by Robin Shepherd
Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz has written an extensive analysis of the prospects of the Palestinian leadership opting for a unilateral declaration of statehood, probably sometime in 2011, as an alternative to working for a negotiated end to the conflict. It is crucial to understand the issue since it could add an entirely new dynamic into the situation, give new momentum to the Palestinian cause, and simultaneously put Israel in a perilous situation.
There are many reasons to be concerned about a move towards a unilateral declaration of statehood, not least because the Palestinians would undoubtedly want to go beyond the demilitarised state being offered by the Israeli government and also because they would then seek to argue that Israel is not merely an “occupying” power but also an “invading” power. This they could use as a justification for renewed “resistance”, for which read terrorism.
Horovitz has produced an excellent analysis and I recommend reading it in full. But since, at nearly 3,000 words, some readers may not have the time to go through it from beginning to end, I offer here a bullet point rendition of what I take to be the most important points, along with some comments of my own. Points taken from Horowitz’s piece (which are my words, not his) are in bold italics while my own comments follow in normal script:
** Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has himself declared a summer 2011 deadline for Palestinian statehood. Stop the press right here: summer 2011 is effectively tomorrow. In other words, the threat should be treated as imminent.
** Last Tuesday, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said to Fayyad: “We are in the home stretch of your agenda to reach [statehood] by August next year, and you have our full support.” The day before, PA President Mahmoud Abbas repeated what is an increasingly common theme from PA officials in threatening a “resort to the United Nations” in the context of a possible unilateral declaration of statehood. In other words, the potential move to a unilateral declaration of statehood with recognition at the UN should not only be treated as imminent, senior UN officials are sounding increasingly positive about such a possible move.
** Important and influential governments are also sounding more receptive to the idea. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner recently said that if the negotiations became deadlocked France “cannot rule out in principle the Security Council option”. These are dangerous and irresponsible words which could encourage the Palestinian side to deliberately deadlock peace talks so as to get a better deal at the UN.
** It is true that the Americans have said they would veto any such deal. But this may not be enough to kill it. Consider the example of Kosovo whose own unilateral declaration of independence was opposed by Russia, another of the permanent security council members with veto powers. This has not stopped some 70 countries from recognising Kosovan independence which is now basically a fait accompli. The Palestinians are well aware of the Kosovo example and frequently talk about it as a precedent. As Horovitz notes, the point here is not that there is a direct analogy between Kosovo and the former Yugoslavia on the one hand and Israel and the Middle East on other. Rather, the point is that unilateral declarations of independence can build unstoppable momentum if a critical mass of nations support it and there is some sort of embryonic government (in this case the PA) to recognise.
** The Kosovo precedent is not the only one. Consider Lithuania which declared independence unilaterally in 1990 despite the fact that the Soviet Union still existed and had its armies on Lithuanian soil. This is another strong example of how a determined national movement with international support and with a governmental apparatus can build new dynamics to its own advantage.
** While fully aware of the potential dangers of any unilateral declaration of independence, too many Israeli officials underestimate the prospects of it actually happening. The Palestinians have made a unilateral declaration of independence before, in 1988 when more than 90 countries recognised it. It came to nothing, many Israelis point out. But the situation now is very different since, among other things, there is a recognised PA government. Indeed so, and in 1988 we were still in the Cold War, we hadn’t had the Oslo process or the Clinton peace efforts in 2000 and 2001, or the second Intifada, or 9/11. Nor was the demonisation of the Jewish state quite so deeply rooted in western countries as it now is.
** The Palestinians are serious about this. As Salam Fayyad said to an Italian newspaper last week: “[In 2011] the United Nations will celebrate the birth of our nation… The deadline is next summer, when the Israeli occupation of the West Bank must end.” That’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
Once again, Horovitz has written a great analysis of a crucial issue and I recommend reading his piece in full.
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