Observed States and Unsettled Issues

Upon his return  to Ramallah after the UN elevated the Palestinian Authority’s status to Observer State, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas celebrated pronouncing, “We now have a state.” This is, to an extent, the equivalent of Jews celebrating the Balfour Declaration with the same words. Abbas in this instance should rightly have said:

“We now have the potential to have a state at some point if we can move forward with state-building and make concessions for peace that none of us wish to make. In the meantime, we will just pat ourselves on the back and accept undue praise for our pyrrhic and symbolic victory! Love me!”

Question: When is a state not a state?

Answer: When it has no border control and is completely dependent upon another state for its very survival.

Question: When is it absolutely absurd to declare victory?

Answer: When the state upon which your observer state is completely dependent and which controls your borders is your avowed enemy with whom you have never successful negotiated a peace agreement.

That people actually compared this UN vote with the one recognizing the state of Israel is ludicrous. Israel controlled its borders fully and was fully independent.

  • Israel was a functional state whether or not it was recognized by the UN.
  • The PA is not a functional state whether or not it is recognized by the UN.

For most of the last twenty years, the Palestinian Authority strove to avoid Observer State status at the United Nations. It was not just the Israelis who were opposed to that status. The PA realized that Observer State status could in fact turn into their final status because that status makes real sense in solving multiple otherwise intractable problems in the long term.

Observer State status is the same status that the Vatican holds at the UN. The Vatican, similar to the Palestinian Authority, controls territory completely surrounded by another nation and whose borders are ultimately defended by the larger nation. The Vatican maintains its own security forces and police, has its own foreign policy, and its own national institutions. The Vatican-Italy relationship has lasted since 1929 when issues of territory and sovereignty were negotiated.

The Palestinians had feared that this change in status could lead to a long term solution that could prevent it from ever reaching full state status. The complexities and inter-connected lives of Israelis and Palestinians could and likely will make any complete separation of the West Bank from Israel impossible and so a status similar to the Vatican, a state operating within another state, might make the most sense. Here are the major intractable issues, all of which are solved with long term Observer State status for the Palestinians:

  • It is inconceivable that the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs, even those to the east, would be severed from Israel as demanded by those who argue for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders,
  • Travel from Palestinian areas into Israeli areas is both necessary and problematic so long as the threat of terrorism exists: not just travel between the West Bank and Gaza, but also from either place to Jerusalem, much less between either the West Bank or Gaza and other Israeli cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, or Umm Al Fahm, the large Arab Israeli town in the Upper Galilee.
  • Huge numbers of Palestinians work within Israel, and under a peace agreement one would think that such cooperation would increase significantly, and finally
  • Under any negotiated agreement involving the West Bank and Gaza there will be issues of territorial continuity and security. Israel’s security necessitates preventing the West Bank from turning into anything resembling what Gaza is today and modern warfare necessitates that Israel control airspace extending well-beyond what would be allowed with the Palestinians in control of the airspace in the West Bank and Gaza.

Negotiations could certainly result in the removal of various outposts and settlements and perhaps turning over more territory in the West Bank to Palestinian control, but it would be and now is, difficult to imagine what could produce a settlement of the conflict that is better than that for the Palestinians at this point. The PA no longer has anything to offer in negotiations beyond agreeing to allow Israel to maintain what Israel already controls while demanding that Israel yield on other issues.

The Palestinians cannot reasonably continue to offer a cessation of violence and expect concessions beyond an Israeli cessation of violence. The way forward toward full statehood, if possible at all, is undoubtedly for the Palestinians to make significant concessions on Jerusalem, Right of Return, and Security while Israel would concede most settlements in the West Bank, providing a contiguous territory to the Palestinians and secure access to Jerusalem for its part of the deal.

While pro-Palestinian activists were shouting for joy after the UN vote, those who were paying attention this week may have noticed that the concessions that I note above are exactly what the Palestinians now have de facto made, and they did so without Israeli territorial concessions. Those Palestinians who were paying attention were not celebrating.

It is entirely possible that the decision to unilaterally pursue Observer State status will go down in history as one of the worst moves that the Palestinian leaders have ever made. They conceded the option of choosing Observer State status with real authority and control in the West Bank, something that could have been achieved through negotiations, instead continuing to pursue full state status that may be decades away if at all possible. Worse still, they made this concession without gaining much of anything in return. It is a concession precisely because it could have been offered as an alternative to full statehood in negotiations. How anyone decided that the potential ability for the PA to file suit against Israel in the International Criminal Court was of more value than the ability to concede Observer Status in negotiations is difficult to comprehend.

The Palestinians are now completely dependent on international pressure to achieve concessions that they will now be unable to achieve at the negotiating table. Without the ability to offer concessions in exchange for territory and control, the Palestinian leadership has abandoned control of the future of the Palestinian people to a non-functional and largely impotent United Nations.

In the meantime, whether or not Israel chooses to construct homes in the E-1 corridor to the east of Jerusalem as it has stated its intention to do and fills in the open area that could potentially contain a north-south road connecting Bethlehem with Ramallah, providing territorial contiguity between what could otherwise become separated halves of the West Bank, Israel has demonstrated that the Palestinian Authority cannot make such a decision. I fully expect that in coming weeks, the Israeli government will indefinitely delay construction that would cut the north-south corridor in half, appeasing its allies. Yet, Israel’s point has been made. Whether or not it should build there, Israel could build there while the Palestinians cannot, and the only way to potentially alter that situation, as long as the United States supports Israel’s ability to continue to control the land, remains through negotiations in which the Palestinian position is becoming increasingly weaker.

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1 Response to Observed States and Unsettled Issues

  1. It is context to history on the relationship between the PA and the UN that means the most to me in reviewing this article. Because just as the Vatican seems alright with the relationship it has since 1929 with Italy, the same kind of dynamic does not suggest to be possible for an “observer state” of the PA with Israel and yet also the question is why does that exist that way? Why can’t the PA just accept a relationship with Israel much the example as with the Vatican and Italy? There was a time when the Pope was a kind of a King over much of the world. Why can people not say, “Here is where we are now. I relate to my God same as any previous century would need too, in prayer and faith. I am not needing battles in the world, but peace in the world and my focus upon my God in my prayer.” Why not that? So is “Observer State” possibly bridge to a process no cleaver politician plans in their greedy little mind? Well, anyway – this is my hope seeking peace in all this land with all of its people finding enough peace to give more focus to appropriate spiritual devotion to a truly spiritual sense of a God above? Shalom.

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