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    September 7, 2009 Edition 35                      Palestinian-Israeli crossfire
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Palestinian unilateralism
. A conducive environment for unilateral Palestinian action        by Ghassan Khatib
The international climate is significantly different from the time Arafat tried his own unilateral approach.
  . Israel and UDI        by Yossi Alpher
Solving border and security issues could be easier on a state-to-state basis.
. Palestinian unilateralism requires a minimum of unity        by Daoud Kuttab
For Palestinian political unilateralism to stand any chance of success, the ideological and physical division between Islamists and nationalists must first be bridged.
  . Consider welcoming Palestinian unilateralism        by Gilead Sher
Israel should consider planning its own unilateral disengagement.

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A conducive environment for unilateral Palestinian action
by Ghassan Khatib

When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon embarked upon a unilateral strategy that saw Israel consolidate its occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and withdraw from Gaza Strip settlements but put the Gaza Strip under a tight siege, it left the Palestinian side with a difficult political dilemma.

Israel's unilateral strategy essentially signaled the end of any serious Israeli efforts toward a two-state solution. It frustrated Palestinian and international efforts to pursue bilateral negotiations as the means by which to arrive at an agreed-upon solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israeli unilateralism also marginalized the Palestinian leadership and contributed to the radicalization of Palestinian society.

In response, Palestinians have proposed two strategies: the first is to also abandon the internationally-agreed two-state solution process by refusing to continue with the interim period and the Palestinian Authority that was its product; the second is to unilaterally declare an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders in line with international legality.

That latter strategy was tried before by President Yasser Arafat, who used it as a tactic to pressure the Israeli side. He set a date for a declaration and even established a commission of legal experts to start drafting the constitution of such a state.

The most recent initiatives in this direction, however, are very different because the players, the circumstances and the political environment are very different.

The initiative of Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, has caused a lot of controversy and been described as a unilateral Palestinian strategy. The initiative defined itself as, "the program of the 13th government of the Palestinian National Authority. The program, which sets out our national goals and government policies, centers around the objective of building strong state institutions capable of providing, equitably and effectively, for the needs of our citizens, despite the occupation." According to Fayyad, the initiative is necessary whether the peace process succeeds or fails. In the latter case, it would provide an alternative.

There are two underlying notions behind this approach. The first is to create facts on the ground of a kind that ready Palestinians for statehood. That includes the building of institutions, social and economic development, improving services, creating reliable security services and encouraging and strengthening popular and legitimate efforts to resist the Israeli occupation, especially in the form of illegal Jewish settlements in occupied territory.

Secondly, preparing Palestinians for statehood also seeks to consolidate international support not only for a Palestinian right to independence, but also for Palestinian readiness for statehood.

Indeed, the widely recognized success of the Palestinian government over the past few years in several spheres is lending credence to Fayyad's plan. At the same time, Israeli intransigence on settlement expansion is generating sympathy for the Palestinian position.

The international climate is significantly different from the time Arafat tried his own unilateral approach. A few months ago Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, said that if the peace process was leading nowhere, the international community should consider recognizing a Palestinian state under a UN resolution even without Israeli consent.

Hence, growing international frustration with Israel combined with general recognition of the efforts of the Palestinian government, including by the United States, creates a promising environment for Fayyad's initiative.

And even if the initiative has been dismissed by some Israeli leaders and criticized by others, a positive international reaction to it can send an unmistakable message to Israel.- Published 7/9/2009 © bitterlemons.org

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

Israel and UDI
by Yossi Alpher

In recent weeks, the two most senior moderate Palestinian leaders have put forth the option of Palestinian unilateral independence. In his Bethlehem speech in early August, which is now official Fateh policy, President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) proposed a unilateral declaration of independence as one of two Palestinian fall-back positions in the event final status negotiations for a two-state solution fail (his other fall-back option is a one-state solution). More recently, PM Salam Fayyad presented a detailed call for action "to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years".

