Before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly last week to bid for unilateral statehood of Palestine, a former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had warned that the request would not be Abbas’ wisest move.
Olmert said that the bid for statehood would open up a can of worms for Israel; namely, the possibility of violent aftershocks from Palestinian resistance.
“The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, plans to make a unilateral bid for recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations,” Ehud Olmert wrote in a New York Times editorial on September 21, a few days before Abbas appeared in front of the General Assembly.
“He has the right to do so … but this is not the wisest step Mr. Abbas can take. In the worst-case scenario, chaos and violence could erupt, making the possibility of an agreement even more distant, if not impossible. If that happens, peace will definitely not be the outcome.”
But are violent repercussions truly a threat to Israel in the wake of possible Palestinian U.N. recognition?
Justin Dargin, a Middle East geopolitics expert at Harvard University, likened Olmert’s comments to a “doom and gloom” scenario.
“There’s a sense of impending doom in what he is saying; as if events were now spiraling out of control.”
“I don’t think that there will be an outbreak of violence, I think the primary motivations of violence is the tit for tat scenario between the two countries over the years which have led to further deterioration of official relations.”
Abdallah Homouda, a veteran Egyptian journalist and member of the Royal Institute for International Affairs, also suggests that a violent backlash against Israel should not be expected and, if anything, “violence is synonymous with negotiations leading to nowhere,” which has been the case for many years during the ups and downs of the Mideast conflict.
Palestinians had pulled out of the most recent attempt at direct talks in September 2010 after a settlement suspension was lifted in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians say the settlements, built on land Israel captured in a 1967 war, would deny them a viable state. Abbas’ statehood bid now comes after 20 years of failed Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Israeli fears of a forceful backlash likely stem from the age-old anxieties over Palestinian resistance groups attacking Israel’s stability. But recently, there has been no unified condemnation of the Palestinian statehood bid from these resistance groups.
Even Islamist group Hamas, known to have the most confrontational relationship with Israel, has announced that it would not “disrupt” the U.N. bid despite its reservations over the areas that should make up a “historical” Palestinian state.
In his editorial, Olmert offered an alternative to the statehood bid, a message persistently emphasized by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech last week at the U.N., which followed Abbas’. Both Olmert and Netanyahu explained that direct negotiation between Israel and Palestine would be the only viable method for mutual peace ties.
But Dargin says that Israelis are not the only side that wants direct negotiations.
“Direct negotiation is the end goal of all sides concerned. But Israelis want it to come first, before the statehood bid,” says Dargin.
“It’s like a game of chicken, which side is going to swerve or blink first,” Dargin explained. “Even the Palestinian Authority recognizes there has to be direct negotiations at some point, and they believe that U.N. recognition would put international pressure for more balanced negotiations to happen.”
Olmert, who was prime minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009, said that a two-state solution with the parameters he had proposed while in office could ensure a more stable Middle East and grant Israel peace and security.
“According to my offer [in September 2008], the territorial dispute would be solved by establishing a Palestinian state on territory equivalent in size to the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with mutually agreed-upon land swaps that take into account the new realities on the ground,” he wrote.
“The city of Jerusalem would be shared. Its Jewish areas would be the capital of Israel and its Arab neighborhoods would become the Palestinian capital,” Olmert added.
His said his offer would also solve the Palestinian refugee problem, as he proposed that the new state would become the home of all the Palestinian refugees.
But Dargin describes this as an enormous stumbling block, saying that not all refugees hailed from what would be the contours of a future Palestinian state.
“The ability of a future Palestinian state to absorb massive numbers of people without having a developed administrative backbone would be in question,” he adds.