Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Palestinians' Unilateral "Kosovo Strategy": Implications for the PA and Israel. Part II


by  Dan Diker

2nd  part of 3

Favorable Geopolitical Conditions for the Palestinians

The Palestinian leadership did not adopt the unilateral "Kosovo strategy" ex nihilo. Leading members of the European Union encouraged the Palestinians to move in this direction. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat credited former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana with engineering the idea.28 In July 2009, Solana told a British forum that after a fixed deadline, the UN Security Council should unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines.29 Palestinian unilateralism also received a boost in early December 2009 when Sweden, in the final thirty days of its rotating EU presidency, proposed that EU foreign ministers back its draft proposal recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, thus implying EU acceptance of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood.30

The EU Foreign Policy Council partly softened its final statement days later. However, as former UN ambassador Dore Gold notes, the final EU statement still retained the proposal that envisioned Jerusalem as the future capital of two states. Additionally, the statement said that the EU "would not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem," thereby enshrining the 1967 lines - a key Palestinian demand - as a previous political border.31 Palestinian unilateralism has also drawn encouragement from the United Nations itself. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has reportedly issued expressions of support for such moves, according to former PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan and Saeb Erekat in a November 14, 2009, interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam.32


U.S. Policy

The Palestinians' roller-coaster relationship with the United States over the past two years has ended up giving the Palestinians' "Kosovo strategy" a push forward. In 2008 the Bush administration had rejected the Palestinian comparison between Kosovo and the Palestinian Authority, encouraging the PA to continue to pursue the Annapolis process.33 However, the Palestinian Authority rejected Washington's opposition, despite Palestinian participation at Annapolis. Abbas' spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabo, noted, "Our people have the right to proclaim independence as the people of Kosovo did. We were occupied long before the Kosovo problem emerged."34

Since then, Palestinian disappointment with the Obama administration's policy reversal on an Israeli settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations has fueled the unilateral Palestinian statehood bid. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's praise of Israel's settlement moratorium and her calls for an unconditional resumption of peace talks convinced Palestinians that the United States would not "deliver" Israel.35 Abbas was also worried about Secretary Clinton's statement noted in the Arabic press during her visit to Qatar that negotiations are about "give and take." He inferred that Clinton meant removing the principle of the 1967 borders from the table - which the Palestinians took as a hint that the Obama administration may have been reviving President Bush's 2004 presidential letter to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that provided U.S. presidential backing for Israeli settlement blocs and denied the right of return to Palestinian refugees. Abbas contrasted Clinton's latest statements with her much tougher statements on Israeli settlements in May 2009, when she said, "Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions."36

Former PA Minister Ziad Abu Ziad assessed that "the Palestinian leadership had thought that Obama had become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, that he would stop settlements, remove them, and establish a Palestinian state."37 Rather, U.S. pressure on Abbas to return to negotiations with Israel without preconditions has appeared to weaken Abbas both among the political echelons of Fatah and on the Palestinian street,38 and has severely compromised his ability to negotiate with Israel. Additionally, the terms of reference which Clinton had used in January 2010, to try to reconcile Israeli demands for secure and recognized boundaries with Palestinian demands for a state on the 1967 lines, seem to justify Abbas' concerns.

Despite Palestinian disenchantment with Washington, there are signs that the Obama administration position supports the Palestinian demand for a state along the 1967 lines and a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem,39 which are central objectives of the Palestinian "Kosovo strategy." According to one assessment, Obama may have even supplied the Palestinians with a letter of guarantee to that effect.40 While the U.S. is publicly committed to the principle of a negotiated solution between the sides, it has grown impatient with the bilateral process. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reportedly expressed deep frustration with both the PA and Israel, which supports the Palestinian sense that they are on the right track in pursuing a unilateral "Kosovo" option.


