Guest Column: Is Abbas ignoring Israel and eyeing Kosovo?

The PA leadership is less interested in the accuracy of the comparisons between the Balkan country and a future Palestine and seeks to use it as a political symbol to strengthen its case for unilaterally declared statehood.

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January 22, 2010 00:08
Mitchell meets Abbas in Ramallah in July 2009.

test. (photo credit: AP)

 
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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.



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The 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 hand.



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 peace agreement.



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.



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IN 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 Palestinians."



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 analogy.



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 Jerusalem.



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 without negotiations.



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.



While 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 Bush letter.



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 Rabin.



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.



Israel 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.

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