Analysis: Unilateral statehood hurts Palestine, not Israel

Analysis Unilateral sta

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat's statements on Saturday that Israelis were stalling on implementing a two-state solution and the Palestinians would soon ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state in the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip may have been meant as a grave threat, or perhaps they were intended as bluster for internal consumption. But for most Israeli analysts and observers, his threat appears more like a self-made trap for Palestinian leaders. Why shouldn't the Palestinians declare their state unilaterally? In principle, little would change. The Palestinian Authority would have real control over barely 40 percent of the land it hopes to gain in negotiations, representing major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank but little beyond that. Meanwhile, nothing would be solved on the thorny issues that face negotiators, such as Jerusalem, refugees, Palestinian disarmament and borders. These would simply transform from the subject of internationally backed (though not yet started) negotiations between Israel and the PA to bilateral negotiations between Israel and the state of Palestine. The issues themselves would remain unchanged. While gaining nothing, the Palestinians stand to lose much. It is often forgotten that during his first term as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, Binyamin Netanyahu drew the ire of the Right and eventually lost his government because he felt compelled to fulfill obligations toward the Palestinians undertaken by previous governments. He turned over a majority of Hebron to Palestinian control and agreed to further steps toward Palestinian autonomy in the Wye River Accords. At the time, he was angrily critical of the Palestinian government of Yasser Arafat for failing to implement its part of Oslo, including ending incitement, cutting support for terror organizations and establishing security and the rule of law in PA-controlled areas. But whatever his qualms or political ideals, he faithfully implemented past agreements. Shortly after returning to the Prime Minister's Office in March, Netanyahu publicly offered the Palestinians statehood. It is impossible to read his mind to determine if the offer was sincere, but it is fair to assume from past experience that he feels obligated to past Israeli agreements, including Oslo and the road map, both processes that have as their logical conclusion a Palestinian state. If the Palestinian leadership renounces Oslo in favor of unilateral statehood, it will break the international agreements that have obligated Israeli governments and driven a process that, in the final analysis, already sees much of Palestinian life under Palestinian control.