How Arab Media View a Declaration of Palestinian Statehood
Vol. 11, No. 5 27 June 2011 How Arab Media View a Declaration of Palestinian Statehood Linda Menuhin Abdul Aziz The momentum for the emergence of Palestinian statehood began two years ago with a serious plan set forth by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In addition, President Barack Obama in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2010 stated that Palestine should become a full member of the United Nations by the fall of 2011. Unlike the vibrant debate in Israel over the Palestinian plan to seek support for statehood in September in the UN General Assembly, the Arab media is occupied with the wave of changes sweeping Arab countries, leaving little room for discussion of the projected Palestinian plan. Some commentators believe Abbas’ plan is a dream and that, in order to save face, it is better not to push the plan all the way to the end since this step will not create a Palestinian state on the ground, due to the opposition of Israel and the U.S. Others believe that Mahmoud Abbas is seeking to use the declaration as a tactic to reshuffle the cards and achieve better terms. The Arab media predicts that a declaration of statehood by the Palestinians would not result in any immediate changes on the ground. Any Palestinian state would lack sovereignty and authority, with borders dictated by certain facts on the ground – the security fence, the settlements, and Israeli control of Jerusalem, as well as continued economic dependence on Israel.
The Oslo II Agreement of 1995 established that neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza. In order to avoid Israels accusation of breaching the Oslo agreements, Palestinians are advised to shake off their commitment to the Oslo agreements, under the pretext that Israel did not live up to all its commitments.Arab Media Focused on “Arab Spring,” Not Palestinian StateUnlike the vibrant debate in Israel over the Palestinian plan to seek support for statehood inSeptember at the UN General Assembly, the Arab media is busy with the wave of changessweeping Arab countries, leaving little room for discussion of the projected Palestinian plan,especially in the leading London-based Arabic websites.The momentum for the emergence of statehood came from two sources. It began two yearsago with a serious plan set forth by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. In addition,President Barack Obama in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2010 stated that Palestineshould become a full member of the United Nations by the fall of 2011.PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated in April 2011 that he is opposed to a unilateraldeclaration of Palestinian statehood, which he said would constitute “a leap in the air and amiscalculated step.” Abbas added that one of the options before the Palestinians was to appealto the UN General Assembly to demand Palestinian independence in accordance withResolution 377 (V), “Uniting for Peace.”1Yet most of the Arab media believe that the underlying message Abbas is trying to convey isthat the Palestinian Authority has other options beside negotiations – which he put on hold.Seeking declarative support for statehood is seen as putting pressure on Israel and the U.S. toreturn to the negotiating table with better terms for the Palestinians.2 Yet it is not clear if allArab states will endorse the plan, given the fact that most are preoccupied with internalmatters and the future of their own regimes.Yasser Abed Rabbo, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has explainedthat the UN declaration is a means rather than an end. “The Palestinian Authority will defer itsattempts to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state at the United Nations if ‘real and serious’negotiations with Israel begin. The basis of any negotiated agreement must be according to the1967 borders, very limited exchanges of land and no exchanges of population.” According toAbed Rabbo, the Middle East Quartet should tackle these negotiations in accordance with thetimetable previously agreed to, ending in September 2011.3Some Arab commentators believe the Abbas plan is a dream and that in order to save face itwould not be advisable to push the plan all the way to the end, since this step will not create aPalestinian state on the ground, due to the opposition of Israel and the U.S., with some 2
reservations from EU countries as well. Others believe that Abbas is seeking to use thedeclaration as a tactic to reshuffle the cards and achieve better terms.4The Arab media maintains that even if the declaration gains a majority of the votes in the UNGeneral Assembly, the resolution cannot give birth to a Palestinian state, as it lacks manyessential requirements such as recognized borders and an independent economy.The recently forged reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is viewed as a positive andessential step toward the declaration act, as it combines two entities into one as a minimumrequirement of building a state.5 Hamas, however, has not changed its position towards thisoption, portraying it as unrealistic, futile, and an escape from its national commitments.According to Hamas spokesman Abu Zahri: “What is important is to secure real internationalsupport to end the Israeli occupation, rather than build a state in the air.” 6Support of Arab CountriesThe Arab media considers Arab countries support essential to gain momentum. PA PresidentAbbas informed Arab leaders of the possibility of seeking U.S. support for the unilateraldeclaration of a state during the November 2010 Arab summit in Serta, Libya, before the onsetof the Arab Spring.Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Araby, who will soon assume the position ofSecretary General of the Arab League, has urged the United States to support the declaration ofan independent Palestinian state after the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah brokeredby Egypt.7 The statement marks yet another shift in Egypts foreign policy. The new callindicates a move away from Egypts past stance, which has strongly opposed the PalestinianAuthoritys campaign to win backing for a unilateral declaration of statehood.Amr Moussa, the outgoing Secretary General of the Arab League, has stated that it is essentialto declare a unilateral Palestinian statehood as planned in September and there was no need todelay it, due to the continuation of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.8The Arab Peace Initiative Committee, affiliated with the Arab League, announced on May 28that it has decided to submit a request to the UN to accept the Palestinian state as a fullmember, based on the 1967 boundaries and with east Jerusalem its capital. The announcementfurther stated that all necessary legal procedures will be pursued in order to translate thisdecision into action. 3
The Declaration of a Palestinian State Is RedundantThe Arab media is aware of the fact that the Palestinian National Council had declared aPalestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital back in 1988 in Algiers. That resolution wasbacked by the UN General Assembly and supported by 104 countries.In 1997 Yasser Arafat threatened to unilaterally declare a state in 1999 at the end of the Oslo IItransition period. Confronting this bid, the Israeli government warned that such a move wouldconstitute “a substantive and fundamental violation of the interim agreement between Israeland the Palestinians.” In such a scenario, Israel would be entitled to take all necessary measuresincluding the application of Israeli law to settlement blocs and security zones in the West Bank.In September 2000, Arafat had a resolution passed in the PLO Central Committee postponingthe declaration of a state to an indefinite date.The idea was floated again by some Palestinian leaders after the start of negotiations betweenformer Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, but the idea came undercriticism from the U.S., which refused to compare the situation in Kosovo to that of thePalestinian territory.In 2009, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a program known as the “Palestinedocument” that called for the establishment of Palestinian state institutions in two years, to befollowed by the declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011.On several occasions, Israel has announced that it rejects the unilateral declaration of aPalestinian state and considers it a breach of the Oslo agreements. Prime Minister Netanyahusresponse carried a warning of the unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements to the State ofIsrael if the Palestinians moved for a unilateral statehood declaration.The U.S. and the European CommunityThe international community, including the United States, seems to favor the idea of aPalestinian state. Yet there is clearly a lack of political will and muscle for forcing Israel toaccept the unilateral emergence of Palestine. The U.S. has announced on several occasions itsrefusal to acknowledge a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and that this would beconsidered a violation of the Oslo agreement, stressing that negotiations are the best path toresolve problems between Palestinians and Israelis. U.S. congressmen expect America to use itsveto against any such resolution submitted to the Security Council.9On March 17, 1999, the U.S. Congress endorsed HR 380, requesting the U.S. president to refuseany unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. In the eyes of the Arab media, all theseelements reflect the amount of opposition that the projected declaration would face. On theother hand, according to foreign and Israeli sources cited by Al Jazeera, the Obama 4
administration, with its eye on the 2012 elections, is looking for a Middle East breakthroughthat might well take the form of recognition of a Palestinian state. 10The EU supports the U.S. stand of refusing unilateral steps, even if some of the EU foreignministers view the Palestinian plan as a tool to press the parties to move forward withnegotiations, a legitimate act that serves the negotiation process.11Expected Gains from the DeclarationThe Arab media predicts that a declaration of statehood by the Palestinians would not result inany immediate changes on the ground. It would, however, drastically alter internationalattitudes toward two-state negotiations, with the Palestinians seen as having a much strongerposition in such negotiations.The Arab media notes that any Palestinian state would lack sovereignty and authority, withborders dictated by certain facts on the ground – the security fence, the settlements, and Israelicontrol of Jerusalem, as well as continued economic dependence on Israel. At best, this willleave the Palestinians with a copy of what the Oslo agreements offered under the name of astate, with a permanent instead of a transitional status.12Securing a majority of votes at the UN General Assembly, the Palestinians would register asignificant victory in the media battle, regardless of the fact that this would not provide even apartial solution to the Palestinian problem.Even if the Palestinian state would arise only in Area A, according to the Oslo agreement, itwould comprise only a small percentage of the West Bank and would not include eastJerusalem or the Jordan Valley. Such a state would be an island surrounded by Israel andwithout bordering any Arab country.Al-Jazeera further notes that a unilateral declaration of a state, while Israeli settlementsseparate Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank and the West Bank remains separatedfrom Gaza, would create cantons lacking geographical unity.13“If the Palestinian Authority is not properly prepared for the battle ahead, then its advisable toregress because it cannot count on Obama and it is already clear that the administration willnot let such a resolution pass, neither at the Security Council nor at the General Assembly,” theUAE newspaper Al Khaleej warned.14The Palestinian PublicA survey reported by Near East Consulting (NEC) on May 4 indicates that 70 percent ofPalestinians believe the Palestinian Authority will be able to ask the UN Security Council to 5
