BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

Israel, Palestine and the UN

INTRODUCTION
Israel is facing an unprecedented diplomatic challenge at the UN this fall. The current government has had to contend with a host of plagues, most of which are the result of poor decisions made by previous Israeli governments, but not all. The disastrous consequences of the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (Sharon), the fallout from Operation Cast Lead (Olmert/ Barak/ Livni), the fallout from the Mavi Marmara Flotilla (Netanyahu/Barak), and finally an American government that is not unsympathetic to Palestinian pleadings. However, in order to capitalize on this situation, the Palestinians must control a number of factors: diplomatic, economic, military and political.

Strategic Strengths and Weaknesses. The combined economic strength of both Gaza and the West Bank (excluding Jewish developed areas) is approximately 1/40th of Israel’s. Economically, there is no contest. A similar situation exists on the security level. While much commotion has been made about the success of the PA’s American-trained security forces, it must be remembered that we are talking about approximately 2000 security forces. Israel deployed only 10,000 troops in Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and was able to effectively control all of Gaza – and Hamas had an equal number of combatants at its disposal. Politically, the PA is much more unified than Bibi Netanyahu’s coalition government in Israel. However, this agreement has not benefited the PA at all.

Thus, the PA’s strength is in its diplomatic strategy. This is exactly where Israel is weakest. The PLO – the Palestinian Authority’s forerunner – has spent the last forty years developing a network of relationships across the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as across the LDCs (Less Developed Countries) of Africa. Although it has lost the support of the formerly communist East European nations, it still has significant backing in Russia, as well as China, Cuba and Venezuela. Latin American nations have started aligning themselves with the Palestinians due to a combination of economic and regional political circumstances.

Is this situation a recipe for disaster? Given the current realities there is a high probability that some sort of military confrontation will take place. This probability exists on every path that either the Israeli or the Palestinians might choose to take. The question thus becomes, who will decide when and where it will occur? If so, preparations must be made at all levels – diplomatic, economic, political and security – to minimize its impact. Israeli leaders should be under no illusion that there will be a sudden realization across the world that Israel is the besieged party in this conflict. Western principles of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom religion, due process, etc. are given only lip service by Western politicians. These are forgotten, unknown or despised concepts for ¾’s of the world’s states.

THE SITUATION AT THE UN
The PA intends to seek a resolution from the UN in favor of Palestinian statehood at the next General Assembly session. Palestinian diplomats are traveling across the world attempting to rally support for their initiative. The support of the nations that belong to the Arab League and the Islamic Organization Conference (IOC) – a total of more than 1/3 of the UN’s member states – is a given. Likewise, there is strong support across Africa and Latin America due to a variety of factors. Thus, with at least one hundred nations in favor of such a resolution, its passage is a given.

The support of forty European and Western-oriented states is what is critical to the PA. In order to garner their support, any resolution must be carefully worded. The PA needs more than another General Assembly resolution endorsing peace based on previous UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, particularly 242 and 338. Any resolution that merely endorses UNSC 242, 338 and the moribund Oslo Process would – regardless of how many votes it garners – actually be a diplomatic defeat for the Palestinians.

There are four key points the Palestinians want included in a resolution. 1) a state with the June 1967 borders; 2) East Jerusalem as the capital of this state; 3) the “return” of Palestinian refugees; and 4) the branding of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories as “illegal.” Inclusion of these four points would constitute a diplomatic grand slam, and as noted above, the Palestinians are already guaranteed the support of at least 100 of the UN’s 180 member states. An additional point, calling on UN member states to provide the Palestinians with assistance in establishing their independence would also be a key feature of any resolution.

Western capitals are currently not receiving these key points very well. The Americans and Europeans will never convince Israel to return to what Golda Meir described as the “suicide borders” of 1967. Given the fact that Hamas has launched over 12000 projectiles into Israel after Israel withdrew is a fact not lost on either the Americans or Europeans – except for the most Anti-Semitic left-wing extremists among them. However, the Americans and Europeans are looking for one side or another to indicate a small degree of compromise.

Just as the June 1967 borders are a non-starter, so is the return of Palestinian refugees, which would create a demographic and economic catastrophe. The return of any significant number of the so-called refugees to Israel would create a demographic and political nightmare. However, Israel is at least technically capable of absorbing immigration on an economic level. The Palestinian Authority – completely dependent on Israel for collecting 70% of its tax revenues and dependent on the US & Europe for $1 billion annually (four times more than the Arab states combined donate) – would completely collapse.

Europeans are not opposed to the idea of dividing Jerusalem, however. Jewish neighborhoods and cities north, south and east of Eat Jerusalem complicate this question, another reason the Palestinians will seek to have the “settlements” declared illegal. All Western governments have stated that the “settlements” are illegal. This is despite the fact that the legal status of the settlements is murky, at best. (Again, Western governments are only too willing to look the other way as Third World dictatorships chip away western concepts such as the due process and the sovereignty of law.) Thus, on two issues (Jerusalem and Settlements) the Palestinians can look forward to significant support.

PALESTINIAN POLITICS
The recently signed reconciliation agreement creates significant hurdles for both parties. While the agreement makes perfect sense from a Hamas view point, it has already given the Palestinian Authority (created by the Palestine Liberation Organization – the PLO) headaches. Hamas has refused in every statement it has issued since the reconciliation pact was signed to move to a more moderate, i.e. Palestinian Authority position. Thus, Hamas maintains, even enhances, its credibility as the party “confronting Israeli occupation.” The PA bears the costs. Israel has suspended the transfer of tax revenues and Abbas & Co., have been engaged in a diplomatic rear-guard action ever since the reconciliation agreement was signed.

Can the PA be induced to abandon the reconciliation agreement? This is not likely due to a number of factors. The on-going political unrest in the Arab world is having a profound affect on the Palestinian psyche. The Palestinian people in both Gaza and the Occupied Territories want to see more progress. Neither Hamas nor the PA were able to co-opt the limited popular demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank, but they were not harmed by their abbreviated nature. Neither side can be certain of such an outcome if the demonstrations are re-launched.

Egypt has stopped being exclusively pro-PA and is now taking measures that significantly strengthen Hamas politically and materially. Meanwhile, there has been an increase in antipathy towards the Palestinians in Jordan, which is having an effect on the PA. The Syrian regime has been too pre-occupied with its own domestic problems to weigh in on matters, but occasionally points an accusatory finger at Hamas representatives in Damascus. If it were to annul the agreement, the PA’s credibility as a politically-mature institution capable of governing and independent state would suffer greatly.

Can the Palestinian Authority accept a resolution that calls only for modification of the 1967 borders and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem? This is not likely, as Hamas would instantly brand the PA’s acceptance of such a resolution as a betrayal of Palestinian rights. This would signal the end of the reconciliation agreement. The PA would much rather receive “only” one hundred votes than have Hamas, and by extension Iran, Syria and Hezbollah aligned against it. A watered-down resolution would almost certainly trigger another round of fighting in Gaza, as Hamas attempts to prove it is more capable of fighting for Palestinian rights than the Palestinian Authority.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment