In absence of talks, Palestinian prime minister’s move could trigger violence, experts warn.
‘Next year in Jerusalem.”
With that renewed cry from Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad about the creation of a Palestinian state as early as next summer — with east Jerusalem as its capital — several analysts feared this week that Fayyad has built up Palestinian expectations to a point that could spark violence.
“The very predictable fact is that when there are no negotiations, the vacuum is filled by violence,” said Stephen P. Cohen, author of “Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East” and a former advisor to Israeli leaders.
“It is not as if this is a surprise to those of us watching this. Many of us believed there had to be a beginning of something, otherwise we’d be descending into the chasm again. ....
“I think the pressure is growing in that society. The negotiating track is not working and they have to do something more active, so a unilateral declaration of independence is an idea that is emerging — and it could create a crisis with Israel.”
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said such a declaration “could trigger violence as Palestinian individuals and factions try to exercise control” over disputed territory.
“The Palestinians control area A but not B and C, and we have heard Palestinian officials say they are prepared for violence,” Steinberg said, referring to areas in which Israel and the Palestinians jointly control security and to areas where Israel alone is in control. “Political nature abhors a vacuum and there is now nothing going on of substance. This [declaration of independence] fills a vacuum.”
Saeb Ereket, the chief Palestinian negotiator, acknowledged Tuesday that consultations between Israel, the U.S. and other states apparently “have reached a dead end.”
Fayyad, in a speech Saturday in Bethlehem, was quoted as saying Easter would be celebrated next year “in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in east Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state. Our people, joined by all humanity, will celebrate the creation of the Palestinian independent state according to 1967 borders, a state whose capital shall be Jerusalem. ... The Palestinian state is being built these days brick by brick, step by step ....”
Although European states have encouraged Fayyad to declare independence, analysts expressed concern about Fayyad asking for United Nations recognition of a self-declared Palestinian state.
“I don’t believe the Israelis will say this is a good thing and recognize the Palestinian state because they will not have negotiated a border with that state,” Cohen said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said as much this week, warning that should the Palestinian Authority declare independence unilaterally, Israel would consider abrogating the Oslo interim peace accords of 1993 and even annex parts of the West Bank.
That would mean, he was quoted as saying, “imposing sovereignty on certain areas, cutting off all kinds of ties and transfers of money and a string of benefits and agreements put into place since the Oslo accords.”
Cohen said such moves would then call into question the State of Israel itself and its own borders.
“That would mean that Jerusalem would not be recognized as the capital of Israel,” he said.
Analysts fears about an uptick in violence were supported by Israeli figures released last week showing that 125 terror attacks in March, compared with 53 in February. Most were recorded in Jerusalem over Israeli construction there.
Should Fayyad carry out his threat, it would not be first time a Palestinian state has been unilaterally declared. Yasir Arafat did it in 1988 when he was president of the Palestinian Authority “and nobody paid attention,” said Joshua Teitelbaum, a senior lecturer in Middle Easter history at Tel Aviv University.
“That was before they actually had any territory,” he said. “Now they do and it is recognized by most of the world as land that eventually will become Palestinian. They are trying to develop institutions and the security situation has improved. It would put Israel in a very difficult position, as it would the United States.”
Teitelbaum said he is convinced that a Netanyahu government would not recognize a self-declared Palestinian state “but another government might.”
“I see 2011 as a pivotal year,” he continued. “Fayyad is going to have to put up or shut up. He is creating expectations and by virtue of him saying it, it will be a pivotal year. I’m sure the Palestinians are doing a lot of international consulting to see how the Quartet [the U.S., Russia, the United Nations and the European Union] feel about it.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of Fayyad’s threat: “History teaches us that only agreements reached between the parties through direct negotiations have a chance at success. I would hope the U.S., the Europeans and others would make clear to them that an agreement will not be delivered to them on a silver platter that would enable them to avoid any concessions and a true recognition of Israel.”
Although Fayyad first spoke last year about declaring a Palestinian state in 2011, his decision to repeat it now caught some by surprise.
“Most of Fayyad’s statements have tended to be more pragmatic,” observed Martin Raffel, senior vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “He has said that he is building infrastructure for the state from the ground up and his model was David Ben-Gurion.”
But Raffel said he found even more newsworthy the fact that Fayyad said he is building an infrastructure to absorb Palestinian refugees into the new state, something for which Hamas quickly condemned him because he is effectively giving up the “right of return” to the 1948 borders.
“For him to say the refugees are not going back to Haifa and Jaffa — for a Palestinian leader to say that is extraordinary,” Raffel said. “It could be a landmark statement. He is basically saying to the refugees who are holding onto their keys that you can have your key but you are not going back to your house.”
Should the UN recognize a Palestinian state, Cohen said it would change the political dynamic of the region because the Palestinians would be “operating on the international political stage on an equal footing with Israel. The foreign policy of the Palestinians would now be in their own hands with the support of the UN. And they could perhaps start to develop the airport south of Ramallah that they have never been able to use.”
Asked about the Palestinians under Hamas control in Gaza, Cohen said they might “insist” on becoming part of the new state and Hamas might agree.
“But I don’t know if that would happen,” he stressed.
Raffel also questioned what the consequences would be if terrorist actions emanated from the sovereign state of Palestine.
Cohen said a Palestinian state would be “subject to the same principles of the UN that other states are called upon to follow – to behave in a peaceful manner. And the world will not be able to simply condemn Israel for unilateral action.
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