PARIS – This September, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, took the bold step of directly asking the United Nations to grant official recognition to the state of Palestine. The UN’s 193 member states look geared to vote on that request within the next few months. The world’s focus is now on Palestine.
It is almost two decades since the “quartet” – the UN, the United States, the European Union, and Russia – agreed that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government should establish peace by coexisting as two separate states. And yet, while US President Barack Obama has referred to the quartet’s decision as his guiding principle for diplomatic action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation remains as dire as ever, because the devil remains in the details.
The Palestinians want an independent state, but on the condition that they secure Jerusalem as its capital, and that Israel ceases to expand settlements on territory that it has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel, however, has never considered ceding Jerusalem to Palestine. Many hope that, under pressure to reform municipal boundaries, Israel will consider this solution.
But the question of the settlements is even more difficult to resolve. Even under pressure from the international community and, most powerfully, from the US, Israel has consistently refused to slow expansion of its settlements in the West Bank.