Palestinian Statehood – a Chance for Israel?

US president Barack Obama proposed an independent Palestinian state in the borders of 1967 to Israel. Following that, the congress invited Israeli prime minister Netanyahu to speak before it – as one of only four foreign dignitaries to talk twice in a joint session -, and he refuted every compromise.

On the other hand, Palestinian president Abbas will unilaterally declare independency from Israel this fall – and might just succeed. An analysis – and speculation – about what could turn out to be a diplomatic masterpiece.

By Ralf Hagen, Saarland, F.R.G.

I confess frankly that I will speculate. Historians don’t tire to stress that speculation is not their business – normally right before claiming, ‚had Roosevelt not done…‘, ‚had Stauffenberg succeeded…‘, and so on. A rose by any other name.

This analysis could be dispelled very quickly by developments. I could be totally off the mark, and it all will come out this fall. But I take this risk. Who analyses may err.

Situation Report

February, 2011. The peace process, having never again regained momentum since the murder of Itzhak Rabin, has reached an all-time low. The Palestinian political spectrum is deeply divided between Hamas, controlling Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank. The Arab Spring has swayed Tunisian and Egypt governments, with ongoing fights in Syria and Libya. Throughout all of the Arab world, people demand democracy and prosperity.

Both leaders in Palestine must have realised that the conflict with Israel will make them immune to those same demands by their people only for so long. The famous saying attributed to Michail Gorbachev – „Who comes late, will be punished by life“ – is as right now in the Arab world as it was in Eastern Europe 20 years ago.

But the Arab Spring is also an opportunity, perhaps one that will never again open in the foreseeable future. It’s now or never; and it’s all or nothing. Only time will tell who exactly was involved, who is given „plausible deniability“, and who saw the signs and sprang on the train opportunistically.

This february, Hamas and Fatah reconciliated into a „government of unity“. This step was criticised by Germany’s Angela Merkel, unlike the last reconciliation attempt in 2007; both the German social-democratic opposition as well as France saw this as an opportunity, however. Israel seems to be shocked.

Support comes not only from European states, but also from Egypt’s new leadership – which may have played a key role in moderating a Fatah-Hamas-compromise – but also from Jordan. Again, Israel sees this mostly as a sign of loss of support.

US president Barack Obama, in late May, marked the borders pre-1967 as the basis for talks about a Palestinian state and advertised their support in Europe.

Send in the Clown

From this setup, the ball was in the Israeli government’s court. The USA is by far the most important ally of Israel. In 1978, while Anwar as-Saddat delivered – quite literally – profound artillery preparative fire, the peace accord was signed in Camp David, and it can well be argued that it took all of the USA’s political impact to get a man like Menachem Begin to sign it. Any diplomatic plan has to take the US political situation into account; Carter, Clinton or (perhaps) Obama will not hesitate to put pressure on Israel, Reagan or Bush unconditionally supported everything Israeli.

Netanyahu was called for a reaction; it is well established political ritual that the first one was one of rejection, which in turn will be met with Palestinian outrage. That’s just haggling in the political bazaar. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Netanyahu then went to America. After the initial shock of Obama’s demand, the president rectified some of it in a second speech to AIPAC. Building upon this, Netanyahu could propose a compromise – and things went downhill from there. He confrontatively rebuked Obama, citing concerns of Palestinian terrorism and calling the 1967 borders indefensible. While a river is a natural boundary and so, tactically, one of the best lines of defense to be found, Netanyahu states that Palestinian rocket emplacements along the 1967 border could reach far into central Israel.

Netanyahu’s speech before the US Congress was met very favourably in Israel. His declining popularity trend was reversed by a wave of agreement in his home country. One could think this was it: The peace process is stagnating, with the Palestinian representatives not really interested in making concessions and the Israeli voters wishing peace, but not seeing it feasible in the foreseeable future. Lulled, one could think that Israel has the power; so against Israel’s will and the USA’s certain Veto, Palestine has to abide with what Israel gives. Right?

Were there no Arab Spring, and were there not the careful, stratagemically excellent planning by the Palestinian representatives and whoever counsels them, in other words, were it just one year ago, this would be the situation, yes.

