Should the Palestinians unilaterally declare a state?

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In August 2009, the Palestinian National Authority announced a plan, “Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State,” by Salam Fayyad, for Palestinian statehood by summer 2011. Intimately aware that Israel is using negotiations to delay while it expands, the idea is to lay the groundwork for statehood, regardless, and to rationalize Palestinian political and economic life. Fayyad, who proclaimed his plan without the requisite support of the PNA legislature or PLO bodies, is betting that getting the Israelis out of the occupied territories will only be through peaceful “state-building” measures. The PNA puts to rest residual notions on the part of Fatah, or certain, youthful parts of it, the “young guard,” that civil disobedience against the occupation, much less “armed struggle,” is au courant, but the two-state solution, despite its impossibility, is still in, and, somehow, the Road Plan markers must still be implemented. The Foreword says:

“The establishment of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state is fundamental for peace, security and stability in our region. Whereas Israeli settlement policies and activities continue to undermine the viability of the two-state solution, our government is determined to preserve and advance this solution concept. … This is the path to freedom. This is the path to the creation of the independent state of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And, yes, this can and must happen within the next two years. 

“…Despite the occupation practices, which have severely hampered our progress, we have demonstrated in recent years the will and capacity to build toward statehood. This government…will work to further develop effective institutions of government based on the principles of good governance, accountability and transparency.”

The document, adoringly dubbed, Fayyadism by Thomas Friedman, is a sterling piece of technocratic vision and has all the right things, including its forthright language that, without ending the cause of the Palestinian condition, the occupation, the plan is meaningfully unrealizable. At least that proviso, that acknowledgement stated several times, gives it some realism. 

Whether, as the document claims without a hint of self-awareness, the PNA is democratic and representative, it has really tried to achieve political and national unity in the context of pluralism with Hamas, actually is clean and transparent, allows civil society to thrive, completely tolerates dissent, opposition and freedom of press and assembly are all far from settled matters. 

Much evidence points to the contrary, including the reality that the redoubtable President Mahmud Abbas—whose constitutionally expired term in office manages to get extended in parallel to his announcements that “this” time will be his last—and his Prime Minister are not democratically elected. And that the Palestinian security forces are working closely with the Israelis and CIA to crush and kill off both nationalist and Islamist activists in the West Bank and unlawfully jail and quash and torture Palestinians who would beg to differ with the PNA. Most appalling, for example, was Palestinian security forces violently suppressing public dissent and peaceful protests during Israel’s 2008/09 obliteration of Gaza, or deferring the UN vote on the Goldstone Report. Polls show some 69 percent of the Palestinian public thinks there is corruption in the PNA.

In character, the Palestinians are perennially disunited, apparently forever unsure of how to proceed, their leaders partly reflecting Palestinian social and cultural divisions and, partly, the tendency of all elites to protect their privileges and patronage. It’s a rarity that Palestinian “national” leadership sacrifices its position, its control over corrupt power, for the sake of its people. Perhaps it’s this Arab political-cultural tendency towards authoritarianism and personalization of politics and power, and an irrepressible Palestinian penchant for self-aggrandizing factionalism.


So what to make of the Fayyad-Abbas path of a peace-processing fait accompli to the Israelis, unilaterally announcing, in case “peace talks” fail, an independent state in the June 4, 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, thereby instantly “resolving” final status elements, and whose keystone is “development”?

Since at least the 1980s, some advised Palestinians to accept a two-state solution and unilaterally declare a state. The PLO’s National Council declared an independent state of Palestine in 1988 and was recognized by more than 100 states, as it did its acceptance of UN resolutions 181 (the partition resolution) and, subsequently, 242 and 338, historic milestones in Palestinian nationalism.

After the 1988 declaration, the US promptly thwarted every effort at “state-building,” essentially the PLO’s diplomatic efforts to join international organizations, while Israel proceeded to destroy, in the next 15 years, all Arafat-led and tightly controlled social, political, and economic infrastructure. Since 1988, the strategy of getting Israel to negotiate under superpower, then only American, auspices, in the hope that the US would pressure Israel to negotiate in good faith and accept a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, have come to nothing. 

The reality is that unilateral declarations don’t create states; a people’s loyalty to a government in a specific territory, does, and the PLO/PNA already has that, or certainly the nation is ready for an alternative legitimate government.

The problem is realizing that perennially elusive independence and sovereignty.It is not that declaring a state in specified borders, for a second time, is impossible or bad or that it cannot precede ending the occupation. Clearly, it can, as it will also focus attention on the crux of the problem, illegal occupation. The 1988 state declaration accented concomitant governing (or ruling, depending on your point of view) institutions and infrastructure in the occupied territories, while Fayyadism emphasizes economic development as an elemental prelude to independence. A state with real authority should, or can, normally precede genuine negotiations and peacemaking seeking to achieve actual independence and territorial sovereignty. However, such a state was not a reality before, and it doesn’t look to be forthcoming now. The upshot is that declaring a state called Palestine is not the same as a Palestinian state, which requires, at minimum, that the occupying power not annex, atomize, and colonize one’s land, attack at will, and control one’s resources. What Fayyad believes, and it is an act of faith and will, that through state-building one actually achieves a de facto Palestinian state, does not, in any case, automatically become a de jure one. In a world in which international law takes a back seat to power and force, and whose leading practitioner is the US, and an Israeli psyche, captive to Jewish trauma, that relies on sheer violence, such a transition is unlikely.

