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In Palestinian statehood bid endgame, the real loser will be peace

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As the day of reckoning for the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, now reportedly slated for Friday, draws ever closer, there is a frantic last-minute effort to avert the potentially disastrous showdown in favour of peace talks. Such talks are widely recognised as the only possible way to reach a genuine and lasting solution to the decades-old conflict. For example, Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair said yesterday that:

"What we will be looking for over the next few days is a way of putting together something that allows their claims and legitimate aspirations for statehood to be recognized whilst actually renewing the only thing that's going to produce a state, which is a negotiation directly between the two sides."

The US Congress too has seen mounting bipartisan opposition to the statehood bid, with one representative introducing a bill that calls for Israel to unilaterally annex areas in the West Bank in response to the unilateral move by the Palestinians. The bill makes the point that the statehood bid undermines previous peace agreements, in particular the 1993 Oslo Accords.

NEW YORK -- A Republican lawmaker has introduced a resolution warning Palestinian leaders that Israel would be within its rights to annex the West Bank if they do not drop their bid for statehood at the United Nations this week.

... "A major tenet of the Oslo Accords is that the parties at least continue to negotiate in good faith and don't do anything involving the international community without each other."

...The Walsh resolution represents the harshest rhetoric yet in a steadily building -- and bipartisan -- flow of congressional dismay over the statehood initiative, which Palestinian leaders have pledged to introduce at the end of the week. Last week, nearly 60 House Democrats joined Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in calling for European heads of state to oppose the statehood initiative alongside the United States. Meanwhile, several congressmen have introduced or supported legislation that would strip the Palestinian Authority of U.S. funding if the statehood initiative goes through, while a tougher bill -- sponsored by Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Steve Rothman (D-N.J.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Robert Brady (D-Pa.) -- would block funding to any country that votes with the Palestinians.

Yet not all in the Australian press seem to be siding with the momentum against the statehood bid within our Western allies, even if the usual coalition of the world's dictators and despots will overwhelmingly side with the Palestinians. For example, an op-ed by Dennis Altman published yesterday in The Age and in Fairfax's National Times questions Israel's opposition to the bid.

Yet the Israeli government's adamant opposition to recognition of a Palestinian state is puzzling. If Israel is committed, as it says, to a two-state solution, would recognition not help in cementing support for the concept? Indeed, as increasing numbers of Palestinians and some Israelis come to argue that a two-state solution is no longer feasible, and as demographic changes threaten the ''Jewishness'' of Israel under its current borders, it is in Israel's long-term interests to build support for the two-state model.

The move to recognise Palestinian statehood is led by the more moderate faction under President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Israel has consistently claimed it can negotiate. Indeed, some senior Hamas figures have spoken against it: one claimed it would mean ''the Palestinian resistance won't be allowed to fire one single gunshot at the Israeli occupation''. Is this not for Israel a desirable outcome?

Altman's question was answered to a large extent by this morning's editorial in The Australian, which observed that not only will the bid not actually deliver statehood to the Palestinians, when the Palestinians on the ground are told that they have officially gained a state but do not see any tangible difference whatsoever, the fallout will likely weaken Abbas' administration and empower Hamas terrorists.

PALESTINIAN Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has embarked on a perilous and potentially self-destructive course by seeking a UN vote on statehood. It is a tactic that will do nothing to create an independent Palestinian state; rather, it will impede progress towards that goal, set back peace hopes and open up opportunities for the Hamas terrorist movement.

The best and only path to genuine statehood for the Palestinians is through negotiations with Israel, not through short-sighted, grandstanding moves at the UN that are, because of the Security Council veto the Obama administration promises to use, doomed to failure with potentially dire consequences, not least for the standing of the Palestinian Authority and Mr Abbas's Fatah movement in its ongoing face-off with Hamas.

To add to this, a useful outline by David Rivkin and Lee Casey was published in today's Wall Street Journal, explaining from a legal perspective why the statehood bid will be unable to create a Palestinian state, irrespective of the outcome at the UN.

The Palestinian Authority, by contrast, does not meet the basic characteristics of a state necessary for such recognition. These requirements have been refined through centuries of custom and practice, and were authoritatively articulated in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. As that treaty provides, to be a state an entity must have (1) a permanent population, (2) a defined territory, (3) a government, and (4) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

As of today, the PA has neither a permanent population nor defined territory (both being the subject of ongoing if currently desultory negotiations), nor does it have a government with the capacity to enter into relations with other states. This pivotal requirement involves the ability to enter and keep international accords, which in turn posits that the "government" actually controls-exclusive of other sovereigns-at least some part of its population and territory. The PA does not control any part of the West Bank to the exclusion of Israeli authority, and it exercises no control at all in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, Abbas and his friends may not be the friendly, peaceful moderates that Altman has made them out to be. Palestine Media Watch has reported that the PA chose a mother of four convuicted terrorists to officially launch the bid. This act unequivocally glorifies the murder of seven civilians and the attempted murder of 12 more - the acts that landed her sons in prison.

The bid itself cannot lead to peace between the two nations. To the contrary, it will undermine all of the significant progress towards peace that has been made in recent years. This was explained last week by Robert Danin for Foreign Affairs:

By focusing on state-building, the PA had improved living conditions and strengthened security for Palestinians. All along, one of its aims was to create a peaceful and conducive environment for negotiations, rendering Israel's occupation unnecessary and ultimately unjustifiable. And indeed, slowly and without fanfare, Israelis have taken steps to lift the burden of the occupation on Palestinians, opening the West Bank a little more to the movement of people and goods and allowing Palestinian security forces to expand their control over larger parts of the West Bank. The under-the-radar approach made such tangible improvements possible.

By adopting a publicly confrontational approach toward the Israelis, the Palestinians risk undermining the goodwill and security on the ground that is the sine qua non for any further progress.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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