ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Palestinian Statehood: Ramifications

Palestinian Statehood: Ramifications

06 December 2012

By Yisrael Ne'eman.


Last Thursday, on November 29th the UN voted by a crushing majority of 138 to 9 recognizing Palestine as a non-member state. As far as diplomacy is concerned "Palestinian Arab statehood" is some sort of a fact 65 years after the original UN Partition Plan of 1947 (Res. 181) recognized the two-state solution of a Jewish and Arab state in Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs rejected the Jewish state and with it their own internationally recognized birthright at the time. The Jewish community came under attack and with Israel's declaration of independence five Arab nations invaded the Jewish State. Today that Palestine State recognition is extended to the West Bank (incl. East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip.


Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) may rule in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) but there are no state borders nor a capital, as they have not been determined in negotiations between Israel and the PA. Furthermore there are more than 350,000 Jews living amongst over 2.6 million Arabs in the previously ruled Jordanian West Bank. The region is still divided into areas A, B and C where the former is under full PA control, B has Palestinian civilian rule but an Israeli military presence and C which forms more than half the overall territory is under Israel military jurisdiction and includes the settlements. The intent is for the West Bank to be a state in the making but it is hard to consider the territory a "state" at the moment.


Gaza is another story. With a population of over 1.5 million it is one of the most heavily populated places in the world. No Israelis live there nor is there a military presence since the 2005 Disengagement. In 2007 Hamas defeated the Fatah led PA in a civil conflict and has ruled as a non-recognized regime ever since. They have the full framework of state in everything but name as is evidenced by the diplomatic support PM Ismail Haniya's government enjoyed from Egypt, Turkey and Qatar during the Pillar of Strength clash with Israel. The PA stands no chance of removing Hamas yet Palestinian statehood makes claims to Gaza as well. Neither territory is a state ruled solely by the PA. In the West Bank Israel has the overall authority until a permanent status agreement is arranged and in Gaza the PA does not even have a presence. However on the diplomatic front the PA Fatah move challenges both Israel and Hamas for full sovereignty over the respective territories of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza.


Since the Pillar of Strength operation and the vote at the UN one hears claims of unity by Palestinians all around. The UN General Assembly as a world body recognized both territories as the responsibility of the Palestinian government (formerly the PA). If so then questions such as state behavior must be posed. What happens the next time rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza? Is the Fatah led government in Ramallah responsible? Will they be condemned in the UN? Will deliberately firing at Israeli civilians be considered war crimes?


On a broader level it is unclear how Israel and the Palestinians go forward now. Are the Oslo Accords still in force? Is the Bush Road Map still applicable? If not, what replaces them? It appears Abbas has little interest in pursuing further negotiations. In light of Israel's Gaza operation and the image of Hamas standing strong and facing down an Israeli invasion that never took place, recognition at the UN is perceived as the minimum Abbas can do for the Palestinian cause. After all he is compromised by his leadership under Israeli control, whereby Gaza is understood to be independent.


Officially Abbas demands an Israeli return to the 1967 frontiers, the re-division of Jerusalem and refugee return. Unofficially it is known he negotiated with former PM Ehud Olmert and two came very close to an agreement whereby there would be no real refugee return, a full Israeli withdrawal (with land swaps) was arranged and Jerusalem would be divided. Questions over the Old City of Jerusalem were still outstanding.


To sum up Hamas won in the Muslim World and Fatah took the secular world, particularly Europe, but not North America.


One should be skeptical of any pretense by Hamas of satisfaction with the UN endorsement as Hamas can be seen as illegally holding on to Gaza. Winning the 2006 legislative elections is one thing, overthrowing the PA government apparatus in June 2007 is quite something else. At the moment, no one on the international or Arab scene appears interested in pressing the point but certainly one day the question of Hamas legitimacy within the Palestinian State context will be asked.


Presently Hamas is going along with the UN two-state solution provided the option remains open for Israel's destruction at a later date. We are back to the old PLO plan of "stages" whereby first Israel relinquishes the West Bank and Gaza and once weakened the Arab/Muslim World eventually strikes the final blow, destroying the Jewish State. The two-state solution becomes the intermediate plan for Israel's demise. If not then the Hamas final Jihadi goal is in jeopardy of disintegrating should a true peace with Israel emerge and solidify. The "stages" plan cannot be endorsed by the PA/PLO/Fatah for fear of their own de-legitimization on the world scene. It is best to review the PA educational system to investigate what they teach their children to find the answer. There is little cause for optimism since it is known students are taught they will have to carry on the struggle for Israel's elimination.


Did Israel achieve anything? As far as Gaza is concerned Hamas physical infrastructure, both military and governmental was destroyed or heavily damaged. Long and medium range rocket capacity was curtailed but not eradicated. Parts of the Hamas military/terror leadership were killed in targeted removals and the civilian leadership went into hiding. No doubt Hamas was defeated on the ground but their objective was to survive while Israel is hoping the operation will lead at least to a few years of quiet. No one expects Hamas to be overthrown, nor does anyone in Israel seriously expect a re-conquest of the Gaza Strip.


On the other side the Fatah PA won an impressive diplomatic victory at the UN even if some consider it pyrrhic. Israel's response was to announce the construction of thousands of new housing units, in particular those to be built in the E-1 area connecting Jerusalem with the Ma'ale Adumim settlement to the east. Israeli PM Netanyahu's right/religious government may be playing to its constituency but even Israel's allies in Europe and Washington condemned the move. During the Gaza operation Israel had support from both but erosion is fast sinking in.


The day of reckoning is not far off. After Israel's January 22, 2013 elections Pres. Obama with full support from Europe is expected to present the bill for Washington's pro-Israel stance both during the Gaza episode and the UN vote. Israeli construction initiatives are aggravating the West more than usual. Netanyahu will be expected to negotiate the two-state solution he agreed to in his June 2009 Cairo speech. Its Obama's second term, he has nothing to lose (such as the Jewish vote) and he wants a Palestinian State. For the US president and the Europeans this is the "end of conflict" stage. Just how "fed up" he is with the Netanyahu – Lieberman government is yet to been seen. Expect lots of pressure and a further worsening of US – Israel relations.