Monday, February 20, 2006

A Palestinian state ahead

By Louis Beres
The Washington Times
Published February 20, 2006

In a recent column for the Jerusalem Post, Zalman Shoval, Israel's former two-term ambassador to the United States, argued correctly that a Palestinian state remains contrary to "Israel's supreme interest." Now, however, because of the sweeping Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, Israel has a unique opportunity to make this clear. After all, says Mr. Shoval, "Hamas's very raison d'etre is the destruction of Israel."
In the best of all possible worlds, Mr. Shoval's wisdom would be widely heeded. Here, the Quartet -- not just the United States -- would take seriously its own conditions for Palestinian statehood. But national leaders are generally politicians, not logicians, and even the triumphant new reign of Hamas venality will have little effect on pent-up global momentum for a "two-state solution." This is the case even though the Palestinians have absolutely no intention of acknowledging Israel's right to exist.
From the Oslo Agreements to the Road Map, the legitimacy of a Palestinian state has often been encouraged by various Israeli governments. To change course now will be problematic. First, Israel's narrowly technical legal objections will have no practical effect on Palestinian intentions or even on worldwide sympathies for a Palestinian state. Second, Israel's formal legal objections will be countered easily at the jurisprudential level.
Ironically, the first problem with Israel's perfectly valid denial of Palestinian right to declare a state still needs little discussion. The Palestinian side is still committed to complete sovereignty. It will not be influenced by anything Israel might offer in the way of objections. This commitment is largely the predictable and tragic outcome of a peace process advanced in one form or another by five successive Israeli governments. For a Rabin or Peres or Netanyahu or Barak or Sharon to have ever believed that the Palestinians would be content with a nonstate "entity" is difficult to understand.
The second problem with Israel's denial of Palestinian right to declare a state is that such a denial would overlook broader issues of international law. Israel would be entirely correct that the Declaration of Principles was intended to establish an "autonomy," not a state -- and that, according to Mr. Shoval, "Palestinian statehood is contingent on the Palestinians destroying their terrorist infrastructure, of which Hamas itself is an integral part."
But the Palestinians themselves will embrace a wider argument: To wit, there are norms supporting statehood that exist outside the narrow legal context of the specific Israeli-Palestinian agreements. The Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority will assert that the right to "self-determination" is a basic norm under international law. Hence, it will insist, even a formal agreement that denies the right of Palestinian statehood is null and void.
Do the Palestinians actually have such a basic right? In my judgment, and in the opinion of Mr. Shoval, they do not. In Israel's currently official judgment, one hopes, they do not. More importantly, however, in the effective judgment of a majority of the world's states, they certainly do have such a right. This is true even now.
In the end, few states will act contrary to or vote against Palestinian statehood -- even if the Israeli position is now firmly and properly grounded in the underlying texts of Oslo/Road Map and in the June 24, 2002, landmark statement of President Bush. This key statement links U.S. support to a Palestinian rejection of terror.
Mr. Shoval is right to argue that Israel must now make every conceivable effort to prevent a Palestinian state. Whether or not the Jewish state actually "holds the keys to the very idea of Palestinian statehood," however, is doubtful. To act in its own survival interests, Israel's prime minister quickly needs to gather together Israel's best legal thinkers to counter years of the country's terrorizing self-delusion about "peace" and Palestinian "self-determination."
Israel's strategic thinkers must now also be consulted. To them, the following different question should be posed: How shall Israel live with a still-probable Palestinian state? In answering this question, Israel's strategists will have to look closely at likely interactions between Palestine and other Arab-Islamic enemy states, as well as at interactions between Palestine and Israel's own internal Arab populations. In spite of Israel's right to reject a Palestinian state under international law, their hard task will be necessary.

Louis Beres is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters and international law. He also has co-authored several law journal articles and opinion editorials with Zalman Shoval.

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