Inertia is deceptive. While the Israeli-Palestinian peace proces is stalled, thanks to Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas refusing to return to direct talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on parallel tracks P.A. leaders are lining up countries publicly supporting a Palestinian state before it is actually created.
The P.A. is focused on Latin America, which it is determined to add to the guaranteed Arab and Muslim state votes that ensure a U.N. General Assembly majority. This strategy of not engaging Israel undermines the peace process and is a direct affront to President Obama, who hosted the relaunch of direct talks in September.
Yet, Abbas will not be deterred. He seems convinced that neither Israel nor the U.S. is necessary to achieve his goal. At least five governments in America’s proverbial backyard agree with this approach, that a Palestinian state with defined borders can be imposed by a global mandate.
How this new state realistically can be founded without the P.A. dealing directly with Israel is one of the murkier aspects of Palestinian policy that precious few heads of state even question.
At the same time, they also have acquiesced in Palestinian historical revisionism. To reinforce his territorial claim, Abbas has reinterpreted the essence of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, while promoting the myth of “June 1967 borders.”
Resolution 242, passed following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, does not call for Israeli withdrawal from “all” territories captured in what the U.N. acknowledged was a defensive war. That is why in exchange for durable peace Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have discussed for more than a decade the concept of a territorial swap, whereby a small piece of Israeli territory is exchanged for a slice of the West Bank, where the overwheming majority of settlers live.
Moreover, the “borders” were the armistice lines after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Permanent borders are determined, as was the case with Egypt and Jordan, in direct peace talks. These facts, essential to successful Arab-Israeli peacemaking, have been thrust aside in the growing campaign to recognize a Palestinian state that does not yet exist.
Brazil, followed by Argentina, proclaimed support for such a Palestinian state within the June 1967 boundaries. Uruguay weighed in, indicating that formal recognition will come after New Year’s.
This first wave, led by regional power Brazil and the country in the region with the largest Jewish community, Argentina, made it easier for others less friendly to Israel, such as Bolivia and Ecuador, to answer affirmatively the P.A.’s beckoning.
Bolivia had severed diplomatic relations with Israel in January 2009, during the operation against Hamas in Gaza, and Ecuador followed in June after the the IDF prevented a flotilla packed with Islamists from reaching Gaza. Both are close to Venezuela, an Iranian ally hostile to Israel and the United States.
Which Latin American nation will announce next is up for grabs. Chile, home to the largest Palestinian community, some 300,000, outside the Middle East, seems poised to make a move.
Lost in this diplomatic frenzy is the fact that four consecutive Israeli prime ministers endorsed the principle of a negotiated two-state settlement, and offered creative solutions. Though in response P.A. interlocutors consistently have walked away, the perception lingers that somehow Israel is not committed to reaching permanent peace accords with all its neighbors.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad remains focused on building the institutional infrastructure of a state by August 2011. “We did make a declaration of statehood [in] 1988. This time we're looking for a real state on the ground," Fayyad recently told Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s "This Week."
Fayyad was referring to the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Palestine National Council in Algiers. Today, Abbas sits in the putative state as head of a Palestinian government. That is a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords, a product of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations sealed in a White House ceremony.
But rather than engage Israel directly, Abbas takes comfort knowing that nearly 100 countries recognized the 1988 declaration and subsequently welcomed Palestinian diplomatic representation in their capitals. More recently, France, Norway, Spain and others upgraded to the rank of ambassador the Palestinian representatives they host.
The P.A. may consider establishing embassies and ambassadors for a potential state a diplomatic coup. But such political maneuvering is a distraction, handicapping rather than helping to achieve peace.
Governments that truly believe in Israeli-Palestinian peace can contribute best by keeping recognition of Palestine in reserve and urging Abbas to return to the direct talks with Israel now. A solid commitment by negotiators to resolve all bilateral issues to reach an end of conflict should be the only payment that's acceptable in advance.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of communications.