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. sickofitall

    Israels security ultimately depends on finding a path to peace with the Palestinians. Failing that at some point in the future; maybe next year, maybe 10 years from now Hamas or another group aided by Iran will find a way to get a bomb into the heart of Israel and detonate it. That which the Israelis have fought so hard to prevent ever reoccurring will return; another Holocaust. Like it or not the future of Israel is linked with the plight of the Palestinian. They can find a way to live together or they will most certainly die together.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  2. anon

    It would be beyond foolish for Israel to give recognition to a Palestinian state if the Palestinians continue their refusal to recognize Israel. This is one of their biggest bargaining chips, and as Israel has seen in the past making concessions to the Palestinians for nothing but promises merely emboldens further provocations. Case in point: the pullback from all Israeli settlements in Gaza resulted not in peace but an exponential increase in rocket attacks.

    Anyone who thinks the Palestinians are going to make any concessions whatsoever is being hopelessly naive. The international community has proven willing time and again to ignore Palestinian intransigence (and often blaming Israel for it) while blowing out of proportion any slight from Israel. With time the Palestinians believe they will have almost all their demands granted on a silver platter without even the need to recognize or cease attacking Israel! From their the Palestinians will move on to trying to eliminate Israel entirely. How can I predict this? Simple – it's in the charter of both the PLO (Fatah being descended from this) and Hamas.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  3. woodofpine

    That region was substantially devoid of Jews for 1,500 years 150-1650; jews were a small minority for 1,700-1,800 years until Zionism was permitted by colonial empires. Heck it was a Christian Kingdom 1099-1291. By '45-'47, Jews were 1/3 of the population. M. Begin was a terrorist; they're all terrorists there! Today it depends where you draw the borders but Israel proper is 20% Arab; its an aparthied society. Israel knowingly committed military aggression against the USA in '67 (USS Liberty – killed 38 sailors). Why should I give a hoot what happens there? Why should the US bankroll this colonially imposed historic anamoly? Let the Arabs try to run them into the sea, let (illegally proliferated)Israel do us the favor of nuking them. Let them sort it out without our involvement or money. Frankly dear, I don't give a dang!

    September 16, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  4. Rick

    Bottom line, Israel cannot retain any territory gained during the 1967 war as Israel had already signed the Geneva convention in the early 1950's. Allowing Israel to retain any land flies in the face of international lew and only rewards illegal behavior.

    As to the posters that claim Israel was atteacked in 1948 by 5 Arab armies, I have only one question, "Exactly what sovereign territory did the Arab armies attack in 1948?" I'll give you a hint – look up the only borders that Israel has ever legally had, the ones David Ben Gurion declared sovereinty over in May of 1948. I'll be waiting.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  5. Joe Fattal

    Lets start all over again. Will send all the Jews in Israel back to Egypt to build another Pyramid the old fashion way, that will take at least a hundred years. The Palestinians will be where they always were in Palestine, they will not need to go to the UN, the US will not have to worry to veto any resolution and will wait for the Pyramid to be build. When the Jews will find them another Moses they will leave Egypt and go to Israel by then none of us will be around to worry about it.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • woodofpine

      You got a point Joe. The more things change the more they stay the same!

      September 16, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  6. Wolfgang

    I am confused. If the Israeli government is right and the Palestinian bid for statehood is just a distraction and worth nothing (“they may get a paper but not a state”), or at best a ‘formality that will change nothing’, then why are Israel and the White House up in arms to prevent the bid? Is it not so that the least thing that Palestine will get, as a non-member state voted so by the democratic majority of all the UN member states, is the right to go to the ICC and complain there about alleged war crimes, illegal settlements, alleged crimes against humanity etc? For the last 40 years, they went to the Israeli courts and got nothing. As they did with the so called peace negotiations. What Mr. Abbas is going for is long overdue and will be worth the trouble. Good luck!

    September 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • Mark Levy

      well said! the USA and Israel are furious because they are losing the momentum, and the strategy shift took them by surprise, and they are not in control of the situation anymore. risky move by Abbas but in the end this move will put more pressure to restart the talks, and this time these talks will lead to agreements. Because Israel has no choice now, they have to find an agreement with Palestine, and SOON!because Israel manager to anger most of its allies, Egypt, Turkey,etc...

      September 24, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
  7. Jo

    How can Gaza and West Bank be one state when they are several miles apart. Or is it two Palestinian states ?

