A state without borders

Knut Rognes (knrognes@online.no)
Sun, 21 Mar 1999 18:08:55 +0100


Mer om Arafat og palestinsk stat 4. mai.

Hilsen Knut Rognes

Al-Ahram Weekly
18 - 24 March 1999
Issue No. 421
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A state without borders
By Graham Usher 

Aside from quelling protests in the Gaza Strip and serial meetings with one
European government after another, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's
recent itinerary has been notable in one other respect -- the studied
silence he has maintained over the Palestinians' "right" to unilaterally
declare a state at the end of Oslo's interim period on 4 May.
The silence is unlikely to last much longer. Next Tuesday, the Palestinian
leader is scheduled to have a "private meeting" with US President Bill
Clinton at the White House, his second such meeting in as many months. At
this meeting, Clinton is expected to repeat to Arafat the pledge the US
made to Israel in the Wye Agreement that Washington "opposes and will
oppose" any unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.
  Arafat has received much the same message from various European
politicians during his current "low-profile" tour of European Union states.
If he has any doubts about where the current international consensus lies,
there are also the resolutions issued by the two houses of Congress
demanding that Clinton withhold aid and impose sanctions on the Palestinian
Authority should it declare statehood unilaterally.
  The US and the EU were never especially supportive of Arafat's threatened
unilateralism, other than perhaps as a stick to wave before Binyamin
Netanyahu's government. With the call for early general elections in
Israel, however, Washington's and Europe's ambivalence turned into outright
opposition. There are probably two reasons for this.
  The first is that both Washington and Brussels believe Netanyahu is
deadly serious about his threat to meet any Palestinian declaration of
statehood with a "forceful response", including perhaps annexing the 70 per
cent of the West Bank and 35 per cent of Gaza currently under Israel's
exclusive control. For the US and the EU, such a denouement would "provoke
a crisis" in the region and bury the Oslo process once and for all.
  The second reason is the perception that any unilateral action by Arafat
would rally Israeli opinion behind Netanyahu and massively bolster his
prospects for winning a second term in the Israeli elections on 17 May. The
spat Israel recently engineered with the EU over the latter's long-standing
definition of Jerusalem as "corpus separatum" (separate body), outside of
either Israeli or Palestinian jurisdiction, suggests that Netanyahu is
prepared to exploit any incident if he believes it will pay off in
electoral dividends.
  Arafat is probably aware of this too. His problem is how to climb out of
the hole he has dug for himself in threatening a unilateral declaration of
independence (UDI), without gaining the international backing that would
make it meaningful.
  Prior to the Wye River negotiations, Arafat had made it known that he
would be prepared to defer Oslo's deadline in exchange for tangible
progress in the peace process. Among the conditions mooted was for Israel
to implement further redeployment and freeze settlement construction in the
Occupied Territories, and for Israel and the US to recognise in principle
that a Palestinian state will be the result of Oslo's final status
  But with 4 May now less than two months away, it appears that Arafat may
have to accept that Oslo's deadline will "come and go like any other day"
without anything other than a red carpet treatment at the White House.
  The US has made it quite clear recently whom it holds responsible for the
collapse of the Wye Agreement, with special envoy Dennis Ross declaring
that the Palestinians have carried out "some" of their obligations under
Wye, but "at this point the Israelis have not yet carried out any of their
Phase Two obligations". State Department officials, however, have also said
that they do not expect any movement in the process this side of the
Israeli elections. As for recognising the principle of a Palestinian state,
"that's something we think should be resolved through the negotiating
process," said Ross.
  The only succour Arafat and the PA got from Ross's comments was his
uncharacteristically harsh description of Israel's settlement activity as
"very destructive to the pursuit of peace... because it prejudges and
predetermines what ought to be negotiated". Yet even here Ross appeared to
raise the matter of Israel's settlement policies only to equate them with
other unilateral actions, like a Palestinian declaration of statehood.
"Therefore," he said, "we don't see any issue of the permanent status being
resolved by either unilateral declarations or unilateral moves on the ground."
  Given that Arafat has placed all bets on an alliance with the US and the
EU over the last three years, it seems unlikely he would defy them over an
issue to which they are so clearly opposed. Rather, he is likely to defer,
and receive $400 million in US aid (and more from the EU), "presidential"
treatment at the White House and perhaps some words, pace Ross, about the
need for the permanent status negotiations to be resumed "on an accelerated
basis" or yet another conference to put "the peace process back on track".
There may even be intimations that the US might, one day, recognise a
Palestinian state. But intimations will not determine the borders of that
state -- those are being determined by Israel's "destructive",
"prejudicial" and ongoing settlement policies.