Editorial: No to unilateralism

A “facts on the ground” approach to the creation of a Palestinian state is a radical departure from Palestinian nationalism.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the possibility, during an Arab League meeting in Libya on Friday, of abandoning peace talks with Israel and turning to the UN Security Council and to the US to receive recognition for an independent Palestinian state delineated by the pre-1967 borders.
Israeli government officials ruled out this possibility as “unrealistic” and a “mirage.”
Notwithstanding the Israeli officials’ dismissive response to Abbas’s threat – issued after Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on new construction on the settlements in Judea and Samaria – the gambit of a unilateral declaration on the creation of a Palestinian state on territory presently under Israeli control is, unfortunately, looking increasingly possible. Supreme efforts should be made to prevent this from happening.
In February, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, speaking at the Herzliya Conference, outlined a plan, first made public in August 2009, to establish unilaterally a de facto Palestinian state by August 2011. By that time, according to Fayyad, whom President Shimon Peres has compared to David Ben-Gurion, “the reality of [a Palestinian] state will impose itself on the world.”
The Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) has supported aspects of Fayyad’s plan, as have international donors.
The concept of a “facts on the ground” approach to the creation of a Palestinian state is a radical departure from Palestinian nationalism’s advocacy of a windfall success through violence or international diplomacy. Rather than seeking an impossible military victory over Israel or waiting for the sudden achievement of a major peace treaty, the state-building program seeks to create Palestine step by step.
Pro-Zionists such as Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser for global democratic strategy in the Bush administration, have praised this “bottom up” approach to realizing Palestinian national self-determination.
It is seen as a way to achieve a breakthrough in Middle East peace where two decades of Palestinian- Israeli negotiations have failed and unilateral Israeli withdrawals have led to the creation of terrorist enclaves in south Lebanon and Gaza.
Once a Palestinian state is created that is capable of self-government, maintaining law and order and preventing terrorism against Israel, proponents argue, a final-status agreement with Israel will be easy to attain.
THE PROBLEM with this approach is that it carries with it the danger that, at some point, the Palestinians will be tempted to make a unilateral declaration of independence without first reaching a final-status agreement with Israel.
Fayyad has said that his state-building plan “is intended to generate pressure” on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
This apparently means that if Israel does not acquiesce to its demands on issues such as borders, security arrangements and Jerusalem during peace negotiations, the PA can always force Israel’s hand through a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines.
Such a move would strike a terrible blow to what little confidence Israel has in the PA’s leadership. No Israeli government would withdraw from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem as a result of a unilateral Palestinian declaration or a UN resolution. Instead, Israel would be forced to tighten security around Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. In parallel, the failure of Fayyad’s bid would inevitably lead to the rise in the West Bank of Hamas, which would persuasively argue that violence and terrorism are the only means of achieving national liberation.
Though the PA should continue to institute reforms, build government institutions and plan new towns such as Rawabi, there is no substitute for negotiations – for dialogue, compromise and a commitment to long-term reconciliation.
The US should make it absolutely clear to the Palestinians that it opposes any unilateral moves.
Such a US commitment, moreover, should not merely be a carrot used to entice Israel into extending the building moratorium, as reported in recent days, but as a fundamental principle guiding the process of achieving a two-state solution.
The Palestinians, too, must realize that only through negotiations can a lasting peace be achieved. Perhaps internalizing this fact will encourage the PA to devote more energies to convincing the Palestinian people of the need for a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.
For better or for worse, Israelis and Palestinians must learn to live peacefully, side by side in their own autonomous states. UN resolutions or unilateral declarations won’t achieve this end. Only face-to-face talks and dialogue will do so.