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20 April 2011

US public supports Palestine statehood

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Israel is resorting to last-ditch efforts to prevent a Palestinian statehood declaration. 
By MJ Rosenberg

The Israeli government is so frightened by the prospect of a Palestinian declaration of statehood that it is considering withdrawing its troops from the West Bank [Reuters]
It becomes clearer every day that Binyamin Netanyahu's government is terrified by the prospect that the Palestinians are planning to unilaterally declare a state later this year. In fact, it is safe to say that no other proposed Palestinian action has ever shaken up any Israeli government the way that the idea of a unilateral declaration has.

According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Netanyahu is so frightened at the prospect of a Palestinian declaration that he is considering withdrawing Israeli forces (not settlers, of course) from the West Bank as an inducement to prevent the Palestinians from acting:

Netanyahu is weighing a withdrawal of Israel Defence Forces troops from the West Bank and a series of other measures to block the "diplomatic tsunami" that may follow international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Netanyahu's fear is well-placed. Here is Haaretz newspaper columnist Ari Shavit describing what would follow a unilateral Palestinian declaration:

At that moment, every Israeli apartment in Jerusalem's French Hill neighbourhood will become illegal. Every military base in the West Bank will be contravening the sovereignty of an independent UN member state. The Palestinians will not be obligated to accept demilitarisation and peace and to recognise the occupation.
That is true. But it is also true that an internationally recognised Palestinian state, with a flag flying at the United Nations, would level the playing field for negotiations.

Ever since Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began in 1993, they have been fundamentally unbalanced. On one side is the most powerful military force in the Middle East, backed to the hilt by the United States. On the other is a stateless people who control no territory, have no military, and are barely surviving economically.

That would change once a Palestinian state is declared. Of course, that new state would be weak and vulnerable, but it would have international law on its side, just as Israel does within the pre-1967 borders.

Diplomatically, the two sides would finally be equal; negotiations between the two sides would be government-to-government, not between a powerful state and a supplicant.

Negotiations would have to take place simply because a Palestinian declaration does not, in and of itself, resolve such issues as mutual security, refugees, Jerusalem, and the rest. It simply ensures that such negotiations would, at long last, be serious.

Of course, a September declaration is no done deal. The Palestinians will first need to achieve unity so that the Palestinian state includes both the West Bank and Gaza.

Although the International Monetary Fund now says that the West Bank alone already could constitute a viable Palestinian state, that is true only economically and not politically. A viable Palestinian state must include Gaza and be contiguous.

Palestinian unity will be difficult to achieve for many reasons, including the deep personal animosity between the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two rival Palestinian factions.

An important first step toward unity would be for Hamas to adhere to a full cease-fire with Israel starting now (the last thing the Palestinian Authority wants is to declare a state that is at war with Israel).

In fact, during the past week Hamas has been sending feelers to Israel about ending the violence between the two sides, which Israel has ignored.

It is not that Israel wants the strikes and counter-strikes to continue, it is that Netanyahu and company understand that a permanent cease-fire will foster the Palestinian unity necessary for a declaration of statehood.

In fact, it is beginning to appear that preventing a unilateral declaration is Israel's primary diplomatic goal, one that informs all its policies relating to Palestinians. (For their part, Palestinians view Israel's nervousness about the prospect of a declaration as confirmation that it is precisely the right strategy to achieve a state and peace with Israel.)

Of course, the Obama administration is likely to do everything it can to thwart the Palestinians' plans. AIPAC is already working on congressional letters calling on Obama to stop the declaration and, no doubt, an overwhelming majority of the House and Senate will sign on. (The 2012 election is looming and candidates and incumbents are highly focused on fundraising.)

The good news is that the United States cannot use its veto to prevent Palestinian recognition by the United Nations. For Palestine, as for Israel in 1947, it is the General Assembly that confers statehood and not the Security Council. The administration would have to use the other tools in its kit to thwart the declaration; it has no veto.

