A new “peace initiative” is in the wind according to the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. The initiative, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, is designed by the U.S., Egypt and France to compel Israel to implement a full building freeze in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem, and to obtain an Israeli commitment to recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders thereby effectively prejudging the outcome of any future negotiations. This, together with the recent attempt by Sweden to push the EU to recognize east Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian Authority (while omitting any recognition of the rest of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel) and to recognize the PA as a “democratic” and independent entity if it unilaterally declared statehood, have added to Israeli concerns over the possibility of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence within the June 4, 1967 borders – a move which could be recognized by the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council.
On August 26th, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad issued a 54-page plan (“Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State”) that proposed the establishment of a de-facto Palestinian state within two years – a state to be established regardless of negotiations with Israel and outside the framework of the performance-based March 2003 Roadmap and the Oslo Agreement. 1 While the Plan adopts an anti-Fatah posture by discarding the traditional PLO position of “armed struggle to liberate Palestine” (a position that was reaffirmed at the Sixth Fatah Congress in Bethlehem in August), it is based on the tenuous assumption that the Palestinians can adopt Western-style institutions and standards and thereby re-shape their future over a two year period. Problem is, Fayyad has little or no political backing to effect such reforms. Nevertheless, on November 14th, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz revealed that Fayyad has already reached a secret understanding with the Obama administration which would provide for U.S. recognition of such an independent Palestinian state within two years.
According to the Fayyad Plan, the borders of the new Palestinian state would be based on the June 4, 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital – an action that would not only violate the written undertakings made between Israel and the Bush administration in 2004 concerning promised border adjustments that would be taken into account in any future Palestinian state, but would detrimentally affect the status of hundreds of thousands of Israelis living in several major West Bank cities and the Arab districts of Jerusalem.
It calls for a reconnection of Hamas-controlled Gaza to the Fatah-ruled West Bank implying that Hamas would have to accede to holding elections in January 2010 (which it currently opposes), relinquish its de facto rule over Gaza, and once again accept living under Fatah control. Even if Hamas agreed to such terms publicly, few believe they would honor them in practice. As enticement for gleaning Hamas support, Fayyad has stated that the Palestinian state so created will be an Islamic state and will “promote awareness and understanding of the Islamic religion and culture and disseminate the concept of tolerance in the religion through developing and implementing programs of Shari’a education as derived from the science of the Holy Koran and Prophet’s heritage.” How Shari’a education can be balanced with religious tolerance given Hamas’s ideological refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state may represent an insurmountable challenge.
The Plan also calls for massive Palestinian development in Area “C” of the West Bank including the strategically vital Jordan Valley and the high ground surrounding Jerusalem and overlooking Israel’s vulnerable cities along the Mediterranean coast. These areas are currently under Israeli civil and security control. The Plan advocates building an airport in the Jordan Valley, taking control of Atarot airport in Jerusalem, establishing new rail links to neighboring states, and water installation projects near Tulkarm and Kalkilya, both of which are close to the pre-1967 border, and all of which represent a threat to Israel’s security requirements.
As Alan Baker, former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and one of the chief architects of the Oslo Accords notes – Fayyad’s Plan contravenes Article 23 of the 1995 Oslo Interim Agreement that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” Consequently, any unilateral declaration of independence would constitute a clear and serious violation of Oslo – an agreement that not only determines Israeli-Palestinian administrative and security arrangements for the West Bank and Gaza, but represents the source of authority for the Palestinian Authority itself. Dan Diker and Pinhas Inbari writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs note that the effect of such a violation would free Israel from the restrictions and obligations it accepted under the Oslo agreements, with all that implies including annexation of sections of West Bank territory on which major Jewish population centers are now located and suspension of existing accords.
Should Fayyad obtain a Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state, such a resolution would effectively replace Resolutions 242 and 338 – resolutions that recognize Israel’s right to secure and defensible borders which the June 4, 1967 borders do not represent. From Israel’s perspective, these resolutions were passed in the wake of the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War and have governed all Arab-Israeli peace negotiations since then, including the Oslo process, the Roadmap and Annapolis. Resolution 242’s language requires an exchange of land for peace using a specific formula – “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It does not call for a withdrawal from all territories. So rather than bargain in good faith to build a viable accord, the Palestinians are seeking an outside imposed solution.
