Thursday, April 28, 2011

Will Palestine Be Born This Fall?

By Daoud Kuttab
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 28/04/2011
The chances for the birth of a Palestinian state this fall appear to be 50-50. The world community, including the US, seems to favour the idea, but there is clearly a lack of political will and muscle that would push Israel to seriously negotiate the emergence of Palestine. At the same time, major countries, especially the US, do not show enthusiasm for a unilateral declaration coupled with a UN birth certificate.

Momentum for the emergence of a Palestinian state this fall came from two sources. It began two years ago with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s serious plan towards statehood. On the other hand, speaking at the UN General Assembly last year, US President Barack Obama expressed support for this process by stating that Palestine should become a full member of the UN by the fall of 2011.

This American green light failed to move the Netanyahu government towards serious negotiations. When the Americans and the rest of the world community confirmed the need for Israel to stop settling in areas earmarked for Palestine, the Israelis considered such a call a precondition for negotiations and refused to extend a 10-month freeze of settlement activities.

The ups and downs of the political negotiations didn’t deter Fayyad, who continued implementing his plan without wavering. His plan was invigorated and has since won the approval of the World Bank and major Latin American and European countries. France has made it clear that it will recognise Palestine once it is announced. Norway, Spain and Italy made positive indications in favour of Palestinian statehood.

Israel’s failure to adhere to the requirements of peace talks and America’s reluctance to adopt the unilateral Palestinian plans affected the effectiveness of the Quartet, which is made up of the US, the UN, Europe and Russia. The past two high-level meetings of the Quartet were postponed because of differences among them over the public declaration that the 1967 borders should constitute the main reference point for the state of Palestine.

The failure of the peace talks because of Israel’s intransigence and the inability of the Quartet, coupled with the world praise for the performance of the Fayyad government, have all paved the way for the possible unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Over 140 countries have indicated that they would support such a declaration when it comes up for a vote at the UN. This number might go even higher once the reluctant countries of Europe make up their mind.

The US, which has always been Israel’s ally, has kept its position to itself. Both the US president and the Israeli prime minister indicated that they plan to make major speeches on the issue. Number two Republican in Congress, Eric Cantor, who seems to have more loyalty to Israel than to his own government, pushed for and succeeded in getting the Congress to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the joint session of Congress.

The unusual invitation, reserved normally for respected world leaders, has been criticised in many circles, including in Israel, where pundits said that Netanyahu should address his own people of any new plan before addressing the American people.

Politically, Palestinian leaders have been trying hard to convince the Israelis of their commitment to peace. The Palestinian president has publicly opposed any militarisation of any anti-Israeli protest and has declared his opposition to a third Intifada. But the Palestinian public is concerned that this Palestinian leadership’s moderate position will be taken as a weakness rather than a strength, which is bound to lead to debates about future steps and practical moves on the ground.

The big question is what will happen the day after the unilateral declaration and the world support for it. Israel’s own declaration, on May 15, 1948, has been given as an example of what might happen.

Although no major war is expected following the declaration, an incident that took place last week might indicate what lies ahead. An Israeli vehicle carrying settlers entered the Palestinian city of Nablus without any coordination with the Palestinian Authority and when settlers refused to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the area where Joseph’s tomb is located, an altercation took place that led to an Israeli settler getting killed by a Palestinian policeman stationed in the area.

For some time, the Palestinian security forces have been criticised for being ineffective in defending Palestinians and their interests. Tens of cases in which Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians, destroyed property and burnt olive trees while the Palestinian police stood idle by not willing to intervene were documented. Some question whether the Palestinian police force, as well as the entire Palestinian public, will become part of the political equation when the Palestinian state is declared.

The coming fall will tell whether the present movements for freedom and an end to dictatorship in the Arab world will also apply to Palestinians who are yearning for the end of the four-decade-old foreign military occupation.

The will and the determination of the Palestinians and of the international community will determine whether Palestine will become a free and independent state alongside a secure Israel or whether occupation will be allowed to continue without a political price to the occupier.

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