Nor—despite claiming that, “…we are confident that the Palestinian people will fulfill their national aspirations, provided, of course, that we also succeed in restoring the unity of our homeland and institutions”—can the PNA be in a life and death struggle with another group or body (Hamas) disputing its authority and right to govern. Yes, declaring a state claiming sovereign authority in the occupied territories could be a good thing, but behaving like a smart state by trying to politically unite one’s people and establish truly democratic governing structures and un-circumscribed, locally based and organized civil society, are not in the works.

Reforming, changing, or transforming Israel into a pluralist democratic state is not yet on the horizon, either, for the problem with the “Jewish state” is its nature: neither Palestino-Israelis will get true equality nor will domination and oppression of the occupied Palestinians cease, though it will take on different appearances. 

Fayyadism is illusory statism-on-the-dole without popular or democratic foundations, despite its Western-appealing liberal-pluralist language, and it may well be playing a role in another of those Israeli appearances. It’s not that Salam Fayyad doesn’t have his heart in the right place. Prosperity, efficient, transparent, democratic governance, banking, infrastructure, judicial system, all these are indeed preconditions for an orderly, politically stable state. The problem is that Palestinian economic and political life is neither normal nor under true Palestinian control. Given this reality, one cannot build from the top down, as Fayyad thinks, but from the ground up, from the people upwards, certainly, by close association and consultation with one’s people and its many capable individuals. The document is keenly aware of this criticism. It states: 

“The establishment of a Palestinian state requires collective dedication to this national goal, which is shared by the various political and social organizations, academic and cultural institutions, non-government organizations, local government councils, the private sector, the land-protection and anti- settlements and anti-Wall committees, and the national organizations of women and youth. Therefore, this government’s program seeks to involve all sectors and segments of society in the national drive to develop and advance our institutions…” 

Saying this, however, doesn’t make it so, far from it. Given the system’s authoritarian predilections, PA its elites will not relinquish their already institutionalized prerogatives. Besides, the PNA has put all its eggs in the American basket, and that basket does not tolerate true democratic unity and action.

“State building” does not necessarily lead to state independence, though one can’t fault Fayyad for his optimism, his imitation of the pre-1948 Jewish community’s building of the infrastructure of a state long before Israel’s emergence, and his sense that international consensus is in favor of a Palestinian state. He’s searching, and on whom the unoriginal Abbas depends, for a fresh, dynamic way forward, one that he thinks maintains momentum pushing back against Israeli intransigence. Abbas is quoted as saying:

“Our first choice is to go to negotiations. …If that doesn’t happen there are a lot of options. We will ask the Americans and the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state. We will ask for international custodianship. We must reach a solution. All options are open” (Bloomberg Businessweek, “Fayyad Says State-Building Makes Palestine Inevitable,” 18 Oct. 2010).

Building a state framework, regardless of the progress of peace talks, seems to make sense on first hearing, but how you translate that framework into ending the occupation, is unclear. The sine qua non of Israel’s establishment in 1948 is force and ethnic cleansing, not a state framework. Abbas and Fayyad of course have been busily consulting the UN Secretary General, the UNSC, and the EU for support of such a declaration, and they seem confident—probably because Fayyad received “Quartet” support and donor promises for his development projects—they will get it. If so, this would indeed be a great pressure point on Israel and the US. For, once Palestinian statehood over the occupied territories is granted all the trappings of sovereign recognition, membership, and status in international institutions, law and norms, then what is left is for Israel to evacuate the territories it illegally occupies. 

Israeli journalist, Aluf Benn, writes that UN recognition “would make any Israeli presence beyond the Green Line an illegal trespassing.” Benn recommends that Israel should work, through the US, to modify the content of a UNSC resolution to include Israel’s demands and annexations, thus essentially nullifying the Palestinian move (“A new kind of partition plan,” Haaretz, 29 Oct. 2010). 

(Though expected, it’s depressingly sobering to hear ostensibly liberal Israelis evince barely suppressed outrage at Fayyad’s uppity inclusion of every inch of the occupied territories, including Palestinian East Jerusalem, in his state-building plans, their assumption of Jewish “historic rights” so deeply rooted. To Yossi Sarid, whose object, I think, is to compliment the Palestinian Prime Minister, “stubble-free” Fayyad is a schemer waging “war against us” and “casting an eye on Jerusalem,” engaging in “provocative and scandalous interference” there [“Why Salam Fayyad is Israel’s public enemy number one,” Haaretz, 3 Nov. 2010]).

