Statehood First, Peace Never

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I am constantly amazed at the profound state of collective amnesia that the international community has regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The opportunities for the Palestinians to achieve statehood trace back to 1922 when Transjordan was supposed to have been the solution for the resident Arab population in pre-Israel Palestine.  The Peel Commission (1937), the Partition Plan (1948), the Rogers Plan (1969), Oslo Accords (1993) the Hebron Agreement (1997), the Wye River Accords (1998), and the Road Map (2002) all were plans to divide the land and live side by side in peace and democracy that have either been rejected out of hand by the Arab league or by the Palestinian themselves.

As long-time Middle East analyst and veteran Capitol Hill watcher Morrie Amitay once remarked to me, “They keep selling the same promises as though it were an Arab rug in the souk (market) time and time again.”

What the Israelis have to offer is real, tangible currency—vitally-important land that offers their tiny country some strategic depth—while all that the Palestinians have to offer are revocable promises of recognition and an end to conflict.

The interesting twist in the Oslo Accords and all subsequent agreements was the element of reversibility that had been built into them. Before Oslo was sold to a skeptical American-Jewish and Israeli public who had thought of Yassir Arafat as persona non grata, there had been an element of reversibility built into the agreement. “It is only Gaza and Jericho first”, went the old maxim. “If it doesn’t work you can always go in and retrieve it.”

The Oslo Accords, the Road Map and all interim agreements also had a series of conditions integral to the process of resolving the conflict. The money that that the U.S. Government had been giving to the Palestinians in the heady days directly after Oslo had been preconditioned on the Palestinians living up to these conditions. In the dawning Oslo days was legislation entitled MEPFA, “Middle East Peace Facilitation Act,” that required the State Department to certify that the Palestinians were living up to MEPFA stipulations before any U.S. taxpayer dollars flowed to them. The conditions included things such as, 1) a total end to incitement, 2) arresting known terrorists, and 3) confiscating and licensing weapons.  Most notably, the agreement called for all further disputes to be resolved through negotiations and not through the use of force or incitement to violence.

After a while it became a futile and “onerous” task for the State Department to certify to Congress that the PA was meeting these conditions, and PA apologists eventually succeeded in getting MEPFA set aside. Instead, money flowed into PA coffers without preconditions.

In a similar vein, President Bush’s “Road Map” to Middle East peace, conveyed in a ground-breaking speech on June 24, 2002, offered a vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and democracy.  Phase One of the Roadmap required the Palestinians to refrain from the use of violence or incitement at any time.

However, the Palestinians never once demonstrated a serious attempt to live up to their Phase One obligations, let alone subsequent conditions for instituting democratic reforms (which does not just mean free and independent elections but also creating the institutions of a democracy so that Palestinians might feel free to go out in the public square to criticize the PA without fear of retribution).

These requirements, after having been ignored for over 16 years by subsequent governments, international agencies and monitors, are becoming progressively lower.  Now that it seems that the very minimal threshold will never be met by the Palestinians, the new buzzword within the Washington policy-making community, eager to see the peace process conclude, is “statehood first,” or granting the Palestinians their state now presuming peace will follow.

Israeli journalists Ehud Ya’ari recently argued at a policy forum in Washington in favor of “statehood first,” saying that the Palestinian state would be within the pre-1967 boundaries, which Ambassador Abba Ebban once referred to as “the Auschwitz lines” because they are indefensible. Such a state also would presumably be “de-militarized.”

But how long would de-militarization actually last? Recall that the Palestinian commitment in Oslo I to collect and license all weapons was entirely ignored.  Instead, Palestinians could be expected to plead to the United Nations of being “humiliated” by be deprived of a normal, standing army. It ought to be remembered that during the “second intifada,” the guns of the PA police force were used against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Now, Prime Minister Salam Fayad has announced, in August, a plan to unilaterally declare statehood within the West Bank and East Jerusalem within two years.

Fayyad’s plan has caught traction.  According to PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is lobbying the international community to recognize a Palestinian statehood declaration at the UN in the near future.

Now, within the Beltway, because of their love affair with Salam Fayyad and their eagerness to attend the next signing ceremony on the White House lawn where they will be able to witness “peace within our time,” people are beginning to buy into the unilateral statehood idea.

Remember: “It’s only Gaza Jericho first. If it doesn’t work out, we can always retrieve it.” Remember also the arguments for a unilateral Gaza withdrawal, in the absence of a negotiating partner, as a way of jump-starting the peace process.

It is hard to believe this was a very popular refrain just four short years ago, before 10,000 Kassam rockets were fired at Southern Israel and before Operation Cast Lead and the Goldstone report.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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