Times, they are a-changing

We have the Arab Spring now. The USA can no longer count on Egypt to effectively quell Palestinian advances; to the contrary, the new government there just opened a border crossing in Rafeh without consulting Israel, effectively ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip. AIPAC is losing ground; prominent Jewish authors condemn and dismantle Netanyahu’s speech as what it was while others petition European governments to support a Palestinian state. Off-the-record diplomatic channels of the USA may or may not be working to this end, because the USA’s position is not set in stone, either. Obama, apparently deeming Netanyahu incapable of reaching a peace accord, may be poised to step in after a UN agreement over a Palestinian state is reached.

And worse, Palestine found a possibility to circumvent an US Veto in the UN Security Council:

Adopted in November 1950, UNGA Resolution 377 provides that, should the five permanent members of the Security Council find themselves at odds, rendering the council incapable of exercising its “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” the General Assembly can step into the breach. If the Security Council’s permanent members cannot reach unanimity, it elaborates, and “there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression,” the General Assembly can fill the vacuum by issuing its own “appropriate recommendations” for “collective measures” to be taken by individual states – right up to and including “the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

All in all, what this sums up to is a diplomatic masterpiece. The pieces fall into place, and a picture begins to emerge – taking Israel totally by surprise even now. But it may be a picture that should appeal to Israel almost as much as to the Palestinians.

If you have not already, you should read David Horovitz‘ opinion in the Jerusalem Post now or after this article. It is a good analysis; but in my opinion its conclusions are deeply flawed.

Horovitz states that Israel would have to bring at least seven Security Council members to their side in order not to lose. He states this is seen as almost impossible.

If one monitors Israel’s history one will know that it is amazing what Israel can do. I also disagree that the FRG could support a Palestinian state. Merkel, the weak teflon-chancellor, will at worst abstain, while I have difficulties imagining Merkel not supporting Israel. France and Great Britain, on the other hand, know Merkel’s erratic zig-zag course by now too well to let it influence their diplomatic decisions. Taking into account that the US secret diplomatic channels may also be working in favour of Israel here, the Security Council vote may be a closer call for Palestine than Horovitz and his sources think.

On the other hand, Israel’s history also teaches that not all of what Israel can do should be done. A passing of Palestine’s motion will undoubtedly isolate the Netanyahu government. But will it isolate Israel in the long run?

Israel feels threatened by the new unity government of Palestine and its refusal to recognize Israel. Let’s take a look at the motivations behind this.

Whoever reaches the international recognition of Palestine scores big. In an internal power struggle, Hamas cannot let Abbas achieve that. Its days would be over. While that prospect may be appealing to many observers, it is illusory. Hamas would do everything to torpedo Abbas‘ movement – and without any doubt, it can be successful. This is one reason why Abbas had to get Hamas into his boat.

The other reason is, while both parties are fractured, both leadership ranks working towards a common goal makes it at least more unlikely someone launches an offensive in a crucial moment. A full-scale Israeli invasion into the Palestinian autonomy regions, and all is lost. – And exactly this solution-at-gunpoint may be the greatest danger for Palestine. It should monitor IDF troop deployment very closely now and move its diplomatic initiative forward the moment IDF troops move into their staging areas. Israel is small, which also means it can react rapidly and swiftly with minimum preparation time.

I think, however, the reason Mr Horovitz cites is not the main reason. Top-tier diplomats surely are seldomly wise; but they will have to be at least shrewd, or they had not attained their rank. They will realise very well that Hamas and Fatah may be allies to a common goal, but will probably never be friends – and surely not after some months of „unity government“. Doubtful an accord not one year old will send the message of a unified Palestine.

So, the Hamas-Fatah-reconciliation was necessary; note that even the USA in Afghanistan are trying to get „moderate Taliban“ into the government. It is illusory to reach peace anywhere while excluding a powerful group. It is not good; but reality stinks.