Internal Palestinian Considerations

The Palestinians' "Kosovo strategy" has also been bolstered by a shift in the balance of power from the internationally-sanctioned Palestinian Authority to its parent organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abbas' refusal to stand for re-election and the PA's failure to hold new parliamentary elections has led to a governmental deadlock. Hamas' nominal control of the PLC since its 2006 electoral victory, as well as its rule in Gaza and its refusal to reconcile with Fatah or to cooperate in holding elections for the PA in January 2010, is another major source of the PA's paralysis. Abbas also fears a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.41

At the PLO Council's mid-December meeting, it unilaterally assumed the PA parliament's legislative authority and extended Abbas' leadership indefinitely, recognizing Abbas as Chairman of the PLO, as opposed to Chairman of the PA. By definition, the PLO move sidelined Hamas' majority control in the PA parliament.42 Despite the PLO Council's decision to delay the official replacement of the PA parliament, the meeting unilaterally restored the PLO's power in Palestinian parliamentary politics that had characterized the period under Arafat's rule.43

Should the PLO implement its recent resolution, collapse the PA, and rule the West Bank, it will create a vacuum of international legal legitimacy, as the PA was recognized by the Oslo agreements as an interim governing body. Therefore, this latest internal move will likely accelerate PLO decision-making regarding a unilateral declaration of statehood. The case has a precedent: in 1999, it was precisely this consideration that caused the Palestinian leadership to consider unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state as Oslo's five-year interim period was about to expire.


Reenergizing International Support for the PLO's 1988 Statehood Declaration

The PLO Council meeting also illustrated a strategic shift from the bilateral negotiations with Israel of the past 17 years. The PLO Council reenergized the Palestinian National Council's 1988 declaration of independence in Algiers, which had been endorsed by 104 countries and resulted in UN recognition of the PLO's proclamation.44 Beginning in 1989, this brought the UN to refer to the PLO as "Palestine," but without formal statehood status in view of firm U.S. and European opposition to the PLO declaration, since the PLO did not satisfy the basic criteria for statehood under international law.45

The PLO's unilateral statehood declaration was never shelved even during the Oslo years, despite the signed agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel affirming a negotiated solution based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which also governed all subsequent peace initiatives including the Quartet-sanctioned Roadmap and the Annapolis process.46 In fact, Arafat and other senior PLO and PA representatives had repeatedly asserted their right to declare statehood unilaterally during the Oslo period without prior coordination or agreement with Israel, and even threatened to make such a declaration on several occasions, including at the United Nations in 2000.47

That explains the far-reaching significance of the PLO Central Council's sudden reemergence as the Palestinian legislative authority. It established a new pretext to cancel the negotiated agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, both with respect to the exchange of letters with the PLO in September 1993 at the White House and to the 1995 interim agreement. A reinvigorated PLO strategy now seeks UN Security Council endorsement of the 1988 PLO declaration of statehood in an effort to impose the 1949 armistice lines (the 1967 borders) on Israel - which Abbas and other senior Palestinian leaders publicly sought in November 2009.48 On January 8, 2010, Abbas reiterated this threat if the United States failed to impose Palestinian preconditions on Israel as part of Washington's efforts to jump-start peace talks.49 Waleed al-Awad of the former communist Peoples Party noted that the goal of the PLO Central Council meeting was to "place an international siege on Israel."50


Prospects for Palestinian Success

The Palestinian gambit for pursuing a "Kosovo strategy" is anything but certain. The Palestinians are legally bound to negotiate a bilateral solution with Israel. Unilateral Palestinian threats to declare statehood have been rebuffed thus far by the European powers and the United States. However, the Palestinians believe that under fluid political conditions and growing U.S. impatience over getting the parties to return to the negotiating table, support for Palestinian unilateralism is possible and necessary for success. Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Malki told the London-based Asharq Alawsat that the main goal of Palestinian diplomacy is winning U.S. support, so that when the Arab countries jointly appeal to the UN Security Council, the Obama administration will not veto a resolution that will finally affirm the pre-1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state.51

There is also a wide gap between Palestinian aspirations for unilateral statehood and their poor performance on the ground. Palestinian governance has been marked by several failures. The PA has not delivered reforms to its constituency. Government corruption and unemployment are still major issues. The PA failed to hold the promised 2010 elections, which resulted in the PLO Central Council resolution to replace the PA Legislative Council. But that decision has also been tabled for the interim. Meanwhile, the split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank may prove to be irreconcilable.

The Palestinian leadership's rush to act already as a de facto state has not succeeded, even in the basic administrative tasks of issuing passports and currency.52 In December 2009, Maan, a leading Palestinian news organization, raised doubts as to the effectiveness of the PLO's "Kosovo strategy" and questioned the wisdom of turning the international arena into a confrontation line between the Palestinians and Israelis. It emphasized that unilateral "success will benefit the Palestinians, while failure will inflict political catastrophe."53


Dan Diker

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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