How to Create a Palestinian State, 101
The Palestinian leadership seems caught in limbo these days, alternating between threats to tear down the Palestinian Authority and promises to build up the institutions of a nascent Palestinian state, which will then seek international recognition with or without Israeli consent. Prime Minister Fayyad and the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat mentioned this possibility over ...
The Palestinian leadership seems caught in limbo these days, alternating between threats to tear down the Palestinian Authority and promises to build up the institutions of a nascent Palestinian state, which will then seek international recognition with or without Israeli consent. Prime Minister Fayyad and the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat mentioned this possibility over the weekend, with Erekat suggesting that the Palestinian Authority is building a case for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations Security Council.
If the PA goes through with this plan, it will be the second time a Palestinian state has been declared. The first was on Nov. 15, 1988, when Yasser Arafat unilaterally declared Palestinian independence. Around 100 countries recognized the new Palestinian state, but the declaration had no force on the ground. Israel, cracking down during the First Intifada, maintained a tight grip on all the functions normally performed by a state: they enforced their laws, strictly controlled movement around the West Bank and Gaza, and regulated commerce and trade. The new Palestinian state existed only on paper.
I asked Ghassan Khatib, who was a member of the Palestinian delegation to the 1991 Madrid peace conference and served as the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Labor in 2002, what it would take for a unilateral declaration of statehood to actually have an impact on the ground. He made the case that many of the institutions required for a viable Palestinian state have been established in the last several years. “We have a public financial system that has been recognized by the World Bank and the IMF, and is one of the best systems in the region,” he noted. “We have a security system that has been proving itself, and even the Israelis have expressed satisfaction with [its] professionalism.”
Israeli officials have already threatened that a unilateral declaration of statehood would be met with an “appropriate Israeli response.” They would have a number of weapons at their disposal, most notably the ability to prevent a Palestinian state from providing a viable economic future for its citizens. “[T]he Israeli occupation is not allowing us to deal freely with our natural resources, or allowing us to move freely inside the territories or to the territories outside,” said Khatib. There is no airport in the West Bank – though Prime Minister Fayyad’s ambitious blueprint for a Palestinian state within two years contains a plan to construct an airport in the Jordan Valley. Because Israel geographically separates Gaza and the West Bank, Israel could easily strangle trade between the two territories and cut off trade through the port in Gaza. And that’s not even mentioning Hamas, which has already come out in opposition to the PA’s plan.
But Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and Saeb Erekat appear to be gambling that they can go over the heads of both Israel and Hamas by appealing directly to the United Nations Security Council. If they can present a viable plan for maintaining security and developing effective institutions for a Palestinian state, the Obama administration may yet be convinced not to exercise its veto and bless the declaration of statehood. If the Security Council throws its support behind the plan, Israel would be hard-pressed to kill the new Palestinian state in its infancy. That’s a lot of “ifs,” to be sure, but there is just a chance that the Palestinian leadership may emerge from the current limbo looking as if they had a plan all along.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images
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