Not to recognize Israel is about the same as not to recognize the sun to rise tomorrow. In the foreseeable future, the existence of Israel is assured. Banning a major water shortage, Israel will have to antagonise the USA and all of its neighbours and even critical supporters while the Arab states reach Pan-Arabic unity and get their economies out of the wringer before its existence will even be threatened. Anwar as-Sadat’s Yom Kippur war was nothing but a lesson to Israel: Yes, you can defeat us. But it will cost you. In 1973, it forestalled the NATO Double-Track Decision of 1979 locally, in accord with Clausewitz‘ doctrine of war being the continuation of politics by other means.

If you have little to barter, you have to sell expensive. It would be totally pointless to recognize Israel now. Yes, the Israeli government claims that to be a precondition to Palestinian statehood; however, experience tells that fulfilling it will at most bring a temporary gain. It is clear that Palestine must have a lasting value.

On the other hand, statehood is this price. In the UN General Assembly, many states will make the recognition of Israel the binding condition in order to recognize Palestine. Then – and no sooner – Palestine will have to commit itself. A recognized Palestine is a bell that cannot be unrung, as well as Palestinian recognition of Israel is a one-shot barter.

What if Palestine announces Israeli recognition and does not do it after being recognized? The same as if Palestine recognized Israel and revoked that: it loses credibility and becomes isolated – a fate that Palestine cannot afford.

On the other hand, if Palestine recognized Israel now, the gesture would have faded away this fall. Practically, recognizing Israel has no effect; it is merely symbolic. The half-life of such symbols, especially in the Near East, is very short.

State of Palestine – and then?

Israelis seem to be frightened by a Palestinian state. Should they?

A Palestinian state gives the Palestinians representation and recognition.

Can representation and recognition be eaten or drunk? Can it pay rent?

Tibet is recognized by many states; the government of it is in India. The Baltic states were recognized by the USA from 1944 until 1990. Did it make a difference?

A Palestinian state is nothing but a beginning both Israel and Palestine can build upon. The IDF will not vanish overnight. Palestine will not gain a modern infrastructure the minute it is recognized.

Israel’s Options

With a state of Palestine, Israel has different options. In middle terms, that is. Netanyahu will even step up Palestinian occupation; however, it has already been suggested that it may be the time for Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor to quit his government. Netanyahu will be out of options; history tells that in dangerous times, people tend to vote right-wing parties, while peace and stability favours moderates. On both sides, there is an ample serving of politicians who have built their careers on this fact.

Israel my continue the resettling and occupation of Palestine. Then, it will be more isolated than ever. Even Pro-Israel states will increasingly have credibility problems tolerating Israeli occupation of Palestine while criticising other states.

It may keep IDF bases there. Either, it reforms IDF, sensitising military personnel in de-escalation tactics and inter-cultural communication and investigating incidents effectively; or, it will have a second Northern Ireland. The history of Northern Ireland, while also advocating to let ex-Terrorist organisations find their way to peaceful political representation, shows this not to be a good idea.

It may train Palestinian forces (who will have to be infantry in all but name, or be totally inadequate to keep the peace in Palestine) or let them be trained by a common partner (like, say, Turkey, or Great Britain with its counter-terrorist experience) and do joint exercises and patrols. That may be the most promising and successful approach. A well-regulated militia being crucially necessary for the security of the Palestinian state – and Israel, as well -, Israel is well advised to include it into a „Partnership for Peace“. For decades, Turkey was Israel’s partner; today, military influence has to be diminished there as it is a stable democracy. Young Palestine may, however, profit from a stabilising military influence.

Jerusalem and Nanjing, Tel Aviv and Ramallah

Jerusalem will be the official capital of Palestine. Full stop. Nota bene: the official capital of Taiwan is Nanking. „Official Capital“ and „Seat of Government“ can be two different things. As Jerusalem is not met without scepticism by Jews themselves, it may be a good idea for Israel to meet more often in Tel Aviv, too. There will always be constitutional meetings in Jerusalem; Israel and Palestine may be wise to take the opportunity to host joint meetings. Like it or not, both states are in it together. Most Palestine business, however, will undoubtedly be conducted in Ramallah.

