Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments should be obligated to recognize the other’s right to statehood
Netanyahu explicitly rejects a Palestinian state, yet continues to receive U.S. assistance.
Dylan Williams January 19, 2024
Expressly rejecting calls by the administration of President Joe Biden for a “day after” approach that sets Palestinian statehood as a goal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week that Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” boasting that he “blocked the [US] attempt to dictate a reality that would have harmed Israel’s security.”
These comments publicly slammed the door on American and international hopes of resurrecting diplomacy toward a two-state solution. They also reflect the policy Netanyahu has pursued for his entire career. Yet Netanyahu’s open denial of the Palestinian people’s right to a state, and the “river to the sea” language he echoed in making it, also highlighted a glaring double standard.
Palestinian government officials who engage broadly with the international community are practically, and in some cases legally, bound to recognize Israel’s right to exist — and notably have done so since the signing of the Oslo Accords 30 years ago. It is long past time for Biden to condition assistance to Israel and insist that the recognition must go both ways.
Netanyahu’s government and many of its backers around the world have gone to great lengths to equate the rejection of Israeli statehood, or merely support for end-of-conflict outcomes in which Israel is not guaranteed to have a Jewish majority, with antisemitism and even genocide. Statements like Netanyahu’s therefore beg the question of why a blanket rejection of Palestinian statehood isn’t also treated as beyond the pale.
Far from being Bibi’s first rejection of the very notion of Palestinian statehood, it was nonetheless significant in light of the massive military and diplomatic support Israel has received from the United States and other allies, notably Arab states like Saudi Arabia, that are increasingly eager to chart a path out of the deadly war that followed Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Enshrined in the so-called “Quartet Principles” — a set of requirements articulated by the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations in 2006 for the continued diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian government, following unexpected Hamas election gains — is the baseline condition that Palestinian officials recognize Israel’s right to exist. The Quartet additionally stipulates that any Palestinian government must reject violence as a means of achieving its objectives, and abide by past international agreements and obligations.
Following suit later in 2006, the U.S. Congress passed a law requiring that any government in which Hamas is a constituent party — and each of its ministers — adhere to the Quartet-like requirements of recognizing “the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist,” and acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, in order to continue receiving U.S. aid and other assistance.
These criteria continue to form the lynchpin of the United States’ bilateral relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organization as the international representative of the Palestinian people, and its dealings with the Palestinian Authority as their governing body, in stark and deliberate contrast to Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization.
The Quartet Principles serve the nearly universally shared interests of self-determination, peace and security — so why should they only apply to one party in the conflict?
If the U.S. and its partners insist that it’s critical to creating conditions for conflict resolution that the Palestinian government abides by these three basic ground rules, while isolating and sanctioning the extremists who do not, then it should also be in our interest to do the same vis-a-vis the Israeli government.
The fact that Netanyahu and his ultra-right-wing government fail so thoroughly when measured against these criteria is all the more reason to insist that further U.S. assistance to Israel be conditioned on changes to meet them. The Netanyahu government’s utter hostility to the very notion of a Palestinian right to statehood is just the first of these transgressions that exacerbate the conflict and undermine U.S. — and Israeli — interests.
In its first nine months in office, the Netanyahu government openly failed to abide by multiple agreements and obligations to the Palestinians and United States. Withholding customs revenues it was obligated to transfer the PA under the Oslo Accords, “legalizing” settler outposts in the West Bank, and rescinding portions of the 2005 Disengagement Law disallowing settlement in certain sensitive areas all violated past commitments.
Indeed, every act of advancing the settlement and annexation of occupied territory that is the expressly stated priority of Netanyahu’s coalition violates a veritable library of Israel’s commitments under international law.
Even more chilling is the fact that several of his ministers clearly do not reject violence as a means of achieving their objectives. Netanyahu’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — a convicted terrorism supporter — is just one of several ministers and other Israeli officials who have repeatedly called for forced or coerced civilian population transfers from Gaza that would constitute ethnic cleansing.
Even before Oct. 7, settler violence against Palestinian civilians surged following Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s assumption of primary authority over the occupied West Bank as “Minister in the Ministry of Defense.”
2023 was the deadliest year on record for Palestinians in the West Bank. Far from tamping down on such attacks, Smotrich encouraged and invited them with statements that the Israeli opposition called incitement to war crimes.
The U.S. is absolutely right to ensure in both law and practice that U.S. aid and arms don’t end up in the hands of anti-Israel extremists — so why shouldn’t similar steps be taken to ensure that American weapons and taxpayer dollars don’t end up under the purview of anti-Palestinian radicals like Ben-Gvir and Smotrich?
President Biden has thus far declined to impose consequences on Netanyahu for his repeated disregard of U.S. positions and interests. Ending the double standard which sets a lower bar for Israel, and requiring the mutual recognition of the right to statehood and compliance with the other Quartet Principles, would be an even-handed place to start.
It is essential for the U.S. to enforce this mutual recognition, as it seeks to not merely end the current war, but set a course to finally resolve the underlying conflict, and ensure that the horrors suffered by Israelis and Palestinians never happen again.
To contact the author, email [email protected].
Dylan Williams is vice president for government affairs at the Center for International Policy. He previously worked for more than a decade as J Street’s chief lobbyist and served as counsel to Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward or the Staten Islander. Discover more perspectives in Opinion.
This article was originally published on the Forward.
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