(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the possibility, during an
Arab League meeting in Libya on Friday, of abandoning peace talks with Israel
and turning to the UN Security Council and to the US to receive recognition for
an independent Palestinian state delineated by the pre-1967
Israeli government officials ruled out this possibility as
“unrealistic” and a “mirage.”
Notwithstanding the Israeli officials’
dismissive response to Abbas’s threat – issued after Israel refused to extend a
10-month moratorium on new construction on the settlements in Judea and Samaria
– the gambit of a unilateral declaration on the creation of a Palestinian state
on territory presently under Israeli control is, unfortunately, looking
increasingly possible. Supreme efforts should be made to prevent this from
In February, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, speaking at the
Herzliya Conference, outlined a plan, first made public in August 2009, to
establish unilaterally a de facto Palestinian state by August 2011. By that
time, according to Fayyad, whom President Shimon Peres has compared to David
Ben-Gurion, “the reality of [a Palestinian] state will impose itself on the
The Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) has supported aspects of
Fayyad’s plan, as have international donors.
The concept of a “facts on
the ground” approach to the creation of a Palestinian state is a radical
departure from Palestinian nationalism’s advocacy of a windfall success through
violence or international diplomacy. Rather than seeking an impossible military
victory over Israel or waiting for the sudden achievement of a major peace
treaty, the state-building program seeks to create Palestine step by
Pro-Zionists such as Elliott Abrams, former deputy national
security adviser for global democratic strategy in the Bush administration, have
praised this “bottom up” approach to realizing Palestinian national
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It is seen as a way to achieve a breakthrough in
Middle East peace where two decades of Palestinian- Israeli negotiations have
failed and unilateral Israeli withdrawals have led to the creation of terrorist
enclaves in south Lebanon and Gaza.
Once a Palestinian state is created
that is capable of self-government, maintaining law and order and preventing
terrorism against Israel, proponents argue, a final-status agreement with Israel
will be easy to attain.
THE PROBLEM with this approach is that it carries
with it the danger that, at some point, the Palestinians will be tempted to make
a unilateral declaration of independence without first reaching a final-status
agreement with Israel.
Fayyad has said that his state-building plan “is
intended to generate pressure” on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
apparently means that if Israel does not acquiesce to its demands on issues such
as borders, security arrangements and Jerusalem during peace negotiations, the
PA can always force Israel’s hand through a unilateral declaration of a
Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines.
Such a move would strike a
terrible blow to what little confidence Israel has in the PA’s leadership. No
Israeli government would withdraw from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem as a
result of a unilateral Palestinian declaration or a UN resolution. Instead,
Israel would be forced to tighten security around Jewish settlements in Judea
and Samaria. In parallel, the failure of Fayyad’s bid would inevitably lead to
the rise in the West Bank of Hamas, which would persuasively argue that violence
and terrorism are the only means of achieving national liberation.
the PA should continue to institute reforms, build government institutions and
plan new towns such as Rawabi, there is no substitute for negotiations – for
dialogue, compromise and a commitment to long-term reconciliation.
should make it absolutely clear to the Palestinians that it opposes any
Such a US commitment, moreover, should not merely be a
carrot used to entice Israel into extending the building moratorium, as reported
in recent days, but as a fundamental principle guiding the process of achieving
a two-state solution.
The Palestinians, too, must realize that only
through negotiations can a lasting peace be achieved. Perhaps internalizing this
fact will encourage the PA to devote more energies to convincing the Palestinian
people of the need for a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.
better or for worse, Israelis and Palestinians must learn to live peacefully,
side by side in their own autonomous states. UN resolutions or unilateral
declarations won’t achieve this end. Only face-to-face talks and dialogue will
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