An equitable UNSC resolution, and I stress equitable, declaring Palestinian membership and creating a Palestinian state, especially one backed (crafted) by the US and supporting the UN as the mediating and arbitrating body for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, seems distant. That the Palestinians can depend on the UN, absent US support or Israeli cooperation—or, to state it differently, with concerted US opposition and Israeli violence—hardly inspires hope. Albeit Fayyad said, to the Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, that “It is not as simple as just heading to the UN Security Council because what we seek is to create a state, not only to declare it,” I’m assuming, on the other hand, he does not mistake international support for state-building (“framework” preparation), as support for declaration of statehood. Make no mistake: a unilateral declaration of statehood is allowable by the Americans and Israelis if and only if it actually leads to Israel’s permanent retention of its annexations—i.e., the Palestinians accept a denuded West Bank “state.” Hillary Clinton never tires of insisting that, while the US supports Fayyad’s state building, a Palestinian state is realizable only through “negotiations,” fastidiously echoed by Abbas. The Palestinians are unlikely to accept Israel’s idea of a two-state solution—though I wonder what the elastic reference to two-states being a “solution concept” means. Unless Abbas and Fayyad have other notions in mind, it would seem declaring a state, for the second time, without the ability either to negotiate, protest, or militarily force the occupier, whose existence you already recognized, out of your territory, is a dead end. Whether it will therefore help the PNA’s legal claim to sovereignty is questionable. 

Certainly, a UN resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood but lacking teeth, that is, forcing the Israelis out of the occupied territories or protecting the Palestinians, means little. After all, countless UN resolutions affirming the right of return, illegality of the occupation and annexations, including of Palestinian East Jerusalem, and Palestinian national rights remain strewn throughout the UN building.

To say, as Mustafa Barghouthi, who supports a declaration of statehood, does, that “Any future negotiations…would [after such a declaration] not be about the right of the Palestinians to have their own sovereign independent state, but rather about how to apply and implement that right” (“Smothered by Settlements,” New York Times, 14 Oct. 2010), is neither here nor there. The UN already supports the right of the Palestinians to have their own state and their right to implement it. The question is whether anyone out there will make the Israelis respect UN resolutions and international law, and whether negotiations with them mean anything.

It would seem to me that a sustained non-violent, popularly mobilized Palestinian campaign demanding either Israeli withdrawal or inclusion in the state of Israel might be more fruitful than preoccupation with two states. What is currently happening may yet be another form and label purporting “autonomy” and “independence” whose inexorable logic is, in fact, more control and less freedom and economic well-being for the mass of Palestinians. Self-determination may remain a distant goal.


It’s not a mystery that Prime Minister Netanyahu latched on to Fayyadism by talking up jobs, economic development, and rising standard of living in the West Bank—well, if Israel has its way, what’ll be left of it and definitely excluding Oslo’s “Area C,” vastly expanded Jerusalem, the settlement blocs, and the Jordan Valley. This, he argues, may help resolve the problems—mere problems—with the Palestinians, that is, they may accept Israel’s unilateral dictates. The assumption here is very Israeli, very Zionist: they can’t believe, judging by the historic quality of their victim’s leadership, Palestinians are actually nationalistically proud and motivated, just a collection of parochially divided “Arabs” who can, when not cowered and terrorized, be mollified, bought off, preoccupied with personal gain. Israel, absolutely uncommitted to a genuine two-state settlement based on its complete withdrawal from the occupied territories, added (Netanyahu’s) “economic peace” to its violently Machiavellian repertoire. “Economic peace” complements the policy that, for the last ten years in particular and as a logical concomitant to Oslo, has herded the Palestinians into reservations, geographically atomized them, and reduced them to destitution. Paranoid of the “demographic time bomb” and anxiously fearful of bi-national talk, this third “option,” piggy backed on Fayyad’s plan of apparent economic development leading to unilateral statehood, is tolerable on surface.

The Israelis caught on to the virtues of Fayyadism: accept the economic part and reject the political part, i.e., unilateral legal-political change in West Bank status. Netanyahu threatens the Palestinians on that second part, even something as apparently benign as joining the World Trade Organization, for he does not want complications and challenges to Israel’s claims and designs on territory. Israel’s brief is to keep pushing a fictional peace process and insist on only a negotiated settlement within frameworks it, itself, has copiously violated and eludes. However, why not see where this Fayyad thing takes matters, particularly since Abbas and Fayyad are apparently on the road to surrendering Palestinian rights and freedom, or else, more likely, believing they know better and can pull it off, that is, somehow get their state and the Israelis out of it?

Israel’s “economic peace”—Palestinian initiatives for improved security in return for moderate relief at military checkpoints which in turn encourage improved movement of people, labor, and goods in the West Bank—masks its actual intentions and policies: improve Palestinian life while Israel concludes its colonization plans. Strangle Palestinian life, society, institutions, and infrastructure to such extreme measure that they would welcome improvement, however slight, and capitulate to Israel’s annexations of up to 60 percent of the West Bank. The Israelis, silently, hope to induce an, it’s an anything-is-better-than-unending-hell-and-suffering Palestinian desperation. 

Ramallah, where the PA and its cronies and hangers-on reside, is now the “model” of sophisticated development, good life, and economic progress. Every atomized town or canton, including Gaza, that capitulates thus, may possibly look forward to such relief from misery, at least that’s the promise. But the Palestinians must forget about, disabuse themselves of notions such as independence, self-determination, freedom, return of refugees, true economic viability, control over their resources, and so forth.