These two instances of Palestinian unilateralism ostensibly differ one from the other, though in fact they are complementary. Abbas wants to negotiate, and cites unilateralism as an abstract alternative somewhere down the line. Fayyad also wants to negotiate a two-state solution, but proposes setting a two-year goal for completing the creation of Palestinian state institutions as a kind of incentive for Palestinians to be ready to assume statehood. He doesn't specify whether he expects that statehood to emerge as the outcome of a bilateral agreement or a unilateral Palestinian declaration, but suggests that by building the apparatus of a state, Palestinians can "expedite the end of occupation". Both Abbas and particularly Fayyad appear to assess that US President Barack Obama will set a two-year deadline for US-sponsored and guided Israeli-Palestinian talks to succeed, thus roughly paralleling Fayyad's agenda.

Note that we Israelis do not confront any immediate threat of a unilateral declaration of independence, as was repeatedly the case when Yasser Arafat threatened UDI during the 1990s. Moreover, the Fayyad plan for establishing a "de facto state apparatus" through institution-building appears to correspond nicely with the demands of the roadmap and the Blair mission, both sanctioned by Israel, and to build upon recent Palestinian security and fiscal achievements praised by Israel.

What remains is to consider how Israel should respond if, two years from now, a renewed peace process has failed and the Palestinian leadership seeks to convert what it by then claims is a de facto state into a de jure state by officially declaring independence and seeking United Nations and other international recognition.

As this is a hypothetical case, we can only lay out the dilemmas Israel would face. First of all, does the world recognize Palestinian UDI--it did not, after all, in 1988 when the Palestinian leadership-in-exile declared a state. If not, then of course Israel is relieved of a recognition dilemma and can in many ways afford to ignore the Palestinian declaration. But a UDI evolving from a failed negotiating process, particularly in the event the world blames Israel for the failure of negotiations, would probably have a good chance of gaining widespread recognition and acceptance.

Consistent with the traditional Palestinian position, now ostensibly endorsed even by Hamas, a newly-declared Palestinian state would almost certainly claim the 1967 green line boundary. In this case, the immediate challenge Jerusalem confronts would be how to deal with the pressing issues of borders, settlements and security, i.e., with the contradiction between the territory the new Palestinian state assigns itself and the reality on the ground wherein the two sides still confront Israeli occupation of areas B and C and Arab East Jerusalem, the designated Palestinian capital. As against the urgent need to find ways to continue to discuss these issues, UDI would seemingly free Israel of any further need to consider the refugee issue since it would have been delinked from bilateral territorial questions between two sovereign states. Indeed, UDI might reflect Palestinian recognition that the insurmountable refugee problem has to be bypassed. Nor would the de facto status of the Gaza Strip be clarified by UDI; indeed, it could be muddied if Hamas refuses to recognize the independence declaration.

These thoughts may be less hypothetical than they seem at first glance. The Netanyahu government and the PLO are apparently about to renew Israeli-Palestinian final status negotiations under the active sponsorship of the Obama administration. The Palestinian difficulty in accepting a reasonable Israeli offer was clearly demonstrated just under a year ago when Abbas turned down PM Ehud Olmert's final status proposals and declared "the gap was wide". PM Binyamin Netanyahu is hardly likely to match Olmert's generous proposal; if he even comes close, his coalition is almost certain to fall. Obama's determination to move the process forward within the broader framework of America's challenges in the greater Middle East would seem, under these likely circumstances, to encourage a Palestinian decision to create a sovereign fait accompli.

When the dust settles from the failed process and probably the collapse of one Israeli coalition and the emergence, conceivably after elections, of another, Israel would be well advised to offer conditional recognition to a self-declared Palestinian state pending settlement of their border and security issues. Solving those issues could be easier on a state-to-state basis, even if the outcome is a stable armistice agreement rather than an elusive end-of-conflict two-state solution.- Published 7/9/2009 © bitterlemons.org

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

Palestinian unilateralism requires a minimum of unity

by Daoud Kuttab

For decades, Palestinians have avoided trying to resolve their problem alone, all too aware of their weakness vis-a-vis Israel. Nevertheless, weak or not, Palestinians have often acted unilaterally whenever they felt the other side failed to take their nationalism seriously.

