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The Palestinians Delay Statehood Declaration

Liberty Postponed

11 September 2000

If things were to go as planned, September 13, 2000, would have marked the arrival date of a new member in the family of independent nations: Palestine. It would have been the conclusion of years of blind terrorism against the innocents of both sides, of decades of bloody uprisings, violent street battles and black body bags. On September 13, 2000, the Palestinian cause would have been realized to such an extent that would have caused even the hard-liners of Hamas to rejoice for a day or two, before returning to work. September 13, 2000, would have been a dream come true for some, a living nightmare for others, a remarkable and historic day for most.

Things, however, did not go as planned. On Monday, September 11, the Palestinian Central Council announced that it would be postponing Palestine's statehood declaration, possibly for two months. Palestinians, however, are not holding their breath: last time the Council postponed the statehood declaration for two moths was two years ago.

The Israeli, Russian and American leaderships all rushed to applaud the decision, saying it offers some hope to the already multiply battered peace process. That was also the judgement of the mainstream western press. Yet for most Palestinians, the postponement was nothing but desperately sad news. Indeed, if a people's passion for achieving independence was the sole criterion for statehood, Palestine would have long ago become the most independently independent nation on earth. Few ethnicities have been so unjustly treated by the international community in the post WWII era, and even fewer have been so persistently chasing their dream of becoming a self-governed people on their own land. The Palestinians have managed to cross the desert, find the oasis and jump into the pond. But they have yet to drink from it.
Rather expectedly, the Council's postponement announcement was deliberately vague and enigmatic. It tried to give the impression that it was internal administrative delays that had inevitably caused the shelving of statehood. But the Council knows that the Palestinians know that everybody else knows that the actual reason for postponing the statehood declaration is that it would be aired without Israeli and American consent and hence virtually no country in the world would recognize it. During Arafat's recent visit in New York for the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders wasted no time in warning him that a state declared unilaterally (i.e. without Israel's consent), would receive no support. The Israeli delegation went a step further, warning the Palestinian leader that a move toward formal declaration of statehood would cause countermeasures, namely the forceful annexing of areas in the West Bank.

The main reason for Israel's objection to a Palestinian state at this moment in time, is that the fate of Jerusalem has not been decided. If the Palestinians were to declare statehood, their declaration would include Jerusalem as the nation's capital. Yet the Israelis have said that under no circumstances would they be prepared to abandon Jerusalem to the hands of the Arabs. Consequently, a formal declaration of Palestinian statehood would be perceived by the Israelis as an act of war.

On the other side of the dispute, the Palestinians have repeatedly declared that they will never concede to a Palestinian state without Jerusalem. As all interested parties found out during the failure of the Camp David negotiations, the concrete positioning of the two sides leaves little room for any pragmatic give and take.

Arafat deferred the statehood announcement because he was afraid of the outbreak of war. Yet deep down he and his cabinet of ministers know that armed confrontation with Israel is already visible on the horizon. If the Palestinians formally claim Jerusalem to be theirs, Israel will unreservedly declare war, with American permission granted overnight. If, on the other hand, such a declaration is further delayed, then Hamas will step in and take over. The organization has already clarified its stance by stating through its founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, that a Palestinian state cannot possibly be granted by the Israelis and the Americans, but rather it must be grabbed from their hands. If Hamas chooses to step in as it has repeatedly promised, there will be nothing that Arafat's understaffed and under-funded police force could do, unless the Palestinian authorities wish to risk the possible outbreak of a civil war with terrifying consequences.
Technically, of course, the Palestinian statehood has already been announced. In 1988, exiled Arafat declared it from Algiers, Algeria, where he had found refuge. What was more, the declaration was recognized by more than half of the world's countries, namely 89, including all of the Eastern Block, most of the African nations, India, China, the Philippines and even Greece, Turkey and Austria. But these were different times. Since then the Eastern Block has collapsed as a political entity and the Russian premier has come out in support of Russia's entry into NATO. The formal recognitions of 1988 are today forgotten chapters of Cold War history. Arafat could not have predicted that. Nobody could have.

Inevitably, things appear now to be dangerously unstable. The only certain expectation is that the peace process will go on. But, with the situation being what it is, the motive behind the negotiations will not be to establish permanent peace any more, but rather to delay as much as possible the imminent outbreak of war

.© The News Insider 2000

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