Fayyadism of course represents an economic boon to those who run the West Bank and to an emerging class of Palestinian capitalists, such as they are, what with hundreds of millions in aid from the US, UN member countries, and the EU going straight into the PNA’s coffers and under Fayyad’s expert, professional direction. Its “successes,” anchored in American-style home mortgage loans in the midst of widespread penury caused by the occupation, so far include swanky housing development for a planned city northwest of Ramallah, Rawabi—financed mostly by Qatari investors, Palestinians, and the PNA—for Palestinian families on the upward move, and shopping centers and cinemas here and there in West Bank towns.

A special focus segment from Italy, titled, “Ramallah, the richest and most liberal Palestinian city,” found on YouTube, speaks volumes, regardless of one’s proficiency in Italian. How to better showcase “development” than its illusion, that is, services (including, of course, athletic clubs and spas) that the vast majority of Palestinians doesn’t need and is not economically free to aspire, reach, or enjoy? What is this thing called anyway, when one encounters privation within a few short miles from such hollow display? It’s like a veritable Potemkin-village, or a damn creepy version of “The Truman Show,” where Palestinians in Ramallah and its environs move about their little haven “free” from obvious captivity.

Of course, imperial munificence is visible everywhere in Ramallah: signs, amazingly, proudly proclaim the US government’s funding of this or that project, just like signs at public works projects in American towns and cities informing citizens of federal stimulus dollars at work. 

So, infrastructure building and economic development largely takes place in Ramallah, where, as the PNA’s administrative center, one would expect it would. This situation is akin to the impoverished Third World client, whose capital contains a semblance of modernity and bustle but the security of whose seat and privilege is hanging on a thread, ever threatened by his own people and by his foreign benefactors who may, just may, replace him with someone of a superior temperament. About Fayyad, one observer writes that, “He has condemned violence against Israel as antithetical to his people’s national aspirations, stated that Palestinian refugees could be resettled not in Israel but in a future Palestinian state, and suggested that this state would offer citizenship to Jews” (Nathan Thrall, “Our Man in Palestine,” New York Review of Books, 16 Sept. 2010, Online). 

To be fair, the Fayyad plan calls for more substantial development, including in Area C and the Jordan Valley, such as an international airport, upgraded Gaza port, corridor between Gaza and the West Bank, rail connections, water installations, and the like, not to mention bureaucratic reorganization and unified taxation and social welfare. So much “progress” is happening in Ramallah also because the Palestinians, in fact, cannot plan and initiate economic infrastructure projects except where the Israelis will allow, and this, to restate, would only be in the cantons of Palestinian population centers. 

And to his credit, Fayyad is trying to lift the economic stranglehold and dependency of the occupied territories on Israel, much like the first Intifada of the late 1980s did. The sense that economic expansion is taking place—essentially the economy recovering from negative growth and decline in previous years courtesy of Israeli destruction—largely because of international donors, is also to his credit. Ultimately, however, prospects for “significant” Palestinian economic growth in the occupied territories requires “large companies and large enterprises, such as infrastructure and public works,” to emerge, and this cannot happen under conditions of geographical discontinuity and exclusion (Robert Green, “Economic Peace in West Bank and Fayyad Plan: Are They Working,” MEI, 19 Feb. 2010). Abbas and Fayyad may be playing into Israel’s hands by accepting the principle that economic prosperity leads to political resolution when in fact economic prosperity’s precondition, in this unique situation, is a free, contiguous, independent state engaged in all its economic potential, including the unhindered, uncontrolled movement of labor, goods, and capital.

The overwhelming part of American “aid,” in any case, is going towards the security services, under the control of Fayyad himself, powerfully complementing his control over money.

“So far, Fayyad’s strategy is succeeding. His administration has started more than one thousand development projects, which include paving roads, planting trees, digging wells, and constructing new buildings, most prominently in the twin cities of Ramallah and al-Bireh. He has reduced dependence on foreign aid and started to carry out plans to build new hospitals, classrooms, courthouses, industrial parks, housing, and even a new city. …But “reforming the security forces,” Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, told me, “is the main and integral part of the Fayyad plan. Many of the government’s other successes, such as economic growth, came as a result”. …

At the center of the Palestinian government’s security reforms are several ‘special battalions’ of the National Security Forces (NSF), an eight-thousand-member gendarmerie that makes up the largest unit of the 25,000-strong Palestinian armed forces in the West Bank. The officer in charge of the vetting, training, equipping, and strategic planning of these special battalions is Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, the United States security coordinator (USSC) for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. …

By late 2011—a date that dovetails with Fayyad’s deadline—the USSC plans to have supervised the training of ten NSF battalions, one for every West Bank governorate except Jerusalem” (Thrall, “Our Man in Palestine”). 

True, improved safety and security in the West Bank is good for people, including business, but the danger is using this to conflate opposition to a military occupation with “law and order” matters, as if Palestinians were free and all they need for business to thrive is safety from criminality. The US’s idea of creating allies, typical throughout the Third World, is installing a client-leader and forming his security forces—especially the officer corps that shortly morphs into an institutionally privileged group dependent for its livelihood and comfortable life on its foreign patron—as part of its larger project of global primacy. In addition to maintaining order for Israel, the overwhelming content of “law and order” operations in the case of the militarily occupied Palestinians is political, gallingly labeled “counterterrorism” by Fayyad and company: silencing dissenters and anyone and anything that opposes the PNA and, by extension, US policies, who doesn’t follow the pre-set agenda. 

