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Edition 1 Volume 2 - January 05, 2011

A sovereign independent Palestinian state
The nature of Palestinian sovereignty  - Mkhaimar Abusada
Palestinians have not experienced independence or sovereignty in modern history.

A perspective from Jordan  - Hassan Barari
Any negotiations over the refugees and Jerusalem should take into account the position of Jordan.

The initiative vs. the reality  - Shlomo Gazit
The Gaza Strip regime has to accept the authority of the second part of the state in the West Bank.

Just Arab wishful thinking?  - Ghada Karmi
There is nothing new in the idea of a Palestinian state as such.

The nature of Palestinian sovereignty
 Mkhaimar Abusada

The Arab Peace Initiative, which was adopted by the Arab League at its summit meeting in Beirut in 2002, is a comprehensive peace initiative first proposed by then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and re-endorsed at the Riyadh summit in 2007. The initiative attempts to end the Arab-Israel conflict, which means normalizing relations between the entire Arab region and Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied in June 1967 and a "just solution" of the Palestinian refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.

One of the main elements of the Arab initiative stipulates: "The acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since the 4th of June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

The issue of sovereignty and independence is of great interest and importance to Palestinians. They have not experienced independence or sovereignty in modern history. After World War I, Palestine fell under the British Mandate until 1948, and then Israel controlled 78 percent of mandatory Palestine. The West Bank was then annexed by Jordan, and Gaza was administered by Egypt, both until 1967. As a result of the June 1967 war, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under Israeli occupation.

The Oslo accords, signed in September 1993, led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority over parts of the West Bank and Gaza. They have deprived Palestinians of any elements of sovereignty or independence and kept the PA under total Israeli control. Palestinian movement from and into the PA territories is subject to Israeli approval. Commercial exports and imports are also subject to Israeli laws and regulations according to the Paris Economic Protocol.

“Sovereignty”, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. The concept has been discussed and debated throughout history, from the time of the Romans through to the present day, where the notion of globalization has motivated new debates. Although the term has changed in its definition, concept and application, the current notion of state sovereignty is often traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), which, in relation to states, codified the basic principles of territorial integrity, border inviolability and supremacy of the state. A sovereign is the supreme lawmaking authority within its jurisdiction.

Sovereignty means the right of the state of Palestine to become a full member of the United Nations General Assembly, adopt the UN charter, and conform to international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all other related UN documents. The state of Palestine will also be subject to its own constitution and legal norms.

“Sovereignty” for Palestinians means a total end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It means that Palestinians alone will control their territory, air space, electromagnetic field and water within their own territory. It means the ability to enact laws and implement them over its citizens.

It also means the right of the Palestinian state to form its army and national security to defend territorial integrity and borders. It means the ability to defend the territory from outside enemies and aggression. But Palestine will not need to enter into military alliances, an act that violates the terms of peace and normalization with Israel.

Sovereign Palestine means the right to establish and conduct foreign and diplomatic relations with other countries to pursue peace and prosperity. No country can live in isolation from the community of nations. Countries cooperate in political, economic, security and cultural aspects, and Palestine shall be given the right to develop and pursue its diplomatic relations with Arab and Islamic--as well as western--countries.

It also means Palestine’s ability to administer and oversee the holy sites within its territory. Palestine is home to the three major religions, thus requiring it to respect and protect Jews, Christians and Muslims. Religious sites, especially those in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, must be accessed by their respective observers. Palestine must establish a ministry to preach peace, tolerance and acceptance among all people.

Sovereign and independent Palestine will not live in a vacuum. It will be part of the community of nations that respects international law and human rights, and will do all it takes to pursue peace, security and prosperity in the region. -Published 5/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Mkhaimar Abusada is professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza

A perspective from Jordan
 Hassan Barari

The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed collectively by Arab states in Beirut in March 2002, calls upon Israel to affirm “the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

As noted by Jordan’s former foreign minister, Marwan Muashar, Jordan was instrumental in creating the momentum behind the API. Jordan’s position stemmed from a new reading that began to take shape in the mid-1990s that viewed the establishment of an independent Palestinian state positively.