Ever since the Zionist ambition for a Jewish homeland in Arab Palestine came true, the indigenous population has believed that the world would some day and somehow come through for it. No similar national liberation movement has attended so many international fora and joined so many diplomatic peace efforts in its attempts to reach a mutually agreed-upon resolution to the conflict. Yet in spite of this record, little progress has been made as a result of such efforts. On the contrary, almost every Palestinian success can instead be traced to a unilateral effort.

In 1936, Palestinian nationalists, unhappy with the failure of the British colonialists to stem the tide of Jewish immigration, decided unilaterally to call for a general strike that lasted six months. That strike created a direct conflict between the British mandatory authorities and the Jewish underground.

WWII and the Nazi atrocities toward Jews eventually overturned that gain and ultimately forced the British to leave Palestine to be fought over by Jews and Arabs.

The 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) caused the collapse of Palestinian nationalism and turned Palestinians into a refugee community, dependent on the United Nations for their humanitarian needs. The rise of pan-Arabism in the 1950s and 60s generated the hope that others would solve their problem.

The loss of the rest of historic Palestine in 1967, however, revitalized Palestinian nationalism and caused Palestinians to once again take their fate into their own hands. This gave rise to the Palestine Liberation Organization and guerilla warfare.

Perhaps the most successful example of Palestinian unilateralism was the first intifada. This resulted in a bilateral process that eventually gave birth to the Oslo accords. These in turn legitimized the PLO and allowed its leaders to return to Palestinian land. But they did not end the occupation. Indeed, as Israeli settlement building continued apace in spite of the peace process, Palestinian unilateralism in 2000 took a violent turn.

The eruption of the second intifada sent the peace process reeling. It ultimately produced a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the removal of the 8000-strong Jewish settler community there who controlled a third of the land. However, that withdrawal was little more than a shift from direct occupation to indirect occupation, as manifested in Israel's tight siege on the Gaza Strip.

The failure of US President George W. Bush to live up to his promise of Palestinian statehood under the Annapolis process caused Palestinians yet again to turn away from international promises of support.

Political unilateralism is now being seriously studied as an option for Palestinians to achieve genuine, independent statehood, the ultimate prize. When the Zionists unilaterally declared statehood in 1948, the world community recognized the nascent state. The PLO's unilateral declaration of statehood in 1988 in Algiers failed to achieve a similar result. And since 2002, the suggestion of making another such declaration has been opposed by the US.

But Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, has found a loophole. By offering a plan for a de facto Palestinian state, irrespective of the success or failure of any possible peace process, Fayyad has laid the groundwork. Some see his plan as little more than naive optimism and predict it will go the way of so many others. Others see in it a practical blueprint that will lay the administrative foundation for statehood.

Regardless, for Palestinian political unilateralism to stand any chance of success the ideological and physical division between Islamists and nationalists and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank must first be bridged. Without unity, there will be little incentive for Israel or the international community to view Palestinian political unilateralism as a serious measure.- Published 7/9/2009 © bitterlemons.org

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Consider welcoming Palestinian unilateralism

by Gilead Sher

What lies behind Palestinian unilateralism declarations? Frustration, yes; and of course political calculations--domestic, bilateral and international. Is this yet again a kind of "tour de force" the Palestinians have so skillfully mastered in the international arena, or does it bear substantive significance? One would hope to find in it the drive for statehood, the genuine quest for governance and responsibility reflected in institution-building, dignity and normative values. If indeed these rather than mere diplomatic gain should be read into the subtext, then Israel has no reason to panic and automatically reject the declaration.

Unilateralism has not been applied too often in the international arena during the last century. Moreover, the few unilateral declarations on record were often rejected by major stakeholders. Here are the main cases: The Irish Republic, 1919; Indonesia, 1945; Katanga, 1960; Rhodesia, 1965; Guinea Bissau, 1973; East Timor, 1975; The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, 1983; and Kosovo, 2008. It should also be noted that according to the 2006 International Law Commission's report submitted to the United Nations, only unilateral declarations made by states are capable of creating legal obligations.

The State of Palestine was unilaterally proclaimed in 1988 by the Palestinian National Council in Tunis. It was immediately recognized by the Arab League and several other Muslim regimes. However, failing to meet the essential condition for a state--territory--it has been recognized neither by the UN nor by any western state.

