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Declare a Palestinian State
By JEROME M. SEGAL
The International Herald Tribune
February 24, 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/24/opinion/24iht-edsegal.html

France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, has alarmed the Israeli government with his recent statement that “one can envision the proclamation soon of a Palestinian state, and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before negotiating its borders.”

Israel fears that this will develop into a full blown European Union initiative and has warned that with this approach the Palestinians will have no motivation to resume negotiations. But this argument is not convincing. Were the international community to recognize the State of Palestine, it is likely that it would do so without specifically recognizing the claimed borders of that state, just as the international community does not recognize Israel’s claimed borders.

For instance, the United States has never accepted Israeli claims to sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. Moreover, international recognition does not end the occupation, nor does it solve the refugee issue, nor the problem of Jerusalem. All of these issues will require negotiations, but early statehood, would put such negotiations on a state-to-state basis, and this would be valuable in a variety of ways.

Of most importance in future negotiations is the issue of security, whether Palestinian forces can prevent attacks on Israel, either suicide terrorists, or rockets fired from the West Bank. If they cannot, then Israel will not withdraw from the West Bank, regardless of what the international community says.

Over the last year, praise has been heaped on the performance of Palestinian security forces, trained under U.S. auspices, and operating under the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. However, without progress toward genuine statehood, what is today viewed as “successful security cooperation,” will in time dissolve as it comes to be viewed as Palestinian collaboration, with its security forces having become “the police of the occupation.”

Under early statehood, Israel’s refusal to allow non-state actors to operate militarily from the West Bank is on a much stronger footing. A government’s maintenance of a monopoly of force within the area of its claimed sovereignty is one of the basic requirements of statehood.

Early statehood will also contribute toward the resolution of the issues of refugees, Jerusalem and borders. On refugees, it is clear that very few of the six million Palestinian refugees will ever return to Israel. This however, is extremely difficult for the Palestinians to absorb politically. Within the context of statehood, this difficulty is somewhat eased as it is largely untenable for any state to demand that millions of its citizens should be allowed to become citizens of another state.

With respect to borders and security issues, the Israelis have often been tone-deaf in previous negotiations, failing to realize how demeaning to Palestinian dignity were their demands to control Palestinian airspace, or to have land swaps on an unequal basis.

In the context of state-to-state negotiations, there will be some natural evolution toward the symmetries that typified Israel’s negotiations with Jordan and Egypt. Similarly with Jerusalem, the state-to-state context will also be supportive of the need to find a way to share control of the holy sites and to make Jerusalem the capital of both states.

In addition, early statehood offers a way to reduce the likelihood that Hamas will undertake steps to derail negotiations. This can be attained if Hamas is assured that the international community will respect the results of Palestinian democracy, unlike 2006, when following its victory in legislative elections, Hamas was denied the ability to govern. Instead the international community laid down conditions that Hamas rejected. So far there has been no resolution.

Fortunately, the state-to-state context offers a way to deal with the problematic conditions of the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Thus, the demand that Hamas provide prior recognition of Israel becomes instead one of mutual state-to-state recognition, and the demand that Hamas accept previous agreements negotiated by its P.L.O. rival becomes the standard requirement of continuity of international treaties between state entities, when new governments are elected.

With early statehood there is a chance that the Palestinians will be able to put their house in order, and have a government with sufficient legitimacy to bind the Palestinian people through negotiations.

Finally, it should be noted that for the Palestinian leadership, achieving international recognition of the State of Palestine, without Israeli permission, will be an act of assertiveness that will enhance their ability to make difficult concessions in the negotiations.

For all of these reasons, while international recognition of Palestinian statehood prior to an agreement with Israel is not a magic solution, it is a highly constructive idea that may make successful negotiations a genuine possibility.

Jerome M. Segal directs the Peace Consultancy Project at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He is co-author of “Negotiating Jerusalem.”

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