x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Palestinians push for independence

In response to the failure of months of US-brokered diplomacy, the Palestinians have decided to unilaterally seek international recognition for an independent state through the UN Security Council. This diplomatic initiative has been agreed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive which is chaired by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said on Sunday that as yet no time frame had been set.

In response to the failure of months of US-brokered diplomacy, the Palestinians have decided to unilaterally seek international recognition for an independent state through the UN Security Council. This diplomatic initiative has been agreed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive which is chaired by the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said on Sunday that as yet no time frame had been set. "When we are ready, we will go," he told Reuters. "Palestinians yesterday asked the European Union (EU) to support a move to ask the United Nations to recognise a Palestinian state even as Israeli officials warned in the strongest possible terms against approaching the UN," The National reported. "Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, said any such move by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation would be met with a strong reaction. "'Whoever holds a unilateral policy with complete disregard for past accords will get the same from us,' Mr Lieberman said. 'Breach of accords will not go unanswered.'" The Guardian reported: "Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, confirmed that the request to the EU was made on Monday as Israeli ministers repeated warnings that any unilateral moves would trigger counter-measures that could include the annexation of more of the occupied West Bank. "Erakat, speaking in Ramallah, said Israel had for 18 years continued to 'impose facts on the ground by stealing Palestinian lands and building settlements and barriers aiming to finish off the two-state project'. He added: 'We will seek the support of all members of the international community.' "EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the issue in Brussels today but are unlikely to reach any decision. Diplomats said there was no question of EU backing for a unilateral declaration of independence by the Palestinians, which would be likely to be vetoed by Washington. US senators visiting Jerusalem also warned that such an move would be a non-starter. "But Erakat made clear that the Palestinians were seeking a Security Council resolution spelling out the parameters for resolving the conflict - crucially without waiting for Israel to negotiate and without Israeli consent. A key element would be that a Palestinian state must include the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, within the 1967 borders in line with existing UN resolutions." The Independent said: "One senior Palestinian official [in Ramallah] said that the new plan was 'the last resort of the peace camp in Palestine' given the current negotiating impasse left in the wake of the US failure to persuade Israel to agree a total freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank as a preliminary to talks. "The moderate Palestinian leadership also sees the unilateral process as a viable - and, in internal political terms, significantly more credible - alternative to surrendering to intense US pressure to enter negotiations without the settlement freeze. "As the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to denounce the Palestinian plan in a speech last night, Israel's president Shimon Peres declared in Brazil, 'A Palestinian state cannot be established without a peace agreement. It's impossible and it will not work. It's unacceptable that they change their minds every day. Bitterness is not a policy.' "But officials here are hoping that, without any progress towards 'final status' negotiations on a future state, the US could be persuaded not to veto such a resolution. Explicit UN Security Council support for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders would, the officials believe, dramatically intensify legal and moral pressure on Israel to lift the 42-year-old occupation. "Some officials are even drawing a direct comparison with the diplomatic process by which Israel itself was established as a state: a UN resolution endorsing it in November 1947, the Declaration of Independence by David Ben Gurion in May 1948 and the subsequent swift recognition by the US and Soviet Union. "The strategy is tied closely to - though not specified in - Mr Fayyad's plan, 'Palestine: Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State', and is thought to have originated with the prime minister, an independent who has recently publicly questioned the willingness of Mr Netanyahu's government to grant more than a 'mickey mouse' state in any negotiations. But it has since had strong backing from Mr Abbas, and other leading figures in his Fatah faction." The Jerusalem Post noted: "While Palestinian officials continued to threaten Sunday to unilaterally declare independence, one senior Israeli defence official summed up the growing assessment in the defense establishment by saying, 'Just let them try'. "Behind the dare is a belief in the IDF and Defense Ministry that even though the past year has seen an unprecedented improvement in the performance of Palestinian security forces and civilian institutions - largely due to increased cooperation with Israel - the Palestinian Authority is still far from being able to hold it together on its own. "One official gave the water situation in the West Bank as an example. While Israel has recently come under growing international criticism for allegedly denying Palestinians adequate access to water, according to Israeli officials the situation would be far worse without Israeli assistance. "'The Palestinian Water Authority wouldn't last a day on its own,' an IDF source said. 'We allocated them a piece of land on the coast to build a desalination plant and they have decided not to build it.' "Another example focuses on security cooperation, which has significantly increased over the past two years, since Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip. Next month, the fifth Palestinian battalion trained by US Lt Gen Keith Dayton in Jordan will return to the West Bank for deployment. Another one will then depart for four months of training in Jordan. "Despite the deployment of these forces - which IDF officers openly admit are doing a good job cracking down on Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank - whenever PA president Mahmoud Abbas travels outside of Ramallah to another Palestinian city, the IDF, Shin Bet and Civil Administration are all involved to coordinate and ensure his safety. "'When Abbas travels it is like a military operation,' one officer explained. 'Everyone is involved since the PA forces cannot yet completely ensure his security.'"

pwoodward@thenational.ae