This is a response to ’Blocking Palestine: America’s Big Mistake‘
Many groups have seen hope for a solution to the Middle East conflict in the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, the thinking being that international pressure will exert pressure on Israel. Following this logic, American opposition to the move is regarded as a diplomatic mistake given a growing consent among the UN member states for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) request for statehood. Americans, the argument goes, are opposed to it out of concerns that the Palestinian state could then file a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for illegal occupation of its territories. This stance takes root in its loyalty to a close ally despite the fact that such policy goes against its principles and values and undermines its influence across the Arab World. American behavior with regards to the PA is even more perplexing when one takes a look at its efforts to support democratic changes in North Africa.
I would like to counter that argument. Accepting a Palestinian bid for statehood would be a dangerous development, not only for the US and Israel, but first and foremost for Palestinians and the wider region. Americans oppose Palestinian statehood out of security concerns rather than a morally dubious attachment to its ally. At this moment in history Palestine is by no means ready to become a state, and the blatant international disregard for the Israeli input in the matter could have dire consequences, including an all-out conflict across the region.
The first and most important risk originates in the fact that the PA does not exercise full control over its territories, even in Zone A, and cannot guarantee the rule of law over all of its lands and stability at its borders – the Gaza Strip and Hamas, for example. Let’s imagine the PA finally gets the statehood it wanted – how is it supposed to oust Hamas from Gaza and reinstate itself as the ruling power? What do Abbas’s assertions on peaceful cooperation with Israel mean if once Palestine becomes independent Hamas will continue to dictate its own policies, fire missiles at Israel and recruit Bedouins to attack from Sinai? Palestine can only become a state if it has all the features of a state – territory and population are not enough.
Let us imagine the newly independent Palestine files a lawsuit against Israel at the ICC, the ICC finds Israel guilty and demands its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Then what? No state in history will voluntarily abandon strategic positions without being fully confident that its withdrawal will not be instantaneously used against it. Palestinian state apparatus and security forces are too weak to deal with rioting and protests, let alone successfully fight domestic terrorist groups. Can Abbas really guarantee that no missiles will be launched on Ben Gurion Airport from the West Bank hills? That he will make sure nobody smuggles firearms from Jordan into Ramallah? That Hezbollah operatives would not enter Palestine to train and recruit new terrorists?
The risk is just too big to take, especially now with sectarian conflicts raging all over the region. The PA does not wield enough power – state institutions are weak and security forces are ill-trained and corrupt. Israel contains the terrorist threat coming from the Occupied Territories at the disgraceful costs of humanitarian abuse and violence, but its tactics and strategy are successful. Can Israelis gamble put their safety and security in the hands of weak and semi-failed institutions out of a moral imperative? It would be against common sense to claim they should.
The first condition for the PA is to exercise the full rule of law, both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, when it will be able to contain terrorism on its own territory before it hits Israel. Secondly, Israel cannot be forced into an internationally orchestrated Palestinian statehood. Israelis would not yield to such pressure, whereas encouraged Palestinians would interpret such move as a green light for staging a Third Intifada. The consequences would be more bloodshed, more violence and a greater Israeli military presence in the Occupied Territories. Such a move would delay any chance for a comprehensive solution for another couple of decades.
The peace process must be negotiated with the involvement of the great powers. The counter-argument is irrelevant as all the parameters for a peace solution have been set and defined as far back as Taba Summit in 2001. The problem lies in the lack of good will between the two sides; if the solution was mutually desired, Palestine could become an independent state over one night. Any international solution without the Israelis on board would deteriorate the situation, enhance the risk of violence, and fuel hawkish moods both in Israel and in Palestine.
Lastly, statehood would be disastrous for the PLO and its legitimacy. If the PLO could not gain any substantial improvement in the Palestinian situation following recognition, Palestinian society would question the PA’s ability to deliver, thus further undermining its already weak support. It is not hard to imagine a wave of social protests bolstering radicals’ support base, who could build their popularity on harsh critique of the PLO’s inertia and passiveness, calling for the people to forcefully take what has been promised by the UN itself. If another intifada were to break out, the PLO would have no chance of controlling the uprising, nor would it be able to compete with the militant and populist Hamas in rallying the support of the society to lead the fight. If Arafat could not control the Second Intifada, it is beyond the realms of possibility that someone as uncharismatic as Abbas will do better.
I do not intend to defend Israeli policies; I am no fan of Bibi and his politics. But a hoorah enthusiasm to accept Palestinian statehood at the UN no matter what - and with no regard for Israel’s say in the matter – would be catastrophic. We must be patient and appreciate the current situation, as irrespective of what we think, Israeli-Palestinian relations, both on official and social levels, haven’t been as peaceful as they are now for some time.
Photo credit: Adam Biggs / theriskyshift.com