Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unilateralism reigns when confidence is in short supply

Updated Below

With confidence in the peace process at a near-historic low (despite President Obama's involvement) the Israeli and Palestinian regimes have increased their reliance on unilateral moves in order to achieve their territorial and political aspirations. The most recent example of this trend is the 65-page development plan put forth by appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The document outlines unilateral steps the Palestinian Authority should take in order to create a de facto state in the West Bank by 2011 and as Fayyad explained to, "end the occupation, despite the occupation."

Fayyad continued, "We have decided to be proactive, to expedite the end of the occupation by working very hard to build positive facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be ignored. This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly."

The Fayyad plan focuses on both political and economic development in the West Bank in order to build state institutions and increase foreign investment opportunities with the obvious overarching goal of ushering in an indisputable, undeniable de facto Palestinian independent state.

Of course if one remembers (and few still do), the Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally declared independence from Israeli occupation in 1988, a move that was recognized by roughly 100 countries. It is unlikely, even if Fayyad was to be able to build a state within a state under occupation, that one could ever consider the PA a "de facto" state without control of its own borders or full sovereignty over its actual territory. Building democratic institutions is certainly a laudable goal worth pursuing, even under occupation, for the Palestinians but gaining independence and ending the 42-year occupation of the Palestinian Territories is almost exclusively based on Israeli goodwill to allow a Palestinian state to exist in the first place.

The most ambitious goals of the Fayyad plan - rail lines to neighboring Arab states to increase trade and an airport in the Jordan Valley (which Israel exercises full military control over) - would need Israeli approval. Even the unilateral steps of political and economic development Fayyad seeks can never really be unilateral while the Territories remain under Israeli occupation.

Fayyad's words can be taken in a very positive way - that the PA is truly ready for democratic political development and self-sustained economic growth (despite the challenges to both of occupation) - or in a very negative way; one could easily interpret the reliance on unilateralism as a serious lack of even basic confidence in the peace process. If President Obama hopes to achieve anything in the Holy Land, he needs to act quickly to restore confidence among moderate, Western-friendly Palestinian leaders like Fayyad. If Obama does not even have Fayyad behind him, reconciling Netanyahu and Abbas are years in the distance.

Update:

The New York Times surprisingly picked up this story and included a couple of Israeli responses to the Fayyad plan.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz:
“This is contrary to all the agreements signed between the sides. There is no place for unilateralism, no place for threats, and of course, there will be no Palestinian state at all, if any, without ensuring the state of Israel’s security.

Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon: “Artificial dates and arbitrary deadlines never worked in the past, but caused only damage and would not work now. If the Palestinians want a state they should stop terrorism, incitement and declare an end of the conflict and of all claims.

Steinitz seems to be suffering from hypocritical selective memory syndrome when it comes to past agreements signed between the sides, as his Israeli government refused to answer to 2003 Road Map commitments such as halting settlement expansion or clearing illegal outposts in the West Bank. His own government has been no stranger to unilateral moves, as the entire point of this post was to show how lack of confidence in the peace process breeds unilateralism. Israel has never really had confidence in the process, and their long history of unilateral moves is clear proof of that. The Fayyad plan illustrates that the Palestinians now have just as little confidence.

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