    If Gaza and West Bank continually demonstrate acts of terrorism when they are not recognised as states, their aggression will be much more if they were to be declared states because they then can combine with other countries such as Turkey to make war on Israel.

    Bear in mind that Turkey is only supporting the formation of Palestinian states to generate a collaborator to start a war against the greek cypriots to get the gas.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      It's up to the Palestinians to decide how many states they want on a condition that these states will be PEACEFUL.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  8. Jo

    Israel won the 1967 war which was not started by Israel.
    The war was lost by those who started the war.
    Hence the borders shifted.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
    • Mark Levy

      question to you: so then why no country in the world recognizes this officially? even the USA does not recognize this officially. you want to know why?because it does not respect international laws! only a fool like you says that, nobody else!!

      September 24, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
  9. Jo

    If the borders and sovreignity of Isreal are disputed, then also should the borders and sovreignity of Jordan, Syria, Assyria etc be disputed based on division of land by British rule at the end of the Ottoman empire.

    Even more than the claims to land by Jordan, Syria, etc, by British rule, the Jews have historical claims to the Land of Judea (Israel). This will be clear to anyone who undertakes the trouble to inform oneself of the history and archeology of the Middle East.

    September 16, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      The ONLY "disputed" Israeli border is the one with Syria... and so is the very same Syrian border with Israel. All other Israeli borders are officially defined and internationally recognized.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
      • Mark Levy

        and Thinkeer23 is OFFICIALLY a fool and OFFICIALLY does not know what he is talking about!!

        September 24, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  10. Peikovian

    Organization Der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, Society of St. Pius X, Jihadists, the bus to take you off that cliff is waiting.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  11. Jo

    If the Gazans and West Bankers want to return to negotiations, they are free to do this. Since they do not do this before the UN votation, what makes Mr. Herzog think they will do this after the UN votation?

    If they get Statehood, they will not need to negotiate. They can then join Turkey and prepare for war.

    If they don`t get Statehood, then they have no option but to return to negotiation and stop the constant attacks on Israel.

    Indeed, what is necessary at this stage is to provide a roadmap to peace with milestones. Milestomes such as: dissolution of Hamas, stopping attacks, giving back the soldier they stole after breaching Israel`s borders, apologies for the several murdered civilians, the formulation of a viable economy without financial aid from the US. Most important is to forsee what demands and problems Gazans and West Bankers will raise once statehood is granted: For sure they will continue to bring up problems ad infinitum.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      If the Palestinians will UNILATERALLY declare statehood the newborn Palestinian state will immediately find itself AT WAR with Israel and the Palestinian leaders will face a choice: to ask (or rather BEG) for peace or face the consequences. The tale about "poor stateless oppressed Palestinians" will not work anymore and Israel will have every right to end the war by FORCING the Palestinian state to surrender.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Reply
      • Mark Levy

        Thinker23 is another one of these racists+extremist zionist.
        as a moderate jew I say: Long Live Palestine! and enough of this illegal occupation+human rights abuse by Israel!

        September 24, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  12. SteveJ

    I share Thinker23s skepticism about Palestinian good will. I am not one to criticize many of Israel's actions such as its defense against Lebanon, and the impossible situation it faces in Gaza with regard to Hamas.

    The problem is none of those things excuses the settlements. You don't want Palestinian independence? Then all people in Judea and Samaria must be given Israeli citizenship and the right to vote in Israeli elections.

    Pick one or the other, but get on with it. No reasonable person can consider the situation in the so-called "occupied territories" "temporary" under any reasonable definition of what "temporary" means.

    In reality, Israel has exercised dominion over this land for 40 plus years and now owns it - not matter how many kangaroo courts with kangaroo judges it wishes to produce to come up with some other legalese for that reality.

    That gives Israel two choices. Negotiate a withdraw or maintain ownership of the land without giving non-Jews citizenship. In regards to the latter option, there is a word for what that is. And no amount of empathy for Israel's plight can change that.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Retired Floridian

      Excellent! Illegal colonization and land grabbing never works (look at the Roman Empire!). As it is said, actions always speak louder than words!

      September 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
      • Peikovian

        Is there a village named Florida in Gaza?

        September 18, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. Jo

    Sickofitall
    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
  16. 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
  17. 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
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. DOESNOTMAKESENCE

    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
  21. 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
  22. 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
  23. 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.
    Thanks!!!

    September 22, 2011 at 2:17 am | Reply
  24. 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
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