State Declaration: The Palestinians’ agonizing choices

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The US and its Quartet partners want Palestinian-Israeli negotiations concluded by August 2011, coinciding with the date of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan to declare a state. To convey the complexity of the issue, and the Palestinians’ fundamental dilemma in their quest for freedom from Israeli occupation, below I list the positives and negatives of declaring a state and offer my interpretations and conclusions of how events may unfold.  (Keep in mind as you read the arguments for declaration that – though the Israelis, supported by the US, insist on a “disputed” status for certain territories including East Jerusalem – the Palestinians have every right to seek statehood/UN membership because the territories, according to international law, UNSC resolutions, and the Fourth Geneva Convention, are illegally occupied.) 

The Argument for Declaration:

  • The “international community” already recognizes the right of the Palestinians to a state on the 1967 borders; a declaration of statehood is not revolutionary but a logical follow up, including to the building of state institutions. It is preparation for the “endgame,” a final peace and settling of all disputes. Palestine’s UN membership is merely consistent with the target date, August 2011, of the state’s completion. UN membership, in case of failure of talks, is the only viable alternative strategy towards the two states option. This is unlike the first declaration of statehood in 1988, which was more symbolic than substantive and in which formal UN membership as sovereign state was not sought
  • State building in the run up to declaration proves the Palestinians can run their own state, reject violent methods of resistance, and apply non-violent methods of resistance including public relations, BDS, peaceful protests, and boycott of Israeli settlement products. The Palestinian security apparatus, delivering on the rule of law, undergirds and defends the peace strategy while allowing social and economic development to take place
  • If bilateral talks go nowhere (as of course they have so far), Palestinians will declare a state in the hope Palestine is admitted into the UN. Naturally, American recognition of such a declared state would be essential. It could be that Obama will use this as unstated leverage against Israeli obstructionism. But the administration has to publicly announce its support for such a declaration; so far it has not. The US, with view to its wars and interests in the Middle East, wishes to conclude a peace agreement quickly, cognizant that the Palestine question is at the heart of American difficulties in the Arab and Muslim worlds. This is vital for its national security
  • State declaration/UN membership may break the deadlock of the past 40 years and gain momentum for two states and bring the conflict to an end. International community may line up behind the Palestinians, that is, legally support and protect them, not take sides against Israel, because UN mediation by definition is neutral and good for both sides
  • Instead as before, in 1988 when the PLO declared a state and its acceptance of a two state solution but lacked actual sovereignty, the goal this time around, again, “if talks fail,” is several: Gain UN membership via a General Assembly recommendation to the Security Council. Obtain a UNSC resolution that gives the UN authority to determine the specifics of a two state settlement including solutions to “final status” issues, especially borders. Allow the UN to mediate a settlement after both sides submit their minimal respective positions
  • Theoretically, UN membership allows the Palestinians (the defunct PLO or PNA) to request, before a peace treaty and end-of-conflict is achieved, a multinational force presence—also beneficial to Israel’s security—and other Palestine requests to facilitate peace and normalization, all before a final peace treaty
  • Democratic, internationally supervised elections could also follow such membership and UN intervention, and whose outcome the international community must respect and support; this may have the effect of reunifying the Palestinians, Hamas and PNA, Gaza and West Bank (this is an objective assessment, not one necessarily supported by the PNA elite—and certainly not by the US and Israel—whose Fatah awaits to replace Hamas in Gaza)
  • Ultimately, UNSC mediation and intervention may avoid violence or war and maintain momentum towards the resolution of conflict, allowing even the hesitant Western Europeans to get in on the peacemaking act
  • UN takeover of achieving peace between the two parties avoids never-ending half way or transitional measures such as autonomy or provisional borders and unfinished peace, tactics the Israelis use consistently, lethally detrimental to the Palestinians whose goal is a comprehensive peace

The Argument Against Declaration:

  • Israel might see it as a hostile move and may declare its own unilateral borders, which would include all the annexations and those lands not yet annexed, thereby preempting any possibility of the Palestinians recovering all the occupied territories including Arab East Jerusalem. (Note: This is where the Israelis are going now, anyway, except they want to sanctify their expansion with formal Palestinian acceptance in the form of a “peace treaty”)
  • Israel may revert to violence, or stage a provocation as it has endless times since 1948, to subvert any such move or momentum
  • The US, as the preeminent permanent member of the Security Council and, because of domestic politics, hopelessly one sided, would veto any such move; it may also revert to withdrawing aid and imposing punishing sanctions to coerce the Palestinians to bend, which basically means in support of what Israel wants

