Analysis: Can Palestinians separate peace, statehood?

The argument that peace and statehood go together increases the pressure on Netanyahu to find a miracle solution to the impasse.

PM Netanyahu with French President Nicolas Sarkozy 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)
PM Netanyahu with French President Nicolas Sarkozy 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu returned from Europe Friday with a number of nice, strong sound bites – but with little substance for his stiff battle to thwart a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood by September.
That’s because, at the end of the day, the promises he received, both in London and Paris, were not the ones he needs.
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What he needs is a clear promise to reject Palestinian unilateralism and any form of a Palestinian government that includes an unrepentant Hamas. He is also well aware that, in spite of the inroads he believes he made during his three-day trip, the devil is going to be in the details.
Netanyahu left Israel for London Tuesday night, strengthened by the conviction that the newly formed alliance of Fatah with the terrorist organization Hamas, coupled with Hamas’s statements denouncing the American killing of Osama bin Laden, had revealed certain fundamental truths and dangers about the correct path to Palestinian statehood.
For months, he had correctly prophesized about the dangers of a more extremist Palestinian government, such as the one that appears to be forming.
So, the timing could not have been more auspicious for his diplomatic campaign, in which he is targeting members of the UN Security Council that have veto-power on the issue: Britain, France and, later this month, when he heads to Washington, the United States.
On the surface, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Netanyahu what he wanted to hear. They pledged their support for Israel’s security. They said what would seem so obvious it should not even need to be stated: that they would only support a Palestinian state that accepted the principles laid out by the Quartet over four years ago.
These include the renunciation of terror, recognition of Israel and an acceptance of all past agreements between the two parties.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Cameron and Sarkozy’s words when she issued a strong statement endorsing the Quartet principles from Rome on Thursday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is a strong player within the international arena, said the same thing in Berlin on Thursday during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Given that Hamas has failed to commit to these three Quartet principles, there should be an implied assumption that none of the aforementioned countries would recognize a newly formed Fatah-Hamas government, much less unilaterally endorse Palestinian statehood.
Indeed, the French and British leaders shook hands warmly with Netanyahu – Sarkozy even hugged him.
But then, they continued to contemplate the question of unilateral statehood, even in the new diplomatic universe hatched this week in Cairo, where Fatah publicly united with Hamas.
France and Britain’s continued speculation on this topic is a testament to the deeply rooted desire in both countries, indeed within the larger international community, to see the Palestinians achieve a state of their own.
France and Britain are so ready to endorse a Palestinian state that they have continued to operate as if the Fatah-Hamas unity deal were not a game changer.
They spoke about the possibility of negotiated peace, with Sarkozy even proposing a conference between Palestinians and Israelis in Paris in June. To Israeli officials, the idea of such a parley is so farfetched that it did not even come up in the press briefings following the meeting. In France, however, the notion of such a conference held so much sway that it made headlines.
Britain and France are key players in this equation because both have veto power in the Security Council, a body whose support is critical to the Palestinian acquisition of unilateral statehood.
A single veto from any of its permanent members – France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and the US – is enough to quash any Security Council resolution on the matter.
Given that the US is likely to use its veto, British and French support for Israel’s stance is not absolutely essential, but is critical in that it gives more weight to any US moves in the council.
The danger for Israel in the months before September is three-fold: First, that the Palestinians put forward a reconciled government that appears to meet the Quartet standards in a way that gains them international recognition, including from Europe and the US, while at the same time failing to meet Israeli standards of renouncing terror and recognizing Israel.
Already, for example, the EU is acting as if it is business as usual with the PA.
On Friday, the EU agreed to transfer 85 million euros to Palestinian coffers.
The second danger, which follows from the first, is that the international community pressures Israel to negotiate with a government that includes an unrepentant Hamas.
The third danger is that it gives Fatah-Hamas recognition of unilateral statehood out of frustration over the stalemated peace process.
Until two weeks ago, support for a unilateral Palestinian state appeared to be gaining steam, save for in the US and Germany.
The Palestinian Authority had managed to successfully separate the question of statehood from peace. It argued that the two were separate and that their state should be recognized independently of a peace process with Israel.
Netanyahu’s task, in combating this, has been to insist that the two issues are intrinsically intertwined, and that there is a danger in endorsing a Palestinian state that is not committed to the fundamental principles of peace with Israel.
It is a task that should have been made easier by the Fatah-Hamas unity deal.
“The idea is not to establish a Palestinian state to continue the conflict, as Hamas wants,” Netanyahu said last week in France.
“The idea is to establish a Palestinian state to end the conflict, as Israel and anyone interested in peace wants. Clarity is necessary because what is being discussed today is to create a Palestinian state.
“If [Palestinian] national unity is unity for peace, than we would be the first to support it, but if it is unity to move away from peace and pursue the battle for Israel’s eradication, we would oppose it, and so should anyone else,” he said.
But if recent events prove he was prophetic in his concerns about the diplomatic strategy of separating statehood from peace, they have also increased the dangers of failure and the pressure for him to pull a sort of peace rabbit out of a hat.
He is likely to have a more receptive ear in the US, where top politicians have already called on the administration to cease its relationship with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has been silent on the topic of his much-touted speech to a joint meeting of Congress. Many speculate that, instead of the peace plan he was expected to announce, he will instead argue against Palestinian unilateralism.
But whether he proposes a plan or rails against the Palestinians, the bottom line remains the same: The argument that peace and Palestinian statehood go together also increases the pressure on him to find a miracle solution to the impasse.