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January 29, 2018 10:07 am

An Open Letter to the Foreign Minister of Slovenia

avatar by David Harris

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European Union flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo: Amio Cajander via Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Minister Erjavec,

You are on record as calling for your country to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state as soon as possible.

In doing so, you said that you believe this will advance the prospects for peace in the region. But as a long-time supporter of the quest for a two-state agreement, I would respectfully ask you to reconsider your position. This is neither the time nor the way to move the parties closer to an accord. To the contrary, it will only make a daunting challenge still more so.

For Slovenia, I know, the issue of “self-determination” looms large — reflecting your country’s own difficult history. You are instinctively drawn to support those who, in your mind, seek what your nation aspired to — and most recently achieved in 1992.

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But “self-determination” can’t be viewed in a vacuum, as if it were an end itself, somehow disconnected from the surrounding world. It invariably has context and consequences, both of which must be taken into account in weighing alternative policy options in any specific situation.

Precisely because Slovenia is a friend of Israel and has maintained mutually beneficial ties with the Jewish state since shortly after your nation’s independence, I ask you to consider the potential negative results of any such move on your part.

The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly avoided face-to-face negotiations with Israel for years now, preferring to internationalize the conflict by repeatedly turning to the United Nations, and to sympathetic countries.

Indeed, those Palestinian leaders have rejected — out-of-hand — several two-state peace offers beginning with UN General Assembly Resolution 181 in 1947, and continuing through the efforts of several Israeli prime ministers, most notably Barak and Olmert, in recent years.

How would a Slovenian decision to recognize a Palestinian state move the Palestinians any closer to a peace deal and an end to the conflict — if that’s what they indeed seek? Rather, it would make them feel vindicated in their current, no-negotiations strategy.

And meanwhile, it will only serve to convince Israelis that there is no partner for peace, certainly not one ready to engage in the give-and-take with the Israeli government. Yet this is the only conceivable path forward. Furthermore, without Israel, unilateral steps taken by third parties, whether it’s Sweden or Slovenia, will only embolden the Palestinians — and sow doubt among Israelis.

What makes your approach still more concerning is that it comes literally days after a particularly outrageous rant from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he spoke about Israel as a “colonial” project with “no (Jewish) connection to the Land of Israel,” and offered other incendiary sound bites.

Some might wish to write this off as nothing more than hyperbole, or anger at the United States, etc., but given the longstanding concerns about the true aims of Palestinian leaders, surely it shouldn’t be difficult to grasp the Israeli unease and doubt. After all, Slovenia and Israel are almost identical in size, and both countries know from their respective histories the all-too-real perils of being small countries surrounded by aggressive neighbors.

I believe that this is a moment for you to call on President Abbas to retract his comments, or else face a backlash from European countries. It is certainly not a time to send a message that Abbas’ words essentially don’t count for anything — that it’s “full speed ahead” on unilateral recognition.

Mr. Minister, we both share the goal of peace based on two states for two peoples, while hoping that those nations will one day take a page from the model of the European Union and begin to build bridges, not barriers. But, alas, for now that remains a rather distant dream.

It’s precisely because of these overlapping aims — reinforced, I might add, by the long friendship of the Slovenian and Jewish peoples — that we urge you to focus on creating the conditions for Israelis and Palestinians to meet once again at the negotiating table, rather than permitting that vision to become still more elusive and distant.

I thank you in advance for your consideration of our perspective.

Yours truly,

David Harris
Chief Executive Officer
American Jewish Committee (AJC)

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