The National (Editorial)
April 7, 2010 - 12:00am

There are several sure-fire ways for Palestinians to get Israel’s attention to their grievances. One is to carry out military attacks, including suicide bombings. Another is to threaten to abolish the Palestinian Authority, saying in effect to Israel: “You want to collect our garbage and clean our streets? Go ahead.”

It’s a third way, however, that has succeeded in really getting under Israel’s skin recently. By again floating the idea of unilaterally declaring an independent state, Palestinian officials have sent their Israeli counterparts into convulsions.

As we reported in these pages yesterday, Israel’s inflammatory foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has warned that Israel would annex more occupied territory in the West Bank if Palestinians unilaterally declared statehood and invited immediate international recognition. “Any one-sided decision will release us from all our commitments as well,” Mr Lieberman warned ominously.

Mr Lieberman and his government have reason to worry. The European Union, under the presidency of Norway, last year rejected the notion of a unilateral statehood declaration when the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, floated it. But Spain, the EU’s incoming president, says it wants a Palestinian state by the end of 2010 and is more receptive to the idea. Israel’s slap in the face to the Obama administration last month has given the possibility of even more momentum.

Whether the revival of unilateral statehood is a tactical device to prod Israel to engage seriously in final-status negotiations is not clear. What’s plain, however, are the proposal’s flaws, its greatest one being the status of the Gaza Strip. How can the PA declare a Palestinian state that includes the Strip when it does not rule there?

Perhaps the plan’s greatest shortcoming is exemplified by Israel itself. By refusing to negotiate its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with Palestinian leaders in 2005 and obtaining agreements by which both sides could be bound, the government of Ariel Sharon set events in motion that culminated a year later in Hamas’s takeover of the Strip.

We have no doubt that the PA is keen, even desperate, to move the much discredited peace process ahead. It faces, however, an Israeli public and government that share none of its urgency.

The walls and fences surrounding the Gaza Strip and snaking across the Judaean hills have seen to that. So has the demonisation of Palestinians by a succession of Likud-led governments. In the mental geography of most Israelis today, the West Bank is somewhere “over there” and the Gaza Strip somewhere “down there”. The former might just as well be, say, Turkmenistan and the latter, Burkina Faso.

Palestinians themselves occupy a place in the mind of most Israelis that is akin to those black-and-white photos of remote South Pacific tribes in mouldy copies of National Geographic: They are those people who once tended our lawns, picked our fruit and shovelled our dirt. Now we have Thais to do it.

Despite its defects, perhaps a unilateral announcement of Palestinian statehood will help jolt Israelis awake to the seething problems at their doorstep. It can’t hurt.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017