One day this September, the United Nations General Assembly will convene in New York and decide to recognize a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders.” This will be a near unanimous decision, including an American “yes” vote; only Israel will vote “no.” This outcome is inevitable, because the government of Israel lacks the political will to take any step, mainly regarding settlements, that would enable the resumption of negotiations that could render a UN decision unnecessary.
The first scenario is violent. Palestinian public euphoria and the perception of international support will send tens of thousands into the streets of the West Bank. Demonstrations of support will take place in the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan as well. In the West Bank, support will turn into protest, which will deteriorate into a third, violent Intifada.
Experience teaches us that the concept of non-violence exists only in the intentions of the organizers, who are either very naive or very cynical. Wherever the number of demonstrators, even if they brandish neither sticks nor stones, exceeds the number of police or soldiers confronting them, it is inevitable that the latter will open fire. A soldier surrounded by hundreds of angry demonstrators does not know how the event will end. He fears being lynched unless he preempts. Ultimately he opens fire; ultimately someone is killed. Tempers flare and there are additional casualties. The next day there are funerals. Inevitably, they are more violent than the previous day’s demonstrations. We are moving into the next violent spiral.
Under this scenario, the Palestinians have a lot to lose. The present government in Ramallah is the most accountable and transparent in the Arab world — something that demonstrators across the Middle East can only dream about. The level of law enforcement in the West Bank is also at a standard unknown to the rest of the region. A well-trained and properly-armed security force serves this government. The conditions for establishing a viable Palestinian state, if and when occupation is ended, are better than ever.
A third Intifada will precipitate the collapse of everything President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have built so assiduously in the face of both opposition from Hamas and the cold shoulder and stinginess of the Arab world. A Palestinian-Israeli agreement will again be beyond reach.
The second scenario also leads nowhere new. After a few days of ceremonies, celebrations, and euphoria on the Palestinian street, it will emerge that the reality remains the same. The Palestinian case as presented yet again with fervor on the international stage will now be better supported in terms of international law. But real sovereignty will still be missing.
The UN decision will force the Israeli public to look in the mirror, where it will see clearly documented and very unpleasant international isolation. We will be completely alone. But I’m not at all certain that the atmosphere of isolation won’t strengthen Israeli extremists — those for whom the image of a fortress under siege is really the fulfillment of a dream.
There will be no Israeli-Palestinian agreement unless a majority votes for it in the Knesset. Israel is a democratic country in which the parliament decides. The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin implemented his historic peace decisions with a Knesset majority of 61 to 59. He did not need more than that.
A Knesset majority in favor of an agreement will be created only if Israeli parliamentary elections are held over a clear choice: one state (bi-national, not democratic, not Jewish) or two states. Since 1996, the people of Israel have not been asked to make such a clear decision. If the people know that the meaning of a decision in favor of a two-state solution is really the end of the conflict, it will deliver a majority in favor of an agreement.