Following the breakdown of direct peace talks last autumn, the Palestinian Authority (PA) ruling the West Bank has now come to adopt a new diplomatic strategy: its aim is securing United Nations’ recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. And chances are that this plan will succeed.
Israel and the United States both oppose such a move, arguing a real solution can only be reached through negotiations. However, if no changes are made between now and September 2011, the UN is almost certain to declare a Palestinian state. And if a state of Palestine is declared, Israel will inevitably be put into the uncomfortable position of being considered an occupier of another UN-member country.
Hardly surprising, therefore, the Palestinian march towards statehood is unnerving both Israel and the United States. As a result they have come out with new peace plans to act as counterweights: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to travel to Washington next month, where he will present his initiative, has not yet spelled out the content of his plan. However, it is said to include a repositioning of Israeli occupation forces in parts of the West Bank, as well as some improvements of Palestinian daily life. Furthermore, Israel is said to transfer some of the territories classified as Area B and Area C to Palestinian control. But not a single Jewish settlement will be dismantled.
The initiative currently being prepared by US President Barack Obama, meanwhile, seems somewhat more realistic. It calls for Israel to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, while also suggesting the Palestinians must forgo the right of return to land they fled or were forced out of. Both these plans remain unacceptable to the Palestinian leadership (especially now, with Hamas and Fatah showing signs of reconciliation). Netanyahu’s initiative is much too slow, does not go far enough and looks suspiciously like another exercise in public relations, while the Obama blueprint still ignores major issues such as the question of the repatriation of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their homes in 1948.
Following the advice of the UN, the World Bank and international donors, the PA has already taken huge steps toward statehood. In the last two years, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has brought radical change to the Palestinian Autonomous Authority in the West Bank. Ministries now operate relatively effectively, a commission is discussing a constitution, and Fayyad has had 2,250 kilometers of roads paved and villages connected to the power grid. Unemployment has declined to 17 percent in the West Bank, compared with 37.4 percent in the Gaza Strip. More than 500 new companies have been established in the last six months alone.
It should be clear to Netanyahu and to the Israeli people that the Palestinians will no longer wait for the Israeli society to come to its senses. The Palestinians will no longer be content with a thrown bone or scraps, or with a “take it or leave it” plan. As the September deadline looms, amendments and additions to these initiatives are thus sure to be made. Yet whether they will suffice is hard to predict. The time has come for a Palestinian state. It will either be born with or against the will of Israel and the US. But even if Palestine is only created on paper, it seems the days of the continued occupation of the Palestinian state are numbered.