At this time, the Palestinians themselves don’t want a state. The Palestinians – and I am referring here to their political and social elites – very much want to see an end to Israel’s occupation. Yet a state is a different story.
The Palestinians understand, for example, that upon the establishment of their state they will have to forever give up the land beyond its borders. They realize that founding the Palestinian nation’s only sovereign state will automatically bury the “right of return.” They understand that economically and geopolitically they will depend on the goodwill of neighboring states.
And what kind of relationship will be maintained between the Palestinians in Palestine and those in Jordan, Lebanon and Israel? Nobody is asking, or answering, this question.
The Palestinian movement has always defined itself as a national liberation movement – liberation from Israel’s occupation – and not as a national revival movement. With the exception of a few remarkable figures, such as Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the PLO did not deal with establishing a future state, because it was in no rush to found one. This is particularly true for Hamas and its affiliates.
The current Palestinian leadership seeks one tangible diplomatic achievement: An end to settlement construction. It views the expanding settlements as an open wound and a constant Jewish provocation. Beyond that, as far as they’re concerned the negotiations with Israel can last forever.
Arab states too do not truly want the Palestinians to soon have a tiny nation-state with an unstable regime; a state that is geographically split and threatens the current order. Had they wanted such state, it would have been established long ago. The indifference over the dream of a sovereign Palestinian state is conspicuous in the democratization wave currently sweeping the Arab street. Some 95% of democracy protestors make no mention of Palestine. They truly don’t care.
Another Israeli bluff
Israel’s political Left and Center, and recently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sound as though they espouse the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and endorse the “two-state solution.” Yet this is yet another case of an Israeli bluff and self-deception. A Palestinian state means, for example, dividing Jerusalem. The Jewish parts will go to the Jews and the Arab parts to the Arabs. Does anyone know how to do this? It also means evacuating some 100,000 settlers and absorbing them in Israel. Did anyone formulate a practical plan for doing this?
A Palestinian state also means rather sizeable territorial tradeoffs: Did anyone think of the difficulties inherent in executing such move? Words are one thing, yet actions are quite another. So we pay lip service to the “two-state” notion while boosting the Jewish population across the 1967 border to 500,000.
Most Israelis intuitively feel, just like former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did, that “the occupation is bad for Israel.” They would like, somehow, miraculously, to end it; to disengage from the Palestinians without asking what shall come next. Sharon did it in Gaza. But an independent neighboring state with border crossings, full territorial control, airports and seaports, safe passage through all its parts, and sovereignty in Jerusalem? Now that’s going too far.
The European Union passed several decisions in favor of the “two-state solution,” but did nothing to implement them. European statesmen both in the east and west learned from the cruel, never-ending Balkan wars that it would be better to avoid recognition of small, separatist states with constant explosive potential. For the Europeans, a stable, quiet Middle East that supplies oil and gas on time is the ideal.
So who does want a Palestinian state now? The Americans do. US presidents, ranging from Clinton to Bush and Obama already established Palestine in their speeches, recognized it, crafted its borders and pledged to assist it. They view it as an anchor for their policy and a just end to an ancient conflict they would like to resolve for religious, ideological and strategic reasons.
The Palestine project is therefore an (almost) exclusively American enterprise. I would not underestimate this. Over their history, the Americans proved that when they truly insist on something, they achieve it regardless of anything.
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