Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas' plan to unilaterally ask the UN for recognition of a Palestinian state is a bold and necessary move in the right direction. To ensure the success of his initiative, however, Mr. Abbas should surprise the world and couple his request for statehood with an equally bold acceptance of the peace-plan that former Israeli prime-minister Ehud Olmert tabled in 2008. By accepting Mr. Olmert's plan Mr. Abbas will have turned the table on those whose parochial self interests require that this dispute continue forever. With this two-pronged message before the UN Security Council he may well score a home run and return to Ramallah with a peace that has eluded Israelis and Palestinians for over half a century.
Mr. Abbas correctly recognizes that American domestic politics has shattered President Obama's plans to settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. A dispute whose resolution impacts at least three vital American national interests:
- al-Qaeda uses the stalemate and America's unconditional support for Israel to back up its narrative of a U.S.-Israeli compact to dominate Muslim lands. A narrative that has made it very difficult to the win hearts and minds of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that in turn prolongs the decade old war in Afghanistan.
- The narrative is a powerful recruiting tool for Islamic extremists. It is a narrative that America has found it impossible to counter, even after the expenditure of millions of dollars spent in communications outreach.
- The recent revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, together with the broader tide of change in the Middle East will likely take a course harmful to American relations in that critical part of the world if the Israeli-Palestinian dispute continues its present course. The revolutionary changes in Middle East will set the stage there for generations. America cannot afford to be on the losing side of these developments.
The Olmert plan is eminently sensible in that it is sure to please and displease both sides. The plan hinges on resolving the dispute by establishing a contiguous Palestinian state whose size will be equal to the size of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza. Land appropriated by Israel for some of its settlements would be exchanged for other Israeli land to re-create Palestine's pre-1967 size. Jerusalem would become the shared capital of both countries and its holy places placed under Jordanian, Saudi Arabian, and American protection. To ensure Israeli's security, the Palestinian state would not have a military and would agree to not form military alliances.
Crucially, the plan was never formally rejected by Mr. Abbas.
World leaders have gathered in New York this week for the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. Mr. Abbas has succeeded in putting the Israeli-Palestinian dispute front and center before the gathering. All eyes are focused on the high drama that Mr. Abbas has created. He owes it to his people and to the people of Israel to not just create shock at the UN without an equal dose of awe.
"There comes a time in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune..." Shakespeare wrote. If Mr. Abbas can startle his interlocutor, Israeli prime-minister Netanyahu, by accepting the Olmert plan, even as he forces a vote for Palestinian statehood, he may well succeed in ending this seemingly intractable dispute. And go down in history as one of his generations leading statesmen.