November 26, 2012 | The Wall Street Journal

A Palestinian Flanking Maneuver

If the U.N. awards the status of 'non-member state' to the Palestinians, the Oslo Accords will be left in tatters.
November 26, 2012 | The Wall Street Journal

A Palestinian Flanking Maneuver

If the U.N. awards the status of 'non-member state' to the Palestinians, the Oslo Accords will be left in tatters.

This week, the Palestinian faction that has been fighting Israel with rockets will likely yield to the one fighting it with lawyers at the United Nations.

In the wake of Israel's operations against the Hamas terror group in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas—president of the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank—will make his second trip to the U.N. in as many years hoping to upgrade the status of his people. Last year he applied to the Security Council for “member state” status but fell short of votes. He has signaled that he will now apply to the General Assembly for “non-member state” status. Such a designation, he wrote last year, would “pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one,” tempting the International Criminal Court and other bodies to pursue legal action against Israelis.

Mr. Abbas will likely secure majority support in the General Assembly, about which former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once quipped: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the Earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

But the Abbas maneuver probably won't lead to an independent state of Palestine, which would require the practical cooperation and support of Israel. And it might well prompt Israel to take proportionate countermeasures against the Palestinian Authority for abdicating its international legal obligation, under the 1993 Oslo Accords, to seek a permanent settlement with Israel through negotiation.

More important: Why should Israel be expected to negotiate a “just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security” (to use the language of Security Council resolution 242 of 1967) while its many neighbors in the Arab League and African Union openly equate Zionism to racism? Israelis should be secure in the knowledge that their right to self-determination is protected under international law. That is, after all, exactly what most Palestinians say that they want: their self-determination as an Arab people.

Such an idea was the defining recommendation of the U.N.'s Special Committee on Palestine, which in 1947 called for two independent and sovereign states—one Jewish, the other Arab—in what was then Mandatory Palestine. In other words, from an international-law perspective, the U.N. recognized the self-determination of both the Jewish and Arab peoples in Palestine as equally legitimate and worthy of protection.

Yet the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which the Arab League adopted in 2004, rejects Zionism in the same breath as it does racism, declaring that Zionism “constitute[s] a violation of human rights and pose[s] a threat to international peace and security.” Article 2, Section 3 denounces Zionism as a “challenge to human dignity” and a “fundamental obstacle to the realization of the basic rights of peoples.” The charter then calls on its members to “condemn and endeavour to eliminate” Zionism—not a terribly subtle call for the destruction of Israel.

The 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights also calls expressly for the elimination of Zionism—in its preamble, no less. Nearly all African states have signed and ratified the treaty, and only post-apartheid South Africa has expressed reservations about the preamble.

So these two organizations adopt treaties calling simultaneously for the advancement of human rights and the denial of them to a specific people. This hearkens back, of course, to the infamous General Assembly Resolution 3379, which in 1975 determined that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

In 1993 Yasser Arafat, then chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, committed the group to “recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” And yet the PLO is a party to the Arab Charter on Human Rights.

If Mr. Abbas pushes his case at the U.N., the United States and its European allies should call on the Arab League and African Union to amend their charters. Doing so would hardly end calls to eliminate Zionism, but it would mark a blow to the delegitimization campaign against Israel. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush did much the same, using his considerable political clout in the wake of the Gulf War (and the Madrid peace conference between Israel and the Arab states) to pressure the General Assembly into rescinding its “Zionism is racism” resolution.

President Obama and his European allies should do as Mr. Bush did, and compel those who support a Palestinian state irrespective of negotiations with Israel to prove that they don't seek Israel's elimination. The U.S. and others should make clear that they will oppose any action to grant Palestine the status of a non-member state unless the move takes place within the context of a permanent negotiated settlement with Israel.

In doing so, the allies would be upholding the long-standing policy they hashed out at the U.N. shortly after its inception nearly 70 years ago: Israel and Palestine as two self-determined states, living side by side in peace.

Mr. Barnidge is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Reading in Britain.

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International Organizations Palestinian Politics