Will a Palestinian state be born this fall?

By Daoud Kuttab – Special to CNN | Apr 30, 2011

I place the chances for the birth of a Palestinian state this fall at fifty-fifty. The world community, including the United States, seems to favor the idea. Yet there is clearly a lack of political will and muscle for pushing Israel to seriously negotiate the emergence of Palestine.

Meanwhile, the major countries, especially the U.S., are not enthusiastic about a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood accompanied by a United Nations birth certificate.

After all these years, why now?

Momentum for the emergence of statehood this fall came from two sources. It began two years ago with a serious plan for obtaining statehood set forth by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In addition, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last year, President Obama supported this process by stating that Palestine should become a full member of the United Nations by the fall of 2011.

This American green light failed to move Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government towards serious negotiations.

When the Americans and the rest of the world community called on Israel to stop settling in areas earmarked for Palestine, the Israelis considered such a call a precondition to negotiations and refused to extend a 10-month slow down of settlement activities.

The ups and downs of the political negotiations did not faze Salam Fayyad, who continued implementing his plan.  Fayyad’s plan has since won the approval of the World Bank and major Latin American and European countries. France has made it clear that it will recognize Palestine once it is announced. Norway, Spain and Italy have made positive indications in favor of Palestinian statehood.

Israel’s failure to adhere to the requirements of the talks and America’s reluctance to adopt the Palestinian unilateral plan have slowed the effectiveness of the Quartet – made up of the U.S., the UN, Europe and Russia. The past two high-level meetings of the Quartet were postponed because of differences within the entities over the public declaration that the 1967 borders should constitute the main reference point for the state of Palestine.

The failure of the peace talks – due to Israel’s intransigence and the inability of the Quartet – coupled with the world praise for the performance of the Fayyad government have all paved the way for the possible unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. Over 140 countries have indicated that they would support such a declaration when it comes up for a vote in the UN.

This number might even go higher once the reluctant countries of Europe make up their mind. The U.S., which has consistently been an ally of the Israelis, has kept is position close to its chest. Both the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister have indicated that they plan to make major speeches on the issue.

The number two Republican in Congress, Eric Cantor, seems to have more loyalty to Israel than his own government.  He pushed for and succeeded in getting the U.S. Congress to invite Israel’s prime minister to address a joint session. The rare invitation has been criticized in many circles, including in Israel, where pundits have said that Netanyahu should address his own people about any new plan before addressing the American people.

Politically, Palestinian leaders have been trying hard to convince the Israelis of their commitment to peace. The Palestinian president has publicly opposed any militarization of anti-Israeli protests and has declared his opposition to a third intifada. But the Palestinian public is concerned that the existence of the most moderate Palestinian leadership to date is a weakness rather than a strength.

On the ground, the big question continues to be what will happen the day after the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the UN. Memories of Israel’s own declaration on May 15, 1948 have been cited as one example of what might happen. Although no major war is expected upon the declaration, some expect that there will be movements on the ground to implement and extract sovereignty on Palestinian land.

An incident that took place last week might indicate what lies ahead: An Israeli vehicle carrying settlers entered the Palestinian city of Nablus without any coordination with the Palestinian Authority.  When settlers refused to accept Palestinian sovereignty over the area where Joseph’s tomb is located, an altercation took place that led to an Israeli settler getting killed by the fire of a Palestinian police person stationed in the area.

For some time, the Palestinian security forces have been criticized as being dormant and ineffective in defending Palestinians and their interests. There are tens of cases in which Israeli settlers have attacked Palestinians, destroyed property and burnt olive trees while the Palestinian police stood idly by not willing to intervene. Some question whether the Palestinian police force as well as the entire Palestinian public will become part of the political equation when the Palestinian state is declared.

The coming fall will tell whether the present movements in the Arab world for freedom and the end of dictatorships will also apply to Palestinians, who are yearning for the end of a four-decade-old foreign military occupation. Both the will and determination of Palestinians and the international community will be major factors in determining whether Palestine will become a free and independent state alongside a secure state of Israel or whether occupation will be allowed to continue.

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