Palestinians are getting desperate, and its showing. After all else has failed, the leadership is now saying it will resort to the UN to define the borders of their state along the 1967 borders. Negotiations, they say, have brought them no closer to their goal of independence than when they first started, so it’s time for a new tack.
Since the initial declaration of Palestinian independence on November 15, 1988, the Palestinians have been marking the day with celebrations, flag waving and visions of the year when celebrations will be real, when independence is a fact on the ground rather than a mere declaration.
The source of their desperation is understandable, to say the least. When late President Yasser Arafat declared Palestinian independence in Algiers in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the euphoria swirling around the declaration was based in real possibilities. Arafat knew that by declaring his –” and the PLO’s –” consent to the two-state solution, he would be pleasing much of the international community even if he displeased some within the Palestinian arena for relinquishing 78 percent of historical Palestine. "All for peace," he argued, which was powerful enough for the argument to stick. For the first time in Palestinian history, the discourse of peace through negotiations was introduced and accepted by the masses. If it weren’t for Israel’s intransigence and its own plans that disregard what the world says much less the Palestinians, Arafat’s calculations just may have turned out right.
But Israel was not to have it, not then and definitely not now. The Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993, stipulated a transitional period of five years at the end of which the Palestinians understood that they would have their state. Final status issues such as Jerusalem, borders and refugees would be solved and the conflict would finally come to an end.
When 1999 came and went without any state and the Israeli occupation more entrenched in the Palestinian territories than ever, the Palestinian leadership became slightly disenchanted but still refused to give up hope in the negotiations process. Camp David II in 2000 was another flop, with Israel marketing to the world its "generous offer" to the Palestinians, which they said the latter foolishly refused. The fact of the matter was that President Arafat would have been a fool to accept the agreement, which allowed no Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem, no dismantlement of major Israeli settlements in the West Bank and no real geographic continuity within the Palestinian territories.
Still, the PLO and the PA continued to negotiate, even while settlements continued to expand and Israel began building its separation wall in the West Bank and even as more checkpoints appeared, further slicing up the already diminishing Palestinian "state". Palestinians looked to the US, to Europe and to the United Nations to help push it along and signed agreement after agreement, Wye River and the Roadmap just to name a couple.
But as the negotiations began to show their age and their fruitlessness became more apparent, so did the frustration of the people. Some Palestinians returned to armed means of liberating Palestine while others just turned cynical. Worst of all, the society began to split, politically separating along with the already devastating geographical separation Israel had imposed.
Now, 21 years after Arafat’s declaration of independence, we are still without. And so, even the most tolerant of our leaders wants to throw in the towel. In the last two weeks, President Mahmoud Abbas has announced his refusal to run in any upcoming elections and even Saeb Erekat, the father of Palestinian negotiations and the fiercest of advocators for a two-state solution has admitted that 18 years of talks have ultimately failed and a one-state solution may be the only option Israel has left. Hence, with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s two-year state building plan already in place, the only thing the Palestinian leadership had left was to turn to the UN. If the UN endorses a Palestinian declaration of statehood, the hope is this will put an increasing amount of diplomatic pressure on Israel to come to a final agreement that may not be to its liking. Plus, the onus would finally be taken off of Palestinians and thrown into the lap of the international community.
Something about the plan must be right since it is ruffling enough Israeli feathers. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that any unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood would result in an "unraveling of agreements" between the two sides. Israeli environment minister Gilad Erdan said Israel could stop delivering taxes collected on behalf of the PA or more checkpoints could be installed in the West Bank. Israeli infrastructure minister Uzi Landau warned that Israel would take unilateral steps of its own including the annexation of West Bank settlements to Israel. In short, Israel wants to scare the Palestinians out of making any such move.
The question is why? On the one hand, as much as Israel flouts the international community, it still doesn’t like to have it breathing down its neck. With bilateral negotiations off the table and nicely-worded peace accords a thing of the past, Israel would have to deal directly with the United Nations and a possible Security Council resolution demanding recognition of Palestine’s borders. This would be extremely uncomfortable for a country that has basically been able to carry on with impunity over the past 61 years, especially if the United States is also keen on letting the UN deal once and for all with the conflict.
On the other hand, Israel has no reason to believe that the UN will enforce something on it that it does not want. There is no country that has shunned more international resolutions than Israel, including legally binding Security Council resolutions. It seems unlikely that this situation would be any different.
Unless, perhaps, Israel pushes everyone involved to the breaking point and even the US can take no more. If that is the case, which it seems to be with the Palestinians, then Palestine’s bid for independence within the corridors of the United Nations doesn’t seem as desperate after all.