Thrall says that Fayyad’s security operations help “make a plausible case that he is in control and that Israel can safely withdraw from the territory.” The reality of course is that it’s not about safety but about ideology: colonize, annex, dictate “peace” terms and coerce the Palestinians into recognizing the new, improved, most-recently expanded Jewish state. Then pull back from population centers and continue the security relationship with a tiny, dependent Palestinian fiefdom.

This is democracy, security, and development.

Of course, who is it that cares about the Palestinians doesn’t understand their perennially awful predicament? That the PA elites, should they resist cooperating with US-Israeli schemes, will be, like those of Gaza, at the receiving end of political, economic, and physical violence? That the Arab regimes are useless, interested in settling the Palestinian situation any which way in order to focus on their own problems with maintaining power? Unfortunately, this miserable state of affairs is the logical, extreme outcome of Yasser Arafat’s policy of working with the occupation and institutionalizing corruption in the occupied territories, now not so much in Gaza, though I can’t imagine he would have capitulated to this degree. A predictable path of cooperating with those who don’t have your interest in mind is to become inextricably meshed into their system from which, one day, you cannot extricate yourself even if you wanted to.

The Palestinian leaders want desperately to end the occupation, achieve their grand vision of development, peace and prosperity, to get on with life. But the farther they go down this path, the worse it becomes for them and their people, the more they must depend on foreign largesse which ineluctably advances their cronies’ wealth and privilege. The Palestinians, regardless how realistic or genuine they believe they are, have narrowed their choices and options. Corruption, authoritarianism and competition for the crumbs of power and status thrive in an environment of meager “state” resources, occupation, and foreign interference.

This, instead of striking an independent course and sinking deep roots in Palestinian society through national and political unity, democratic pluralism, civil society, local governments and grassroots organizations, and alliance with Arab and global civil society groups. 


The Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum is enthusiastic about Fayyad, as are journalists- spokesmen for Israel from the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and other papers of note, not to mention Israel, of course with 1,001 conditions. He received accolades from former President Bush, President Obama and the hapless Tony Blair. He was described as the Palestinian Ben-Gurion by President Shimon Peres, sat next to and talked at length with Ariel Sharon at the wedding of his chief of staff’s daughter, spoke at the Herzliya conference in February 2010, met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in July 2010, and so on.

When the pre-state Zionist leaders, during the Mandate, spoke to, negotiated with, Arabs, it was with those, like the Palestinian Nashashibi family and their clan allies or Jordan’s King Abdallah, who were willing to collaborate and scheme in service of their narrow political and territorial ambitions. Israeli leaders approach such Palestinians as they always have, from a position of enormous asymmetry of power that is curious to know how far they can get the Palestinians to cooperate in their plans, not to compromise. The adversary, and his great power protector, embraces such leaders as moderates, on the side of civilization confronting extremism and barbarism, thereby excluding authentic leaders and patriots, as the Palestinians continue to be blocked from unhindered self-representation. These days, the Israelis come from a position of ideology and obduracy, the Palestinians from pragmatism and ever-compromised principles and rights.

In an honest, moral universe, what’s required is simple: Israel must evacuate the occupied territories, and the West, the rich Arab states, and Israel must proffer billions in aid to reconstruct Palestinian economy and society, including the refugees, on the condition that the Palestinians, indeed, govern themselves democratically.

It’s not that Palestinians and Israelis should not be talking, on the contrary. The Middle East, and the world, can use all the available voices of reason. It is knowing when, where, and how to talk, to do so dignifiedly, if you think you can net diplomatic results, chip at the walls of suspicion and fear, lift the misery from your people. That, I’m sure, Salam Fayyad believes he is doing. But one wonders where pragmatism ends and ego begins, for Fayyad may narcissistically believe his own powers of persuasion and getting things done. He speaks at a conference whose sole purpose and obsession is colonization, demography, and exclusion. The Palestinian people and their aspirations are, potentially, great losers. The Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research’s synopsis of a recent poll whose caption reads, “A confused and uncertain public,” captures the Palestinian predicament well: 

“While the Majority Opposes Return to Negotiations Under the Shadow of Settlement Construction, and While the Majority Opposes Alternatives to Negotiations Such as Violence, the Dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, or the Adoption of a One-State Solution, and While the Majority Supports Alternatives Such as Going to the UNSC, a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood, and Resort to Non-Violent Resistance, the Overwhelming Majority has no Confidence in the Efficacy of any of the Alternatives it Supports” (Public Opinion Poll No. 37,24 Oct. 2010).

Israel’s continuing challenge is how to deal with the indigenous Palestinians, whom it wants to desperately remove, and definitely does not want to grant equality or recognition of their rights, much less their equal humanity. So it’s been doing all it can to concentrate the Palestinians on as little land as possible and, if it can’t remove them, control, kill, starve, and pen them like animals but abdicate responsibility for them. Make it seem that it’s relinquishing control but remain in actual control of the on-off valves that, Kafqaesque-like, affect Palestinian birth, life, and death.

