Friday, March 23, 2007

A Palestinian State: Wither or Whither?

Excerpted from Israel HighWay (March 22, 2007)

Since September 13, 1993, when the Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn, the notion of a Palestinian state has driven much of the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic discourse. Until the early 1990's, the idea of establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel was anathema to much of the Israeli populace. However, with the outset of the first Intifada and the apparent PLO acceptance of Israel's right to exist in 1988, support for Palestinian statehood began to gain traction in Israel and abroad. >From the signing of the Oslo Accords until the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000, Palestinian statehood became an accepted norm among much of the Israeli political community, in the United States and throughout Europe. There has, of course, always been a vocal opposition to Palestinian statehood from the Israeli right; but, since Oslo, this opposition has often found it difficult to make inroads in public opinion. However, since the outbreak of the second Intifada and especially since the political rise of Hamas, opposition to Palestinian statehood has increased. Both the United States and Israel have declared that they favor the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and large areas of the West Bank. Presumably the Palestinian Authority would like to rule over a Palestinian state, but is it capable of taking the reins of a full-fledged state?

Every peace plan since 1993 has included as its centerpiece the goal of Palestinian statehood. Today's two major peace initiatives, the Road Map(sponsored by the Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) and the Saudi plan (also endorsed by the Arab League) operate under the assumption that a Palestinian state will be created. There are disagreements in the various plans as to the future state's borders and the parameters under which it will function, but the general acceptance of a Palestinian state remains strong. However, while official support remains strong, there are a growing number of voices beginning to rise in opposition. The Boston Globes' Jeff Jacoby recently asked, "Has any population ever been less suited for statehood than the Palestinians? From the terrorists they choose as leaders to the jihad promoted in their schools, their culture is drenched in violence and hatred." Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab journalist for the Jerusalem Post and NBC News, obviously speaking from a very different perspective, recently told an audience in Texas, "A two-state system is great, but it's not going to work. Gaza and the West Bank are too far separated geographically, politically and culturally to work." See also Myths & Response Just last month U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated at a three-way summit in Jerusalem that both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reaffirmed a commitment to a two-state solution in the Middle East. So, if the international community, Israel and the Palestinians all purportedly support the two-state solution, why is there no movement in the peace process? In short, the answer to this question is the recently formed Fatah-Hamas unity government. The unity agreement was forged in early February under the sponsorship of the King of Saudi Arabia after months of internecine fighting, kidnappings, assassination attempts and pitched gun battles between those loyal to Fatah (the party of President Mahmoud Abbas) and those loyal to Hamas. However, the unity agreement does not force Hamas to accept the stipulations of the international community, specifically that the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist, halt violence, and uphold all previous agreements with Israel. Hamas' rejection of these basic terms has forced Israel, and much of the international community, to reject the new government. While some countries have already rejected relations with the new Palestinian unity government, others are taking a more measured approach in hope that the unity government would serve as a moderating force on Hamas. However, only one day after the unity agreement was officially signed, Hamas took responsibility for the shooting of an Israeli Electrical Company employee doing repairs near Gaza and for five Kassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza. Now, only a month after Secretary Rice visited the region, her tone is less positive. She publicly questioned Palestinian intentions saying, "...talk of 'resistance' from the Palestinian prime minister doesn't sound very good to me." The issue is far from simple. Every time the Palestinians appear to make progress toward their stated goal of statehood, the rejectionists within Palestinian society, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, make their voices heard through violence directed both toward other Palestinians and toward Israel. The Israeli electorate still supports the idea of a two state solution, but becomes more and more wary with each outbreak of violence and the obvious Palestinian Authority failures in governing Palestinian society. What will happen now? Some speculate that there will be a total Hamas take-over of the PA leading to a further embrace of Islamic fundamentalism in Palestinian society and continued rejection of Israel. A full Hamas take-over of the PA would also cause the already struggling Palestinian economy to continue to suffer the worldwide economic boycott of the PA. Others believe that Palestinian society will eventually reject the path of violence and Islamic fundamentalism, will turn to a more moderate leadership to pursue peace with Israel, and rehabilitate its tattered economy. The outcome is far from decided. The coming months may prove to be the critical time that will decide if there is to be a Palestinian state.

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