Contrary to what some still argue, Jordan’s official position is crystal clear. On several occasions, King Abdullah II has not only made clear that Jordan has zero ambition regarding Palestinian land, but he also argued that the failure to establish an independent, viable and geographically contiguous Palestinian state bordering Jordan would be detrimental to Jordan’s national security and stability. If Israel accepts the two-state solution idea as delineated in the API, this means the Palestinians will have sovereignty over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Based on statements coming from Jordanian officials--particularly the king--Jordan will be quick to support such an outcome.

That said, three issues are relevant. First, will Jordan be safer once a Palestinian state is established on its western border? A senior Jordanian official, speaking anonymously, argues that since Jordan has managed to protect its borders with Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, it will also be in a position to protect its border with a would-be Palestinian state and will be successful in preventing the infiltration of weapons into the newly established state. Jordanian officials make the case that they have conveyed to the Israelis the position of Jordan on the matter of borders.

The second point concerns a specific part of the Old City in Jerusalem. Article 9 of the Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty states that “…Israel respects the present special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem. When negotiations on the permanent status will take place, Israel will give high priority to the Jordanian historic role in these shrines.” Jordan insisted on the inclusion of this article in the treaty; failing to do so would have created a vacuum in Jerusalem that Israel might have filled. But will Jordan transfer this role to the Palestinians if the latter arrive at a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel whereby they restore East Jerusalem to Arab rule?

There is a tendency in Jordan to do so, but only in the event the Palestinians manage to practice sovereignty over the Muslim holy site there, Haram al-Sharif. Jordan most probably will stick to its right stipulated in Article 9 if the outcome is otherwise. On different occasions, Jordan has floated the idea that sovereignty at Haram al-Sharif is for God, a statement that does not resonate well with the PLO.

Third, it is hard to avoid the sense that the mere establishment of an independent Palestinian state can hardly reassure Jordan when it comes to the thorniest issue: a solution to the refugee and displaced persons problem. By far, the refugee problem is the most vital interest and is widely seen as the most significant issue in final status negotiations. Jordan hosts roughly 40 percent of the Palestinian refugees and nearly 90 percent of the displaced persons of Palestinian origin.

Over the last few years, a school of thought has emerged with regard to the refugees and displaced persons. In light of the current demographic balance between Transjordanians and Palestinians in Jordan, a growing number of Transjordanians strongly believe that unless the refugees practice their right of return, Jordan will run the risk of compromising its identity--an issue of great relevance to the kingdom's stability. Fahad Khitan, a leading and credible Jordanian columnist, makes the case that any solution that does not address the issue of refugees will be a catastrophe for Jordan.

Article 8 of the Jordanian-Israeli treaty committed both sides to seek a solution to the refugee problem "in negotiations, in a framework to be agreed, bilateral or otherwise, in conjunction with and at the same time as the permanent status negotiations. . . ." Now the API calls for finding an agreed solution to the refugee problem. However, there is a feeling among Jordanians that Israel will not agree to allow refugees to return to Israel proper. Compounding this fear, the PLO might cut a deal with Israel whereby it sacrifices Jordan’s interest when it comes to the refugee issue. In fact, a former Jordanian prime minister is on record warning that the PLO might strike a deal at the expense of Jordan.

In short, an agreement on a sovereign Palestinian state that puts off the refugee file, let alone foregoes the refugees' right of return, is not advantageous from a Jordanian perspective. Therefore, any negotiations over the refugees and Jerusalem should take into account the position of Jordan. In fact, Jordan should be brought to the table particularly when discussion turns to the issue of refugees.

Attractive as it may look, the benefits of establishment of an independent Palestinian state should be gauged by how much it helps solve the refugee problem.-Published 5/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Hassan Barari is professor of international relations at the University of Jordan.

