The failure of the Obama administration to launch a serious negotiating process between the PLO and Israel has led to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, announcing that he will not seek re-election. He cited Washington’s inability to ensure an Israeli settlement construction freeze as well as American bias toward Israel as the main reasons.
This has created a serious crisis not only for the peace process, but for US Middle East policy in general. It is a crisis that will be magnified because of the interrelation between the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other Middle East conflicts, in addition to the fact that no vacuum is possible in this region: when there is no move toward peace, it only provides room for war and violence.
At the same time, the crisis should give pause for reflection, especially for the US administration. Theoretically, we can go in one of two possible directions from here. The crisis can either lead us back to violent confrontations and the unmasked reality of military occupation, or it can move us forward toward ending the occupation, Palestinian statehood and a two-state solution.
A two-state solution still appears to be the preferred goal of the international community. However, the international community is laboring under a problematic concept: that the only way to get there is through agreement between the two parties. This needs to be reconsidered. The concept presupposes Israeli consent. However, Israel has proven reluctant to embrace a two-state solution, certainly a reasonably just one, and has instead used the imbalance of power to prevent any agreement from emerging. For as long as Israel can do this, it has no incentive to end the occupation.
There is an alternative, however, but it would require that the international community take over the responsibility for ending the occupation from Israel, the occupying power. This can be done through the United Nations. Israel, for example, was not established through agreement. Israel was established because of two factors, Israeli readiness for statehood and international recognition, both coming after a UN resolution calling for the establishment of two states.
Since one of the two states already exists, since the Palestinian side is ready for statehood and in the light of more than one Security Council resolution legitimizing two states, one way out of the current impasse is by encouraging the Palestinian side to declare a state on the 1967 borders of and on the basis of international legality and relevant Security Council resolutions, while ensuring international recognition for this state in the UN and encouraging the different members of the international community to begin to deal with Palestinians and Israelis on the basis of this new political and legal reality.
A unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, recognized and encouraged by the international community, could promote stability, end hostility and create a better atmosphere for these two states to negotiate the remaining aspects of their relations, such as solving the refugee issue and sorting out security arrangements and other aspects of bilateral relations. This would include the presence of Jewish settlers in the Palestinian state and their illegal use of sovereign Palestinian resources, such as land and water.
The move would primarily clarify the situation and should enable the international community to act more decisively. Israel, under the new set of circumstances, would be occupying the sovereign territory of a neighboring country, thus determining its relations with the international community.
Of course, the US is crucial to the success or otherwise of this scenario. However, the two-state solution is part of the American vision for this region. Since it is Israeli intransigence that is preventing the two-state solution from emerging, the above alternative offers one viable path for the Obama administration to see the two-state vision come to fruition.