The question of Palestine, or rather the question of Palestinian statehood is plaguing the Israeli government and now the pages of the New York Times. In a round table of op-eds Nadia Hijab, Avital Leibovich, Efraim Halevy, Nathan Thrall, Caroline B. Glick, Richard Ottaway, and Omar Barghouti, weigh in on the domino effect of declarations of sovereignty over the occupied territories from the past month. Sweden recognized the state of Palestine, which was followed in a week’s time by the symbolic vote of the British House of Commons and an unexpected nod of approval from France. Indeed while “Palestine” was announced by the governing body of Palestinians, the P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization) back in 1988, this is Western Europe’s first major foray into sizing up the future of Israel/Palestine since Britain’s drafting of the Balfour Declaration in 1917.
While the impact of recognizing a Palestinian state has not caused any sharp or meaningful changes on the ground, and bears no authority to alter the status of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, it is raising questions and puncturing holes into the long-standing, Oslo-initiative two-state framework. In the pages of the Times, for example, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rights experts both shrug over the usefulness of recognizing the state of Palestine.
For the pro-Israel commentators, recognizing Palestine is “premature” and detracts from Israel’s longstanding position of only allowing for a Palestinian state as the fruit of a negotiated agreement. Leibovich, formally the Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson and presently with the American Jewish Committee, thinks recognizing Palestine is preemption,
“Any nation wishing to declare independence should meet three essential elements: a strong central government, control of defined territory and security.”
Leibovich goes on to explain Palestinian efforts are better-spent state-building and addressing Israeli security concerns. But, because “the Palestinian Authority does not yet meet any of them,” she finds them ill-prepared for self-government. Of course prepared or not for emancipation, this line of reasoning is moot as Leibovich herself noted the recognitions were “nonbinding.”
Paternalism aside, Leibovich then outlined a sort of doomsday scenario where the rockets from Hamas could spill over into attacks from the West Bank—and nipping that in the bud takes precedent over any call to statehood, she wrote. The other pro-Israel voices more or less concured. Efraim HaLevy, former Mossad chief wrote,
“There is a distinct possibility that the new ‘state,’ devoid of effective organs, will fail to function and the entire edifice of the Fatah-led ‘government’ will collapse.”
And Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post played it fast and loose and stated, inaccurately that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has never recognized Israel. Therefore, she claimed, he is undeserving of recognition himself.
However, since the P.L.O.’s 1988 declaration of statehood, their official position is for two states, meaning an acceptance of the state of Israel for an out of touch Glick. This position has been re-stated on numerous occasions, in a multitude of mediums.
After publication, the Times made a correction to Glick, The newest version reads, “Mahmoud Abbas has pledged, repeatedly, over decades that he will never, ever recognize Israel as the Jewish state, meaning he will never recognize Israel.” They post-scripted her article with the following note: “An earlier version said Abbas had pledged never to recognize Israel itself.”
While the most convincing argument mustered against Europe’s recognition trend is that Palestine should only come into fruition vis-à-vis negotiations, the argument in favor of statehood is no more convincing. This is because the pro-Palestinian rights analysts are not too keen on recognition of statehood either.
“The problem lies in how Palestinian rights are defined and who is doing the defining,” wrote Nadia Hijab as she notes that while Europe is pledging support to Palestinians on one hand, in the other, “Britain and Sweden’s trade with Israel is on the rise.” Although ultimately she concludes “European recognition of a Palestinian state could well pressure Israel to behave in accordance with international law.”
“If it is the first step toward recognizing the irrefutable right of the Palestinian people to self determination, then it would be a positive contribution,” wrote Omar Barghouti taking a more critical line,
“But, if it is, as implied, solely meant to resuscitate the comatose version of the ‘two state solution’ which, as dictated by Israel, omits basic Palestinian rights, then it would be yet another act of British complicity in bestowing legitimacy on Israel’s unjust order.”
And herein lies the complication of Europe’s recognition of Palestinian statehood. No one is quite sure just what type of state is being recognized. Is it the one based on international law, which guarantees Jerusalem as part of this state and a just outcome for refugees based on return and compensation? Or is it the state of Bantustans threaded together by a convoluted double lane highway system and country roads that run underneath settlements?
However, what is clear is that recognizing Palestine is seen as a strike against Israel. And perhaps it’s not as much about a future independent Palestine as it is Europe’s reprimand for Israel’s summer war in Gaza.