Diplomatic Warfare: Palestinians Threaten Unilateral Statehood

The rhetoric is flying these days in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that “there is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side.”

He was responding to threats by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat that the Palestinian Authority would ask the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state in all of the post-1967 territories with its capital in East Jerusalem -- part of Israel’s united capital of Jerusalem and formally under Israeli sovereignty for over four decades.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and universally acclaimed moderate, has joined the fray with some immoderate words, saying: “God willing, we will soon have an independent state with its capital in Jerusalem. ... Today we are renewing our commitment to the entire Palestinian people -- the martyrs, the wounded and the prisoners ... to continue the path to victory, the path to a free and independent Palestine.” Given that “martyrs” refers to suicide bombers and “prisoners” to convicted terrorists in Israeli jails, these words would be regarded as endorsement and encouragement of terrorism if someone less diplomatically protected and anointed than Abbas had uttered them.

Israeli leaders have fired back some warning shots.

Even some visitors from abroad have gotten into the act. Bill Clinton, speaking at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, said: “In the last 14 years, not a single week has gone by that I did not think of Yitzhak Rabin and miss him terribly. Nor has a single week gone by in which I have not reaffirmed my conviction that had he not lost his life on that terrible November night, within three years we would have had a comprehensive agreement for peace in the Middle East.” For many Israelis who lived through the drastically increased terrorism of the early “Oslo process” and then through the three years of greatly reduced terrorism during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister, the second sentence of that quote from Clinton is more than a little problematic.

To top it off, Arnold Schwarzenegger is here too, though he appears to be keeping his remarks mercifully neutral and anodyne.

What’s behind the rhetoric? The idea of a unilateral Palestinian push for statehood was broached recently by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and has been gaining steam. The Palestinians say that with the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic talks frozen, they have no choice but to try and get their state by their own means. A quirk in that position is that, ever since Barack Obama became U.S. president, it’s Abbas who has steadfastly refused to meet with Netanyahu whereas Netanyahu has been constantly affirming his readiness to meet with Abbas and start negotiations on the two-state solution.