Will the United Nations General Assembly extend diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state in the whole of Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem in September this year? This question has perplexed Israeli policymakers, worried the general public, and invigorated a lively debate in Israeli society on Israel’s international diplomatic standing, its relationship with the Palestinian Authority, and on the question of territorial withdrawal.
With negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in a deep freeze since September of 2010, Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the threat of a unilateral declaration of independence in September 2011 and to request diplomatic recognition from the United Nations Security Council. Expecting an American veto, the PA plans to refer their request to the UN General Assembly in which most expect that they will easily secure majority approval. In a May 2011 op-ed in the New York Times, Abbas claims that negotiations remain their first option, the Palestinians can wait no longer “while Israel continues to send more settlers to the occupied West Bank and denies Palestinians access to most of our land and holy places, particularly in Jerusalem.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has countered that Israel is fully open to negotiations and it is the Palestinians who have abandoned them. He has further insisted that unilateral moves by the Palestinians will only lead to a diplomatic impasse whereby compromise will become even more difficult. Indeed, more right-wing Israelis have suggested that a proper response to Palestinian unilateralism is Israeli unilateralism; Likud MK and deputy speaker of the Knesset Danny Danon even suggested in a recent New York Times op-ed that Israel should simply formally annex Jewish communities in the West Bank should the PA bid move forward. Meanwhile, Palestinian efforts to form a united front have faltered as Fatah and Hamas spar over who will head the new unity government and Hamas officials accuse Abbas of having “fallen in love with the enemy” and calling the PA’s bid for independence a “mere mirage” opposing this move as an abandonment of “resistance.”
Outside of the domestic arena, Israeli and Palestinian diplomats have been jetting around the globe trying to drum up opposition and support respectively for the recognition bid. Yet even as Israel is perceived to be the loser in this fight, with a guaranteed bloc of support from Arab states and much of the developing world, Europe has remained divided with most EU states expressing support for Palestinian independence, but within the framework of negotiation. Indeed, while many officials including Abbas have been vocal in their intentions to go through with the big, there is evidence of internal concern and dissent. PA Prime Minister Salim Fayyad has warned against raising the expectations of ordinary Palestinians while Nabil Amr, a member of the PLO Central Council, has called on the PA to delay the bid altogether fearing it would alienate the US and the EU. He warned that “the leadership does not have any guarantees that it would be able to climb down safely from the tree.”
Even with some splintering within the Palestinian Authority, it would appear that Israelis are taking the possibility of General Assembly recognition increasingly seriously. In polling conducted by the Guttman Center’s Peace Index in January, May (once before and once after PM Netanyahu’s visit to the United States), and June of 2011, the Israeli public has grown in its belief that the Palestinians will go through with their September plans.
January, May, June 2011: In your estimation, what are the chances that the Palestinians will declare an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders even without an agreement with Israel, and will ask the UN General Assembly to recognize it?
In January 2011, soon after the PA first publically threatened to go directly to the UN to achieve diplomatic recognition, the general public was more skeptical than not with some 42% believing that the PA would move forward and 53.1% believing that they would not. Among this group, only 8.2% strongly believed this would occur while 33.8% believed it was possible. Come May 2011, belief in the general public grew to 60.3% and then to 61.3% although this shrank to 55.2% in June. This drop was likely fueled by growing dissention evident within the PA. Trends specifically within the Jewish public were quite similar. Conversely, the Israeli Arab public has been consistently more skeptical of the PA bid with skepticism outweighing belief in every period, although belief has followed a steady upward trend.
May, June 2011: In your opinion, will there or will there not be a large majority of states in the UN General Assembly that recognizes the Palestinian state, even if Israel opposes it?
Interestingly, the opposite trend has followed in terms of belief that the Palestinians will easily secure a majority in the UN General Assembly. In both the general and specifically Jewish sectors, belief that the PA will secure a majority has dropped between May and June nearly 10% although 2/3 still firmly believe the Palestinians will receive a majority. Again, Israeli Arabs demonstrate an interesting trend in that they too have become more skeptical, they were much more skeptical to begin with. Whereas the Jewish population slipped from 75.4% to 66.6%, the Arab population slipped from 47.8% to 43.3%.
Israeli Arab skepticism aside, it is clear that the majority of Israelis do believe that September will bring with it widespread international recognition of a Palestinian state. What is more, most Israelis seem to agree that the state will face increasing international diplomatic isolation, potential economic sanctions, and a renewed Palestinian intifada.
To what extent will UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state damage, benefit, or neither damage nor benefit Israeli interests?
|2011 May (g)||58.1||29.2||9.7||3|
|2011 May (j)||64||27.1||5.8||3.2|
|2011 May (a)||24.5||41.2||32.1||2.2|
If there is a Palestinian declaration of independence in September, and most of the states in the UN General Assembly recognize the new state but Israel announces that it does not accept the decision, in your opinion is there or is there not a chance that the international community will exert substantial pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, for example, by imposing painful economic sanctions or other to cause Israel to leave the territories?
|2011 May (g)||33||39.9||14.5||10.2||2.3|
|2011 May (j)||33.2||40.7||13.4||10.5||2.3|
|2011 May (a)||32.3||35.6||21||8.9||2.2|
In your opinion, what are the chances that a popular intifada will break out in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip if an independent Palestinian state is declared and a majority of UN states recognize it, but Israel does not withdraw from the West Bank?
|Very high||High||Low||Very Low||Don’t Know|
|2011 May (g)||26.1||42.8||22.1||4.8||4.2|
|2011 May (j)||26.4||43.6||21.6||4.1||4.2|
|2011 May (a)||24.3||37.8||24.5||8.9||4.4|
On the question of whether or not UN recognition of a Palestinian state will damage, benefit, or have no effect on Israel in May 2011, most agreed that Israel would be damaged with the strongest belief that Israel would be damaged coming from the Jewish sector. Again pointing to domestic Arab belief in the lack of efficacy of international pressure on Israel, Israeli Arabs were split but with their largest response that there would be neither effect.
As for economic sanctions, most Israelis do believe that some form of substantial international pressure is coming, with about 33% believing this to be highly likely and almost 40% believing it to be somewhat likely. With regard to an outbreak of a new intifada, Jewish and Arab Israelis were largely in agreement that, should a Palestinian state be declared, violence will follow if Israel does not withdraw from the West Bank. Given the pressures that Israelis expect to face, how could it be that they would not be eager to concede a state immediately to the Palestinians? Would this not be better than to face greater international pressure and isolation?
These questions are ones I will try to address in tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned…