From flag to statehood?

A fluttering Palestinian flag in Washington may help convince some that direct talks will lead to peace.

By
July 29, 2010 04:16
3 minute read.
Palestinians wave Palestinian flags during a Nakba

Palestinian Nakba rally. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

 
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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.”

A new 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 preferred.

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 Cypriots.

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.”

PA 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 independence.”


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 official channels.”

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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