Issue 140: 1 December 2009 Why the talk of announcing the Palestinian State now? Ghobshi Khairallah There has been much talk lately of the need to announce the Palestinian State as a way to extricate the peace process from its current impasse –resulted from the intransigence on the part of Binyamin Netanyahu's right-wing coalition and its persistence to go on with settlement construction. Despite the consensus by members of the international community that the two-state solution is the best and more attainable formula, the Israelis have refused to budge. In fact, the two-state solution started to crystallise with the end of the Cold War and collapse of the former Soviet Union, although it reached maturity with the failure of former US President Bill Clinton's peace plan in 2000. Obstacles in the way The relevance of the talk of the two-state solution stems from the fact that it represents a kind of reparation for the Palestinians for the suffering they have undergone since the early 20th century: the Balfour Declaration on establishing Israel on the Palestinian soil; the UN resolution 181 (also called the Partition Plan); wars of 1948, 1956, 1867, 1973 and the war on Gaza of 2008. The idea of establishing a Palestinian State saw the light in 1988 when late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat issued the Declaration of Statehood. The Palestinians' long struggle in defence of their legitimate rights was punctuated by negotiations that granted them autonomous rule in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The continuation of the Israeli occupation, however, drained this rule of any substance. Further worsening the situation, the Israelis insisted to go on with settlement construction and refused to include the issue in peace talks on the grounds that it is related to the final status agreement. It is worthy of mentioning here that the frequent UN resolutions rejecting settlement building did not ring a bell with the Israelis. When Barak Obama took office, hopes were raised that finally a Palestinian State would become a reality. Indeed, former US President George W Bush had promised the Palestinians at the time of the invasion of Iraq that a Palestinian State would see the light before 2008. Although this promise was never implemented, it gave the call for a Palestinian state strong momentum. Moreover, it has become an integral component of the American foreign policy. Why now? The revival of the talk of the Palestinian State has much to do with the prevalent climate of frustration following the failure to mend fences between Palestinian rivals. Actually, the state of hostility between the two largest factions, Fatah and Hamas, deepened the division. Adding salt to injury were the inter-Arab rift and the advent of a right-wing Israeli cabinet. Arabs and Palestinians alike came to believe that the impotent regional system – plagued by the Arab-Iranian, Arab-Israeli and Iranian-Israeli conflicts— is unable to translate the vision of the two-state into practice. The mighty Israeli lobby managed to prevent the Obama administration from pressuring Israel into halting settlement building – a Palestinian precondition for the resumption of peace talks. Javier Solana, the European Union High Commissioner for Foreign Policy and Security Affairs, had suggested that the UN Security Council would set a timeframe concerning the formation of the Palestinian State. The Palestinian party welcomed the idea and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad proposed to start the foundation of Palestinian institutions so as to declare the State within two years. The EU, for its part, considered the proposal as premature due to the absence of substantial Palestinian institutions. Washington threatened to use its veto to prevent the passing of any resolution in this regard on the grounds that the Palestinian State should rather be created out of negotiations between the two concerned parties. Tel Aviv adopted a tougher position and threatened to annex more land once a unilateral action is taken. Seemingly, the current stalemate is justifiable given different players' conflicting interests and visions. It is hardly possible to reach a consensus in view of the dominant atmosphere of deep division. The perpetuation of this situation, however, might prove disastrous for the entire region. The Palestinian Authority (PA), therefore, has to find a way to bring the two-state solution to the fore – through seizing opportunities at hand and neutralising the threats posed by different actors. Moreover, the PA has to spare no effort whatsoever to enhance its legal status on the international scale so as to be in a better position in the final status talks. Unlike the Lebanese and Syrians, which have parts of their territories falling under the Israeli occupation, the Palestinians have neither the institutions nor the leverage to enhance their position in the negotiations. Thus the Palestinians cannot afford to waste any opportunities while struggling for their State to become a matter of fact. In the same context, the preservation of the status quo would result in harmful effects for the Palestinians given Israel's constant drive to build more settlements. If the current pace of settlement construction is to continue, Israel will have seized 72,000 square meters – more that the total area of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—in 2030. In light of the factors mentioned above, it has become important to have the mechanism of the State, even if the Palestinian side would act unilaterally. Hence the announcement of the Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital has become a must. Advantages of announcing the State The presence of the mechanism of the State would help grab the available regional and international opportunities. It would make it more difficult for Israel to play games and claim that it has no partner to negotiate with. It should be borne in mind that Israel used the same mechanism in 1948. Moreover, a host of countries adopted this approach in the immediate aftermath of WWI, WWII and the collapse of the Soviet Union. More recently, Eritrea, Serbia, Croatia, East Timor and others benefited from the mechanism of the State. The fact that the Palestinians have parliamentary institutions, security apparatuses and diplomatic missions makes this alternative a realistic one. Finally, a plethora of international resolutions and provisions push in this direction as they could help exert pressure on the international community to handle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict more seriously.
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