Speaking only for myself, I see errors and defeats all around. First, it was morally correct but strategically wrong for the Obama administration to initially demand a total settlements freeze, which compelled the Palestinian negotiators to insist upon nothing less and thereby waste nearly a year after Netanyahu had reluctantly complied with a partial freeze. Then the Obama administration made itself look pathetic in attempting to bribe Netanyahu’s government into extending a partial freeze, without which Abbas refused to return to negotiations.
So the US appears weak and in thrall to Israel, while both Israel and the Palestinian Authority look insincere and obstinate in refusing to return to talks except on their terms. At the UN, Netanyahu urged Abbas to begin negotiations immediately, without preconditions. (As my mother would say of his appearance last night on the PBS Charlie Rose TV show, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.) Abbas did his cause no favor by making settlements the stumbling block instead of a focus of negotiations. As for Netanyahu, however, in turning down Obama a few months ago on extending a settlement construction freeze, he seemed to prioritize settlements over peace talks.
In the meantime, J Street correctly assesses that the Palestinian appeal to the UN will setback the Palestinians rather than advance their interests. Why? Because Congress threatens to withhold US aid to the Palestinians — too high a cost for the dubious gain of winning a symbolic vote at the UN. Yet, instead of declaring its support for a US veto, J Street should urge a UN resolution that affirms the Palestinians’ right to statehood on a viable territory adjacent to, and at peace with, Israel.
As suggested now by Tikkun, such a resolution would clear the air if it also acknowledges that Israel is a “Jewish state,” the national expression of the Jewish people (which should also guarantee the civil rights of its non-Jewish citizens), and that both Israel and the Palestinian state have the right to privilege the immigration of the ethnic kin of its majority (i.e., to observe “laws of return”) to their respective sovereign territories.
Along with recognition of the pre-1967 borders, a good resolution would recognize the need for “mutually agreed swaps” of territory (see Gershom Gorenberg’s article on this point). It could also call for creation of a multinational trusteeship over Jerusalem’s Old City, fitting the near-agreement between Abbas and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert.
As former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer has proposed, the resolution should state that acceptance of Palestinian membership is based on U.N. Resolution 181 of 1947, the partition of the British Palestine Mandate into a Jewish and an Arab state. It would thereby quietly meet the Netanyahu government’s demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. And it should require Israel and Palestine to return immediately to direct talks aimed at ending all claims by either side against the other.