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Noteworthy milestones toward a Palestinian state


This week, key international organizations have come closer to endorsing Palestinian readiness for an independent state. Notably, in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting in Brussels of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), a 12-member committee of the European Union and United States, which coordinates development assistance to the Palestinians meeting, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process all issued favorable reports about Palestinian readiness for statehood.  

UN Report 

According to a UN Press Release today, the UN report, titled “Palestinian state-building: A Decisive Period,” “reviews developments in six key areas where the UN is most engaged and able to assess progress:  

  • governance
  • rule of law and human rights
  • livelihoods
  • education and culture
  • health
  • social protection
  • infrastructure and water

In each sector, the report provides a detailed assessment of progress to date in light of strong Palestinian reform efforts and donor engagement. The report notes Israeli measures to facilitate movement and access which have also supported economic activity. “ 

The introduction to the 38-page UN report states (emphasis in the original): 

The report concludes that, in the limited territory under its control and within the constraints on the ground imposed by unresolved political issues, the PA has accelerated progress in improving its governmental functions. In six areas(1) where the UN is most engaged, governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state. This reaffirms the World Bank’s assessment in September 2010, noted by the Quartet, that ‘if the PA maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future’. This is a significant achievement arising from the commitment of the PA and strong donor backing. In parallel, Israeli measures to facilitate movement and access have also supported economic activity.

It goes on to say (emphasis in the original), 

Despite the progress achieved, the key constraints to the existence and successful functioning of the institutions of a potential State of Palestine arise primarily from the persistence of occupation and the unresolved issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, together with the continuing Palestinian divide, deprives the PA of the ability to extend its institutional authority to areas outside its reach, and of key attributes of statehood which enable a government to deliver to its people. Accordingly, the institutional achievements of the Palestinian state- building agenda are approaching their limits within the political and physical space currently available, precisely at the time that it is approaching its target date for completion. 

In particular, whilst some progress has been achieved on the ground, including through a package of Israeli measures agreed by Prime Minister (PM) Netanyahu and Quartet Representative (QR) Blair on 4 February,2 space for real progress regarding Area C and East Jerusalem remains very limited due to persistent measures of occupation, the lack of sufficient meaningful Israeli enablement steps on the ground on these issues, and the lack of progress in resolving final status issues in Israeli-Palestinian political negotiations. Nor is space available in Gaza due to the Palestinian divide. These areas remain outside of the control of the PA, but essential to building a Palestinian state. 

In the West Bank, improvement of security, coupled with improvements in access for goods and people in a number of areas, was recorded since the AHLC last met, as were some Government of Israel (GoI) efforts to facilitate access to basic services. However, in Area C and East Jerusalem in particular, measures of occupation continue to challenge Palestinian movement and access, hinder basic service provision to Palestinians, and undermine the development of resources. Human rights concerns persist on many fronts related to the conditions of the Palestinians under occupation, while security incidents of several kinds continue to affect both Israelis and Palestinians. The current situation continues to constrict sustainable economic growth, development, equity in service delivery, and infrastructure development – and the confidence of citizens in the ability of their government to ensure their basic rights. This report therefore concludes that, notwithstanding GoI [Government of Israel] steps to facilitate economic growth and some development, measures of occupation which stifle Palestinian life are not being fundamentally rolled back by more far reaching Israeli actions to match the progress of the state-building programme. 

It is vitally important that the state-building and political processes be brought into alignment by September 2011. This remains the PA target date for completion of institutional readiness for statehood supported by the Quartet, complementing the target set by the parties in September 2010 for seeking a negotiated framework agreement on permanent status within one year. In this context, it is of the utmost importance that the parties overcome the current impasse and return to negotiations to seek a framework agreement on permanent status that resolves all core issues, ends the occupation that began in 1967, ends the conflict and realizes the two State solution, and the UN will continue to engage within the framework of the Quartet to further this vital objective. On the ground, to advance the agenda of the AHLC, it is essential that the PA continues to implement its agenda and that these efforts are matched by more far-reaching Israeli measures to facilitate economic and institutional progress than those taken to date. The report therefore concludes that the primary focus as we enter the final months of the Programme of the Thirteenth Government is to address the physical and political factors that constrain this Programme from realising its full potential.

According to a UN Press Release today

The report, “Palestinian State-building: A Decisive Period”, has been prepared for the forthcoming meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in Brussels on 13 April 2011. The report reviews progress in implementing the PA’s August 2009 Programme of the Thirteenth Government, which is backed by the Quartet. The programme seeks to ensure as its target, Palestinian institutional readiness for statehood within two years. United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Serry, whose office UNSCO prepared the report, said today, “I commend what President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have achieved. This is a decisive period, as we approach the September 2011 target for the PA’s institutions to be ready for statehood. It is also the target set by the parties to reach a negotiated permanent status agreement to create a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.” 

