January 10, 2011 Edition 1 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
Growing international recognition of a Palestinian state
An opportunity for Israel  - by Yossi Alpher
Israel should exploit the Palestinian internationalization drive for its own benefit.

A change in paradigm  - by Ghassan Khatib
By moving from the bilateral approach, perhaps Palestinians will achieve freedom.

Time for a new peace paradigm  - by Shlomo Ben-Ami
Abbas might be embarking on what could turn out to be a self-defeating diplomatic exercise.

Pressuring Israel  - an interview with Riad Malki
We believe that such recognition is a way to pressure Israel.

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An opportunity for Israel
by Yossi Alpher
As more and more South American countries--Chile is the latest--proclaim their recognition of a Palestinian state, the clamor grows in Jerusalem to declare a major failure of Israeli diplomacy. Didn't Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman travel to Latin America some months ago to stem the tide of recognition? Didn't Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu telephone the president of Chile just last week to persuade him not to join the Palestine bandwagon? And if Latin America goes, won't Europe be next and then, god forbid, the United States?

This is not the first time the Palestinians seek international recognition of a non-existent state. Several decades ago, long before Oslo, there was a global wave of diplomatic recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. PLO legations were set up in European capitals. Official Israel was horrified; the PLO at that time was still linked to terrorism, and the European move was seen, not without reason, as a form of appeasement. But the only substantive outcome was a gradual moderation of PLO positions.

This led to another global wave of recognition after the PLO declared Palestinian statehood in 1988. Again, little of substance emerged from this maneuver. Many who recall it are particularly wary of the outcome of the current Palestinian diplomatic campaign.

This time, however, may be different. The Netanyahu government's apprehension is palpable, presumably because unlike in earlier instances, four circumstances are very different. For the first time, a Palestinian diplomatic achievement is being registered against a backdrop of growing isolation and de-legitimization of Israel. Perhaps more important, for the first time the Palestinians are successfully putting in place the actual infrastructure of a state, even if only in the West Bank, as part of an integrated strategy of state-building and recognition. Then too, for the first time all sides ostensibly agree that there should be a Palestinian state. Lest we forget, neither Israel nor the United States endorsed a two-state solution until recently. Finally, the world is increasingly aware, more than 15 years after Oslo, that neither Israel nor the PLO is politically capable of negotiating the modalities of a two-state solution and enforcing it.

Hence the growing attraction of the current Palestinian scheme: international recognition is designed to lead not to a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence but to creation of a state within the 1967 lines by the United Nations. It looks increasingly like this is going to happen, particularly in view of the ongoing failure of the current peace "non-process" and the Obama administration's growing frustration with Netanyahu. With or without an American veto, Israel could emerge from this exercise far more isolated than it already is. What should it do?

Instead of wringing its hands and complaining to the world, Israel should stop, take a deep breath, and sit down with its American partner and ally to assess ways in which the Palestinian initiative can be leveraged for the benefit of both Israel and a two-state solution. The most positive aspect of the initiative from Israel's standpoint is that it is confined to defining a territorial state within the 1967 lines. It doesn't deal with the right of return or Temple Mount issues, which are automatic deal-breakers in direct bilateral talks because the Palestinian position threatens Israel at the existential level. Israel can contemplate the UN turning its conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, with its heavy representation of 1948 refugees, into a more manageable state-to-state conflict. Israel will hitherto negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas as president of Palestine, not chairman of the PLO. This could be a significant transformation.

Israel and the US can discuss acceptable language for a UN resolution that recognizes the need for territorial swaps and special arrangements for settlements, along with Israel's special security requirements, as issues to be negotiated between the two states. The modalities of placing a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem can also be accommodated, with international recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel's capital stated explicitly for the first time. Jerusalem and Washington can insist that the UN resolution draw its inspiration from General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which explicitly recognized a "Jewish state". Together, they can design wording that anticipates the demands upon Israel of international law once a Palestinian state has been recognized by the UN. And Israel can leverage its willingness to contemplate such a UN resolution into security reassurances from Washington and normalization concessions from the Arab League.

All this could conceivably be feasible, if Israel stops fighting the Palestinian internationalization drive and starts exploiting it for its own benefit. All this, if Netanyahu is really serious about creating a Palestinian state so Israel can preserve its Jewish identity and integrity.

Unfortunately, however, Netanyahu and his government are blatantly incapable of sustaining such a move. The initiative must come from Washington. And for that to happen, the US has to seriously reassess its current failed peace policy.-Published 10/1/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

A change in paradigm
by Ghassan Khatib
Palestinians attach great importance to the recent series of Latin American states that have recognized an independent Palestine on the 1967 borders. Although Israel is downplaying this phenomenon, Palestinians look at it as part of general change in the attitude towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict of many prominent members of the international community.

