THE NEW PALESTINIAN DRIVE FOR STATEHOOD
Palestinians think of pursuing another option. It may yet throw them up as the latest state on the international stage. There is nothing strange with that as emergence of more states has become ten per penny since the end of the cold war. But Palestine’s latest option is one route that is parallel to what is being expected. A Palestinian state is expected to emerge from negotiated peace settlement between the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel. Israel however resumed construction projects in territories under contention midway into the peace talks that began in September. The Palestinians would not take that. It would leave Israel and approach the international community to recognize a state of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority had decided after the peace talks stalled. Now that has its implications, some for Israel, and some for the Palestinians. “We cannot go on this way,” an official of the Palestinian Authority has been quoted as saying. “The two-state solution is disappearing. If we cannot stop the settlements through the peace process, we have to go to the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and every international legal body.” Israel is upset about that. Its officials say the move is not acceptable. They say it is a violation of the 1993 Oslo accords that govern Israeli-Palestinian relations, and that the move is illegal. The basis of Israel's argument is simple: It views the Palestinians’ approach as a unilateral declaration of statehood, and incidentally much of the international community is ill-at ease with unilateral declaration which is viewed as illegal.
Now there are three basic requirements a state must satisfy before it is considered one under international law: It must have an effective and independent government, exercising all the powers of a state independently of any outside governmental authority. It must also be able to show that it has sovereign title over the territory in question and that the territory is adequately defined. It must have the capacity to freely engage in foreign relations in an unrestricted and independent manner. It must have effective control over a permanent population, and the permanent population of the territory must be under the effective and independent control of its own government. The Palestinian Authority lay claims to much of these legal requirements (though Israel interferes freely in its activities and has stated that the Authority fulfils none of the required conditions), but there remains the matter of political recognition by other states, as well as civil recognition which is a force of popular moral opinion - a thing that the Palestinians enjoy at the moment, as they are considered the weaker side in their conflict with Israel.
The Palestinians did declare themselves a state over two decades back; a problem with such approach - self-declaration of statehood - is that it cannot be stopped by anyone, but it matters whether it is recognized as such by other actors on the international stage The Palestinian Authority knows that another unilateral declaration will amount to restating the same thing it did long ago, and as such it will be of little consequence. What it therefore focuses on at the moment is a declaration that will involve others - a multilateral approach. And it may try to use three basic fronts to achieve this. One is the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Palestinians have brought charges against Israel for its conduct in the 2008-9 Gaza war. Now the argument on that case has moved to whether Palestine can approach the court as a state or not. The court only listens to states. If it does listens, it is major coup, one step made in Palestine’s attempt for recognition. The Palestinians may take another step and approach the UN Security Council, where a U.S veto may be used. And there will be a dilemma for other countries with the veto power such as China and Russia that face independence movements at home. But the Palestinians still have the General Assembly (GA) where there is no veto, and several countries may be sympathetic to their cause. A resolution by the GA recognizing the state of Palestine will not be binding, but bearing in mind that Israel got its most vital international legitimacy as a state in the same General Assembly in November 1947, such a resolution will be a significant step for the Palestinians.
Now Palestine’s effort at securing recognition as a state away from the peace negotiation table with Israel has implications, the very reason Israel opposes it at every turn. One reason is that the spots the Palestinian Authority claims as part of its territories include places that Israel occupied in the 1967 war, which are the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, places where half a million Israelis now live. In that case, Israel will soon find itself being accused of violating the sovereignty of another state with moves such as engaging in construction projects in occupied territories. Another reason is that if Palestinian Authority pursues the avenues open to it and it gets recognition from some of them, it puts the Palestinian Authority in a stronger position if both sides are persuaded to return to the negotiating table.
While the intricacies involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are multifaceted, and are seemingly intractable, the fact remains that Palestinians will have to have a state. The Oslo Accord recognizes this. Israel too does. And the international community is in agreement. As things stand, the Americans want the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table. Israel prefers the same, though it goes about it on what has been pointed out as its own terms. The Palestinians too have waited this far for the talks to bear fruit. Influential countries, especially wielders of veto power, will prefer to see the state of Palestine emerge from the peace table. It is obvious that the option that encourages lasting peace among the parties concerned, and in the Middle East region, is what most nations favour. This is what ought to be encouraged and seen through by all countries with any measure of influence in the region, and without further delays to the realizations of long-delayed aspirations.
Ajibade is a Consultant Writer and lives in Abuja. Email: [email protected]