Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Palestinian Prime Minister: We'll Build State Institutions in Two Years. What Have You Been Doing for the last 15?

By Barry Rubin

This will never lead anywhere, but that’s the point isn’t it?

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has a new peace plan: he’s just going to create a state without reaching a peace agreement with Israel. The goal, in his words, is “to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years."

Coverage of this just sort of took his word for it:

"We must confront the whole world with the reality that Palestinians are united and steadfast in their determination to remain on their homeland, end the occupation and achieve their freedom and independence," he said.

"The world should also know that we are not prepared to continue living under a brutal occupation and siege that flouts not only the law, but also the principles of natural justice and human decency.”

If you actually examine what he says, however, all sorts of interesting things emerge:

Fayyad has been finance minister for about seven years and prime minister for two years. But the PA has been in business for 15 years. That’s a long time. And what was the business of the PA?

The first task was to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel, which it has refused to do and Fayyad appears disinterested in even today, given this new program.

The second task was to—well, let’s use Fayyad’s own words here—“establish a de facto state apparatus.” So what’s it been doing all these years if the process of building that foundation hasn’t even begun?

It’s been very busy: mobilizing warfare against Israel periodically, focusing on an international public relations’ campaign, stealing donor money (though Fayyad is competent and honest almost nobody else is), and raising a new generation to believe that the battle must continue until total victory.

But establishing a de facto state apparatus? No. And that can’t be blamed on Israel. Well, they will blame Israel but there’s no basis for it.

The next point, which is generally understood, is that the Palestinians are anything but united. Not only is there the battle of Hamas versus Fatah (with Gaza and the West Bank under separate regimes and no prospect of reunification) but also that of the establishment against the “Young Guard” (though I hate that term) opposition. Oh yes, and much of the establishment hates Fayyad and wants to get rid of him. A few months ago, they forced his temporary resignation.

Next, if Palestinians are so steadfast in getting a state, why don’t they negotiate for one? If they are suffering under so much brutality doesn’t this give them an additional incentive to make a deal?

But the suffering is just used as a public relations’ gimmick. Weird as it might sound in the West, this is how Palestinian politics work. If you simultaneously suffer and bleed--through violence and intransigence you yourself induce—and reject a compromise peace, this will hopefully bring international intervention to hand you everything you want with no cost on your part.

If you truly understand the above paragraph you know everything you need to know about the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the failure to achieve peace.

Finally, whatever sins can be put on Israel’s occupation, we should note that it is an involuntary and extremely partial one. There are no Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and very few on the West Bank. The PA runs things there and if it prevented attacks on Israel there would be even less of a presence.

Yes, there are settlements and roadblocks and an Israeli Jewish presence in Hebron. But the idea of some omnipotent occupation—certainly compared to the period before 1995 (when Palestinian towns were turned over to the PA) is largely fictional.

And everyone likes to forget that the Israeli presence has been accepted by the PA itself in a number of agreements beginning with the Israel-PLO Oslo accord of 1993. Almost everything Israel does on the West Bank takes place in the context of things the PA has agreed to happen.

This may sound counterintuitive but it is quite true and it is a point that needs emphasizing. By its own free agreement the PLO and PA accepted the existence of settlements in the West Bank until a peace agreement was signed. It is thus hypocritical to argue that the settlements are there in some "illegal" manner or against the will of the Palestinians. Detailed maps were agreed to by none other than Yasir Arafat and his then advisor, now head of the PA and PLO, Mahmoud Abbas about precisely which sections of the territory Israel would govern during the interim period.

What’s the catch? The agreements say this will continue until a peace agreement is made which results in a two-state solution. So who’s responsible for the continuation of the “occupation”? Not Israel; the PA. And who can make all the settlements go away, at least within their own independent state? The PA.

But the PA is not going to get what it wants: dismantlement of settlements, an independent state, and financial reparations unless it recognizes Israel, agrees to resettle Palestinian refugees within its own country, ends the conflict and all further claims on Israel, and provides security guarantees.

That is what the Palestinian and "pro-Palestinian" campaign is about. To get a state without binding conditions that would truly end the conflict forever, leaving the PLO and PA free to continue the battle to destroy Israel completely.

These are the issues which as many people throughout the world must be made to understand.

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