What Will It Be: A Palestinian State, or More Foot-Shuffling?

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More than a decade ago, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, Palestinians threatened to unilaterally declare statehood. Israel resisted, and the idea went into limbo. Negotiations with Netanyahu’s successor, Ehud Barak, bogged down, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat walked away from Camp David, starting the violence that began the second intifada.

In the past year, Palestinians have once more threatened to go to the United Nations for a statehood declaration. Just recently, the “moderate” Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told an Italian newspaper that the Palestinians would declare statehood by next summer if no agreement is reached.

In a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece, John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, highlighted the problems for Israel emanating from the Palestinian threats and American ambiguity toward vetoing any Security Council resolution declaring a Palestinian state based on the 1948 armistice lines. Several hundred thousand Israelis live in formerly Jordanian occupied areas of Jerusalem, and in towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, across the demarcation line that divided the heart of Jerusalem and separated Israel from Jordan for 19 years.

In 2004, President George W. Bush made a commitment to Israel in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that any final resolution would include border adjustments that placed major Israeli population blocs across the old armistice line inside Israel, and that descendants of Palestinian refugees would be resettled in the future Palestine, not Israel. Bush told Sharon: “It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

Although this promise was endorsed by both houses of Congress, President Barack Obama has failed to clarify whether that remains American policy, heightening the concerns of Israel’s supporters.

Yet a declaration of statehood outside a negotiated agreement may be a bigger problem for Palestinian leaders than for Israel. Hamas, and many other Palestinians, currently consider all of Israel to be “occupied” Palestinian territory. If the territory on the West Bank and Gaza becomes “Palestine,” the rest must be Israel.

Yet Palestinians can’t have it both ways.

Refugee status, which Palestinians uniquely hold generations after the genuine refugees fled, would presumably be nullified. Palestinians could no longer claim to be stateless. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would have to finally tell his people there will be no influx into Israel of Arabs descended from those who left more than six decades ago.

Likewise, the safety of Israeli citizens — inside and outside the Palestinians’ new country — would be the responsibility of Palestine’s government. Rockets fired from Palestine would no longer be terrorism, but acts of war originating from a sovereign state.

Abbas, whose term expired some time ago, would face even greater questions about his legitimacy. Without an agreement with Israel, Palestinians would lack passage between Gaza and the West Bank. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Hamas would violently depose Palestinian Authority leaders, as they did in Gaza after Israel withdrew. Otherwise, a three-state solution — Israel, Palestine and Gaza –would be likely, as occurred between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh, separated by India.

Much of the world would label Israel’s control of Jerusalem and adjacent suburbs “occupation,” but it does that already. Israel and Palestine wouldn’t be the world’s only states with an unresolved border dispute.

And the biggest impediment for Palestinian leaders? They would have to govern and be responsible for everything from security to electricity, now supplied by Israel, to picking up trash. And there would be no Israel Defense Force to help fend off enemies.

After six decades of struggle, Palestinians have great reason to compromise, finally accepting Israel’s repeated offers for a negotiated peace agreement, rather than undertake this high-stakes risky course. Only time will tell if people who celebrated suicide bombers will act to help themselves and their children to a brighter future in their own state, or choose more lost decades of trying to hurt the Jews.

John Cohn is a Philadelphia physician and professor at Thomas Jefferson University who writes frequently about the Middle East.


What Will It Be: A Palestinian State, or More Foot-Shuffling?

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John R. Cohn

John R. Cohn, Thomas Jefferson University, SPME Board of Directors

John R. Cohn, M.D., is a physician at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH), in Philadelphia, PA, where he is the chief of the adult allergy and immunology section and Professor of Medicine. He is the immediate past president of the medical staff at TJUH.

In his Israel advocacy work he is a prolific letter writer whose letters and columns have been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Jerusalem Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Haaretz, the Jewish Exponent, Lancet (an international medical journal based in the UK), and others. He was CAMERA’s “Letter Writer of the year” in 2003. He maintains a large email distribution of the original essays which he authors on various Israel-related topics.

He has spoken for numerous Jewish organizations, including Hadassah, the Philadelphia Jewish Federation and to a student group at Oxford University (UK). He and his wife were honored by Israel Bonds.

He wrote the monograph: “Advocating for Israel: A Resource Guide” for the 2010 CAMERA conference. It is valuable resource for all interested in maximizing their effectiveness in correcting the endless errors of fact and omission in our mainstream media. One piece of very valuable advice that he offers to other letter writers is: “Journalists and media are not our enemies, even those we don't agree with". Particularly for those of us in the academic community he urges a respectful and educational approach to journalists who have taken a wayward course.

In addition to the SPME board, Dr. Cohn is a member of a variety of professional and Jewish organizations, including serving on the boards of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, the CAMERA regional advisory board, and Allergists for Israel (American allergists helping the Israeli allergist community). In the past he served on the board of the Philadelphia ADL. He participated in the 2010 CAMERA conference (“War by Other Means,” Boston University) where he led a panel with students on “Getting the Message Out,” and a break-out session called “Getting Published in the Mainstream Media.”

He is married, has three children and one grandchild. He belongs to two synagogues--he says with a chuckle, "So I always have one not to go to". He has been to Israel many times, including as a visiting professor at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. His first trip was at age 10, when Jerusalem was still a divided city; and he remembers vividly standing before the Mandelbaum Gate, wondering why he could not go through it to the Old City on the other side.

He adroitly balances his wide-ranging volunteer activities on behalf of Israel with his broad and complex medical and teaching practice (including authoring numerous professional publications) while successfully maintaining good relations with a broad spectrum of Jewish community leaders and organizations -- no small feat.

Regarding his involvement with SPME, Dr. Cohn acknowledged first and foremost SPME’s Immediate Past President, Professor Ed Beck. Dr. Cohn has long perceived that under Professor Beck’s guidance, SPME has been doing an essential job on college campuses; so he was honored when Professor Beck invited him to join the board.

He finds it easy to support and be active in SPME because being a Jewish American and a supporter of Israel presents no conflict due to the congruence of both countries’ interests, policies and priorities. It is clear that Israel’s cause is not a parochial issue. It is a just cause and its advocacy is advocacy for justice.

For Dr. Cohn, the need for SPME is clear. The resources of those who speak out on behalf of Israel are dwarfed by the funding sources available to those who seek to denigrate Israel. Israel's supporters don’t have large oil fields to underwrite their work. And the campus is a critical arena for work today on behalf of Israel, because this generation’s students are next generation’s leaders.

For advancing SPME’s work in the future, he would like to see the continued development of academically sound analyses to counter the prevailing anti-Israel ideology of all too much academic research and teaching on campuses and in professional fields today. He points to Lancet’s creation of a “Lancet Palestinian Health Alliance,” which asserts that Israel is to blame for poor health care for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The documented reality, however, is that life expectancy, infant mortality and other measures of health are better for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza than in many of the countries so critical of Israel This is in large part thanks to Israel.

Dr. Cohn asserts that we need more research, analysis and publications to counteract such misleading allegations.

Read all stories by John R. Cohn