Thursday, March 25, 2010

Moshe Arens: Palestinian dream of statehood further away than ever

From The Galilee Institute Archives:

Palestinian dream of statehood further away than ever
By Professor Moshe Arens

Originally Published in Ha'aretz, December 1, 2009

Never in the history of man has so much effort been invested by so many in nation-building as with the Palestinians. The United States, the European Union and many other countries have been investing huge resources as part of this effort. An American general, Keith Dayton, is training the Palestinians' fledgling police force.

And yet there still seems to be a long way to go. There is no unified Palestinian leadership. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, and whereas the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas is the generally recognized leadership of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, its control of this area is far from complete.

It was only relatively recently that the Palestinians declared themselves a national entity and have been recognized as such by the international community. The United Nations partition resolution in 1947 called for the division of western Palestine into a Jewish and Arab (not Palestinian) state. Jordan's annexation of Judea and Samaria in 1949 and the awarding of Jordanian citizenship to the Arab population residing there met with no objections from any quarter. It was only with the foundation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, under Yasser Arafat's leadership, that a claim for Palestine was put forth on behalf of the Palestinian people.

But for many years the PLO was little more than a terrorist organization. And it was only after Arafat declared in May 1989 that the PLO's charter, which denied the legitimacy of Israel's existence, was "caduc" ("obsolete"), and the 1993 Oslo Accords that granted rehabilitation to Arafat and his terrorist group, that the PLO attained general recognition as the representative of the Palestinian people. So the Palestinians took their place among the recognized community of nations.

It did not take long before Arafat reverted to terrorism and the Oslo Accords were turned into ashes. Only after Arafat's demise and the election of Abbas, who declared that the Palestinians must abandon the weapon of terror, were the Palestinians showered with outside assistance in an attempt to chaperone them on the road to statehood. The "two-state solution" mantra was adopted worldwide, including by many in Israel. Some even began to argue that the only obstacle to achieving Palestinian statehood and peace with Israel was the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.

But while Abbas is in Venezuela seeking encouragement from Hugo Chavez, and the Israeli government declares a settlement freeze for 10 months in Judea and Samaria, the ultimate goal of Palestinian statehood seems further away than ever. So far there is nothing more than a virtual Palestinian state, a house of cards. Anyone who thinks the settlement freeze will serve as the foundation for this house of cards will soon find that he is mistaken. There is no connection there. The intensive care and artificial respiration provided by U.S. President Barack Obama may not be able to bring this patient to life.

At this time the Palestinian state may be no more than an impossible dream. The reality is that there are currently three Palestinian entities - the Kingdom of Jordan, the Hamas-ruled enclave in the Gaza Strip, and the area of Judea and Samaria that is not in the control of Abbas, although his headquarters is there. No law of nature prohibits the existence of three Palestinian states at some future date, but it seems patently unreasonable and not very likely. Freezing settlement construction in Judea and Samaria for the next 10 months is not going to change that.

So why did Benjamin Netanyahu's government decide on the 10-month settlement freeze, which is no more than a futile gesture? The prevailing explanation is that the Israeli government wanted to please President Obama. Although personal relations between the leaders of nations is not completely unimportant in international relations, it is certainly not the first priority in conducting a country's foreign policy. Relations between Israel and the United States are not based on personal sympathy, but rather on common values and strategic interests.

When there are differences of opinion between two friendly nations they are not resolved by trying to please one or the other leader. They are certainly not resolved through the issuance of orders by one side to the other. Israel is a small country, but it is an independent country. Netanyahu does not have to state, as Menachem Begin did, that we are not a banana republic, but he does need to make that clear. That is of great importance for U.S.-Israel relations in the years to come.

Moshe Arens (Hebrew: משה ארנס‎, born 27 December 1925) is an Israeli-American aeronautical engineer, researcher, diplomat and politician. A member of Knesset representing the Likud party between 1973 and 1992 and again from 1999 until 2003, he served as Minister of Defense three times and once as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Arens also served as Israel's Ambassador to the United States and was professor at the Technion in Haifa. He currently serves as the Chairman of the International Board of Governors at the University Center in Ariel.