US not serious about statehood for Palestine

In the wake of the collapse of US-brokered negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, the Obama administration has not come up with a serious alternative for achieving the emergence of a Palestinian state.

The US wasted two valuable years failing to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to halt colony construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as show of good faith to the Palestinian side ahead negotiations on Jerusalem, colonies, borders, resources and Palestinian refugees.

While President Barack Obama is trying to come up with a viable ‘Plan B’, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is moving ahead with its own. This consists of three initiatives on the diplomatic front which are designed to internationalise the Palestinian quest for statehood.

First, the PA has called upon European states to upgrade its diplomatic recognition. Last week Norway accorded the Palestinian representative in Oslo the status of ambassador.  While Spain and France had already raised representation, other European states are expected to follow suit.

Global support

By granting the Palestinian representatives in European capitals the status of full ambassadors, countries taking this step recognise, de facto, Palestine as a fully fledged state although Palestinians have not yet attained this goal.

Second, the PA has been pressing Latin American countries to recognise Palestine within the borders of 1967, ie, before Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. So far Brazil, which led the way, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Ecuador have extended such recognition. Israel is lobbying Mexico and Chile to reject recognition but Chilean senators have called on the government to take this step.

Recognition of the borders of the Palestinian state is highly significant at this time. While more than 100 countries recognised the Palestine National Council’s 1988 declaration of independence, some did not specify the territory covered by this declaration or even accept Palestinian statehood. Therefore, by recognising Palestine within the 1967 boundaries, these countries step up pressure on Israel to end the illegal occupation and withdraw its troops and colonists.

Furthermore, every grant of recognition of Palestine in East  Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza de-legitimises Israel’s presence in these areas. The international community as a whole does not accept Israel’s claim to the territories conquered in 1967 and argues that  the Israeli border lies along the ceasefire lines of 1948. Even the US, Israel’s subservient ally, holds that changes in the line must come as a result of negotiations with the Palestinians.

Third, the PA is urging the Arab League to table a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli colony construction.  This has been postponed until the new year when the US is no longer president of the Council and Bosnia-Herzegovina becomes chairman. The Palestinians want to see Security Council condemnation, pressure on Israel to halt colonisation, and the imposition of sanctions if it refuses to do so. Washington is putting pressure on the Arabs to drop the idea. Such a resolution would not contradict US policy and would put the administration in difficult situation because casting a veto would negate its own stance.

A fourth, domestic element of ‘Plan B’ was adopted by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad originally called for a unilateral  declaration of statehood by this deadline but may, under US pressure, retreat. If, however, no state materialises, he will lose all credibility with the Palestinian populace which already dismisses the efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas to forge peace with Israel.

Meanwhile, on the ground, Israel continues to expropriate Palestinian land, build colonies, and force Palestinians living in the countryside to relocate to urban centres. This policy has displaced 31 per cent of Palestinians living in areas under total Israeli control since 2000 and squeezed Palestinians living under PA administration into tight, disconnected enclaves controlled by Israel.

It is bitterly ironic that while more and more Palestinian land is being appropriated by Israel, more and more countries are recognising Palestinian sovereignty over that land. While Israelis stake their claim by building on facts on the ground, Palestinians seek to convince the international community to use moral pressure on Israel to cede the 1967 territories.

The collapse of the US effort has convinced some leaders that Washington can no longer be in control of the peace process. Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, who initiated the Latin American effort to secure full recognition for Palestine, summed up the situation when he stated, “There will not be peace in West Asia as long as the US is the guardian of peace. It is necessary to involve other countries in negotiations.”

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