Published November 15th on Technorati
With the Middle East peace process in free fall, leaders from every side are desperate to reverse the past year of war, broken promises, and frigid relations. But soaring tensions are propelling the region towards a showdown.
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, told reporters that the Palestinian Authority is setting guidelines for a Palestinian state to present to the UN Security Council, the ultimate goal being international recognition.
"Now is our defining moment,” he said. “We went into this peace process in order to achieve a two-state solution. The endgame is to tell the Israelis that now the international community has recognized the two-state solution on the '67 borders.”
Despite their bravado, Palestinian officials claim they have no intentions of rushing their decision. Nimr Hamad, an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told Maariv, “We want the Security Council to discuss this only after we've been given assurances. There is no point in rushing just so that we collide with an American veto."
Caution must be exercised during such a momentous endeavor, or a bluff, especially when conflict is inevitable. The US position won’t support any initiative that excludes Israeli input, a message Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is driving home.
“There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” he told an audience in Jerusalem that included American senators, “and any unilateral attempts outside that framework will unravel the existing agreements between us and could entail unilateral steps by Israel.”
Israeli officials, notably Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, expressed similar opposition, and they’re correct in believing negotiations have no substitute. Unilateralism is a recipe for instability, not conflict resolution. Except Netanyahu is playing the wrong card in Palestine.
“Netanyahu's actions are all unilateral,” Hamad told Ynet Sunday night, “he and his government decide unilaterally on settlement construction in Jerusalem. He and his government have unilaterally decided that settlement construction does not contradict peace. In fact, from the day that we signed the agreements Israel has been engaging in a unilateral policy.”
This prevalent sentiment among Palestinian leadership is a primary reason why they’re resorting to the UN in the first place. Hamad admonished Netanyahu, saying he’s, “under the impression that if he gives us more food we will be glad to live under the occupation. I want to make it clear that IDF forces are still entering West Bank.”
“The Israelis impeded negotiations, and therefore we are left with only this option in order to safeguard our national project," said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah Central Council in Ramallah. “We have been left with no other choices and nothing to lose."
Words and actions out of Israel and Palestine have set the two entities on a collision course. Netanyahu advocates restarting negotiations immediately as a solution, while Palestinians reject what they perceive as a false choice. As the situation presently stands, a cool down may be more useful.
One emerging option is French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s offer to host a peace conference in Paris, with guests including Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, plus American and EU officials. Instead of resuming negotiations, the goal would be to clear the poisonous air and reset a positive atmosphere before entering the peace process’s deciding phase.
A French initiative would signal failure on the American side, but it may help resolve a gridlock created in part by America’s own interests in the region.