Palestinian authorities on Thursday protested the resolution passed by the US congress on Wednesday condemning movement toward a unilateral declaration by Palestinians of a Palestinian state. The congressional resolution was actually fairly weak, showing the tensions between the US and the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu, since it did call for the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state, something Netanyahu privately opposes. Still, as usual, the US Congress is an outlier in world affairs on the Palestine issue, typically adopting stances that are often to the right of Israel’s own more liberal parties. Even Israeli military personnel have complained bitterly about having been dragooned into being a harsh occupying force in the West Bank. And, of course, the US Congress is increasingly irrelevant, since it is implicitly abetting Israeli footdragging and continued illegal colonization of the West Bank.
The Congressional resolution came as a result of lobbying by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an umbrella group that directs PAC money to congressional campaigns and has been known to viciously punish any congressman who defies it by throwing money instead to his or her opponent in the next election. Since the constituents of most congressmen don’t really care what happens in the Mideast, many just take the money and sign the AIPAC-crafted resolution. This AIPAC move comes in response to the Palestine Authority’s own internationalization of its diplomatic push on the Netanyahu government to move forward in good faith with the implementation of the Oslo peace accords, which were signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and which envisaged Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu condemned Rabin’s signing of those accords, pledged to derail them, and has spent his political career ever since playing spoiler and ensuring that Palestinians continue to live under occupation or blockade and to have blighted lives. Netanyahu’s constituents include Israelis eager to foster colonies on Palestinian territory, either for religious or economic reasons.
The other side of the coin came Thursday when it was announced that Norway has upgraded the representation of the Palestine Authority in Oslo to that of an embassy, more or less declaring Palestine a state in the eyes of the Norwegian government. That is, the PA representative in Oslo is now categorized as an ambassador. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere announced at a meeting with Palestine Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad, “We should all cling to the vision of 2011 being the year when we can see a new state on the world stage: the Palestinian state.” Stoere stressed the need for improvements in Palestine Authority security forces and procedures, educational infrastructure, and in governance: “For that to happen, institutions need to be solid, governance needs to be transparent, security, schools, all these elements need to come in place.”
Norway’s action came after Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay finally joined about 100 other nations that have, over the years, recognized a Palestinian state within 1967 borders. The Palestine Authority is encouraging this move to international recognition, as a bargaining ploy with the Israeli authorities. Recognition by Norway, Brazil and Argentina is practically fairly useless as long as the brutal Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, and the Israeli strangulation of the Gaza economy via illegal blockade, continues.
The goal here may be to have a European Union recognition of the state of Palestine, and then go to the United Nations Security Council with a resolution establishing a Palestinian state by a date certain. Typically the United States has blocked such resolutions in the past (the five permanent members of the Security Council have veto powers). But it is not impossible that the Obama administration, angered by being rebuffed in its diplomacy with Netanyahu, might abstain, allowing the rest of the UNSC to pass the resolution. For the PA to rack up virtual unanimity in the world on this issue would give momentum to a UN resolution. Moreover, Israel would be at risk of financial and legal repercussions if it defied the UNSC (such defiance was after all the legal basis put forward by the Bush administration for its war on Baathist Iraq).
Ultimately, the US Congress is correct that only a bilateral Israel-Palestine agreement is probably viable. But the congressional resolution, having been crafted and supported by Israel nationalists, did not ask the question of what would force the Israelis to the bargaining table. They have refused to stop colonizing the West Bank while negotiating with the Palestinian Authority over the disposition of… the West Bank. It is like you take a friend out and share a piece of cheese cake, and you talk with him about whether to split it in two or to give him a little more, and as you are talking with him you notice that he’s eaten the whole piece. The Palestinians, understandably enough, decline to give Israeli aggressive colonization of their territory the fig leaf of a ‘peace process.’
So the ball is in the court of the international community. The Obama administration tried to do the right thing, but has little leverage with Netanyahu. The US Congress, especially the new Republican-dominated lower house, would pass a resolution allowing Netanyahu to dine on Salam Fayad’s liver if Tel Aviv asked them to. The rest of the world is just not going to put up with century of Apartheid policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and will likely begin applying economic and diplomatic sanctions to Israel reminiscent of those once applied to white South Africa (and it should be remembered that the US, especially southern white congressmen, mostly opposed those pressures on South Africa, as well.)