Where’s all this going? Probably toward collapse and chaos in the West Bank, if not an Israeli-initiated cataclysmic regional war—especially horrific for the innocent populations of Lebanon and Palestine—in yet another self-destructive effort to realize a territorially maximalist, militarily dominant Jewish state. (13 November 2010)

Issa Khalaf (Ph.D. Oxford University) is author of Politics in Palestine, Arab Factionalism and Social Disintegration, 1939-1948.

20 Responses

  1. Potsherd2
    January 13, 2011, 9:50 am

    Realistically depressing analysis.

    Judging from history, the Palestinians’ allies will either desert them or make things worse for them (eg, Iran). Palestinian independence requires UN sanctions against Israel, but the US will always keep this from happening.

    Still, Israel is afraid that Palestine will declare itself, so they should do it and let the world’s hypocrisy show itself.

    • pineywoodslim
      January 13, 2011, 10:37 am

      Israel has stated that if a Palestinian state is declared unilaterally, it would then annex portions of the west bank. What do you think the US response would be to that annexation, particularly at the UN?

      • Potsherd2
        January 13, 2011, 11:07 am

        As things are going now, they are going in the direction of more and more settlements. You come to a point where you have to recognize that things aren’t likely to be any worse taking a different path.

  2. eljay
    January 13, 2011, 10:54 am

    For starters, Palestinians need to:
    – declare a democratic and egalitarian Palestinian state along the 1948 partition line;
    – commit to the rights, equality and safety of all citizens within the Palestinian state;
    – recognize Israel as a democratic, egalitarian state along the 1948 partition line;
    – commit to the safety of the democratic, egalitarian state of Israel;
    – agree to negotiations in good faith with Israel for border adjustments (“land for peace”) and resources rights.

    Only a destabilizing maximalist, a revolutionary, a hater, could dispute the value of Palestinian self-determination and commitment to peaceful co-existence.

    • RoHa
      January 13, 2011, 6:51 pm

      “declare a democratic and egalitarian Palestinian state along the 1948 partition line;”

      But they should make it clear that these are only the temporary borders, accepted under protest. And do you mean the UN partition line, or the post-1948 war line?

      “- recognize Israel as a democratic, egalitarian state along the 1948 partition line;”

      A democratic, egalitarian state? You want them to start with a lie? Or is this a disguised recommendation?

      “- commit to the safety of the democratic, egalitarian state of Israel”

      No such state, so that is an empty commitment. But a non-aggression agreement with the reduced-to-1948 Kvetchistan would be a good idea.

      “- agree to negotiations in good faith with Israel for border adjustments (“land for peace”) and resources rights.”

      ROR as well. But again, this would be a marketing ploy rather than a real expectation. There will be no good faith from Kvetchistan.

      • hophmi
        January 13, 2011, 7:56 pm

        “ROR as well. But again, this would be a marketing ploy rather than a real expectation. There will be no good faith from Kvetchistan.”

        “But a non-aggression agreement with the reduced-to-1948 Kvetchistan would be a good idea.”

        Fortunately, Israel must make peace with the Palestinians, and not RoHa.

      • RoHa
        January 13, 2011, 11:19 pm

        Unfortunately, Palestinians have to try to make some sort of peace with Kvetchistanis.

    • pjdude
      January 14, 2011, 4:19 am

      um wouldn’t Israel have to become a democratic and egalitarian state before it could be recognized as such?

  3. Diane Mason
    January 13, 2011, 10:58 am

    But I don’t think Fayyad believes state-building alone leads to independence. Why would Fayyad be the most prominent member of the PA to participate in the civil disobedience at places like Bilin if he thought that institution building was all that mattered?

    I think it’s a mistake to see different approaches to ending the occupation as intrinsically an either-or thing. Let everybody shake the tree by doing what they can from where they can – without spending so much of our energy criticizing other people who are doing something different – and see what shakes loose. Let the diplomats pursue recognition at the UN, while supporters worldwide push BDS, and civil society pursues civil disobedience, and Fayyad does his institution-building thing, etc etc etc.

    Sometimes different approaches will conflict with others – eg institution building in isolation runs the risk of normalizing the occupation and so undermining everyone else’s efforts to end it; or, using violence against a military occupier might be a legal right under international law, but it might also make it more difficult to mobilize civil international support for BDS or diplomatic support for pro-Palestinian initiatives at the UN – but most times I don’t think it’s necessary to think in terms of either-or.

    • bindup
      January 13, 2011, 3:21 pm

      I agree with the approach of considering a variety of strategies as “both-and” propositions before rejecting any of them.

      But I also fear that among all the challenges ahead, the one that may prove most lethal to the Palestinian cause is the legacy of political corruption and illegitimacy engendered by generations of Occupation. Indeed, this legacy- the price of conquest and occupation- is proving lethal to Israel’s political culture as well. In this context, civil disobedience, BDS, human rights work, education- everything to do with the revitalizing of civil society in all of Israel/Palestine- is crucial.