These arguments imply that declaring a state is smart but that it’s a bad idea because of its consequences. However, those Palestinians who reject such a declaration do so because it is fundamentally inimical to the Palestinian people and their national aspirations. Thus:

  • The US is aiming not for a peace treaty by August 2011, but a framework or accord of sorts delineating the principles, bases, and actualities of a final settlement. After that it’s negotiation time, whose goal is to come to an agreement on the myriad differences; for how long, it’s not known, perhaps years, to achieve some sort of final peace treaty. By that time Israel would have consolidated its expansion
  • Palestinian statehood, the great quest of the Palestinian people for the past 100 years, has, in effect and over the decades, been grotesquely diluted, rapidly since the 1967 occupation, from territorial sovereignty and self-determination to continuing Israeli control and domination by other means, especially via yet another perpetual transitional agreement devoid of sovereign content
  • The US, in line with Israel, is pushing “negotiations” without the framework of international law and conventions and UN resolutions, without even an acknowledgment, much less a commitment, that the end goal is ending the illegal occupation. The US no longer even requires an innocuous, temporary “freeze,” that expansion and colonization stop, including in Arab East Jerusalem, during negotiations, because of Obama’s capitulation to Netanyahu
  • The PLO and its PNA mutation could not achieve independence and sovereignty during two decades of negotiations (since 1990s Oslo), thanks to Israeli obstruction and delay; in fact, annexations and colonial settlements grew considerably during these negotiations. Now, in a miserably weaker, extremely vulnerable position, the Palestinians have virtually no chance of succeeding in ending the occupation
  • Any agreement entered into by Abbas and Fayyad, if, crucially, not put to a referendum, may thus sign away Palestinian national rights: from refugee return to borders to impaired sovereignty to a denuded state, not to mention the permanent spin-off of Gaza and its unending torment. It is vital to understand: an agreement will not change Israel’s control and expansion but may grant it the gift of end-of-conflict without much in return except surrender of Palestinian rights and freedom
  • Such an agreement, deemed satisfying to the Palestinians, will unravel international and civil society support, allowing Israel a yet freer, hidden hand with the Palestinians, now in a Bantustan state, and most probably aggravate Palestinian dependency and captivity under the guise of independence
  • The PA dutifully adheres to the US-Israeli plans to impose a settlement on the Palestinians without popular and democratic support and at the great cost of perpetuating Palestinian divisions. Its decayed, externally shaped institutions and decisions do not represent the Palestinian people’s will, in the occupied territories and everywhere else, and the Palestinians are badly in need of revitalizing democratic, participatory, and accountable institutions that could develop and unify around a strategy for liberation, focused around grass roots organizing in Palestinian society and Palestinian Diaspora communities

Why Declaring A State May Not Succeed:

I believe the Palestinian fate will unfold in the latter direction; that is, determined by the realities summarized under negatives of statehood declaration. For a unilaterally declared state/UN membership to succeed requires the following: True US neutrality—and primacy of American interests over Israel or any other party—between the two sides, and therefore refraining from veto. US commitment to international law and UN resolutions to settle the conflict. Real Israeli commitment to peace, a two state settlement based on UN resolutions, international law, and the Geneva Convention. US abdication of its monopoly on negotiations and the “peace process” to UN mediation. PA elite acceptance of the outcome of democratic elections, even if they lose. Europeans forging ahead in support of state declaration regardless of the US position. The Arab states supporting the Palestinians’ push at the UN regardless of US pressure and threats. In my opinion, these will not happen. It may happen in the next decade, when the US has economically exhausted itself in its external adventures and begins global retrenchment and whose support for Israel will take a back seat to American domestic priorities.

