As PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas proceeds full steam ahead with plans to seek a unilateral declaration of a PA state using the 1948 armistice lines for its borders by the United Nations some observers say he may be invoking the law of unintended consequences.
The Opposite Effect?
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for the US State Department, wrote in the Washington Post on April 14, “The result will be the opposite of what the Palestinians want: forcing the United States to oppose Palestinians’ efforts, energizing Congress to restrict much-needed assistance to Palestinian institution-building, and probably prompting Israel to do very real (and dumb) things on the ground.”
Nathan Brown, a political scientist specializing in Arab politics at George Washington University in the US said PA leaders have no choice but to reach a negotiated settlement with Israel.
“I think unilateralism is a tactic rather than a strategy for the Palestinians,” Brown told The Media Line. “At this moment they see no prospects of meaningful peace negotiations with the current Israeli government or the American administration. So they are garnering international support to put pressure on Israel and the US.”
Robbi Sabel, and international law expert at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said, also on The Media Line, “If the Palestinians unilaterally declare statehood, what we are left with is a border dispute.”
Sabel said one of the biggest consequences a unilateral statehood declaration may entail is the “right of return” for Arabs in neighboring countries who claim homes inside Israel.
The Hidden Cost of Victory: Dollars and Cents
But success for Abbas in the form of unilateral declaration of PA statehood by the UN may impact US aid not only to the PA, but to the UN as well.
White House Middle East Adviser Dennis Ross said two weeks ago Washington is “firmly opposed” to a unilateral declaration of a PA state by the UN. “A unilateral declaration would be a violation of the Oslo peace accords,” Ross said.
“That would be a very, very bad thing to do,” Rep. Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid, said last week. The Texas Republican clarified “It will” affect US aid to the Palestinian Authority, adding, “It would be a very serious misstep. It also could affect our funding at the UN.”
A democratic aid serving on Granger’s committee told reporters, “The aid to the Palestinians includes the US’s understanding the Palestinians will continue to keep pursuing peace with Israel as per the Oslo agreement. If they were to unilaterally declare a state, they would be violating that understanding. I think there’s no question that if they were to unilaterally declare a state, it would affect our aid.”
The US has contributed to the billions of dollars in foreign aid to the PA over the past four years and has played a major role in training its security forces.
The Palestinian Authority is continuing its unilateral track in contravention of the Oslo accords that created it, the Associated Press reports.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the coming months with the aim of convincing them to recognize a PA state with the 1948 armistice lines as its borders and eastern Jerusalem as its capital.
During Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Germany Merkel rejected the notion of unilateral moves on the part of the PA, but also expressed disappointment when the United States canceled a resumption of talks by the Quartet saying the time was inopportune.
PA negotiator Nabil Sha’ath said Tuesday the PA is determined to pursue its efforts to ask the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state in September. In that vein, he said, the PA would continue building state institutions while moving to isolate Israel in the international arena.
“By September,” Sha’ath predicted for the London-based Asharq Al-Aswat, “We would have won the recognition of two-thirds of the UN members. This will entitle us to go to the Security Council and demand full membership.”
He specifically named France, Sweden, and Ireland as western nations who would recognize the PA’s unilateral bid for statehood. Sha’ath simultaneously warned that, if the US were to thwart the PA’s moves through a veto, they would take their case to the UN General Assembly.
“Then we could become a member with full rights in the General Assembly,” Sha’ath said. “Which means that the independent state of Palestine, which is a UN member, would have its territories occupied by another UN member.”
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef said the PA is also holding consultations with several of Arab and Islamic countries to present to the Security Council another resolution condemning the settlements as illegal, but noted the US had vetoed a similar move a few weeks ago.
Former PLO Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants peace with the Palestinians, he “must start preparing his people for ending occupation.” A unilateral declaration of statehood circumvents negotiations, compromise and a peace agreement.
Erekat said that Netanyahu must tell his people that Israel will have to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, recognize the state of Palestine with east Jerusalem as its capital and solve the various final status issues if it wants peace with Arabs in Judea and Samaria.
Erekat also said he hoped the Quartet would immediately recognize the 1948 armistice lines as the basis for the two-state solution. “There is no political or legal justification for the committee not to take such an important step,” Erekat said. “Recognition of the state of Palestine would contribute to the cause of peace and would be regarded as a victory for international law.”
Erekat’s reference to Quartet recognition comes as Western diplomats increase pressure on Israel to reach a settlement despite the PA’s abject refusal to come to the negotiating table. On Western diplomat in Israel told the LA Times, “The Israelis are facing a bit of pressure with the way things are proceeding. People are starting to look to the US for some kind of action.”
The United States, a key member of the Quartet, has traditionally rejected the 1948 armistice lines as a basis for a peace settlement between the PA and Israel insisting a ‘lasting peace’ must be based on a negotiated settlement between the two parties and not an externally imposed solution.
According to several international observers the US postponed the latest Quartet meeting due to concerns over an EU peace plan. At the same time, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “The status quo between Palestinians and Israelis is no more sustainable than the political systems that have crumbled in recent months.”
Clinton said she intended to bring pressure on both Israel and the PA to reach a final status agreement.
For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently reiterated unilateral moves by the PA would “only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”
He said Sunday the core issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the PA leadership’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State even, as Netanyahu claimed, Israel is ready to recognize a ‘Palestinian State.’
Netanyahu recently told his cabinet Sunday he would use his upcoming trip to address the US Congress as, “an opportunity to present Israel’s political and security principles, following dramatic changes in the region and in light of our national interest to ensure our peaceful and secure future.”
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