The initiative vs. the reality
 Shlomo Gazit

A key phrase in the Arab Peace Initiative speaks of the need for "the acceptance of the establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital". This is no more than the definition of an aspiration, an objective. It must be analyzed in all its aspects, including the likelihood of its reaching fruition, with emphasis on the question of Palestine's political sovereignty.

The Britannica states that "sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory." Wikipedia goes on to assert that "sovereignty is a central concept linked to permission for a country to exercise force both domestically and externally. Force can take several expressions, one being the concentration of the instruments of violence of a state (army, police) in the hands of political authorities. This means they have the capacity to defend the country against elements hostile to it from within and from abroad."

In examining the significance of this definition for the possible establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, two central questions immediately arise: the question of the state's borders and the question of its authority and capacity to maintain an independent military force.

First, let us examine the question of a Palestinian state's borders. The API places those borders on the June 4, 1967 lines. Concerning part of the territory of the state, there is ostensibly no problem: Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in its entirety in 2005 and there is no impediment to this territory becoming part of a sovereign Palestinian state. Moreover, in the course of the past five years the Gaza "state" has openly acquired arms. The Gaza regime employs these weapons domestically against its opponents and externally against Israel.

But there's the rub: matters are not so simple. From an internal Palestinian standpoint, the Gaza Strip regime has to agree to accept the authority of the second part of the state in the West Bank and bow to the outcome of elections held among all Palestinian residents. At least for the moment the two sides are far from resolving this issue.

A second problem is that the physical link between the two parts of a Palestinian state is dependent on agreement with Israel to determine arrangements for safe passage and movement of people and goods. The conclusion is clear: this phrase in the API is not ripe for implementation.

We turn now to the borders of the eastern part of the prospective state, the West Bank. Here Israel is in control from both the political-juridical standpoint and in terms of security presence and activity. Further, during the years that have elapsed since 1967, facts on the ground have been created in terms of significant Israeli settlement, both quantitatively (more than half a million settlers) and by way of distribution throughout nearly all of the West Bank. The political and practical significance is clear: it will only be possible to activate Palestinian sovereignty through negotiations and diplomatic agreement with Israel or through removal of the Israeli presence by military force or diplomatic compellance.

Yet another aspect of the border question involves the Jordan River as eastern boundary of Palestine. Here, implementation of Palestinian sovereignty requires negotiations and agreement with the Hashemite Kingdom.

We now proceed to the second question, that of a sovereign Palestinian state's authority and capacity to maintain an independent military force. I don't know which of the problems suggested by this question is harder to resolve: Israel's demand that the state be demilitarized of any offensive capability, or dismantling the military and ordnance accumulated in the Gaza Strip in recent years.

The arms currently held by Hamas in Gaza remind us of Lebanon's dilemma as it faces the demand to acquiesce in the "sovereign" and independent existence and operations of the Hizballah army. A state of Palestine will not be able to exist at all, even in the West Bank alone, unless Hamas is demilitarized and ceases to project the threat of force against the state's sovereignty.

Here we turn to the military relationship between the state of Palestine and Israel. We have already noted that Palestine cannot be sovereign in the territory allotted to it as long as the question of Israel's sovereign and physical presence in that territory is not resolved. Accordingly, negotiations and an agreement between the two sides will be required. Israel has demands, some perhaps even extreme, on the security question. These concern the length of time it will supervise agreed demilitarization arrangements, as well as of course the issue of permanent borders, meaning quite clearly the issue of maintaining the main settlement blocs in place under Israeli sovereignty and control.

To sum up, a sovereign Palestinian state as proposed by the API cannot be realized without negotiations that result in clear and binding agreements between the West Bank and Gaza Strip and between the new state and Israel.-Published 5/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Shlomo Gazit, a retired IDF general and former head of military intelligence, was Israel's first coordinator of government operations in the occupied territories in 1967.