On the other hand, maybe, just maybe, the administration will recognise that a unilateral declaration of statehood could be the one device that would achieve its oft-stated goal in the Middle East: "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security".

American support for Palestinian state

The American people seem to be getting it. According to a poll released on Monday by the right-wing Israel Project, only 51 per cent of Americans oppose a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence. Fifty four per cent favour a Palestinian state achieved through negotiations.

For those familiar with polling on matters relating to Israelis and Palestinians, the results are startling. The percentage of support for the Israeli position is usually in the high 70s, while support for the Palestinians is in the teens. Suddenly there is a major shift, and this in a poll sponsored by an organisation that clearly did not want to see findings like these.

Perhaps the Obama administration will come around too.

The United States should support the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, followed by serious negotiations. The alternative has been tried over and over again and it always fails.

Why not try something that may actually achieve peace and security for two peoples who, like everyone else, are entitled to it?

It is time for President Obama to deliver on the promise he made in Cairo to use his authority not to defend the deadly status quo but to end it.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

You can follow MJ on twitter @MJayRosenberg.

This article was first published by Foreign Policy Matters.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/04/20114137555564355.html#
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An Opposite Opinion
Recognising Palestine?
The efforts of the Palestinian Authority to push for statehood are nothing more than an elaborate farce, writer says.

If historical precedents in Lebanon and Syria are any indication, the declaration of statehood by the Palestinian Authority will have little effect, despite what Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad might say.

What do you do if your decades-long campaign to bring about an independent Palestinian state on those fractions of historic Palestine known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip have resulted in total failure?

The answer seems to be, if you are the Western-sponsored Palestinian Authority (PA) in Israeli-occupied Ramallah, to pretend you have a Palestinian state anyway, and to get as many other countries to join in this charade as possible.

This appears to be the essence of the PA strategy to gain admittance for the "State of Palestine" to the UN General Assembly by September.

Already, the PA is lobbying hard for countries to support the move, and in recent months a number of states, particularly in Latin America, have extended full diplomatic recognition to the Ramallah authority. The New York Times cited diplomats who say that if brought to a vote in the UN General Assembly, the measure would likely pass.

A fantasy 'state'

The PA's push for recognition of a Palestinian state is the diplomatic counterpart to its much-touted "institution-building" and "economic development" efforts which are supposed to create the infrastructure for a future state.

But the institution-building program is nothing more than a mirage, boosted by public relations tricks and good press.

In fact, the main "institutions" the PA has built are the police-state and militia apparatuses used to repress political opposition to the PA and any form of resistance to Israeli occupation. Meanwhile the economy of the West Bank, and the PA itself, remain completely dependent on foreign aid.

UN recognition of a Palestinian make-believe state would be no more meaningful than this fantasy "institution-building", and could push Palestinians even further away from real liberation and self-determination.

Figures from the Ramallah-based PA have justified their UN recognition strategy as a way to bring international pressure to bear on Israel.

"Such recognition would create political and legal pressure on Israel to withdraw its forces from the land of another state that is recognised with the [1967] borders," Ramallah 'foreign minister' Riyad al-Malki told reporters in January.

Similarly, Nabil Shaath, a top Fatah official, explained to the New York Times that if a Palestinian state were recognised by the UN: "Israel would then be in daily violation of the rights of a fellow member state and diplomatic and legal consequences could follow, all of which would be painful for Israel."

But can anyone who has seen how the "international community" functions when it comes to Israel believe such delusional expectations?

Lebanon has been a member state of the United Nations since 1945 and yet this did not prevent Israel from occupying southern Lebanon from 1978 until 2000. Israel's occupation of Lebanon ended not because of any international pressure, but only because the Lebanese resistance drove Israel and its collaborating militias out.

Since its massive bombardment of Lebanon in 2006, Israel has violated Lebanon's sovereignty thousands of times – according to the UN itself. But its constant overflights of Lebanese airspace and kidnapping of Lebanese citizens among other violations has never prompted "diplomatic and legal consequences" to hold Israel accountable.

