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Israeli-Palestinian/Arab conflicts enter new era
By BARRY RUBIN
01/14/2013
The Region:
 
The UN General Assembly made the Palestinian Authority-ruled entity a non-member state. Many in the West rationalized their votes for this promotion, or their abstentions, by saying this would do no harm and would make the Palestinians feel good.

While the United States voted against the resolution, the Obama administration wasted the better part of two years not battling it, certainly not fighting against it effectively, and absolutely failing to convince European allies, who supposedly love Obama, to vote against it.

Those of us who opposed this change explained that it means the destruction of the entire Oslo agreement and the “peace process,” as moribund as it was, by handing the PA (at least on paper) everything it wanted without a single compromise on its part, without even having to live up to previous commitments.

Ironically, the more the PA gets in theory the less it gains in practice. Only by making a deal with Israel can the PA get full possession of territory on the West Bank and define such a state’s borders and security arrangements.

By refusing to negotiate with Israel or compromise, the PA guarantees failure.

Moreover, the PA has shown itself unable to get a deal with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, without which a single Palestinian entity, much less a state, does not exist. Historically, international law has required that a state must have a single government in control of a clearly defined territory. That situation does not exist regarding any Palestinian state.

Even more serious, however, was the fact that the UNGA action took the extraordinary step of demolishing an internationally recognized and sponsored series of agreements that only an Israel-Palestinian peace accord would determine the outcome.

In addition, we pointed out that the management of this whole enterprise was feeding the PA’s notion that the “international community” was recognizing its claim to all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem without the tiniest exception. The message being received, then, is that the PA never has to compromise on territory but can demand all of it, thus guaranteeing that there will be no successful negotiated peace agreement.

So, since they could now claim to have a state and all the territory in question there was no need for any future negotiation by the PA with Israel, and certainly no need for any compromise whatsoever, on anything.

In other words, the UNGA’s action was the single most effective act of sabotage against the two-state solution since the Palestine Arab leadership’s rejection of a two-state solution based on partition in 1947.

The accuracy of this assessment is now apparent. I’ll predict that during the next four years there will not be any serious Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations at all. In real terms, aside from rhetoric, the US and European governments seem to have recognized this fact; US President Barack Obama clearly understands it, too.

This is a very important point to understand. The ridiculousness of claims by believers in “linkage” – that the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are the core issue in the region – are increasingly obvious. With revolutions and civil wars everywhere; Islamists fighting nationalists and democrats; Sunnis versus Shias; the conflicts involving Israel are clearly secondary at best.

Thus, telling the Palestinians that they now have a state is a way of escaping this dilemma. You’ve got what you want, goes the message, so go away and leave us alone to deal with the important stuff.

In short, this step kills the peace process – but those who did it no longer care. And it is one more case where – despite damage done to Israel – Palestinian leaders rejoice over a “victory” which ensures they are worse off than before.

We also argued that this step would lead to constant Palestinian lawsuits in the world court against Israel, which would be accused of aggression against another state, and intoxicate the Palestinian side with the belief that it could do whatever it wanted.

Now comes an official statement from PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to that effect. From his regime’s official news agency comes the following: “Presidential Directives to the Foreign Ministry to Request the World States to Use the ‘State of Palestine’ instead of the Palestinian Authority.”

“President Mahmoud Abbas issued directives to the PA foreign ministry to circulate to the Palestinian embassies worldwide directives according to which they should use the ‘state of Palestine’ instead of the ‘Palestinian National Authority’ in compliance with the UNGA resolution on upgrading the status of the state of Palestine to a non-member observer state, and to seek recognition of the statehood from states that have not yet done that.”

So while the “peace process” that began in 1993 and was torpedoed by Yasser Arafat in 2000 has long been dead in practice, it is now officially dead.

And any talk of reviving it, promoting talks, coming up with gimmicks, blaming Israel for not giving more, etc., etc., is now thoroughly and completely obsolete.

Of course, the conflict isn’t over. It’s just the diplomatic process that’s totally finished.

We have thus entered a new era of history in this regard. This doesn’t mean a return to the high-conflict, conventional or terrorist war period of 1967-1992, but rather something new. This most likely will be a time of much hand-wringing, attempts to revive hope, continued talk of missed opportunities, and placing of blame. In fact, though, nothing much is really going to happen.

Both Israelis and Palestinians are now largely spectators watching the great battle for power within the Arabic-speaking world, a situation in which Iran and Turkey are also increasingly irrelevant. Here is the central question, whose answer we won’t know for several years but whose scenarios we had better prepare for: Will Islamist regimes in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia put the main priority on direct battle with Israel or will they place a long-term focus on the relatively lower-cost efforts to consolidate power at home, repress their own people, transform their own societies, and try to subvert the remaining non-Islamist regimes?

Their ideology and rhetoric indicate they will come after Israel, but that is not in itself an answer. How soon will they make this switch, or will their aggression remain mere talk? How much risk will they take, and what kind of resources will they spend? How effectively will they work together? And how much, if any, effort will they put into helping Hamas take over the PA?

As for the PA itself, it might well remember the words of Bob Dylan: “She knows there’s no success like failure/ And that failure’s no success at all.”

The author is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (www.gloria-center.org), and blogs at
The Rubin Report (rubinreports.blogspot.com). He is a featured columnist at PJM (www.pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin), and the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) journal.
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