Is an independent Palestinian state "inevitable"?
The so-called peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be more about process and less and less about peace. The refusal of the Netanyahu government to renew the moratorium on colony construction in the Occupied Territories (described by various American administrations as obstacles to peace) has led to the collapse of the negotiations.
The Obama administration, having failed to buy Israeli consent to extend the freeze on colony construction for 90 days, has publicly announced that it was giving up its effort to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cooperate on this critical issue. The direct talks have suffered a serious blow, as did the whole process — undoubtedly much to the satisfaction of Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton diplomatically blamed both parties for this setback. Clinton, however, did not hide her frustrations with Netanyahu. In a public show of displeasure, she took the unusual step of inviting the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni to meet with her in her Washington office.
Clinton also sought to deny Netanyahu the opportunity to sabotage the whole process and demanded that he map the borders of a Palestinian state within the next weeks. In a recent speech in Washington Clinton also stated that even within the framework of indirect Israeli Palestinian talks, it was time for the parties to grapple with the core issues of the conflict: borders, refugees, and occupied Jerusalem.
Clinton also pointedly affirmed that the peace process goes on and that the establishment of a Palestinian state was an inevitability. This begs the question: If Obama failed to buy Netanyahu's cooperation with an astonishing set of military, economic, and diplomatic incentives, would the subtle and not-so-subtle gestures of diplomatic dissatisfaction be more effective?
If peace in the Middle East be a vital national interest of the US, as Obama declared it to be at the beginning of his presidency, then it must be admitted that so far his defence of that vital national interest has not been forceful. This reality cannot have escaped the attention of Palestinian and Arab leaders.
Israel's dependence on the US, and the unique leverage this gives Washington, has led Arab and Palestinian leaders to conclude rightly that a peace settlement in the Middle East is not possible without Washington's support and involvement.
This assumption is validated by historical precedents: This was the case when former US president Dwight Eisenhower pressured the Israelis to withdraw their troops from the Sinai which they had occupied following the 1956 Suez war.
President George Bush also effectively pressured Israeli Prime Minister Shamir to attend the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference-though Shamir's attendance of the conference ultimately produced little change in Israeli policy.
But what if, in the present case, the same unique American leverage over Israel remained no more than a potentiality? What if Obama's awkward and ultimately failed attempt at buying Netanyahu's cooperation has the effect of inhibiting the US President from acting more forcefully to secure the cooperation of his recalcitrant ally?
Palestinian and Arab leaders must decide soon whether the fundamental assumption of their strategic reliance upon Washington's ability to deliver Israel has turned out to be misplaced?
This assessment may be already underway with the suggestions being floated by various Palestinian and Arab leaders (in particular Egyptian foreign Minister Abu Geit) of going to the UN and seeking a Security Council resolution endorsing Palestinian independence.
The trouble with this strategy is that it is vulnerable to American opposition. Besides, even if Washington were to abstain from exercising its veto power, the resolution itself will have no obligatory character. That is because the UN Security Council is not competent to mandate the granting or the withdrawal of diplomatic recognition, which is an act of individual states.
Nonetheless, the main Israeli lobbying group AIPAC has already acted pre-emptively and secured the unanimous adoption by the US House of Representatives of a resolution opposing a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence without the approval of the Israeli government.
This is a remarkable position; On the one hand, law-makers affirm that peace can only come as a result of direct negotiations between the parties, on the other hand they subjugate the future of one of the parties to the will of the other, with no reference to justice.
This is not surprising since the resolution is inspired by AIPAC for which the only acceptable basis of negotiations is the inequality of power between the parties in which Israel is dominant and the Palestinians subjugated.
In fact, the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and sovereignty is not conditional upon the approval of the occupier. It has long been recognised by the international community and by the United Nations.
The UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established in 1975 precisely to work towards the realisation of that right.
Rather than a declaration of independence presented for endorsement to the UN Security Council, which will likely force an unpleasant confrontation with the Obama administration, Palestinian and Arab leaders ought to aggressively pursue the second track strategy.
That is to build on the recent diplomatic victories that saw important regional powers such as Brazil and Argentina extend diplomatic recognition to Palestine. The European Union promised to do the same at an appropriate time next year.
Importantly, Palestinian leaders ought to take advantage of that reality and build on Clinton's realistic recognition that the establishment of a Palestinian state has become an inevitability.
Adel Safty is Distinguished Professor Adjunct at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Russia. His new book, Might Over Right, is endorsed by Noam Chomsky, and published in England by Garnet, 2009.