While Latin America is perhaps distant and its countries not as influential in our region as for example the European Union, China, Russia and the United States, their recognition is important for other reasons. Most of them were previously supporters of Israel, coming under the influence of the United States and its foreign policy leanings. Some Palestinians have even recalled that Brazil, one of the countries to recognize Palestine today, chaired the United Nations session in which the UN recognized Israel.

These changes are important not only in and of themselves, but because they are indicators of an increase in international support for an independent Palestinian state and, more importantly, the growing willingness of the international community to play a more direct role in ending the Israeli occupation and creating a Palestinian state. Other indicators include the similar tendencies to upgrade Palestinian representation in Greece, Spain, France and Norway.

Not least were the positions expressed by the European Council of Ministers in December and the last Quartet statement of March, all of which have moved significantly towards actively supporting an end to Israeli occupation and allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state.

And although these are not necessarily developments with immediate or direct impact on the reality on the ground, they are perceived by Palestinians as part of an international attitude that is determined to help end the conflict in one way or another.

Three main factors are playing into these developments. If they continue according to current trends, these factors may further push along the international community's position. First and most important is the continuous success in the performance of the Palestinian Authority, which has demonstrated that Palestinians can govern themselves like many independent peoples. The Palestinian Authority has shown itself as able to build state institutions, maintain law and order, reform itself, fulfill international obligations and improve basic social services, and even improve the economy, despite all of the interferences and damage done by the occupation.

The second factor is continued Israeli violations of international legality and of its obligations to the peace process and its terms of reference, especially the roadmap. Continuing settlement expansion is Israel's single most dangerous policy, convincing more members of the international community that it is neither fair nor logical to leave the task of ending the occupation up to the whims of the occupier, as embodied in bilateral negotiations.

The final factor playing into international responses is Palestinians' continued rejection of the occupation and legal resistance to settlement expansion by all possible legal means, whether through popular resistance or via international law and world organizations.

The Palestinians--who are still committed to bilateral negotiations--believe that if the United States continues to fail to bring Israel into compliance with its obligations or show seriousness in negotiations, perhaps a paradigm shift will be necessary. By moving from the bilateral approach that has been promoted as the only way to solve this conflict into a multilateral approach that allows the international community to take up in a direct way its responsibility of ending the occupation, perhaps Palestinians will achieve the freedom enjoyed by most others in the world today.-Published 10/1/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Time for a new peace paradigm
by Shlomo Ben-Ami
The encounter between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can by no stretch of imagination and wishful thinking produce a peace agreement. Yet, it would be wrong to dwell excessively on the weaknesses of the current leaders, for that presupposes that with different leaders at the helm, an agreement between the parties could be reached through bilateral negotiations. Alas, this is not the case. Personalities are of course important in history. But the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been, throughout, the hostage of unbeatable impersonal forces of history.

Our failure to reach a settlement in the past was not the result of bad faith, or inadequate negotiating skills. Rather, it was a defining failure that stemmed from the inherent incapacity of the parties to reconcile themselves to each other's fundamental requirements for a settlement. This is not a border dispute--a real estate deal--as was the case with Israeli-Egyptian peace. Ours is a fundamental clash of national ethos, a dispute over millenarian certificates of ownership, a conflict over holy sites and religious shrines, a clash of divergent national narratives. Left to our own devices, we have proven ourselves tragically incapable of breaking the genetic code of our dispute.

The end of bilateralism stems also from the deficiencies of highly dysfunctional political systems both in Palestine and in Israel. Abbas is still gasping for political oxygen under the pressure of Hamas, whereas any foreign minister visiting Israel would have to listen to as many peace plans as there are ministers.

Abbas is thus right to opt for a new peace paradigm, but his plan for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state might be the wrong choice. He expects that a unilateral yet internationally recognized declaration of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders would put unbearable pressure on an Israel that is already haunted by the specter of universal de-legitimization.

One cannot deny of course the devastating effects of the new Palestinian strategy on Israel's international standing. The current wave of international recognition of the Palestinian state is indeed a major blow to Israel's international relations. Particularly hurting is the case of key Latin American countries where Israel enjoyed in the past an almost mythological status.

The Palestinian president assumes that from the moment his state is recognized by the UN Security Council, Israel would become the illegal occupier of a sovereign state, a full member of the UN, and would therefore be subject to international sanctions that would destroy its economy, undermine even further its image and condemn it to the status of a pariah in the family of nations.

