What can change the status quo in Israel/Palestine? This sure can.

by Yaniv Reich on November 7, 2009

New reports suggest that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has reached an agreement with the Obama administration regarding a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state along the green line, i.e. along the ’67 borders, i.e. along borders that would include the half million settlers currently living in the West Bank.

The reports indicated that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has reached a secret understanding with the Obama administration over U.S. recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Such recognition would likely transform any Israeli presence across the Green Line, even in Jerusalem, into an illegal incursion to which the Palestinians would be entitled to engage in measures of self-defense.

In late August Fayyad presented the international community with a detailed plan for building up Palestinian Authority institutions and set a timetable of up to two years for its implementation. Senior Israeli officials said Fayyad’s plan initially met with positive reaction in Jerusalem for its emphasis on institution-building and making security services more efficient.

But some Israeli officials told Haaretz that alongside the clauses reported in the media – which are similar to elements of Netanyahu’s call for “economic peace” between Israel and the Palestinians – Fayyad’s plan also contains a classified, unreleased portion stipulating a unilateral declaration of independence.
Several Israeli officials told Haaretz that Fayyad had spoken to them of positive responses he had received over the plan from prominent EU member states, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Sweden. Fayyad added that he presented the proposal to the U.S. administration and did not receive any signal of opposition in response.

First of all, it must be clear that the settlements even now are, according to international law, “an illegal incursion to which the Palestinians would be entitled to engage in measures of self-defense.” They don’t need to wait for independence to be illegal.

Second, there is no reason to think that Obama, who seems to be at his core terrified of using his power without endless and meaningless gestures of negotiation and unity, would actually take this action. It is hard to understate the Israeli revolution, the hysterical panic, the quite possible civil war, that would occur if Obama pushed this through the UN Security Council against Israel’s wishes. And make no mistake about it: Israelis are simply not ready to give up the West Bank. They might say they want peace, but its one on their terms, which happens to include about 40% of the West Bank.

Third, this might very well be a political stroke of genius, in that few things could motivate Israel to talk “peace” as this development would, but one with a sufficient number of unknown variables to make extreme violence likely. Primary among those unknown variables is the pending battles with the settlers. Its one thing for the settler community to talk tough about their claims to the land when they have the explicit support of half the government and the protection of the entire army. Its another thing entirely for them to uphold their intransigence in the face of being evicted by the Israeli army, or better yet, an international peacekeeping force, and/or face the prospect of living in a new Palestine. To the best of my knowledge, its hard to predict the true level of settler resistance likely to be faced if the Israeli government was unable to make a show out of it because of an absence of any diplomatic channel, which is precisely what US support at the Security Council would mean for unilateral Palestinian independence.

Fourth, even if a Palestinian state is declared along the ’67 borders, the basic facts of dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in ’48 will not have been addressed. Without a politically negotiated (and probably international funded) mechanism for restoring the rights of Palestinian refugees, then the conflict will not disappear.

Fifth, even if an independent Palestine was created tomorrow, Israel would still be an ethnically exclusive state with some elements of democracy. Its “existential” fears about “demographic threats” (from its Arab citizens) would remain. The fundamental paradox of a Jewish so-called democracy does not disappear with an independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza.

I raise these points not because I think this secret plan will necessarily go anywhere. In fact, I would put the odds of Obama having the cojones do this at less than one percent. But its certainly fascinating to let oneself imagine for a moment how quickly this conflict could be transformed if the US stopped “sucking up” to Israel at every (often violent) turn.

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