By Barry Rubin
Since predicting the future is hard, to say the least, it’s always interesting when one can clearly see a crisis looming months ahead of time. The usual pattern is for the impending problem to be ignored until the last minute, then it is suddenly discovered by journalists and policymakers with great astonishment.
Often, they then misdiagnose the causes of the problem precisely because they never understood why it happened in the first place.
In this case, the Palestinian Authority (PA) foreign minister–remember when the 1993 Israel-PLO agreement said that the PA wouldn’t conduct foreign policy? Ha-ha-ha–Riyad Malki says he will seek recognition of a Palestinian state in September at the UN. For many years, Malki ran the terrorist group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on the West Bank. But it’s ok! He quit.
So far, recognition has been obtained from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, with Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Chile considered next. Of course, almost 100 countries recognized the Palestinian state a long time ago, often 20 years ago, and that didn’t change anything. Indeed, I was present when a unilateral declaration of independence was made near Algiers on November 15, 1988, by the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s parliament.
Everything the PA has obtained in the last 17 years has been due not to those diplomatic recognitions but to the 1993 agreement with Israel. To walk away from that agreement and negotiations in general would be a serious matter of violating every commitment the PA has understaken. It tells something about the PA’s pattern of behavior and reliability in keeping agreements. But who cares, right?
More immediately, though, I have not seen a single article in any mass media outlet that makes these most simple and obvious points:
First, the PA has basically refused to negotiate with Israel for two full years, though one would scarcely know that from media coverage.
Second, this intransigence is now being parlayed into a unilateral action. The PA won’t negotiate with Israel at all. Thus, it will not have to make any commitments, compromises, or concessions. It will simply get a state on a silver platter on all of the territory it claims.
That, at least is the strategy: If the world gives me everything I want who needs you?
I have also not seen a single mass media outlet even mention that the problem here is that the Palestinians would be offered a state without having to declare that this is their final demand. In other words, as the Palestinians have always wanted, the door would be open for a second round of conflict to wipe Israel off the map.
Who will be the big loser if this happens? In theory, you would think it would be Israel. But in fact even the PA realizes that this is going to have limited effect on the ground. The PA does need Israel for many things, including, for example, helping keep it from being overthrown by Hamas and passing through needed goods.
Even PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has admitted, in the words of an AP dispatch, “that the recognition drive at the UN will not necessarily bring realization of a state. But it helps the Palestinians enshrine their demand that the 1967 borders serve as the basis for drawing their nation’s shape.”
Or in Malki’s words: “Such recognition would create political and legal pressure on Israel to withdraw its forces from the land of another state that is recognized within the 1967 borders by the international organization.”
But it won’t affect Israel very much at all. Nothing really will change.
By the way, let’s remember that contrary to international practice, the PA cannot claim to be a state in those borders because it doesn’t control that territory. And I’m referring here to the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, and much of the West Bank. Moreover, it is asking for recognition in contradiction to its existing treaty commitments. But again, who cares?
The UN General Assembly will no doubt accept Palestinian statehood by a resounding majority without that country making any commitments to peace, security guarantees, an end of the conflict, or anything else. Then the issue will go to the UN Security Council where the United States will veto it. Yes, President Barack Obama will do that. And so there will be no real change in the situation.
And that brings me back to my point. The big loser here is the United States. After all, why should the PA make any attempt whatsoever to negotiate seriously if at the end of nine months it can get everything it wants for free? How can the U.S. government ignore this reality?
In other words, the next nine months of U.S. policy on the peace process will be a complete and total waste of time. And nothing Israel does, for good or bad, will affect that reality.
There is, of course, something the U.S. government can do: maximum pressure on other states not to recognize; maximum pressure on the PA to drop the idea. Of course, this is not going to happen.
So, surer than the Titanic was going to hit that iceberg if it didn’t change course, the Obama Administration is headed for getting a big hole in its side and taking on considerable water. Remember, you heard it here first. And you probably won’t hear it anywhere else until about August.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).