But, notwithstanding the undeniable damage the Palestinian strategy is inflicting on Israel's increasingly fragile international standing, Abbas might be embarking here on what could turn out to be a self-defeating diplomatic exercise. If Abbas fails to muster the support of the United States and Europe, Netanyahu might feel free to cancel existing agreements and engage in unilateral steps of his own. Nor would American and European support necessarily produce the results Abbas expects. If pushed against the wall, Israel might try to extricate itself from an internationally unbearable condition by unilaterally disengaging from the bulk of the West Bank to the wall/fence.

A hostile Palestinian state would then automatically emerge on the other side of the wall, but one that might not necessarily be ruled by the PLO. A violent Israeli disengagement, and the consequent end of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in security matters, might then unleash the necessary instability for Hamas to emerge as a serious contender for power in the West Bank. This in its turn might draw Jordan into the business of the West Bank the same way Egypt is being drawn against its will into the affairs of Gaza.

Another weakness of a Palestinian unilateral move is that it might reduce the conflict with Israel into a banal border dispute between two sovereign states. Those in the international community who recognize the Palestinian state would see that inevitably as the end of the peace process, and neither Europe nor the US would include in the package any kind of acknowledgement of the right of return. Indeed, by unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, Abbas would be putting into practice Israel's vision of ''two states for two peoples''.

Either way, we stand at the end of the peace process as we have known it to date. This Gordian knot cannot be untied; it needs to be cut through robust third party mediation.

But an American peace plan aimed at bridging the gaps between the parties has a chance only if built around a solid international alliance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even then, it would require especially laborious and complex diplomatic engineering.

Yet, however enamored they might be with the ''international community'', the Palestinians might not be that happy with a plan that comes from an American-led international alliance. The combination of a plan that almost certainly would have to satisfy Israel's security concerns and lean toward acknowledging its Jewishness in a way that might entirely neutralize the Palestinian ethos of return, might not be especially palatable to the Palestinians.

Trapped in their own contradictions and in diametrically discrepant national dreams, Israelis and Palestinians cannot expect a solution that is perfect. Their task is to go for the least imperfect solution before they decline into doomsday scenarios such as a hostile Israeli unilateral disengagement or a decline into a one-state reality of permanent civil war.-Published 10/1/2011 ©

Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign minister who now serves as vice-president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of "Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy"

Pressuring Israel
an interview with Riad Malki
bitterlemons: What is the importance of the string of Latin American countries that have recognized the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders?

Malki: The first recognitions of Palestine were made back in 1988, and since then we were stuck regarding recognition of the state. Some countries within Western Europe, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand and others did establish relations with the Palestinian National Authority, but did not recognize the state of Palestine.
We thought that because we have reached a deadlock in the political negotiations with Israel, there was a need for us to approach most of the countries that did not yet recognize the state of Palestine and see if they are willing to do so. The hope is that such recognition might create an atmosphere that will convince Israel that it is in its interests to come forward and to reengage with us in negotiations so that we can solve all our impending issues and to reach an end to the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state through negotiations.

We believe that such recognition is a way to pressure Israel, to convince Israel and to make Israel believe that there is another way [open to us] if Israel continues to refrain from engaging Palestinians in direct negotiations.

bitterlemons: Why is this change happening in Latin America first?

Malki: We focused on Latin America for several reasons. First of all, Latin America is the continent that did not recognize the state of Palestine earlier. Most of Africa except three or four countries, most of Asia except four or five countries, and all of the Arab countries did recognize the state of Palestine. So we had a weakness in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

When you look at these countries, there are about 35 to 40 countries - almost one fourth of the whole world. And so if we want to be strong enough in our approach, we have to direct our focus to that continent.

Since the beginning of my tenure, four years back, I really took advantage of so many communities of Palestinian origin that live in South and Central America. I mobilized their support in our approach. Secondly, I do speak Spanish and this made it easier for me to have direct contact with my counterparts in such countries. Also, in the last couple of years, most of these countries have changed to the left, which has made them more able and ready to respond positively to our approach.

bitterlemons: What would you say to critics who say this is merely symbolic?

Malki: Well, this is what the Israelis are trying to convince themselves in order for them to respond to their own critics about the failure of their diplomacy compared to the success of Palestinian diplomacy.

From our point of view, the more recognitions there are of a Palestinian state, the stronger our position is when it comes to negotiations with Israel or when it comes to our need to go to the United Nations to gain recognition of the Palestinian state. It's true that on the ground, it doesn't make any difference, but everything is very symbolic these days.

It is very important when we start to say, for example, that more countries recognize the state of Palestine than recognize the state of Israel.-Published 10/1/2011 ©

Riad Malki is the Palestinian minister of foreign affairs.