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Palestinians Continue their Quest for a State

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Last week, the Arab League released a statement in support of the Palestinian plan to call on UN members to recognize a state of Palestine. Palestinian officials and many in the region have become frustrated by what they perceive as Israeli intransigence and U.S. inability to broker a deal that satisfies both parties. The Israelis, on the other hand, claim that Fatah’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas is a sign of bad faith. Moreover, they insist that any unilateral declaration of statehood would effectively end Palestinian hopes for a negotiated solution.

Reacting to the Arab League endorsement of the Palestinian bid and acknowledging U.S. opposition, the Khaleej Times editorial noted,  “While obtaining the support from all Security Council states to back the move is a tall order,…the chance of getting broader international support is quite high.... The changed regional dynamics, disillusionment with U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Mideast Quartet’s inability to make any progress in restarting peace talks have consolidated the belief that the only option forward is to take a proactive approach at the international level. This is something the regional Arab states are fully cognizant of, knowing full well that failure to settle the Palestinian issue all these decades has been the biggest source of instability and radicalism. It is, therefore, crucial to support the initiative jointly and also pressure the U.S. and others opposing the move to abstain from vetoing the move.”

Equally supportive was the Arab News editorial: “Seeing that there are dozens and dozens of non-Arab countries supporting the Palestinians on this, it would look odd and actually silly if the Arabs themselves did not join the bandwagon.... In the face of opposition from the U.S., some Palestinians have signaled they might opt for a more limited upgrade to non-member-state status, which requires only General Assembly approval. However, in the absence of a convincing alternative, the Palestinian leadership should go ahead with its plans to obtain UN recognition, regardless of American and Israeli pressure. The Palestinians should no longer wait for a paralyzed peace process to somehow bestow independence on the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The Peninsula’s editorial focuses on the grievances of the Palestinians and issues a call for “garnering support for their cause and creating awareness among the international community on the circumstances that led them to take this extreme step....Washington must realize justice can be done only by supporting the Palestinian cause. The current stalemate in peacemaking is entirely due to the Israeli intransigence, and Obama too has failed abjectly in making Tel Aviv agree to his peace proposals. It’s this dire situation which has prompted Palestinians to go ahead with the statehood plan. Vetoing the move by Washington will only help to rub salt into the wounds of Palestinians and Arabs. Washington must refrain from this act.”

Other commentators have focused on the inability of the Quartet to bring about a negotiated agreement as a reason for a unilateral declaration of independence. Musa Keilani, writing in The Jordan Times believes the Arabs should step in: “The international Quartet has proved ineffective in fulfilling its mandate to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. The Quartet, made up of the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia, could not get out of its trap when it met in Washington this month. It was expected to give a new impetus to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but the four could not even come up with a joint statement.... Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to go ahead with the bid for UN recognition with Arab backing. With the failure of the Quartet to help revive peace talks, there is no option left to him. In the meantime, he also has to abide by the agreement of all Palestinian factions to settle all differences and form a national unity government including Hamas.”

Similarly, Khaled Amayreh notes in the Egyptian daily Al Ahram,  “With gaps inside the Quartet, it looks unlikely that Abbas will get the conditions he is asking for to avoid unilaterally petitioning the UN for statehood…. The indecisive meeting of the International Quartet for the Middle East Peace Process, which took place in Washington this week, drew mixed reactions from the Palestinian Authority (PA).... The PA, Palestinian officials say, dreads a situation whereby it might find itself hard-pressed between the Quartet hammer to resume futile talks with Israel and the anvil of the Palestinians, who are urging the PA leadership to seek UN recognition in September, irrespective of American wishes. A possible exit from this difficult dilemma was suggested by Ghassan Khatib, head of the Government Press Office in Ramallah. In an interview with Al Ahram Weekly, Khatib suggested that the PA could pursue ‘authentic’ peace talks with Israel and at the same time remain committed to seeking UN recognition of a possible Palestinian state.”

This balancing act the PA leadership is engaged in is being described by some as the “Palestinian third way.” Daoud Kuttab analyzes this third way in The Jerusalem Post: “By appealing to the world community, Palestinians are changing the rules of the game as set by Israel. No longer will the rights of Palestinians continue to be held hostage to the U.S. or its pro-Israel Congress. The entire world is now asked to make a statement concerning this conflict. Ironically it was in this same world body, the UN General Assembly, that Israel began its process toward statehood.... This Palestinian third way is perhaps the very last nonviolent effort that will be attempted in order to accomplish Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination. If this path is blocked, there is no telling which route the Palestinians will take.”

But not everyone is convinced about the new strategy, with Ramzy Baroud calling it “confused.” Writing on the Palestinian Maan News, Baroud worries about the PA’s current deficit and what it means for plans for independence: “Top PA officials are yet to openly connect the dots between the withholding of funds and the political reality in Palestine. Fayyad insisted that ‘the crisis does not cast doubt on our preparedness for the establishment of the state,’ while Abed Rabbo asserted that the crisis would not halt PA efforts to seek an independent statehood along pre-1967 lines. The PA undoubtedly understands the financial cost of any political adventure that is deemed unfavorable to Israel — especially since they are constantly reminded of the ‘historic ties’ and ‘shared values’ that unite Israel and the United States.... Being a guardian of Palestinian national interests and simultaneously satisfying Israel’s political interests and U.S. expectations is an impossible feat. That dilemma has almost always been settled at the expense of the Palestinians themselves. The latest casualty has been the unity deal signed between Hamas and the PA’s ruling party, Fatah, in Egypt on April 27.”

Others are critical of the PA’s decision to pursue the UN path for statehood rather than negotiations with Israel. One of them is former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, who offers a sharp rebuke of the Palestinian strategy on the Israeli Ynet News: “The unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, and its international recognition, would be a huge mistake. A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians is essential, but it can only be achieved through honest negotiations — not by any party imposing a unilateral decision.... The unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood is also a clumsily concealed de-legitimization device. Serious Palestinians know very well that they do not meet the internal and external requirements to become a viable state, much less to become a new UN member-state with all its attendant obligations....A declaration of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations General Assembly will be an act of political maneuvering that will only make it even more difficult to find a solution. Unilateral action will have unforeseeable consequences, so the only true way forward is through a bilateral agreement.”

However, in a possible sign of things to come, the Palestinian news website WAFA reported last week, “The Belgian Senate Thursday adopted a draft resolution submitted by the Socialist group, calling on the Belgian government and all the EU countries to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders. Leila Chahid, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg, praised the senate’s decision to adopt the draft calling for recognition of a Palestinian state. ‘We hope that the European governments will listen to the voices of their people, calling for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people and for the whole the region.’ The draft resolution was adopted by 43 Senate members; 11 abstained from voting, and none of the members opposed.”

 


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