Palestinian Nakba rally.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Will Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally agree to direct peace
talks with Israel? Judging by the recent US enticement – and the reported
Israeli concession – of an upgraded PLO mission – now called a “general
delegation”– in Washington that will be entitled to fly the Palestinian flag,
signaling an American acceptance of near sovereignty, Abbas will be hard-pressed
to turn down President Barack Obama’s offer.
The White House has
expressed confidence that the latest symbolic US gesture is meant to jump-start
successful bilateral talks and bring about an eventual “independent, viable
Palestine living side by side with Israel.” White House spokesman Thomas Vietor
noted that “we should begin preparing for that outcome now.”
fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some in the Beltway
that long awaited direct talks will finally lead to an elusive peace agreement.
However, it seems more likely that American and Israeli goodwill are fuelling
Palestinian plans to establish a state unilaterally on the 1949 armistice lines
– inaccurately called the 1967 borders – either by declaration as Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad has wanted or by a UN Security Council resolution as Abbas has
Threats by the Palestinian leadership in late 2009 to declare
statehood unilaterally, while supported quietly by some European officials, have
been flatly rejected by the Obama administration.
In line with the Oslo
interim accords of 1995 that still govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy,
Washington insists that bilateral talks and a Palestinian state by agreement is
the legal and proper diplomatic path to take.
However, the recent
dramatic announcement by the International Court of Justice that Kosovo’s 2008
unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia “did not violate
international law” holds substantial ramifications for the Palestinians, as it
does for other prospective succession bids including the Kurds and Northern
IT SHOULD be recalled that the US was one of the first powers
to recognize Kosovo’s unilateral succession from Serbia nearly two and half
years ago, despite only tepid international support for the move. However, since
2008, PA officials have invoked Kosovo as a model for “Palestine.”
senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo said soon after Kosovo’s declaration that “our
people have the right to proclaim independence even before Kosovo, and we ask
for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our
PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has worked tirelessly
for a Security Council endorsement of a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines,
also said in late 2009 that “the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other
Abbas and Fayyad have also mentioned the Kosovo model
as an option.
The context of the ICJ’s nonbinding yet supportive opinion
for Kosovo’s succession renders the latest US gesture a far more significant
step toward Washington’s recognition of Palestinian sovereignty than simply a
generous peace process outreach.
Even if the Palestinians agree, as Abbas
indicated in media reports last week, to avoid making unilateral declarations,
the combination of the latest Palestinian “flaghood” in the capital of the free
world and the latest international legal backing for unilateralism paves the
path for the current Palestinian default position: a resolution in the UN
Security Council seeking recognition of “Palestine” on the 1967 lines with
Jerusalem as its capital.
Former EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
has publicly supported this option, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has
reportedly been positively inclined to the idea in conversations with
Palestinian leaders over the past year.
A major question is whether the
Obama administration will continue to insist on direct peace talks as the only
legal and secure path to peace and whether it will level a veto over this second
and dangerous form of Palestinian unilateralism if and when it comes to a vote
in the Security Council.
The implications for Israel, the Palestinians
and the Middle East are too far-reaching to ignore.
The writer is the
director for strategic affairs at the World Jewish Congress and a foreign policy
fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
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