While Israel and its Palestinian neighbors await
US envoy George Mitchell's return for yet another attempt at restarting
negotiations, there are more indications that Palestinian leaders are
less and less interested in negotiations. Several weeks ago,
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the PA
would not resume negotiations until the international community
unilaterally recognized the 1949 armistice line (the 1967 borders) as
the boundaries of a future Palestinian state. This was in addition to
its standing precondition of a full settlement freeze, including in
Jerusalem. Abbas knows Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can't agree.
PA leadership seems unconcerned. They are even more unimpressed with
the concessions Netanyahu has made. Netanyahu's acceptance of a
demilitarized Palestinian state, his enforcement of the most
far-reaching settlement freeze in Israel's history, his elimination of
scores of roadblocks in the West Bank and the removal of nearly 100
Palestinians from the IDF's most wanted list were dismissed out of
There is a reason. The Palestinians have been looking to the
Balkans for inspiration, not Israel. Specifically, Kosovo's February
2008 unilateral declaration of statehood and secession from Serbia has
captured the Palestinian imagination as the model for "Palestine." In
the past months, both Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have
referenced the Kosovo model.
In reality, there is no legal or historical comparison. Leading
international jurists, such as Prof. Ruth Lapidot and former Canadian
justice minister Irwin Cotler, have noted that Kosovo and the
Palestinian situation are legally and historically different. Alan
Baker, former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, insists that
Palestinian unilateralism in establishing a state and its borders would
violate internationally sanctioned agreements that were signed at Oslo
and still legally govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy pending a final
However, the PA leadership seems less interested in
the accuracy of one-to-one comparisons between Kosovo and "Palestine."
Rather they use Kosovo as a political symbol to shape international
perceptions and strengthen their case for a unilaterally declared
statehood on the '67 lines with eastern Jerusalem as their capital,
including the Old City and the Temple Mount. Gaining international
endorsement of the '67 lines is the goal and it's a zero sum game. They
see Kosovo as the best option to get there.
The Palestinians believe their own case for unilateral
statehood is even more convincing, especially to a US president whose
has just won a Nobel Peace Prize in the context of a faltering Middle
East peace process.
FEBRUARY 2008, shortly after Kosovo's unilateral statehood declaration,
which took place during the Annapolis peace process, Yasser Abed Rabbo,
senior adviser to Abbas, told Agence France Presse, "We have another
option. Kosovo is not better than Palestine. We ask for the backing of
the United States and the European Union for our independence."
Also inspired by Kosovo, chief Palestinian
negotiator Saeb Erekat tested the waters in late 2009, threatening
unilateral declaration of statehood along the 1967 lines. He argued
that "the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other official
channels supported its claim, and the same should be done for the
One of the more unfortunate yet effective Palestinian tactics
driving the Palestinian Kosovo strategy is the delegitimization of
Israel which they employ as a lever to criminalize and isolate it in
the international community. Mindful of Serbia's indicted leaders
Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic who had slaughtered thousands,
Palestinian leaders are making Israel the object of the Palestinian
PA Justice Minister Ali Khashan's petition to the International
Criminal Court in January 2009 charging Israel with genocide, crimes
against humanity and war crimes in Gaza is a good example. The PA
leadership also led the international charge to the UN Human Rights
Council in Geneva triggering the viciously inaccurate Goldstone Report,
while Palestinian groups and their fellow travelers have filed hundreds
of petitions in London and other European courts seeking the arrest of
senior Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and
former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Even Fayyad, whose internationally celebrated and financed
two-year unilateral statehood building plan served as a cogent pretext
for a unilateral Kosovo type declaration of statehood, has supported a
popular "diplomatic intifada" from his Ramallah office, that includes
the widely televised weekly protests against the West Bank security
fence at Bil'in and Ni'lin and more recently at Sheikh Jarrah in
Ironically, the PA had cooperated closely with Israel during
Operation Cast Lead, supplying intelligence on Hamas and putting down
its West Bank protests. At the same time, the IDF protects the PA
leadership together with PA security forces against an intended Hamas
takeover in the West Bank about which Abbas recently revealed to a
Kuwaiti newspaper that "he had verifiable information," according to a
report by Khaled Abu Toameh.
BUT NOW, Abbas, Fayyad and the West Bank Palestinian leadership smell an opportunity.
And while legally unfeasible, there are indications that a
Kosovo strategy might corner Israel. The Europeans appear more than
sympathetic. In July of last year, former EU policy chief Javier Solana
created a firestorm when he publicly called for a UN unilateral
endorsement of a Palestinian state if negotiations failed "after a
fixed time." While the EU publicly opposed PA threats to declare
statehood in November 2009, a few weeks later, Swedish Foreign Minister
Carl Bildt introduced a resolution to the EU's Council of Foreign
Ministers that recognized east Jerusalem as the capital of "Palestine,"
thereby implying EU recognition of a unilateral Palestinian state
The EU ended up toning down the final draft,
calling for negotiations, but it still effectively divided Jerusalem
and encouraged the Palestinian unilateral statehood bid. Abbas has also
reportedly discussed a UN Security Council resolution to impose a
Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines with UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has reportedly expressed support.
the Bush administration had dismissed any comparison between the
Palestinian case and Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration, and the
current administration supports a negotiated solution, there is reason
to believe that President Barack Obama is inclined to back the key
Palestinian demand of a potential unilateral declaration.
Obama's September 2009 speech at the UN General Assembly
provides context. He echoed the 2002 road map's language of "ending the
occupation that began in 1967." However, he omitted its references to
all of the previous diplomatic instruments which had guaranteed
Israel's right to secure and recognized boundaries - defensible borders
in diplomatic shorthand - that have been embedded in Resolutions 242
and 338, the 1991 Madrid process and 1993 Oslo agreements and the 2004
Other US administration officials have also omitted mentioning 242, defensible borders and the Bush letter in recent speeches.
Israel has good reason to be concerned. The Palestinian
unilateral Kosovo strategy demands new strategic thinking. Israel is
committed to a negotiated solution but must vigorously reject
Palestinian abrogation of the same principle. Jerusalem would also
protect its vital interests in demanding clarification of Fatah's
renewed commitment to armed struggle which was to have been forsworn 17
years ago at the exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak
Israel must underscore its requirement for defensible borders
in the West Bank that are enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution
242 and reflected in subsequent Israeli-Palestinian agreements that
have recognized this essential security requirement - particularly in
the Jordan Valley, the 3000-foot protective hilltops overlooking
Israel's major cities and Ben-Gurion Airport, as well as protecting the
high ground around Jerusalem. This was Rabin's legacy that he laid out
in his last Knesset speech in October 1995.
must also demand that the international community oppose the Kosovo
strategy of unilateral imposed statehood and any other attempts to
prejudge negotiations or predetermine borders.
This is the only way to avoid the "Balkanization" of our
already dangerous neighborhood and allow for Israel's vital interests
to be maintained, while attempting to reach stability and perhaps peace
opposite a shrewd, sophisticated and relentless Palestinian leadership.
The writer is a senior foreign policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This article is based on the Jerusalem Viewpoints that was published at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.