AJC Briefing: The Perils of UDI

Larry Grossman explains AJC's approach to the impending Unilateral Declaration of Independent by the Palestinian leadership.

AJC considers the prospect of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) and its approval by the UN General Assembly at its meeting in September a major danger to the prospects for Middle East peace.

By avoiding negotiations with Israel—in violation of the Oslo accords—and declaring a state in the territories beyond the Green Line, Palestinian leaders will not magically create a state. Not only is it highly doubtful that the General Assembly can effectuate such a step without Security Council approval, but the move will likely raise unrealizable expectations among the Palestinian people that may lead to violent confrontations with Israelis, and doom any near-term chance for the negotiated two-state solution that Israel has been seeking. UDI’s destructive potential is only enhanced by the recent rapprochement between Fatah, the Palestinian faction on record favoring talks with Israel, and Hamas, categorized as a terrorist body by the U.S. and the EU, whose charter denies Israel’s right to exist, endorses violence, and spews anti-Semitism.

Should the UDI plan reach the General Assembly, the large number of Islamic and Arab states and their allies—eleven Latin American nations have already endorsed a Palestinian state—guarantee its passage by a large margin. AJC has been seeking to limit the damage by working to convince the world’s democracies to oppose UDI, thus establishing a “qualitative majority” in favor of a negotiated peace.

President Obama has staunchly opposed UDI, and on June 29, the U.S. Senate resoundingly agreed. It unanimously passed a resolution urging the president to try to block UDI, convince other nations to oppose it, and threaten to veto any resolution about Palestine coming before the Security Council that is not the result of a peace agreement with Israel. The resolution also called for suspension of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if its leaders “persist in efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by turning to the UN or other international bodies.” And it called on the new Palestinian unity government, which includes Hamas, to “publicly and formally forswear terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, and reaffirm previous agreements made with the government of Israel.”

The EU, whose 27 members constitute the most important democratic bloc, are by no means of one mind on the issue. The leaders of Germany and Italy are on record against UDI, the Dutch foreign minister voiced his country’s opposition on June 30, and it is likely that a number of Eastern European states will take the same position. President Sarkozy of France, however, has hinted that he might back UDI if there is no movement on the negotiating front. The EU states are well aware, noted Daniel Schwammenthal, director of AJC’s Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, that UDI “will not change the reality on the ground; the Israelis will not simply pack up and leave.” There is a strong preference to forge a common EU position, but that may be difficult. Radek Sikorski, foreign minister of Poland, which will hold the rotating presidency of the EU for the next six months, told reporters that much will depend on the precise working of the General Assembly resolution.

Meanwhile, cracks in the pro-UDI front are becoming evident, some in unexpected places. Salam Fayyad, the highly regarded prime minister of the Palestinian Authority who has never been enthusiastic about UDI, recently reiterated his skepticism in blunter terms, declaring that building a Palestinian economic and social infrastructure is far more likely to bring results than a toothless UN resolution. The government of Jordan, according to the Arab media, will oppose UDI, ostensibly because it would absolve Israel of responsibility for conditions on the West Bank and presumably create problems for Jordan. Perhaps the most significant straw in the wind is a new suggestion by PA President Mahmoud Abbas that unity talks with Hamas—which were not going anywhere anyway—be put off until after the September UN vote, so as to sidestep the argument that a Palestinian government that includes a terrorist organization does not merit statehood.

Is it possible that the arguments against UDI mounted by AJC and others are beginning to have an impact, and that international momentum is building to sidetrack the pernicious proposal?

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