It should be noted that Fayyad’s plan is not only opposed by Israel, but by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even Iran who fear it would lead to violent secessionist movements within their own ethnic and religious minorities. Such challenges to the international order have already surfaced in Indonesia, and could also potentially erupt in China (in the case of Tibet), in India (in Kashmir), and in the Russian Federation.
And there would also be significant political ramifications to such a declaration. According to Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention that set out the international criteria for statehood: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) effective and independent government control over a permanent population; (b) a defined territory over which that control is exercised; and (c) the capacity to enter into foreign relations with other states.”
The last criteria is of special concern to Israel since any Palestinian state would not only have the power to freely engage in foreign relations and sign military pacts with Israel’s enemies, but would enable such a state to establish its own army, navy and air force, and maintain control over its ports, borders, checkpoints and airspace thereby making the issue of secure, recognized and defensible borders for Israel even more critical – not to mention hindering Israel’s ability to defend its citizenry from future Palestinian terrorist attacks emanating from the new state.
Nor can legal justification be found in the criteria for new member states set out in the European Union’s 1993 Copenhagen Criteria: “Membership criteria require that the candidate country must have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.” Clearly any Palestinian state established in the foreseeable future will not even remotely meet such criteria.
Given the failure of the Palestinian Authority to end incitement, cease support for terror organizations, establish security and the rule of law in PA-controlled areas; its continuing refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East; the culture of hate in its media that offers no room for compromise and honors terrorists and suicide bombers as national heroes; the sermons it allows in its mosques; the tracts set out in its school textbooks that emphasize conflict with Israel as a solemn religious duty aimed at liberating Muslim lands; the anti-Semitic diatribes of many of its leaders in idealizing murder as martyrdom; the relentless depiction of Jews as sinister and evil – as conspirators spreading AIDS, poisoning Yasser Arafat, or undermining the foundations of the Al-Aqsa mosque – Palestinian statehood, under current circumstances, would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East.
If accepted, Fayyad’s plan will lead directly to Palestinian statehood in two years, regardless of whether the Palestinians are fulfilling their obligations under the Roadmap or the Oslo Agreements. If the Palestinians believe that they will receive a Palestinian state in two years time – especially one that is based on the 1967 border lines, why should they bother to negotiate or make a single concession?
Fayyad’s attempt to enlist U.S. and European support for his unilateral steps to pressure Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines is a mistake of monumental proportions. Israel does not respond well to ultimatums. Israelis have learned the irrelevance of giving away territorial assets in exchange for security arrangements, guarantees, demilitarization and the like. Far from building the foundations of a stable Palestinian state, a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state that claims the pre-1967 lines as its borders could well end up forcing the Israelis into another regional war. Contrary to past agreements signed between Israel and the PA, the Fayyad plan unilaterally transforms the diplomatic framework established between the PA and Israel from a legally sanctioned, negotiations process to a unilateral Palestinian initiative that would have far-reaching and dangerous implications for the entire region.
It should be remembered that concerns regarding regional peace and security motivated the international community to withhold recognition from the former republics of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union until there was stability. These same concerns should lead to a refusal to recognize a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state and to demand that the future status of the Palestinian entity be resolved only through direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. As Dore Gold of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs wrote recently: “Israel should be insisting on protecting its rights that have been recognized in the past in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and in the (April 2004) bipartisan-backed Bush letter guaranteeing that any future settlement would include border adjustments that would take into account Israel’s major West Bank cities, rather than allowing these past guarantees to slide away … Otherwise, Israel will be forced to accept a process whose terms of reference only protect the interests of the Palestinians and leave the State of Israel increasingly exposed.”
1. This would not be the first declaration of “independence” the Palestinians have issued. In 1948, the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini declared Palestinian independence. Again, in 1988, the Palestinian National Council issued a similar declaration. Neither declaration worked despite a hundred states recognizing “Palestine” in 1988. That is because then as now, “Palestine” lacks one of the most essential elements of statehood – effective control over its territory – specifically, the West Bank and Gaza.