The „Jerusalem Question“, however, seems to be 2 parts rationality and 10 part symbolism and ideology; that may be why Ben Gurion stated he wouldn’t want Jerusalem as a present. Accepting compromise for Palestine and making compromise for Israel are crucial for the success of peace. Here’s hoping that voters on both sides see this choice between an idealistic symbol and real security and vote accordingly.

Refugees and economy

The land Palestinian refugees flew from exists no longer. It will be impractical for them to return. But that is a problem awaiting a solution. Displaced persons from Cyprus, Armenia, and Eastern and Middle Europe do accept their fate – because they had the opportunity to build an infrastructure, attain wealth, live in dignity. Living comfortable, people will have nostalgia and commemorating street names, but how many Sudeten returned to the Czech Republic, how many East Germans to Poland after both states joined the EU?

Netanyahu stated he feared „Arabs“ could demographically oust Israelis by their higher birth rate. Well, being German, I tend to get a coughing fit when I hear an argumentation like that – especially because it is deeply flawed: Assimilating, birth rates tend to drop. Only the very rich and the very poor can afford to have many childer: people with a modicum of wealth and stability want their children to build upon their achievements. Numerous offspring negate this, because the heritage is fractured. They want to see their children prosper, one day taking over and carrying on the torch.

3.8 million Palestinians in the Autonomy Regions may mean 3.8 million antagonists; if it meant 3.8 million terrorists, that would be the biggest military force worldwide and there would be nothing Israel could do while being steamrolled out of existence. It could also mean 3.8 million customers for Israeli services and wares, and 3.8 millions of workforce strengthening the Israeli-Palestinian economy. Terrorism tends to rapidly decline when people stop existing in apathy and start having something to lose.

In my opinion, including the Palestinians into the Israeli economy – or at least, making them develop a stable economy – is the biggest, most important challenge Israel faces and the most important action to ensure Israel’s long-term peaceful existence. This calls for a Marshal Plan, but this time, Israel must take a major part in it and realise it is crucial to Israeli security regardless of its government. Last time, it was „EU builds, IDF bombs“ before positive results could manifest.

Yes, that also means an international planning commission to ensure the projects benefit the people as a whole. But a Palestinian Marshal Plan is also in the national interests of Jordan and Lebanon, the former hopefully being able to arbitrate between Israel and the rest. More hopefully, when results are showing, Israel will put its renowned determination fully behind it.

Imagine all the People, Living for Today…

All this may sound utopic; I hope it is not. A Palestinian state, in the short run, will most probably be an internationally recognised „homeland“ (like the homelands of South Africa Transkei, Bophutatswana, Ciskei and Venda). It will be easier for Palestinians to force progress in the Peace Process, but the same international community that puts pressure on Israel will also monitor Palestine’s War on Terror. In the middle and long run, it provides both sides with numerous opportunities – in Israel’s case, also regarding diplomatic relations to Arab and muslim countries.

For over 60 years, it becomes clearer and clearer that Israel’s management methods of the Palestine questions are inadequate. With the Arab Spring, stable Arab democracies will eventually establish and can put pressure on Europe and the West to withdraw support from Israel.

Who thinks Israel could not inhibit Palestinian statehood should be careful; it gives great credit to the diplomatic skills of Palestinian representatives that this time, it really may fail. If it does, however, it even now will be weakened, so an offensive approach is probably the better solution – recognising and supporting a Palestinian state switches Israel’s role back to be the host instead of the guest. Regaining the initiative will cost, but should be worth more than lip service.

To see this crisis as an opportunity for change and a fresh start of Israeli-Palestine relations, however, may be the best thing to do – even if this change will not manifest overnight and doubtlessly requires hard work on both sides. As for the end results, only time will tell.

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  1. […] in einem früheren Artikel zum palästinensischen Vorstoß geschrieben: Jetzt geht es für Palästina darum, der internationalen Gemeinschaft zu beweisen, […]

  2. […] New York Times oder Al Jazyra – in der deutschen Presse nahezu nichts über die UNO-Initiative lesen könne. Herr Hijazi schloß sich dem an und verwies auf ausländische Quellen. Er habe den […]

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