      With respect to Fayyad’s economic program specifically, Dr. Khalaf quotes a statement that Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid is taking “a dip”, and I’ve read in another report that Fayyad’s goal is need for aid end altogether by 2013. Does anyone know what caused the “dip” last year, and what lies behind Fayyad’s planning for aid to end so soon? Certainly a speedy end to Occupation must figure in his calculations, but even if it ended tomorrow without more bloodshed, I don’t understand how Palestine could possibly become self-supporting in two years.

  4. Richard Witty
    January 13, 2011, 1:51 pm

    I think Fayyad’s approach is more liberated and more liberatory.

    Waiting for Israel to leave the West Bank and Gaza, puts them in complete control of the process, even with grass-roots civil organizing.

    The reason that Fayyad is pursuing his path is twofold:

    1. Its needed. Palestine needs order (there really were hooligans, armed and pretending to be political). Palestine needs the income that ONLY INTER-regional value-adding activity provides. Value-adding activity requires the confidence of those that one is contracting with.

    2. It eliminates the plausible obstacles to Palestinian statehood. When asked “why shouldn’t Palestine be a state” immediately following the second intifada, the answer of the majority of nations was “because they undertake violence on civilians and can’t control their cadre” (just or unjust).

    Now, the international community cannot chalk up good reasons why Palestine shouldn’t be a viable state. It has a functioning judiciary, functioning elections (two historically), functioning policy force, functioning economic infrastructure.

    Those are a LOT. Compared to “he’s not ideologically pure enough for us vanguard”, the politically correct discipline pales.

    And, he does attend non-violent civil disobedience (even if for only 15 minutes), and does speak candidly to Israelis and Americans. Credibility has its merits.

    • Donald
      January 13, 2011, 6:41 pm

      “Compared to “he’s not ideologically pure enough for us vanguard”, the politically correct discipline pales.”

      You could try reading the post and replying to what Khalaf actually says, rather than winning an argument with the “vanguard” in your head.

      Your own points have some validity, I think, but if you want to be taken seriously you could start by taking seriously the post to which you respond.

    • Donald
      January 13, 2011, 6:49 pm

      Oh, and name the nations which said–

      “the answer of the majority of nations was “because they undertake violence on civilians and can’t control their cadre”

      That sounds more like something an anti-Palestinian American might have said.

      There was a legitimate point lurking somewhere in the neighborhood of what you said, but you buried it under propaganda. The legitimate point is that states generally are expected to have control of their territory and to be able to suppress any other group which might use violence. Of course many of them take that monopoly on violence too far, including the PA, which suppresses legitimate dissent.

    • talknic
      January 14, 2011, 10:10 am

      “Now, the international community cannot chalk up good reasons why Palestine shouldn’t be a viable state. It has a functioning judiciary, functioning elections (two historically), functioning policy force, functioning economic infrastructure.”

      Viability is not a pre-requisite. The excuses you’ve mentioned are far more than Israel had at declaration. Far more than East Timor had at declaration.

      A functioning judiciary is not a prerequisite for declaring statehood. There was none prior to Israel becoming a State
      Nor are elections. There were none prior to Israel becoming a State.
      Nor is an administrative Government a prerequisite for statehood. There was none prior to Israel becoming a State.
      Nor is a constitution. There was none prior to Israel becoming a State (still isn’t)
      There were no State financial institutions.
      No State Law
      None of the above can exist until the State first exists.

      Oh … and Jewish forces were VIOLENT pre-Israeli statehood.

      One might carefully read the Declaration for the Establishment of the State of Israel. It is a very good example of the process. A process which BTW Israel has never concluded.

      First comes a state and form of Government. Only when there IS a state can there be a State Judiciary or a State Government or State financial institutions. A Provisional Government then administers the State until those institutions ar implemented and an elected Government is put in place to administer the state.

      The State of Israel was recognized de jure, the Provisional Government was recognized as de facto. The elected Government was then recognized de jure. States exist independent of the administrative Governments which can change (regimes)
      Of course the instruments of statehood can be planned for prior to declaration, however, all that is required for an effective Declaration of Independent Sovereign Statehood, is that the entity have full control over the territories they are declaring.

      A Declaration of Independence cannot come into effect until such time as an entity does have full control of the territories being declared. E.g., (Israel) “The Act of Independence will become effective at one minute after six o’clock on the evening of 14 May 1948, Washington time.”

      A lot of twaddle has been written about the previous Palestinian Declaration. The simple fact is, they have never had full control over the territories being declared. Nor can they until Israel WITHDRAWS.

      Therein lies the problem. The Palestinians actually have a right to declare Independent Sovereignty over ALL the territories bounded by the actual frontiers delineated by the boundaries of the States surrounding it.

      Israel has nowhere to go except Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli’s are living either wittingly or unwittingly OUTSIDE of Israel for 62 years, in territories Israel has never legally annexed.

      Israel is terrified of there being an Independent Palestinian state because of Israel’s STUPID, shortsighted, GREEDY, fanatical, ILLEGAL ‘facts on the ground’. It’s terrified of the cost and terrified of the Israeli civil war which will take place when the tens of hundreds of thousands of ILLEGAL settlers need to be forcibly removed. An Israeli civil war which will undoubtedly take place OUTSIDE of Israel’s actual sovereign extent. As such the Regional Powers and/or the UNSC have a duty to intervene.

