Getting back to self-determination

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This issue of "viability" has become inextricably linked to discussions of Palestinian statehood because all of the various peace proposals given the nod by Palestinians and Israelis incorporate the establishment of two states, living side by side. Palestinians in particular have emphasized the importance of assuring that the future state of Palestine is viable, first because they feel the constant pressure of the unequal power relations between themselves and Israel, and second because all too often those parties who give lip service to the notion of Palestinian statehood do their best to avoid describing the outlines of this state. Usually what these parties have in mind is an entity that is in fact missing some crucial features of independence and sovereignty.

Palestinian concerns about viability are rooted in the fact that their quest is first and foremost for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of the lands it captured by force in 1967 (the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem), rather than statehood in name alone. Thus, the demand for statehood is intended to be the outcome of true independence from Israel’s yoke and the active exercising of Palestinian self-determination as a people. Viability cannot be separated from these goals. When Palestinians talk about the viability of their state, they have in mind three aspects: economic viability, geographic contiguity and control of their own borders. The absence of any of these three features will make the Palestinian state vulnerable and dependant, falling short of real self-determination, and in the end threatening its long-term survival.

Many of the scenarios proposed by Israelis neglect or purposefully undermine these features. One can only subscribe this tendency to the desire by some to maintain control over the Palestinian destiny. The repeated Israeli intention to maintain some Jewish illegal settlements or settlement blocs is therefore a real threat to the Palestinian state, and the viability of the peace process as a whole. Given that this entire discussion takes place all the while Israel, which speaks about Palestinian statehood, is doggedly pursuing the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, Palestinians emphasize viability as a means of reminding the world what this peace effort was to be about: fulfilling the rights of a people to determine its own path, as enshrined in the conventions of international law.

Much has been said about the link between economic and political stability. Palestine must be free to trade with its neighbors on equal terms, not only to be a poor guest economy for others’ use. Control over borders and geographic contiguity is connected to this goal in that development of the state will require free exchange of products and laborers between and through neighboring Arab countries, not least because this state will form an integral part of the Arab world.

Before it is too late (because the bulldozers and cement mixers are at work in the settlements every day) it is crucial to the peace process that when those involved in the region talk about Palestinian statehood, they also clarify what they intend for the fate of Palestinian self-determination, sovereignty over land and borders and sovereignty over the Palestinian people. Palestinians will not settle for less than full-self-determination and sovereignty; only these will guarantee the success and durability of a peace agreement.

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Ghassan Khatib is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact. He is featured on Media Monitors Network (MMN) with the courtesy of "Bitter Lemons."

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