Saturday, August 06, 2011

September surprises

Reuven Berko

In his campaign for a unilateral declaration of statehood in September, which is fast approaching, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has painted himself into a corner. He now has a choice between bankruptcy or getting bogged down in the mud. Everyone knows that the morning after the declaration will be dull and uninspiring, whether his bid is accepted by the General Assembly or not. The declaration will not change the reality on the ground. Palestinians know that if Abbas takes unilateral measures against Israel, Israel will respond with tough measures of its own, including economic ones. Palestinians realize that a unilateral declaration of statehood would release Israel from the Oslo Agreements. It would also release Israel from cooperating with the Palestinians on issues of sovereignty, economics, the return of refugees, partitioning of Jerusalem, borders, passageways, and a thousand other crucial details. Nor can they avoid the fact that the declaration of a Palestinian state in pre-1967 borders, constitutes de facto recognition of Israel. A declaration would inevitably strengthen the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza, leading to a dead-end of no future negotiations.

In response, will the Palestinian Authority try to set the region alight? Palestinian officials are well aware of the Islamic devil waiting in the wings for its opportunity to take over the West Bank, just as it did Gaza. They are not anxious to commit collective suicide through a third Intifada that could quickly spiral out of control. At most, they will turn a blind eye to localized "legitimate" outbreaks of violence, and may even let an occasional terror attack on Israel "slip" past their radar.

Palestinians can expect overwhelming U.N. General Assembly support for their statehood declaration, but they also know that their bid will likely be thwarted by an American veto. Those Palestinians who oppose the declaration do so because they believe the timing couldn't be worse. In their view, a declaration would leave them without a single gain on the ground while perpetuating the current situation. This pessimism derives from the current political turmoil in the Arab world, which prevents it from investing time and effort in the Palestinian cause. In addition, Palestinian territory is still divided. There is the Islamic 'Hamastan' on the one hand, in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and 'Fatahstan' on the other, ruled by a more secular leadership under Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinians retain a clear memory of Gaza's loss to Hamas during the second Intifada. The savviest Palestinians realize that if they steer themselves wrong they will have to go back to square one, that is, to direct negotiations with Israel as the only method for obtaining results. Nevertheless, Abbas will most likely choose the statehood declaration out of desperation and populism.

The danger is that the Palestinians will trip up the naive Obama, embarrassing him by forcing America to veto the declaration, and underscoring America's role as a Zionist supporter. Moderate Palestinians who oppose the declaration believe that an American veto could play into Al-Qaida's hands, an organization that is gathering steam in Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere throughout the world. They believe an unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks could be unleashed against many countries, including Israel, on the heels of a thwarted Palestinian state declaration in the U.N. General Assembly.

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