meaningful steps, such as transferring additional security responsibility in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, freezing settlement construction on the other side of the security fence, offering compensation to Israeli settlers who wish to move back to Israel proper, and releasing prisoners of Fatah held in Israeli jails. The Palestinians, meanwhile, must agree to continue security cooperation in the West Bank, refrain from launching an international legal campaign against Israel, and avoid a power-sharing arrangement with Hamas. Questions regarding the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees should be determined once both sides have taken these interim steps and begun negotiating borders and security.

Read: Europe's Palestine problem.

This proposal undoubtedly carries risks. For example, Palestinian refusal to implement the conditions for Israeli support of the UN resolution would further damage Israel’s strategic position. But the potential benefits of supporting the resolution far outweigh the perils. If Israel manages to garner solid international support by backing the Palestinian UN resolution, it may induce the Palestinians to return to negotiations. This would improve Israel’s international status, give it more diplomatic space to maneuver through the chaos in the Middle East, and allow it to shore up its security needs.

Most important, the above proposal may be the only way to preserve the idea of achieving peace through bilateral negotiations. By reaching a compromise with the Palestinian leadership over the UN resolution, Israel can halt the dangerous precedent of unilateral action for conflict resolution and instead preserve the principle of achieving a two-state solution through direct talks, a notion critical to Israel’s future. Such a concerted move would prevent a violent confrontation, give the Palestinians the dignity they seek, allow the parties to relaunch negotiations, and win Israel international favor while preserving its security needs. Now is the time not for prudence but for audacity.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Isaac Herzog.

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soundoff (119 Responses)
  1. Retired Floridian

    Wow! I didn't think there were any intelligent, moderate, far-seeing, fair minded Israeli politicians left in Israel! ai asm truly impressed and truly thrilled to see this exhibited so well in this essay. Congratulations and I sincerely hope that you are able to get your fellow Israelis-and especially other politicians-to truly think outside the box and and think big and decisively!

    September 16, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  2. Jo

    Israel owned Judea from the time of Juda.

    For Thinker3: Israel was instigated into war in 1967, won the war and forced the surrender. There is no need for a repeat of this part of history.

    What is needed is a roadmap to peace with milestones.

    September 17, 2011 at 2:54 am | Reply
    • Mark Levy

      yes, i think the french proposition by Sarkozy makes sense: recognize Palestine half way and set up a schedule for 1 year and at the end of 1 year final agreements and borders decided.

      September 24, 2011 at 10:53 am | Reply
  3. Jo

    Security for Gaza and West Bank depends on these making peace with Israel by stopping their attacks.

    Security for Gaza and West Bank depends on these preventing Arab-Israeli living in Israel from doing attacks in Israel.

    September 17, 2011 at 3:03 am | Reply
  4. cinge

    this guy is delusional. why does he not mention the fact that every time israel conceded land, or stopped settlement building the "palestinians" promised peace or negotiatns but they LIED. and why does he not bring up the point that the "palestinians" will not recognize Israel as the homeland for the jewish people. what does that tell us? the same thing that the "palestinians" have been saying all along- that's right they come right out and say it and the world ignores- THEY WANT ISRAEL. THIS BID FOR STATEHOOD IS JUST MEANT AS A FIRST STEP IN TAKING OVER ISRAEL. and how can anyone make any agreement with a PA that includes HAMAS? their very own charter calls, not only for the destruction of israel, but for the annihilation of all the jews on the planet. this world has gone absolutely mad.

    September 17, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  5. ForeverLiveZion

    Forever Live Zion !!!...
    ...babylon shall fall !!!

    Jerusalem/Israel is mentioned in Hebrew Torah as Holy Land of God given to descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
    Muslims' Koran doesn't mention Jerusalem/Israel as Holy Land even ONCE.

    September 18, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • Mark Levy

      these books were written by humans, not god!! i can also write a book and you will believe what you read? you blind fool!!

      September 24, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
  6. jorgez

    It's time for the world to learn, the "secret code" can achieve a 90% accuracy rate within the oil market. What I'm trying to do is wake you up so that you can see that you can make as much money as you want within the oil market by using the "secret code". So here is the proof, shown live with NO POSSIBLE WAY to fake!! Google Oil Trading Academy to learn more.

    September 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  7. Heather

    So Isreal should support a state for people who refuse to except that a state of isreal exists? That is really funny!

    September 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Reply
    • Mark Levy

      To Heather, obviously you don't know much about all this. Fatah in Palestine does not ask for the destruction of Israel. please do not post if it is to post incorrect stuff!

      September 24, 2011 at 10:49 am | Reply

    j. von hettlingen
    "The Israelis could vote for a Palestinian independence, but they know very well, that their ally, the U.S. would veto the Palestinian bid for statehood in the Security Council."
    Why do you think that the US will veto the Palestinian membership ?It is a request for independence, dignity, self determination which is the little light at the end of the tunnel after 63 years !! It is only because Israel wants the US to do so .If Israel supports the Palestinians request , there will be no VETTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTOS .

    September 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  9. Rebecca

    Israel was created by internationally imposing it on the Palestinians in 1948. Israel was created by jews who left Europe in the 1900s imposing themselves on the inhabitants of what we call "israel" today. The British who were occupying the area let them in and declared they would create a country for them. This is on land that is populated by the Palestinians. This is theft. They continue to steal by building on occupied territory (the West Bank) and then saying hey we can't abondon these selttlements just let us have them. Israel is a theif. Theives get caught. Does the Torah teach you to lie? I dont think so. Let's see what your God thinks of the way you are handling yourselves. Through lies and deceipt.

    September 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  10. All

    Herzog is self-serving, but on target. Israel should vote in favor of a Palestinian state - and be the first to grant them diplomatic recognition...

    September 20, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  11. Twodros

    Nothing is important, but the first thing both the palestine and Isereal should recognized the independance of themselves
    each other, what i mean that the Platestine and the Arabs first should reconized as independance state, then Isreal
    should do this, i.e she recognized the independance of Palestine. How is aggrement should be carried on; when come to this
    should follow win- loss solution, otherwise peace in the middle east will never attain.

    September 22, 2011 at 2:17 am | Reply
  12. Mark Levy

    To the writer of this article Isaac Herzog: Nice view, nice opinion, I agree with you.
    and of course, the racist and extremist zionists do not agree with you!

    September 24, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
  13. j

    stop treating pals as sub-human.........they deserve statehood.

    September 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  14. Laura

    Why CNN not reported anything that today Netanyahu announced about new constructions in East Jerusalem? There has been widespread condemnation of the move by Palestinian and Western powers, including the EU and US... How you can deal with the person who shows such disrespect not only for Palestinians but the international community, not even worrying that this move will work against him in UN

    September 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  15. miky

    isrel should stop killig ter broters,stop starving them,open those cages,stop steling ter land.......negotiations voting n kissing can wait

    October 9, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  16. T klimchuk

    What happens if Palestine is given statehood? Will it stop the attacks on Isreal? Of course not there ll be another excuse The west is being hood winked Just like that British Prime Minister in the 30"s getting off the plane in England waving that piece of paper Saying peace in our time

    October 10, 2011 at 3:45 am | Reply
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    December 14, 2012 at 8:56 am | Reply
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