Commenting on what needs to happen in the months ahead, Mr. Serry continued, ”The PA is clearly on track and I know is committed to continuing its hard work. However the institutional achievements of the Palestinian state-building agenda are approaching their limits within the political and physical space currently available, precisely at the time when it is approaching its target date for completion. No one should underestimate what is at stake now. What we urgently need are further steps on the ground that can enable a broadening of this progress. I believe Israel needs to roll back measures of occupation to match the PA’s achievements. I also stress the urgent need for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations on a two-state solution to resume, if the state building and political tracks are to come together by September.”

US Contribution 

In light of the report’s recommendation that “it is of the utmost importance that the parties overcome the current impasse and return to negotiations to seek a framework agreement on permanent status” it is noteworthy that the United States yesterday blocked an initiative made by Britain, France, and Germany “to have the UN and the EU propose a settlement text at a meeting of the “Quartet” (the U.S., UN, EU and Russia) – tentatively scheduled to take place Friday in Berlin on the sidelines of a NATO ministerial meeting.” According to Haaretz, “a U.S. official said the Obama administration didn’t think a Quartet meeting would produce anything useful in terms of getting the talks restarted.

“It wasn’t the right time,” the official said.”

The US disinterest resulted in the Quartet meeting being postponed. 

World Bank and International Monetary Fund Reports 

The UN report comes on the heels of a similar reports issued last week by the World Bank, which reaffirmed that “ “if the PA maintains its performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future” and the International Monetary Fund, which “said for the first time that it viewed the authority as “now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state, given its solid track record in reforms and institution-building in the public finance and financial areas” and concluded, “The PA is now able to conduct the sound economic policies expected of a future well-functioning Palestinian state.” 

Strengthened by all weighty supports, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will go before the AHLC tomorrow and, according to Haaretz:

He will present facts and figures to show how his Palestinian Authority has used hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance over the past two years to create health, education, energy, water, security, justice and housing services.  

“I believe that our governing institutions have now reached a high state of readiness to assume all the responsibilities that will come with full sovereignty on the entire Palestinian occupied territory,” Fayyad says in the 63-page document.  

The prime minister stresses, however, that unless Israel’s military occupation comes to an end, these achievements cannot go far enough.  

“Without a change to the status quo, the positive impact of internal reforms to build a strong and healthy economy will be limited in both scope and sustainability,” the report says.

Israel’s Response 

Haaretz reports that in response to the snowballing Palestinian diplomatic and financial initiatives, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is weighing a variety of options, among them a unilateral pullout of the IDF from some areas of the West Bank without evacuating any settlements. According to Haaretz:

“I have not decided what to say, and when to say it….”But two questions should be asked. The first, whether it is at all possible to resume negotiations with the Palestinians? The second question is what actions can be undertaken if resumption of negotiations proves impossible?” 

Conversations with two Israeli sources with ties to Netanyahu’s bureau led to the conclusion that there are three main ideas being considered.  

The first involves another withdrawal in the West Bank, which would see the IDF forces redeploy and security responsibility handed over to the Palestinian Authority. This would mean that in Area B, where Israel has security responsibility and the Palestinians civilian policing functions, full control would be ceded to the PA. In addition, some parts of Area C, where Israel has complete control, will become Area B.  

Attorney Isaac Molcho, who advises the prime minister, raised this idea in a meeting with emissaries of the Quartet in Jerusalem last week.  

Netanyahu is still uncertain to what extent the withdrawal would be, but it will probably not include the evacuation of settlements.

The second idea is to seek an international umbrella in the form of an international conference, in which both Israel and the Palestinian Authority would participate, and which would call for a resumption of negotiations. Even though Netanyahu’s advisers have raised the idea before their international interlocutors, the likelihood for holding such a meet is minimal. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appears able to decide on the Terms of Reference or, in lay terms, the principles of the conference.  

The third idea is to use diplomatic pressure on Western countries (the U.S., the European Union, Canada, Australia and others) against the recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly.  

Netanyahu told EU ambassadors on Wednesday that more than 100 countries, mostly from the developing world, will recognize a Palestinian state. He said that he wants to rally democracies who share values with Israel against the move.  

“Perhaps the Palestinians will have a majority in the UN, but what matters is not only the quantity but also the quality,” Netanyahu said.  

The Palestinians are hoping that if the General Assembly votes in favor of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, they will then be able to take up a seat as a full member of the United Nations. This will change the situation into a conflict in which Israel is occupying another country, which may result in severe international sanctions against Israel.  

Netanyahu has said in private talks that he does not “take lightly” the Palestinian move at the UN, “but we should also not exaggerate its implications.”

In response, the YESHA Council of settlers yesterday angrily castigated Netanyahu:

“Instead of behaving with a cool head and reason, Israel is radiating panic,” Yesha said in a statement.

According to Yesha, Israel’s “panic” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, inasmuch as the Arab world and the international community can sense this panic and as therefore intensify their demands on Israel.

The council added that “the correct path is to clarify that unilateral Palestinian steps will be met with our own unilateral steps, such as the assumption of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria or parts of it, in parallel with applying diplomatic, economic, security and other pressures available to Israel.”

These developments portend an interesting summer.

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