What the Obama Administration May Be Up To:

The apparent ambiguous, low key, but not publicly and officially declared, support of the Obama administration for Palestinian state building and declaration of statehood is real and not real. Embroiled in two wars and sensing a decline in its global primacy, the US military and national security require an equitable resolution to Israel-Palestine, but no US government, because of domestic politics, will draw a line in the sand with the Israelis. The US’s most likely purpose for supporting the Palestinian deadline is to pressure the intransigent Israelis to compromise, and the US doesn’t require much from its erstwhile ally. It’s always easier for the West and authoritarian Arab states to (literally) sacrifice the Palestinians than confront the Israelis. A peace deal would give Obama a great lift with the Jewish establishment in the 2012 presidential elections, because after all, hypothetically, Israel would have come to such peace of its own volition. However, the last thing the US wants is reversion of the conflict to UN mediation. Under UN mediation, the international law and UN resolutions the US abandoned regarding Palestine (since at least Clinton’s time), to Israel’s favor, will be reclaimed. Under US auspices and monopoly, on the other hand, a peace settlement, more easily imposed on the Palestinians, can potentially include Israel’s annexations and colonies (not just “land swaps”) and subsume true Palestinian economic and political viability, much less the issue of refugee return. For Israel, what’s better than such an end of conflict, with the Palestinians recognizing an Israel now in control of 90 percent of historic Palestine and enjoying carte blanche “right” to attack its wretched neighboring Palestine state when it deems fit, as a right of self defense, against “terrorism”? So the US is desperate to conclude a peace deal, or a framework leading to such, through bilateral Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, hence—with Hillary’s constant refrain that only through negotiations can a Palestinian state be founded—its immense pressure on Abbas and company to stay the American-determined course. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are trying their level best to realize their UN option of statehood and membership without eliciting US hostility and active opposition. This is the consequence, for the PNA, of committing itself to the elusive benevolence of Israel’s congenital advocate.

The Real and Imminent Danger for the Palestinians:

As I’ve emphasized on numerous occasions elsewhere, what the Palestinians must concern themselves with most of all is staying on the land, internalizing this as a basic survival imperative. Second, they absolutely must not revert to violent resistance or armed struggle—capabilities they lack as effective political tools anyway—for that would be the green light for Israeli obliteration and erosion of external sympathy and support. Third, they must frame their struggle for what it is, as one for human rights and freedom. The historical Zionist momentum to dispossess them completely is at its most frightful, culminating moment. It’s as potentially dangerous as 1948, especially because of the Zionist fear and urgency of demographic parity and even, according to some demographers, already actualized Palestinian demographic superiority in historic Palestine. The Palestinian people in the occupied territories and elsewhere need all the organized political and moral support that global civil society can give.

The Palestinian Conundrum:

In light of the ineluctable shrinkage of Palestine, its progressive loss to relentless Israeli expansion and colonization for the past 63 years, it’s agonizing to think that something must be done before the Palestinians lose everything as the Israelis are racing against time to gobble up as much as they could.  Therefore, what if one thinks the unthinkable, a last desperate course if nothing, including obtaining UN membership, pans out; and that is, for Palestine to pursue statehood/UN membership even if the American/Israeli imposed cost is a denuded state, a Bantustan?  Realizing a sovereign state, regardless of how weak and small and un-sovereign in practice, affords, at minimum and ideally, the Palestinians legal and political safeguards against Israeli depredations and expansion. Also, over a couple of decades, Israel-Palestine may evolve into a bi-national, federated, or closely cooperative entity anyway because of the sheer force of demographic changes and the positive effects of peace and normalization.  For the two peoples’ destiny, inhabiting such a tiny piece of land, is inseparable. The price, of course is accepting an end-of-conflict peace treaty that gives away Palestinian territory and rights, as explained above, which render them trouble makers and aggressors should they subsequently claim the remainder of the currently occupied Palestinian territories. Another problem is that such a move would represent only the elite and a small minority of the Palestinian people, which may portend future instability. Capitulation, of course, is what the Israelis are after (short of disappearing all the Palestinians) and the Americans are busily obliging them. What the Palestinians agree to and give away, is irreversible. Again, should the Palestinians settle for anything they could get, before they lose everything, in return for a sovereign state of any proportion, abdicating the justice of international law and UN resolutions because, in any case, in the final, long term, karmic (and short term imminent demographic) balance, they’ll end up politically and economically integrating, at some level, with the Israeli Jews in historic Palestine? This is the Palestinian conundrum, and their violent subjugation to it is obscenely, morally wrong and unjust.  (This line of thought implies, inaccurately, the Palestinians have no countervailing strengths to achieve their goals, no options to counter what’s happening to them.  I’ll address this in a future post.) (14 January 2011)

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