By Representatives Eric Cantor and Steny Hoyer
Last Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would ignore international warnings and take his bid for recognition of a Palestinian state to the UN Security Council. The decision facing Abbas was a simple one: return to direct peace negotiations with Israel or rebuff the U.S. and renew diplomatic warfare against Israel. In choosing the latter, Abbas has put at risk not only the Palestinian Authority's relationship with the U.S., but the aspirations of his own people.
Having just returned from a visit to the Mideast, we are deeply concerned that the Palestinians' misguided pursuit of unilateral resolutions over negotiated agreements is moving the Arab-Israeli peace process in the wrong direction. A resolution to this conflict will be achieved only through direct negotiations: As Abbas prepares to forgo that understanding with a bid for statehood before the UN on Friday, he is violating not only prior agreements with Israeli governments but eroding the trust of all those on the ground who understand these agreements are the basis for future peace.
Israel has always demonstrated its desire to make sacrifices for the sake of peace. Just recently, Israel removed a significant number of checkpoints in the West Bank to facilitate Palestinian movement. It also instituted a 10-month settlement moratorium in an effort to jump-start negotiations with the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Abbas did not take advantage of these opportunities. The Palestinian Authority cynically waited out the clock, choosing instead to wage an international public relations war against Israel. It delayed talks with Israel to just a few weeks before the building moratorium's expiration, and then claimed that Israel's failure to extend that moratorium precluded negotiations. Its hope that the international community would then pressure Israel into more concessions is a desperate ploy.
Still, we remain hopeful. Palestinians living in the West Bank have experienced economic growth and improved living standards in recent years. Development in cities like Jenin and Ramallah has demonstrated to the Palestinians that there is hope for a better future. Security agreements between Israel and the PA have also improved the quality of life. Continued cooperation is a crucial part of ending terrorism and maintaining law and order in a future Palestinian state.
All of these positive changes have been a direct result of working toward peace with Israel. By disregarding these efforts, the PA is truly failing its people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to pledge his willingness to make generous territorial concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for a full peace. He has endorsed a two-state solution and called for the immediate resumption of negotiations without preconditions. It is time for Abbas to forgo his public relations battle and return to the negotiating table.
His UN strategy is downright dangerous. Given the expectations gap among the Palestinian public, we fear it will lead to widespread violence, jeopardizing the West Bank's economic and security gains. This approach also violates the letter and spirit of the Oslo Accords, eroding the shrinking trust between both parties.
Congress will not sit idly by. The U.S. will likely reconsider its assistance program for the PA and other aspects of U.S.-Palestinian relations should the Palestinians choose to move forward in requesting a vote on statehood. We urge Abbas to eschew the route of diplomatic warfare at the UN and embrace negotiations with Israel immediately. Direct negotiations with Israel are the only way to achieve true and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis.
Eric Cantor (R-Va.) is the House majority leader. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is the House minority whip.