support a declaration of a Palestinian state in September 2011.15 Another survey by Al-NajahUniversity in Nablus reported on April 12 a similar level of support by Palestinians in Gaza andthe West Bank.16This is seen as a sign of recognition and appreciation for the work of Palestinian Prime MinisterSalam Fayyad, after the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund praised theperformance of the PA, saying in separate reports that the PA is well-positioned to run anindependent nation. “I believe that our governing institutions have now reached a high state ofreadiness to assume all the responsibilities that will come with full sovereignty on the entirePalestinian occupied territory,” Fayyad stated.17According to a survey conducted by The Israel Project, it is clear that Palestinian expectationshave been on the rise over recent months, since Palestinians once considered the option of aunilateral state as a joke.18Recommendations to the Palestinians by the Arab Media19According to Al-Jazeera, Palestinians are advised to shake off their commitment to the Osloagreements, under the pretext that Israel did not live up to all its commitments. The 1995Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, also known as Oslo II, clearly established that neitherside shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza.The act of unilateral declaration is to be supported by daily public protests in the West Bank,while seeking international support and halting security coordination with Israel. Similar to theinternational campaign to end the Gaza blockade, the PA should build an international frontsupporting the declaration of a Palestinian state, coupled with international demonstrationsand campaigns, in order to secure broad support all over the world for the vote on a Palestinianstate.The Legal FrontAccompanying the declaration of Palestinian statehood, Al-Jazeera envisions challenges to thelegitimacy of recognizing Israel. UN General Assembly Resolution 273(3) of May 1949, thataccepted Israel as a member of the UN, maintains explicitly that Israel should commit toResolution 194 that pertains to the Palestinian right of return and Resolution 181, known as thepartition resolution, allegedly ignored by Israel. Both resolutions pave the way to challengeIsraels legitimacy in the General Assembly.It is further recommended to seek to apply UN Security Council Resolution 1515 of November2003, which calls for a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Inaddition, it is proposed that Israel be sued at the International Court of Justice in Holland toenforce the ruling issued on July 2004 which claimed that Israel’s security fence is illegal. 6
SummaryProspects for a Palestinian state through the UN appear to be 50:50 in the eyes of the Arabmedia, also because there is no coherent domestic front in the Palestinian territories thatspeaks with one voice, even after the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Add to that thelooming questions about what Israel will do and whether the U.S. will veto the proposal or putforward new ideas. No less important is the pattern that Arabs and Palestinians choose to applyas they view the successful outcome of popular uprisings in the region. It would be no surpriseif Israel witnesses a repeat of attempts by Palestinians to break its borders from Syria, Lebanon,Gaza, the West Bank, or from the sea. * * * Notes1. Al-Ayyam (PA), April 10, 2011.2. Firas Abu Hilal, Aljazeera.net, December 12, 2010.3. Al-Hayat (UK), April 25, 2011.4. Al-Khaleej (UAE), April 23, 2011.5. Doha Institution and Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies6. http://www.islammemo.cc/akhbar/arab/2011/04/23/122194.html7. http://www.nileinternational.net/full_story.php?ID=143878. http://www.fatehforums.com/showthread.php?p=3801410, May 1, 2011.9. CNN.net (Arabic), December 17, 2009.10. Firas Abu Hilal, Aljazeera.net, http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/96D9B5A2-9A6A-413E-A7F7-F12E5BFDA06B.htm11. Al-Doustour (Jordan), December 12, 2009.12. Firas Abu Hilal, AlJazeera.net. See also Issa Khalaf, Palestine Chronicle,http://www.palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=1683413. Firas Abu Hilal, AlJazeera.net.14. Al-Khaleej (UAE), http://www.alnashernews.com/news/news.php?action=view&id=545115. WAFA (PA), May 4, 2011, http://english.wafa.ps/index.php?action=detail&id=1604216. http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/Arabic/Politics/?id=3.1.24237331417. Almasry Alyoum (Egypt), April 11, 2011.18. David Horowitz, Jerusalem Post, April 8, 2011.19. Firas Abu Hilal, Aljazeera.net, http://www.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/96D9B5A2-9A6A-413E-A7F7-F12E5BFDA06B.htm * * *Linda Menuhin Abdul Aziz is a senior journalist and commentator in Middle East affairs.Previously, she served as head of the research unit in the information section of the IsraelPolice, and as head of the Middle East desk of Arabic TV at the Israel Broadcasting Authority. 7