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Which Palestinian State?

JERUSALEM – Israelis and Palestinians are preparing for a showdown at the United Nations in September, when the Palestinian leadership will ask for recognition of a Palestinian state within the borders that existed before the Six Day War in 1967 (when Israel seized control of Jordanian-occupied territory). The details of the bid remain unclear, and the effort entails serious risks. But a sober assessment of what might follow a UN endorsement of Palestine’s borders allows for some cautious optimism.

Given the lasting stalemate in bilateral negotiations with Israel, a Palestinian focus on a non-member state bid at the UN General Assembly might very well increase the likelihood of jump-starting the process. The Palestinian plan already has resulted in an unprecedented diplomatic frenzy. While Palestinians travel the world soliciting votes, Israeli officials are engaged in last-minute efforts to dissuade countries from supporting what they perceive as Palestinian unilateralism.

The diplomatic push has so far yielded somewhat predictable results. While the United States has declared its intention to veto a declaration in the Security Council, several European countries, including the United Kingdom and France, intend to back the Palestinian move should negotiations with Israel remain elusive. In a show of broad Third World solidarity, the majority of states represented in the UN General Assembly have signaled clear support for the Palestinians.

These global disagreements reflect competing assessments of the UN move in Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Jerusalem, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has repeatedly warned of a “diplomatic tsunami” and a new wave of violence if the Palestinians do not change course. In the meantime, voices on the Israeli right have threatened to respond to a UN vote by immediately canceling the 1993 Oslo Accords.