Diplomatic Warfare: Palestinians Threaten Unilateral Statehood

If pressed on that point, the Palestinians say they can’t enter negotiations with Netanyahu unless he freezes all Israeli settlement activity. Yet even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged that Netanyahu has already made “unprecedented” concessions on settlement construction. Nor, at any time in the off-and-on history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since 1993, have the Palestinians made a total settlement freeze a condition for holding talks.

What’s really behind the rhetoric at least on the Palestinian side, in other words, is not any sort of legitimate grievance against the Netanyahu government, but two things. First, they’re disappointed with Obama, who they thought -- especially after his June 4 Cairo speech -- would “deliver” Israel by endorsing all the Palestinian demands and dismissing Israel’s; instead, the picture that has emerged is more nuanced. Second, with radical Hamas in charge of Gaza and Abbas’s own Fatah Party hewing to traditional positions of rejecting Israel and affirming “armed revolution,” the mainstream Palestinian leadership of Abbas and Fayyad is under pressure to tack toward extremism while still trying to sound politic enough to keep the Western financial and diplomatic largess flowing.

Are the Palestinian threats of unilaterally attaining statehood realistic? Even though such a move would be a gross violation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which for over four decades has established that the solution of the issue is through negotiations, Russia and some of the European states are said to be supportive of this Palestinian aim. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, the Palestinians are really contemplating bringing their demand to the Security Council, where it would -- presumably, though even this can’t be said with total confidence -- face a U.S. veto, instead of just bluffing to up the pressure on Israel.

Especially when, to date, the Palestinian Authority has achieved neither water nor security independence. An Israeli official is quoted as saying that “the Palestinian Water Authority wouldn’t last a day on its own” -- that is, without primarily Israeli assistance. “We allocated them a piece of land on the coast to build a desalination plant and they have decided not to build it.” As for security, given the current anarchic state of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas still needs help from the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Security Agency, and the Israeli Civil Administration just to travel from his headquarters in Ramallah to any other Palestinian town. Or as an Israeli officer is quoted as putting it, “When Abbas travels it is like a military operation. Everyone is involved since the PA forces cannot yet completely ensure his security.”

As always, it boils down to this: Missing from the Western discourse on this whole issue is sufficient acknowledgment of the gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. On one side, is a Western democracy genuinely desirous of peace; on the other is a dysfunctional, bifurcated entity still riven with Islamic and Arab-nationalist hatred of Israel and a sense of grievance at its very existence. Netanyahu remains locked in a diplomatic struggle to establish himself and Israel as a reasonable, constructive party.

He’s up against the fact that, given the larger realities of geopolitics and Arab economic power, Abbas, Erekat, Fayyad et al appear guaranteed to retain their moderate image no matter how extreme their actual rhetoric, tactics, and threats.