One should never underestimate the propensity of the Palestinians for shooting themselves in the foot, to wit, the situation Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has put himself in with regard to the peace process. True, this may not have been entirely his fault - mixed signals from abroad also had something to do with it, but Abbas seems to be bent on doing everything to get himself into an even deeper hole by adopting ever more intransigent positions. Then there was his zigzagging on the Goldstone Report, after first having asked Israel during the Gaza war to "smash" Hamas.
Now someone has come up with the idea of unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood. Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad had earlier broached the idea of building up Palestinian governance - a plausible concept in itself - but what the Palestinian functionaries around Abbas intend now is something completely different, amounting to putting a wheelless cart before a lame horse.
They had tried it before; back in 1999 Yasser Arafat, who as a result of the Oslo agreement was back in the country, announced that the Palestinians would forthwith declare their independence - only to be quickly disabused of this idea when the US and most of the Europeans made it clear to him that the declaration would not be recognized by the international community.
In the present case, there will probably be a replay of this scenario, there being indications that neither the US nor most members of the European community as well as others would legitimize a unilateral declaration by according it recognition. Even the support of Russia and China is in doubt, given that the former has not recognized the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, and that the latter is facing the threat in its own backyard of the Muslim community in Xinjiang declaring independence.
Someone should have explained to Abbas that this plan would in effect annul all past agreements including those which had granted legitimacy to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo agreement. Also, any unilateral act regarding borders and territory could immediately trigger parallel annexations in the territories on the part of the State of Israel. In essence, a unilateral declaration of statehood would be in violation of international law and might be deemed an act of aggression, giving Israel the right to act in response, militarily or otherwise.
SO WHY does the official Palestinian leadership still threaten to go ahead with an act which so obviously goes against its own interests? It could be to pave the way towards a new wave of violence, as Arafat had planned and acted upon after the failure of the Camp David conference. But there may also be another, more immediate reason, namely, to bring about the elimination of UN Security Council Resolution 242. This resolution, which is the only agreed basis for all the agreements and initiatives to bring about a settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors, including the Palestinians (and of course, Syria), also determined that Israel was not required to withdraw from all the territories it holds as a result of repulsing Arab aggression in 1967, and that furthermore, future borders should be based on considerations of security. In other words, the dividing line between a future Palestinian state and Israel would not necessarily be commensurate with the former temporary armistice line called the "Green Line."
This then, as senior PLO and Fatah official Yasser Abd Rabbo has confirmed, is their real and immediate agenda: get the Security Council of the UN to adopt a resolution to say that the future Palestinian border would be the Green Line - thus, in effect, replacing Resolution 242 and making the latter null and void. Israel's diplomacy thus has its job cut out for it in coming months, but one trusts that the US and others too are aware of the Palestinian stratagems and that they will not lend a hand to an initiative which would seriously exacerbate the political situation in the Middle East and return any chance of peace to square one.
The writer is the former Israel Ambassador to the US, and currently heads the Prime Minister's forum of US-Israel Relations.