The only ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse to Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY ILAN GOLDENBERG

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment may soon be­gin tak­ing steps to­ward uni­lat­er­ally an­nex­ing por­tions of the West Bank. This move would present a grave threat to any pos­si­bil­ity of a fu­ture two-state out­come that al­lows Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans to live in free­dom and se­cu­rity, each in a state of their own. It would also shat­ter the par­a­digm that has gov­erned res­o­lu­tion of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict for decades. Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion would her­ald a new era of uni­lat­er­al­ism, the con­se­quences of which would be a pol­icy shift on the Pales­tinian side of the equa­tion as well.

An­nex­a­tion is far from a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Al­ter­nate Prime Min­is­ter Benny Gantz, Arab lead­ers, former vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den and nearly ev­ery Demo­crat in Congress have voiced con­cern or out­right op­po­si­tion. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tion is un­clear, as it en­vi­sioned an­nex­a­tion in the con­text of a larger peace plan that the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment seems more re­luc­tant to en­dorse.

If an­nex­a­tion does oc­cur, how­ever, and it is rec­og­nized by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the two-state so­lu­tion will stand on the precipice of ir­rel­e­vance. In such a world, it will be crit­i­cal to take steps to bol­ster its re­newal and es­tab­lish a new set of facts on the ground that shape a two-state en­vi­ron­ment. The most ef­fec­tive and mean­ing­ful re­sponse by U.S. sup­port­ers of a two-state so­lu­tion — es­pe­cially in Congress — would be to ad­vo­cate for­mal recog­ni­tion of the state of Pales­tine.

An­nex­a­tion would be an un­mis­tak­able sign that Is­raelis are mov­ing away from two states. But no less sig­nif­i­cant would be the im­pact on Pales­tini­ans, who would no longer be­lieve that a state of their own is achiev­able. Polling in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries al­ready shows sup­port for two states at its low­est point since the 1993 sign­ing of the Oslo Ac­cords. The op­po­si­tion is based not on the sub­stance of an agree­ment, but in the lack of be­lief that it is pos­si­ble in the face of 25-plus years of fail­ure and the growth of Is­raeli set­tle­ments on land sup­pos­edly des­ig­nated for a Pales­tinian state.

Uni­lat­eral Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion, de­signed to demon­strate to Pales­tini­ans that Is­rael will not be held hostage to a Pales­tinian veto over its bor­ders and ter­ri­tory, would have a far more ex­pan­sive ef­fect. It would has­ten the process of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of Pales­tinian in­sti­tu­tions, as they would in­creas­ingly be seen by Pales­tini­ans as tools for Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion, not prepa­ra­tion for state­hood. Even­tu­ally, this lack of le­git­i­macy would cause the Pales­tinian Author­ity to col­lapse.

Recog­ni­tion of a Pales­tinian state would be a huge po­lit­i­cal boost to Pales­tinian sup­port­ers of two states by pro­vid­ing sym­bolic achieve­ment of a longde­sired na­tional as­pi­ra­tion, in­creas­ing the Pales­tinian Author­ity’s le­git­i­macy and fore­stalling its col­lapse. U.S. recog­ni­tion should make clear that while the fi­nal bor­ders of Is­rael and Pales­tine must be ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the par­ties, they should be based on the 1967 lines with mu­tu­ally agreed-on land swaps, ground­ing U.S. pol­icy in 50 years of prece­dent.

U.S. recog­ni­tion would al­most cer­tainly cause most part­ners in Europe, who have thus far re­frained from rec­og­niz­ing a Pales­tinian state, to fol­low. But even if a U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion chose not to rec­og­nize Pales­tine, sim­ply sig­nal­ing to Euro­pean coun­tries that the United States would not op­pose them tak­ing this ac­tion could trig­ger a wave of in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion that would boost Pales­tini­ans at a mo­ment of de­spon­dency.

Recog­ni­tion would also be an ap­pro­pri­ate coun­ter­mea­sure to Is­raeli uni­lat­er­al­ism that puts a two-state out­come at se­vere risk. Just as Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion is an at­tempt to skip ne­go­ti­a­tions and jump to the end­point of recog­ni­tion of Is­raeli ter­ri­to­rial claims in the West Bank, recog­ni­tion of a Pales­tinian state would be a sim­i­lar leap to the end­point of Pales­tinian goals.

While recog­ni­tion of Pales­tine may ap­pear ex­treme, it ac­tu­ally con­sti­tutes the mid­dle ground in­side the Demo­cratic Party in the wake of an­nex­a­tion. More con­ser­va­tive voices will ar­gue that con­vinc­ing Is­rael not to take an­nex­a­tion any fur­ther than it has, or even with­draw­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s recog­ni­tion of what has taken place, would be suf­fi­cient. But this would merely give lip ser­vice with­out tak­ing con­crete ac­tion to save the two-state so­lu­tion.

Pro­gres­sives will ar­gue that in­stead the United States should start putting con­di­tions on the $3.8 bil­lion it pro­vides in se­cu­rity as­sis­tance to Is­rael ev­ery year, but that step would un­nec­es­sar­ily harm U.S. and Is­raeli se­cu­rity in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East, wouldn’t re­ally res­onate in­side Pales­tinian so­ci­ety and wouldn’t move ei­ther side closer to two states.

Ul­ti­mately, let’s hope Is­rael makes the right de­ci­sion and chooses not to uni­lat­er­ally an­nex West Bank ter­ri­tory. But if it does, sup­port­ers of the two-state so­lu­tion in Congress, as well as the many ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tions, and Jewish and Arab com­mu­nity lead­ers who en­gage on this is­sue with the United States, should call for U.S. recog­ni­tion of the state of Pales­tine as the best way to pre­serve hope for a two-state so­lu­tion in a new era of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian uni­lat­er­al­ism.

The writer is di­rec­tor of the Mid­dle East Se­cu­rity Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity. He served on the State Depart­ment ne­go­ti­at­ing team for 2013-14 talks on the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

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