Subsequent to the signing of the Oslo agreements and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the 1988 failed unilateral declaration led to several leverage-driven statements by Chairman Yasser Arafat. A decade later, in November 1998, he announced that he would unilaterally declare the establishment of a Palestinian state in May 1999. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded that if Arafat unilaterally declared a state without negotiating the matter with Israel, the latter would scuttle all agreements and render the Oslo Accords null and void.

In fact, a few weeks earlier, in October 1998, the Wye River Memorandum stated: "Recognizing the necessity to create a positive environment for the negotiations, neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in accordance with the Interim Agreement." Such unilateral action, stressed an official Israeli communique, constitutes a flagrant violation of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, which clearly prohibits either party from changing the status of the territories prior to the conclusion of permanent status negotiations between the sides.

Nevertheless, the pattern of intimidating Israel by a unilateral Palestinian statement was used again several times with concrete deadlines during Ehud Barak's tenure. The government of Israel, threatened by the prospect that such an independence statement might gain the support of the international community, deliberated at length over how best to respond and made considerable political, legal and on-the-ground preparations.

Yet Israel itself took its two main strategic policy decisions of the current decade unilaterally: the pull-out from Lebanon in May 2000, under Barak's premiership, and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria led by PM Ariel Sharon five years later, in August 2005. In both cases, Israel withdrew to precisely the international boundaries. Despite acclaim in some circles for both major Israeli moves as being strategically imperative, courageously led and conducted in a timely fashion, internal and external criticism was heavy. It focused on several issues: Israel's disregard for a negotiating partner; the vacuum in governance, law, order and security created by the pull-out; the absence of any tangible Israeli "payoff"; and finally, the Arab perception of a guerilla victory over the IDF--Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Recently, faced again with Palestinian threats to unilaterally declare a state, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that Israel would not stand still should Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad go ahead with his stated plan to declare a de-facto state within two years. Such unilateral initiatives would not contribute to a positive dialogue, said Israeli officials.

As early as June 2002, US President George W. Bush anticipated that, under Phase II of the roadmap, the process would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders. The vast majority of Palestinians of influence I have met since then despise this idea. In the Middle East, they argue, nothing is more permanent than the provisional: we Palestinians will remain stuck in our temporary borders forever. Now, with an anticipated unilateral declaration, there is no doubt that a provisional boundary would be delineated until the successful conclusion of permanent status negotiations on settlement evacuation and land swaps.

Once a Palestinian state is lawfully declared, albeit unilaterally, there are from an Israeli perspective several advantages. Firstly, a virtual Israeli-Palestinian disengagement is obtained. This would speed up the dialogue over an Israeli-Palestinian territorial accord, along with solid security arrangements.

Secondly, from that moment on, negotiations over such core issues as Jerusalem, refugees, security arrangements and boundaries would be conducted in a state-to-state context. This could easily be integrated within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative, which will hopefully soon be revisited.

Thirdly, the international community, namely the Quartet and moderate Arab countries, would be more committed to look diligently for ways to promote the revitalization of the nascent state. This should include not only rehabilitation and economic steps, but reinforcement of international involvement in security, law enforcement and public order in Palestine. Finally, the onus of having acted unilaterally rather than through a negotiating process would fall on Palestinian shoulders.

Having said this, in the event that Fayyad retracts the Palestinian unilateral option, and only if negotiations fail after exhaustive, sincere and continual efforts to make them work, Israel should consider planning its own unilateral disengagement based on the need to ensure its Jewish, Zionist and democratic identity. It would do so by disengaging from the Palestinians and defining its boundaries roughly along the contours of the security fence. Such provisional boundaries would be essential to safeguarding Israel's future. The Jewish people has a right to self-determination within borders that protect Israel's vital interests and enhance its social fabric while strengthening national unity and security--preferably via a negotiated agreement, unilaterally if negotiations fail.- Published 7/9/2009 © bitterlemons.org

Attorney Gilead Sher (colonel, res.) was PM Barak's chief of staff and policy coordinator and Israel's co-chief negotiator at the Camp David summit in 2000 and the ensuing Taba talks in 2001. The English version of his book, "The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001: Within Reach" was published in 2006.

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Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons.org and yossi@bitterlemons.org, respectively.

Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.