  5. hophmi
    January 13, 2011, 3:23 pm

    The important thing is not this or that declaration. The important thing is to build the civil society that undergirds a successful state so that it will be stable when it actually does come into being. This is one lesson the Palestinians can learn from Israel – work on building the state institutions as if the state is a fait accompli, and when the state comes, it will be functional and successful.

    The US is not going to vote for UNSC resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.; that’s a moot point. Aluf Benn does not have to worry about the legality of Israel’s stepping into the West Bank; most of the world already considers it illegal. When there is a Palestinian state, Israel’s right of self-defense to respond to Palestinian terrorism, should it take place, will be strengthened, not weakened.

    • annie
      January 13, 2011, 3:41 pm

      The important thing is to build the civil society that undergirds a successful state so that it will be stable when it actually does come into being.

      for what, another 50 years

      This is one lesson the Palestinians can learn from Israel – work on building the state institutions as if the state is a fait accompli

      and what superpower will be supporting these palestinian state institutions at the detriment of israel? who’s gonna support and streamline palestinian freedom fighters against it’s israeli detractors the way the british supported the jewish agency for all those decades?

      i’m so over this ‘suggestion’ . i’ve heard it at least 100 times.

      • hophmi
        January 13, 2011, 3:54 pm

        “for what, another 50 years”

        No, I think it can be done in a couple of years.

        “and what superpower will be supporting these palestinian state institutions at the detriment of israel? who’s gonna support and streamline palestinian freedom fighters against it’s israeli detractors the way the british supported the jewish agency for all those decades?”

        The British were hardly whole-hearted supported of the Jewish Agency, and their support is not why Israel came into being.

        If states are confident that a Palestinian state that is stable can come into being, they’ll support it.

      • Walid
        January 14, 2011, 2:36 am

        “… Fayyadism is illusory statism-on-the-dole without popular or democratic foundations, despite its Western-appealing liberal-pluralist language, and it may well be playing a role in another of those Israeli appearances.” (Issa Khalaf)

        First, when Richard and Hophmi agree that there is a silver lining in Fayyad’s proposal, one has to conclude that whatever it is, it must be better for the Israelis than it is for the Palestinians.

        Second, Fayyad’s advance 8-month notice of his intent to declare Palestinian statehood isn’t any more serious than a conveniently placed suicide note begging to be found in time. It’s as Issa Khalaf hinted about it being something to do with an Israeli plan. Fayyad that was parachuted-in as PM by the Americans has never been elected and most probably would never be. Abbas that’s up to his neck in compromises with Israel is overholding his position as President for over 2 years and he too would not be reelected. The whole PA organization is there to facilitate Israel’s occupation.

        Palestine declared its statehood in 1988 and the Fayyad empty chatter about a future declaration is only serving to dilute it even as more and more countries have already recognized it. I can’t help feeling that Fayyad and Abbas are actually trying to slow down the process of world recognition.

      • pjdude
        January 14, 2011, 4:23 am

        a couple of years??? are you a complete blockhead. the scars from the mental trauma sustained under years of abuse from Israeli occupation won’t just magically disappear for some they will never go away.

        and your right it wasn’t british proping up the jewish groups that allowed ISrael to be but its ruthless attempts to supress the arab palestinian on behalf of the jewish groups that made it able to come into being.

    • talknic
      January 14, 2011, 11:25 am


      Pre-State Jewish militias/terrorists (funded and armed from overseas BTW) were running rampant on the day Israel was declared. Very civil.

      Furthermore, they were, under the preemptive Plan Dalet, running rampant OUTSIDE of the territories being accepted.


      “The US is not going to vote for UNSC resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.; that’s a moot point”

      Indeed it is a moot point, because the UNSC has no role in recognizing states. It’s role is to reccommend EXISTING states for admission into the UN.

      UN itself does not recognize states until AFTER they have become states.

      The International Community of Nations to which the declaring entity is appealing to be allowed to join, includes states who are not UN Member States, “WE APPEAL to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building-up of its State and to receive the State of Israel into the comity of nations.”

      States recognize states. It’s a part of the notion of Customary International Law and procedure required by law, when [something] is adopted by a majority.

      E.g., When the majority of States ratify a convention, it becomes a part of the body of Customary International Law, which is binding on ALL recognized states. Prior to it becoming customary International law, it never the less, still exists, binding on those who have ratified it.

      Likewise with the recognition of Statehood. When the majority of the International Community of Nations have recognized a declaring entity, they become a part of the International Community of Nations. As such, subject to ALL Customary International Law and Convention.
      If they aren’t recognized by the majority as a state, they never the less exist as valid entities, with all the rights obliged to be afforded them by all UN Members States under the UN Charter Chapter XI.

      “When there is a Palestinian state, Israel’s right of self-defense to respond to Palestinian terrorism, should it take place, will be strengthened, not weakened”

      Israel’s status and right of self-defense will not alter. It already has very right to protect everything and everyone within the extent of it’s Sovereignty from any armed aggression in accordance with the UN Charter, the Laws of War , GC’s.

      On the other hand, for the first time in 2,000 years, the Palestinians will have EVERY right to tell Israel and anyone else who transgresses, to F&CK OFF!!

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