June 30, 2011 Leave a comment
After 63 years of uncertainty alongside the Jewish state of Israel the Palestinians are finally going to apply to the UN to be recognized as an independent country, as they informed the world in April 2011.
The announcement came during the negotiations on the terms, which have to be met, in order for the Palestinians to return to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. The official reason cited by Palestinian president Abbas was that the negotiations are going nowhere and the Palestinians on their side have made all the preparations necessary to gain independence.
Israel’s government condemned the move immediately, mostly from fearing the borders that would be defined in the UN (in the last few decades, Israel has a history of losing out in UN votes), however also because of the privileges of a UN recognized state. On the other hand, some leftists in Israel argued that this is a positive development in the conflict, since it would force Israel to push for a solution, which is already the status quo on the ground, as well as force the Palestinians to be held accountable to any act of violence on their part.
The Palestinians, who have been for years diligently working on establishing foreign relations and representation abroad, put significant investment in countries sympathetic to their cause such as in South America, to ensure they gain a majority vote.
In reality, the Palestinians have had partial autonomy after 1993 when some of the Oslo accords were actioned and Arab territories were passed to their jurisdiction completely and more so recently, when cooperation between IDF and the PA’s military helped maintain the peace (rather than IDF alone). However the separation of the Hamas ruled Gaza and the PA ruled West Bank, causes a real problem, as in essence a formation of two separate entities is taking place. As a result of that in a historic and surprising move in May 2011, Hamas and Fatah declared their intention to reconcile their differences and go to elections, which would end the segregation of the two geographies and establish one legitimate rule for both.
This move caught Israel by surprise, since all the intelligence reports estimated that the fundamental differences between the two parties would be too far to bridge. For example, Fatah is a secular party, while Hamas has adhered to strict religious law (sharia), Fatah believe in curbing the violence and accepting the two states solution, while Hamas believe in conquering the entire state of Israel and continuing the armed struggle. Hamas takes its support and direction from Iran and Syria, while Fatah relies on the support of more moderate countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
At the time of declaration more moving particles were added to the equation, as Egypt agreed to open the Rafah border, which would lift the blockade on Gaza and help Hamas improve the quality of life of the Gazans and subsequently boost its popularity without losing face to Israel. This move was unpredictable as well, since Egypt under Mubarak was very wary not to make the people of Gaza dependant on it and thus bring the problem they pushed to Israel in 1967 and then again in 1979 back to their country.
Politically, the Palestinians estimated that the intention to declare their state would give them leverage that would force Israel back to the negotiating table and compensate for their military inferiority. Initially, it seemed like this move worked and Israel went into panic mode, knowing they would lose the majority of the vote in the UN, Israel decided to concentrate on making their case to the most influential Western European countries such France, UK, Germany …etc. However what emerged shortly after, when the US declared their objection to this move, was that the Palestinians made a wrong calculation and whether they thought the US would not be able to justify an objection politically or whether they didn’t realize how the UN process works is not known. However according to UN protocol only after passing a vote in the Security Council, where the US has veto power, can the general assembly vote to recognize a new state.
The US’s policy in regards to a Palestinian state at least since Clinton’s Road Map in the 90’s has been a two state solution achieved by negotiation with milestones of mutual gestures. The Obama administration has reiterated that those principals still remain and therefore the US is likely to oppose in the UN a one sided declaration.
Some anonymous, yet apparently high ranking individuals in Fatah, have voiced concerns that taking the vote to the UN and failing to get a successful result, would be devastating politically and therefore if a way is found to halt the process without losing face, then this route should be taken. The aspect of failing in the declaration has also put pressure on the Hamas-Fatah unity pack. Whereas before, both parties were willing to unite for a greater cause, now that the cause appears to be uncertain, they each returned to pushing their agenda and less than two months since the historic agreement Hamas is already threatening to pull out.
Not being able to show a united front would be devastating for the Palestinians, as it would help justify the undecided UN countries to vote against their application. However, Israel has also gotten some backwind from a forgotten stakeholder with shared interests, Jordan. Although an Arab state and apparently a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Jordan has been watching very closely the developments and considering the potential outcomes and their effect on its borders. An often forgotten fact is that Jordan’s population is about 30% of Palestinian origin and King Abdullah’s father, the late King Hussain, has in the past violently depressed uprisings of the Palestinians challenging his rule of Jordan. Declaring a state unilaterally would weaken Jordan’s position to claim the guarantees it seeks for itself from a new Palestinian state and Israel, in exchange for supporting the process. Another fear Jordan has is that a successful campaign might gain momentum and awaken the sleepy masses in Jordan, who still in their heart of hearts dream of being a part of an independent Palestinian state.
With just over 2 months to go until the application to the UN is supposed to be made, it seems that there is still a high level of uncertainty of what is going to happen and what the implications would be. The main questions left unanswered are still whether Hamas and Fatah would succeed in keeping the unity, as well as whether the Palestinians find a way to go around the US to bring the vote to the UN’s General Assembly and finally if a Palestinian state was to be declared, what change would that make on the ground if at all.