After the Palestinian Authority leadership announced its (final? ) decision on Sunday to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the June 1967 borders, it appears United States President Barack Obama will have to grapple with a challenging dilemma. The formulation of the resolution that is emerging from Ramallah will be a "cut and paste" job of lines from the president's speech on May 19, in which he presented the formula of the 1967 lines with mutually agreed border adjustments. The White House will have to decide whether to order U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice to vote for President Obama and administer a slap to 2012 presidential candidate Obama, or to vote against the resolution and slap the president.
The last time the Palestinians did this maneuver - the resolution condemning the settlements in February - the candidate had the upper hand. Administration spokesmen explained the contradiction by saying they do not, of course, support the settlements but they are opposed to dragging the issue into the UN arena.
However, at the European Commission offices in Brussels, the impression emerged that after the drubbing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave him in Congress, Obama is not eager to use the right to veto again. It appears to them it isn't certain that the sight of the great power snuggling up with Israel in the General Assembly, along with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, will do wonders for candidate Obama. Therefore, the Americans have been investing special effort in enlisting key European countries, first and foremost Germany - the weak link in initiatives depicted as being against the Jewish state - along with Britain and France, the permanent European members of the Security Council. Each has its own interests, which do not necessarily have to do with their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or with fine points in the area of international law.
However, Israel's Foreign Ministry is not relinquishing the pleasure of butting the Palestinians and proving that Israel is the victim in this story as well. An official document of the Israeli Mission to the European Union, under the heading "Premature Recognition of a Palestinian State," is a masterpiece of selective use of agreements and statements. The authors of the document have evinced amazing skill at acrobatics between the lines of a number of UN resolutions concerning the conflict. Not to Israel's benefit, the document opens a series of explosive Pandora's boxes.
If the European countries decide to vote at the UN in accordance with the arguments starring in this document, the Palestinians can order crates of champagne. Here are selected pearls from the document:
- "A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2003 ) [the 'Roadmap'], which was adopted by the International Quartet [UN, U.S., Russia and the EU], endorsed by the Security Council, and supported by the international community, further embraced an approach which rejected unilateralism, and called upon both sides to negotiate, mutually, a resolution to the conflict, whereby the final stage of such negotiations would bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state."
And what about the paragraph in the roadmap in which Israel undertook to evacuate all the outposts immediately and to freeze entirely, right in Phase 1, construction in the settlements? And what about opening a Palestinian trade bureau and other institutions in East Jerusalem, which were closed down on Israel's orders?
- "The Quartet reaffirmed that negotiations should lead to an outcome that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and resolves all permanent status issues ... [The Quartet] reaffirms that unilateral actions by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community."
At the time these lines are being written, Israeli bulldozers are establishing new facts on the ground in the West Bank, and excavation crews are turning the Holy Basin into the exclusive bailiwick of right wing organizations.
- "President Obama, in his May 2011 speech on the Middle East, stressed that lasting peace will only be achieved by a negotiated and mutually agreed-upon approach, not by unilateral political maneuvers."
Entirely true but apparently someone in the mission did not notice that, in the selfsame speech, Obama also stressed that negotiations will be based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon exchanges of territories. Had the government of Israel adopted this formula, quite possibly the negotiations would have already been under way and this document superfluous.
- "Under the accepted principles of international law, there are four prerequisites for statehood: (a ) a permanent population; (b ) defined territory; (c ) effective government; and (d ) a capacity to enter into relations with other states."
Israel is the most prominent example of a state that won recognition without having recognized borders (nor does it have them now ). In effect, recognizing a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders would constitute the first recognition of the Green Line (the demarcation line in the 1949 armistice agreement ) as Israel's defined eastern border. At one point, the document depicts the reconciliation agreement with Hamas - which will make it possible for the Palestinian Authority to control the Gaza Strip - as a major argument against recognizing a Palestinian state. Elsewhere, the document claims the state should not be recognized because the Palestinian Authority does not control Gaza.
Another interesting paragraph in the document says that, in addition to the loss of control in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority does not control the 60 percent of the West Bank defined as Area C. According to the Oslo agreements, the validity of this arrangement was to have lapsed 12 years ago. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is threatening that if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state, Israel will withdraw its recognition of the Oslo agreements.
At the top levels of the Palestinian Authority, there are voices calling for the adoption of Lieberman's threat. This would mean closing the Palestinian Authority's offices and handing the keys to the schools, hospitals, police stations and welfare bureaus back to the Israeli Military Government. It would also entail transferring the responsibility for the salaries of the teachers, doctors, police and social workers from the taxpayers in Europe and other "donor countries" to the citizens of "Cottageland" - the way it was before Netanyahu and his friends adopted the coinage "Oslo criminals."
A senior officer in the Civil Administration once told me this nightmare never leaves him. Political and narrow personal interests among the Palestinian elite are turning this nightmare into a daydream.