Unilateral escapism

A collective state of misjudgment has swept across Latin America.

December 8, 2010 23:57
4 minute read.
Palestinians welcome Viva Palestina convoy in Gaza

viva palestina welcomed_311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

A collective state of misjudgment has swept across Latin America. On December 1, as one of his last acts as Brazil’s president before stepping down at the end of the year, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva recognized Palestine as a sovereign state – apparently including east Jerusalem and Hamas-controlled Gaza.

In a letter to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, da Silva wrote, “Considering the request made by Your Excellency is fair and consistent with the principles advocated by Brazil to the Palestine question, Brazil, through this letter, recognizes a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.”

Argentina then followed Brazil’s lead, with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner confirming in a phone call to Abbas Sunday that her country, too, would acquiesce to his request and recognize an independent Palestine within “1967 borders.” Kirchner reportedly added that recognition was “not just a political gesture but a moral stand.” On Monday it was Uruguay’s turn. “Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011,” the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde declared. “We are working towards opening a diplomatic representation in Palestine, most likely in Ramallah.”

Such recognition of “Palestine” is not new. Brazil was actually the last of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to make the move. A 1988 declaration of statehood has now garnered the recognition of more than 100 countries worldwide, many of which maintain embassies and representative offices in PA territory, though the UN itself stopped short of upgrading the observer status first granted to the PLO in 1975.

Experts have questioned the legality of this international recognition since the Palestinians lack at least some of the basic criteria required for the creation of an independent sovereign state, including a defined territory and effective government. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, an integral part of any future Palestinian nation and home to 1.5 million Palestinians. As a result, there is no unified Palestinian Authority that can claim to constitute a viable, independent government capable of ruling the entire Palestinian people. As for a West Bank entity without Gaza, its borders have not been defined – there were no “1967 borders,” whatever Latin America’s leaders may believe, just the armistice lines of 1949 – and the status of east Jerusalem and of the settlement blocs have not been resolved. Furthermore, Palestinian entitlement to the West Bank, for instance as detailed in UN Security Council resolution 242, is contingent upon a negotiated agreement with Israel.

IN SEEKING international recognition – a course which some Palestinian leaders are now threatening to pursue more intensively now that the US has abandoned its attempt to broker a second settlement freeze and an unrealistic three-month direct talks blitz – the PA is recklessly ignoring these and other internationally recognized criteria for state-building.

In acceding to the PA’s request, those who prematurely recognize “Palestine” encourage the Palestinian leadership to continue to eschew substantive efforts to resolve key areas of dispute with Israel. Thus they actually push off the date when a genuine Palestine, on the ground rather than in the realm of diplomatic exchanges of letters, can be established at peace with Israel, having compromised on its current leadership’s maximalist demands.

Indeed, simply by recognizing a Palestinian state at this stage, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are undermining the very process they claim to wish to advance – the promotion of Israeli-Palestinian peace via direct negotiation. This has been a centerpiece of every UN resolution and peace initiative since 1967. This concept was the foundation of the 1993 Declaration of Principles on Interim Self- Governmental Arrangements, better known as the Oslo Accords, the Middle East Quartet’s road map and the most recent attempts by the US to jump-start negotiations.

And there is immense logic in such a paradigm. The sides are meant to be working toward a two-state solution – not just two states, but two states whose conflict is at an end; an independent Palestine not merely being established, but being established in the context of a reconciliation with Israel. Abbas’s ongoing attempt to seek recognition of Palestine without presiding over a substantive process of reconciliation with Israel is a type of escapism. It ignores the need for Palestinian society to undergo an internal process that includes coming to grips with the legitimacy of a Jewish state with secure borders living alongside a peaceful Palestinian state.

Da Silva’s letter to Abbas actually stated some of this. It reiterated Brazil’s conviction that Middle East peace necessitates “a process of negotiation that results in two states coexisting in peace and security.” Indeed. So how does preempting that process help?

By conferring recognition on a “Palestine” whose leadership has hitherto resisted the compromises that the negotiating process requires, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay merely risk intensifying the Palestinians’ counter- productive intransigence.

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