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Go-it-Alone Strategy Leaves Palestinians Divided

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For months Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has traversed the globe, lobbying members of the United Nations to vote in support of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. This is the week when he will take this long-threatened action, and when the member states will decide to support or oppose the Palestinian bid.

These countries have also heard from Israeli officials, who say that no good will come from this Palestinian go-it-alone strategy. The Israelis, too, favor a Palestinian state, but one established as a result of direct bilateral negotiations with Israel. They want to resolve the outstanding issues of the conflict -- such as borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, refugees and settlements -- through mutual agreement, not recrimination and division. By continuing to avoid direct negotiations, the Israelis say the Palestinians risk grievously harming future prospects for peace, while violating existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements and potentially inflaming the situation on the ground.

As policymakers and diplomats weigh how their country might vote in the Security Council or General Assembly, there is another critically important perspective they should hear out -- that of Palestinian policymakers and advocates themselves.

A chorus of Palestinian leaders and supporters strongly believe that going to the U.N. is a big mistake that would undermine the true interests of the Palestinian nationalist movement and aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Most prominent among the critics is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Admired by the international community for his focus on building the institutional infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, Fayyad has argued that unilateral statehood will bring no tangible benefits. Without an agreement with Israel regarding borders, security or settlements, he said, a campaign at the U.N. will not bring the Palestinians anything resembling statehood or independence.

As Fayyad told Israeli television in late 2010: "What we're looking for... is a state of Palestine, we're not looking for yet another declaration of statehood... The reality of the state may be there in terms of the functional institutions of the state, but if the Israeli army is still in our territory that's not a sovereign state, that's a Mickey Mouse state... We're not looking for a Mickey Mouse state, we're not looking for some form of self-rule, we're looking for a sovereign state of Palestine where we Palestinians can live as free people."

That position was underscored in arguments made by the Palestinian Authority's own Negotiations Support Unit. Among the so-called "Palestine Papers" -- the 1,700 confidential Palestinian Authority documents leaked to Al-Jazeera earlier this year -- are numerous memos which argue that a declaration of statehood outside the context of negotiations would weaken their longtime demands on borders, right-of-return, settlements and Jerusalem.

Now other respected experts are expressing concerns about the impact of U.N. recognition and its effect on the status of Palestinian refugees.

Guy Goodwin-Gill, an Oxford law professor and a member of the legal team which pursued a 2004 judgment against Israel at the International Court of Justice, concluded in an opinion requested by the Palestinian Authority that, "[U]ntil such time as a final settlement is agreed, the putative State of Palestine will have no territory over which it exercises effective sovereignty, its borders will be indeterminate or disputed, its population, actual and potential, undetermined . . ." and "it will fall short of meeting the internationally agreed criteria of statehood . . ."

Goodwin-Gill also noted that a unilateral declaration would "disenfranchise" Palestinian refugees living outside the area administered by the Palestinian Authority. "[T]he interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation," he wrote.

This fear -- that unilateral statehood would invalidate the rights of the Palestinian diaspora -- has also been raised publicly by the steering committee of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, the Palestinian Boycott National Committee. Ali Abunimah, a hardened critic of Israel and the founder of The Electronic Intifada, wrote of the committee's statement that it "implicitly warns that recognition of a 'state' that does not include full recognition of the rights of all Palestinians everywhere to be represented, could violate or negate those rights."

Others voicing concern include the highly respected Ziad Asali, the founder and president of the American Task Force on Palestine, who in an op-ed warned of the serious "financial, political and security consequences" of unilateral action.

For the member states of the U.N., the decision comes down to this: Do they wish to support a divisive Palestinian campaign at the U.N.? Do they wish to endorse a state which would (even in the most optimistic Palestinian scenario) lack the sovereignty, viability, physical infrastructure and the real benefits of statehood? Do they wish to undermine the Palestinians' own declared priorities and aspirations regarding borders, settlements and refugees? Would they want to destroy any semblance of a negotiating process left?

Or does the international community truly want to play a constructive role and promote a mutually negotiated Israeli-Palestinian agreement, which would ultimately establish a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel, ensure security, set borders and end the conflict?

The choice is clear. The negotiated land-for-peace framework has been accepted by the international community since the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967, and has been actively applied by Israel and the Palestinians since the 1990s.

While there is understandable frustration and discouragement at the pace, violations and regular breakdowns of the negotiation process, Israel, the Palestinians and the international community must continue recognize it is the best means for the realization of a two-state solution, whereby Israel and an independent Palestinian state will be able to live side-by-side in peace and security.