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The Mideast Peace Process: Running Out of Time?

Middle East In Focus

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Following the most recent setback to U.S. diplomatic efforts to mediate a peace process between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, a number of countries, primarily from South America, have moved forward with the recognition of a Palestinian state inside the 1967 borders.

According to AFP reports, “Argentina recognized a ‘free and independent’ Palestinian state days after Brazil drew sharp criticism from Israel and U.S. lawmakers for taking the same step. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner wrote to Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas saying her country recognizes a Palestine defined by 1967 borders: ‘The Argentine government recognizes Palestine as a free and independent state within the borders defined in 1967,’ Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman said, reading from the letter. Argentina’s move came after Brazil last Friday made public a letter it had sent also recognizing a Palestinian state including the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War and has occupied since.”

The Brazilian government, for its part, revealed in subsequent statements released to the press that its decision to move unilaterally in favor of recognizing the Palestinian state was in part due to the perceived lack of effectiveness of the United States as a mediator. An YNet article reported, “Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday that there would be no peace in the Middle East as long at the United States continued to serve as the main mediator in the region. The outgoing Brazilian president said during a military ceremony Monday that he was convinced there would not peace in the Middle East as long as the United States was the "guardian of peace" in the region. ‘It's important to develop other elements, other countries which could mediate,’ Lula da Silva said.”

The move was quickly followed by Uruguay, Ecuador and Bolivia. According to news reports, Bolivian President “Morales said at a press conference that he recognized Palestine as ‘an independent and sovereign state... as have other countries like Brazil.’ Bolivia broke off relations with Israel in January 2009, after a heavy Israeli military offensive in Gaza. Since then, ‘during this entire time, we have been listening and learning about the grave problems faced by the Palestinian people’ he said. ‘Bolivia could not continue with its arms crossed, waiting and watching, in the face of problems over human-rights and territorial issues and sovereignty that Palestine confronts.’”

To make matters more complicated, and in an effort to clearly put more pressure on the Israeli government, the UK is reportedly considering “upgrading the Palestinian delegation in London to the status of a diplomatic mission. The move, which would grant the Palestinian delegation a status similar to that of an independent state, will turn the Palestinian delegates into diplomats for all intents and purposes. Should the move be completed, Britain would not be the first European country to recognize the Palestinian delegation as a diplomatic mission, as France, Spain and Portugal have already done so.”

Palestinian diplomats and Arab governments welcome the developments even as they remain pessimistic about the long-term alternatives before them.  Commenting on the Brazilian and Argentine declarations, “Saudi Arabia praised the recognition of the Palestinian state, calling it a major advance in international support for Palestinian rights. The council of ministers praised both South American nations for recognizing the state of Palestine based on 1967 borders.”

Yet, responding to fears that the recognition of the Palestinian state, would lead the Palestinian government to unilaterally declare independence in 2011, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stated, “What we’re looking for... is a state of Palestine, we’re not looking for yet another declaration of statehood.... I really do not have a Plan B.... I am not going to offer alternatives.... The reality of the state may be there in terms of the functional institutions of the state, but if the Israeli army is still in our territory, that’s not a sovereign state, that’s a Mickey Mouse state.... We’re not looking for a Mickey Mouse state; we’re not looking for some form of self-rule; we’re looking for a sovereign state of Palestine, where we Palestinians can live as free people.”

Still, the declarations of support for an independent Palestinian state have stirred up internal debates within Israel. Some, including government officials, have expressed the fear that the United States might join the fray and recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. Israeli newspapers reported that “after Ecuador joined other Latin American countries in recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that Israel may face harsh ramifications due to the stalled peace process. ‘I wouldn't be surprised if the U.S. will also recognize a Palestinian state in the coming year, and then we will have to provide explanations as to how it happened,’ the Labor member told Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting. Ben-Eliezer said time is not on Israel's side as long as the stalemate continues, adding that the recognition of a Palestinian state by Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador is indicative of Israel's difficult situation.”

The fear that Israel might be running out of time for a resolution to the conflict, short of war, seems to have permeated all levels of Israeli society. The Jerusalem Post reported that President Shimon Peres warned that “delegitimization, growing radical Islam, Iran are making peace more urgent; the window of opportunity won't stay open for very long. President Peres Tuesday told a convention in the Galilee that ‘time is running out’ for the peace process. Peres said that the ‘peace hourglass is running out, due to the process of delegitimization against Israel, the strengthening of radical Islam, and Iranian missiles.’”

 

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.