Similarly, since 1967 Israel has occupied the Golan Heights, which belong to Syria (also a UN member since 1945). There has been virtually no armed resistance on the Golan Heights nor has there been any international pressure for Israel to withdraw or for Syrian refugees to return to their homes.

Even after Israel illegally annexed the territory in 1981 – a move condemned by the UN Security Council – the international community's silence has allowed Israel's colonisation of the Golan Heights to continue unabated.

Why would the situation in the "State of Palestine" be any different?

'Paper' victories

The effort to seek diplomatic recognition for an imaginary Palestinian state on a fraction of historic Palestine is a strategy of desperation from a Palestinian leadership that has run out of options, lost its legitimacy, and become a serious obstacle in the way of Palestinians regaining their rights.

Relying heavily on diplomatic forums and the good will of the "international community" has also been tried before and produced no results. Recall that in 2004, the PA expended enormous efforts to obtain an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague that Israel's apartheid wall in the West Bank is illegal and must be torn down.

But beyond obtaining the ruling, the PA had absolutely no strategy to mobilise Palestinians and their allies to pressure the world to actually implement the decision. It was a paper victory that resulted in no change on the ground.

Indeed, there is significant evidence that while the PA's diplomatic corps and negotiators were busy in The Hague, the leadership sought to stifle attempts by Palestinian civil society organisations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to organise around and bring attention to the ICJ ruling, almost certainly due to pressure by Israel and the United States.

Would the government of an "independent Palestine" still under Israeli occupation and reliant on aid from the US and EU be able to stand similar pressure in the future? The PA's record to date offers no basis for optimism.

In spite of these efforts, the ICJ opinion did have one important consequence. It was not the PA or the defunct Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that began to mobilise.

Rather, amid the inaction from world governments to enforce the ICJ ruling, Palestinian civil society independently issued the 2005 Palestinian Call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

This campaign seeks to isolate Israel and pressure it to respect Palestinian rights and international law, through popular boycotts similar to those that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Rather than fetishising "statehood", the BDS campaign focuses on rights and realities: it calls for an end to Israel's occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands conquered in 1967; full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respect for and implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees. These demands are all fully consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law.

The PA has never endorsed this campaign, and in fact has sought to distract from and undermine it by calling only for a half-hearted boycott of Israeli settlement goods while actively promoting trade with Israel in violation of the BDS call.

Reduxing the bantustans

Many have accurately likened the Palestinian "state" envisaged by the PA and its sponsors to the "bantustans" of apartheid South Africa.

The bantustans were nominally independent states set up by the apartheid regime to grant "citizenship" to blacks, as a way to derail demands for true equality.

World governments did not fall for the trick, and refused to recognise the bantustans because they understood that diplomatic recognition for these entities would actually set back the struggle to end South African apartheid.

Not coincidentally, the only country to have had extensive dealings with the bantustans – allowing them to open diplomatic missions and frequently receiving their leaders – was Israel. Israel saw the bantustans as a model for how it would one day manage the Palestinians.

Recognition of a Palestinian "state" under Israeli occupation would certainly solidify and perpetuate the privileges and positions of unelected PA officials, while doing nothing to change the conditions or restore the rights of millions of Palestinians, not just in the territories occupied in the June 1967 war, but within Israel, and in the diaspora.

Far from increasing international pressure on Israel, it may even allow states that have utterly failed in their duty to hold Israel accountable to international law to wash their hands of the question of Palestine, under the mantro of "we recognised Palestine, what more do you want from us?"

Palestinians and their allies should not be distracted by this international theatre of the absurd, but should focus on building wider and deeper BDS campaigns to end Israeli apartheid everywhere that it exists, once and for all.

Ali Abunimah is author of One Country, A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and is a contributor to The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. He is a co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and a policy adviser with Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
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