Just Arab wishful thinking?
 Ghada Karmi

It is difficult to think of a term so frequently cited by political circles and with so little basis in reality as “the Palestinian state”. Even more illusory is the description of this non-existent state as “sovereign” and “independent”. These terms appear in Article 2 (III) of the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab summit of 2002. The text speaks of, “The establishment of a sovereign independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital”--surely a statement about the triumph of hope over experience?

There is nothing new in the idea of a Palestinian state as such. It been been taking shape over many decades, a remarkable phenomenon of something avidly pursued without actually happening, despite years of “peacemaking”. Partition of the land of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states was ushered in by the British mandatory government in the 1937 Peel Commission report as a solution to the conflict between Jews and Arabs at the time. It acquired more status with UN General Assembly partition resolution 181, passed in 1947. By 1977, Palestinians (who had always rejected the idea of partition) began their gradual descent toward its acceptance when the Palestine National Council approved the establishment of an “independent national state” on any liberated Palestinian land. Not long after, the 1982 Saudi-sponsored Fez peace plan proposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state, following on from a similar Russian proposal in 1981.

But it was the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, passed by the PNC in November 1988 that put the seal on the Palestinian state concept. The state would be established in the 1967 territories (by implication), with (East) Jerusalem as its capital. The declaration is replete with references to “independence” and “sovereignty”. It validates itself by reference to the previously-rejected UN partition resolution, which declared the Arab and Jewish states to be sovereign, although it excluded Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, these attributes have been essential components of their hoped-for state.

In later developments, from the 1993 Oslo accords to the 2004 road map, this understanding of the meaning of statehood has remained the same. The tortuous discussions over Jerusalem’s Old City during the 2000 Camp David meeting between Israel and the PLO under US auspices were centered on the issue of sovereignty at the Haram al-Sharif. The absurd nature of the proposed arrangements is testament to the importance of the concept.

The current Palestinian proposal to ask the UN Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state, which must be independent and sovereign, has revived the debate. The argument goes that if the peace negotiations are stalled and the agreed international position is for a two-state solution, it is logical to give the peace process aiming to achieve this a shot in the arm. This view has won international attention, which is now focused on whether it will happen and whether the US will veto such a proposal, or possibly abstain. There is considerable Israeli alarm over this turn of events, although tempered with cynicism. As Israel’s government spokesman, Mark Regev, pointed out to the BBC on January 5, the Palestinians made a similar declaration in 1988, recognized by nearly 100 world states, but “where did it get them?” In the same interview, Tony Blair, the Quartets’ usually blandly-spoken peace envoy, stressed the importance of the other side’s agreement to the success of any proposal.

Indeed so. Declarations and statements about an independent, sovereign Palestinian state can be endlessly reiterated, but they are meaningless while they ignore the elephant in the room. Israel has never agreed to any such formulation of a Palestinian state, and no one has ever made it change position. Israel’s current prime minister, for example, though he accepted the idea of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River in an unprecedented speech in June 2009, spoke of “certain attributes of independence” for the state, but rejected many aspects of sovereignty. It would be demilitarized, he said, and its borders subject to Israeli control. No Israeli leader has ever gone beyond these conditions, especially not the architect of Oslo, Yitzhak Rabin, who did not object to Palestinians displaying the trappings of statehood, but no more.

A piece by Zalman Shoval in the Israeli daily Israel Today on January 2 sums up the Israeli attitude. Loss of control over the border with the putative Palestinian state would be a supreme security concern for Israel impossible to relinquish. He cautioned dramatically against Israel falling into the same perils that America faces with no control over the Taliban in Afghanistan or over Iranian influence in Iraq.

Shoval’s view is fairly representative of general Israeli opinion. Given that no one is prepared to end Israel’s hold on Palestinian territory, even now, there can be no real sovereignty or independence for any Palestinian entity in no matter what borders. These worthy attributes may be enshrined in law and justice, but they must be implemented on the ground. Far better for the Arabs to recognize this and ditch their peace plan, which Israel has never accepted anyway. They and the Palestinian leadership must face reality. -Published 5/1/2011 © bitterlemons-api.org

Ghada Karmi is the author of “Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemma in Palestine”.

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