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Independent Palestinian State, and then what?

Assuming, for the sake of the question headlining this post, that an independent Palestinian state will become a reality one day soon. A reality to which Israel strongly objects, since the idea being spread around now is to do it unilaterally—a la Ben Gurion, actually—through the UN General Assembly, and regardless of the peace process; a dead horse in the middle of the desert anyhow, for all intents and purposes.

But let’s backtrack a minute. Behind the idea, or is it already a fully formed move, are two main forces in the Palestinian camp: The first is the realization that the new Obama administration, with all its good intentions and loud declarations (i.e. Obama’s first international major speech in Cairo), has failed miserably so far in forcing Israel into freezing all settlement activities in the disputed territories of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In a not so diplomatic term, what Netanyahu has done was to show the American President his middle finger. And in so doing, he has also achieved his main goal as of today, which is to continue with the current settlement policy and peace negotiation stalemate. In turn, this state of affairs and statues quo has frustrated Abbas and the Palestinian side, leaving them no option but to seek a unilateral solution.

The second force is within the Palestinian government, where a moderate voice has surfaced in the form of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Quietly but deliberately, this American educated man has been working to improve the lives of the Palestinian population, and has in progress a two-year plan for completing work on all the institutions needed for a fully fledged state. By that time, the second half of 2011, the push to secure formal UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders supposes to come to fruition. Such a move, which informally enjoys the support of the Arab League and over a hundred UN nations, is turning the table upside down on both the Israelis and the Americans. And quite possibly forces upon them a change of strategy.

I see a couple of scenarios plausible on both sides, should this process gain momentum towards a UN General Assembly vote. As for Israel, this move in a way seizes the initiative away from it for the first time in a long time, and forces the government to do one of two things. If indeed Israel sees it as the wrong move for its interests, as indeed President Shimon Peres declared lately in Brazil—“A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It’s impossible and it will not work.”—it may decide it’s better to give in to the Obama administration’s demand to freeze all settlements activity, as an opening gambit to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and in so doing derail the cart of the unilateral independence process. (Indeed last Wednesday, bowing finally to the American pressure, the Israeli government has approved a 10 months freeze on new West Bank settlement construction, excluding East Jerusalem.) 

If, on the other hand, a realization will form and a decision prevail that this move is in fact better for Israel’s interest, then Netanyahu may allow it to continue without too much objection. Voices in Israel are heard, suggesting a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians and approval by the UN, will unable Israel to declare its own unilateral decisions. In other words, solidifying the separation wall it is still building as the true, permanent border between the two states, and enclosing within it—formally annexing—the more populous Jewish areas of the West Bank, including of course East Jerusalem. This will secure Israel’s intentions and actions since the war of 1967, but at the same time will also secure the continuation of the “forever war.”

The Americans, on their part, will also be faced with two options. If they see this move as a good one, and maybe a way out of the current Middle East conundrum, they may well allow it to progress further, so much so as to not even object to it in the UN Security Council, and not veto this resolution on the outset. This will of course punish Israel severely, but at last will allow the Obama administration to show some real muscles, and may twist Netanyahu’s arm into some real concessions toward peace.

In case the administration sees it as the wrong move on the Palestinian issue, and in their larger Middle East and global outlook, than it gives them a bigger stick to wave at Israel. In other words, freeze all settlement activity immediately—including East Jerusalem—and come to the negotiation table, or we are supporting this move by the Palestinians. This indeed may finally force Israel to reconsider and reevaluate its policy, and to favor maybe—just maybe—peace over continuation of settlements and occupation, and the eternal rule over other people.


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