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26 May 2011

Road to Palestine becoming clearer

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The marathon of speeches that the US capital Washington witnessed last week cleared the view as to what is needed for Palestinians to reach their coveted independent state. Clearing the view, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that getting a state will be easy or attainable in the near future.

People wanting to reach statehood need to be united, set clear and realistic goals as to its borders and have a blueprint for how to reach statehood and not just declare it.

Hidden in the two speeches of US President Barack Obama are some clear hints at how Palestinians can accomplish their national goals.

While both Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised the recent Fateh-Hamas reconciliation, it is easy to see the differences. Obama did not oppose it, but called on Palestinians to provide answers to the demands of the international community, whereas Netanyahu simply called on Palestinians to tear their reconciliation agreement.

The cohesiveness of any people is an essential component for seeking independence. No people has been able to reach statehood when divided. While the new Palestinian government will most certainly comply with international demands, refusing reconciliation will be national suicide.

The Obama administration and the international community which accepted the Harriri government despite the presence of Hizbollah ministers in its composition cannot reject the upcoming Mahmoud Abbas government made up of technocrats who are neither Hamas nor Fateh members.

The 1967 borders with mutually agreed-to land swaps is now etched in US policy as the basis for talks. For months, the international community has been waiting the position of the Obama administration on the issue of the territorial basis for talks. The Quartet, made up of the US, the EU, Russia and the UN, postponed two previously announced meetings for fear that their adoption of the 1967 borders as the basis for talks would cause a major negative reaction from Israel.

Speaking to AIPAC, Obama came out full force in defending this particular clause in his earlier speech that was largely aimed at the Arab Spring. Not only did Obama criticise Netanyahu and company for distorting what he said, he also defended his idea as necessary, noting that the cost of procrastination will be further international isolation of Israel.

After Obama took this position to the pro-Israel lobby, not only did he get scores of applause, his speech also got support from an unusual source. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who one day earlier publicly lectured Obama on the issue of Israel’s so called indefensible borders, publicly praised Obama’s AIPAC speech even though it was no different at all from the earlier speech to which Netanyahu objected.

Netanyahu did not have any further meetings with the US president and there is no indication that he received any secret assurances since his public outburst at the White House.

Obama was also clear about the other neighbhours of Palestine, namely, Egypt and Jordan. This removes Israel’s claims to the Jordan Valley as well as any other deal with Jordan in which Palestine will be less than an independent state.

International partners in the Quartet immediately welcomed the demarcation and Palestinians can and must work now based on this public position.

With the people united, and with the borders of Palestine clear, what remains is how to reach the statehood goal.

Obama is correct that going to the UN will not produce statehood. However, Obama himself explained why Palestinians feel forced to go to the international body. The failure of any agreement and the overwhelming international support for a resolution are the reasons why Palestinians want to go to the UN, Obama said.

While Obama’s explanation is meant to encourage Israel to reach a bilateral agreement with the Palestinians, there is a hidden message here. While the US (for domestic reasons and because of the pro-Israel lobby) might choose to vote against such a declaration, it is clear that the Obama administration will understand that this is the only nonviolent alternative left to the Palestinian leadership if the Israelis refuse to accept the now internationally accepted (including by the US) basis for the Palestinian state.

However, what Obama didn’t say and what Palestinians should start thinking about is what happens on the day after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly issues the birth certificate of the state of Palestine.

The infrastructure of the state of Palestine has been well developed in recent years, most importantly under the direction of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, but the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority remain very limited. Palestinians and their supporters, including many pro-peace Israelis, must be ready to use the declaration of statehood to widen the areas of control by the Palestinian Authority.

Teams of Palestinians, along with Israeli and international supporters, must start now laying out detailed plans of what to do in the days following the declaration of statehood. Such acts must be totally nonviolent but will for sure be legitimate because they will enforce such a declaration on the ground.

While it is not clear how far such an effort will go and how much land it will reap, the preparation as well as the implementation of this idea will add to the pressure on Israel and its US patron to move the negotiating process at least to declare the framework for peace.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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