Palestinian state may be established next year
Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes there are prerequisites for a Palestinian state to be established in 2011. At the same time, the expert warns that there still remain serious obstacles in the way to an efficient conclusion of the Middle East peace process, among which he highlighted the rift inside Palestine itself and the Israeli government’s uncompromising attitude.
Despite the stagnation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Naumkin believes, there are reasons for optimism including the international community’s conviction that there is no alternative to “a fairly quick agreement” between the conflicting parties, the US Administration’s new Middle East policy and the Palestinian National Authority’s achievements in economy revival and the building of public infrastructure.
RIA Novosti interviews Vitaly Naumkin in the run-up to the 2nd conference of the International Valdai Discussion Club’s Middle East section. The conference entitled “Scenarios and Models for a Middle East Peace Settlement” will be held in Malta on December 9 and 10 under the auspices of RIA Novosti, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies and the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy.
“My optimism rests upon the fact that the international community, the members of the Quartet and the majority of other nations agree that it is necessary to establish a Palestinian state as soon as possible. “Two states for two peoples” is the formula that is now universally acknowledged. It is based on international legitimacy and solutions, and the international law calls for its implementation,” Naumkin said.
According to the expert, since Barack Obama became U.S. president the United States has also made a step toward the Palestinians. “It’s crucial for Obama to succeed on the Israeli-Palestinian track,” the Russian expert added.
Vitaly Naumkin recalled the U.S. president’s address to the recent UN General Assembly, in which Obama expressed his hope that a solution would have been reached by the next UNGA session in September, 2011 and that the UN would welcome its new member – an Arabic Palestinian state.
“Barack Obama was very clear on that. Given his status and that of the country he heads, if this statement comes to nothing and turns out to be mere pageantry this will be a harsh blow for Obama’s reputation… Obama does need a breakthrough in the Middle East process,” Naumkin said.
According to the Russian expert, the maturity of the Palestinian state is evidenced by the successes of the Palestinian National Authority, above all that of the government headed by prime minister and reformer Salam Fayyad, who has set a goal of creating by 2011all the independence prerequisites on the ground.
“The PNA has been steadily improving its repute by strengthening its statehood and public institutions. This is confirmed by the recent World Bank report on Palestine, which reads that if it manages to keep up the pace in establishing public institutions and providing public services, it will be ripe to set up a state of its own in the nearest future. This is very encouraging. The World Bank is a very serious and reputable organization and it must have very strong reasons for an optimistic estimate like this,” Naumkin said.
The main hurdle for a peace settlement for the Arab side, according to the expert, is the conflict between Fatah and Hamas. They split the Palestinian territory into two isolated political entities – the Gaza Strip governed by the Hamas Islamic fundamentalists and the West Bank managed by Fatah via the PNA.
“This rift has not been overcome yet and considering the high tensions and hostility which exist in relations between the two parties an agreement to build a coalition government is unlikely to be reached soon. At the same time, Palestinians need to speak in one voice because if the Palestinian state becomes a reality today, we can imagine reaching agreement with the West Bank while it’s completely unclear what to do with the Gaza Strip governed by Hamas,” Naumkin pointed out.
“Should separate talks be conducted with the Gaza Strip? But many Western countries and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist organization. So, what can be done? Should the Palestinian state be established on the West Bank and Gaza left as an isolated dirt trap, a sort of a Palestinian ghetto? Nobody has the answer to this question. It lies beyond the negotiations process,” the expert said.
In this respect, Naumkin questioned whether it was reasonable for the international community to continue refusing to negotiate with Hamas thus isolating and marginalizing the organization.
On the Israeli part, Naumkin said, the process is impeded by the Israeli leadership’s “unwillingness to settle the issue under the “two states for two peoples” formula.” This manifests itself in the continued construction of settlements while the Palestinians have made the resumption of peace negotiations conditional on its cessation. Moreover, Israel is “evading the border issue” and is reluctant to discuss the status of Jerusalem.
“Nentanyahu’s government refuses to negotiate the issue of East Jerusalem. The Israeli prime minister currently views Jerusalem as an eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, which is why he has excluded the issue of East Jerusalem from the negotiation agenda. Is then a Palestinian state at all possible if the entire Muslim world, whether for religious or ideological reasons, never agrees to give Jerusalem to the Jews? This is impossible. How can these two positions be reconciled?” Naumkin said.
The expert also expressed his fear that “the issue of Jerusalem the way it is put now is absolutely unresolvable.”
“This city needs to be divided even though Israel’s current right-wing government does not want to do so. I see this as the main barrier for peace negotiations. This is the main source of skepticism,” the Russian expert concluded.
The United States is the only global player that can efficiently put pressure on Israel and make it soften its approach to the peace settlement, Naumkin believes.
“It seems that all the other parties involved have little chance of prevailing on Israel, including Europe, Russia, the UN and all others. What can Obama do? What are his chances of persuading Israel? Will he be willing to apply that pressure? That’s the key point,” the expert said.
Naumkin is convinced that no American leader would ever depart from perceiving Israel as a strategic partner of the United States and from providing political, military and financial assistance to it. This being the case, the United States could use as leverage a threat to support in the UN Security Council the project to recognize an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with the capital in East Jerusalem.
“The idea of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state is brewing in certain political circles, including even in the United States; moreover, such circles include Jewish lobbyists, who presumably should support Israel. The idea is that it’s high time to put an end to all this,” Naumkin said.
“There is an understanding that the Israeli government’s policy runs counter to the interests of the Jewish people. The only option to frighten Netanyahu into changing his policy seems to be to threaten him: “By letting Obama down and backing him into a corner, you are forcing him to recognize a Palestinian state through the UN together with his partners,” the expert added.
If this threat is carried out, Israel will automatically become “an invader in a state recognized by the UN and from which it must withdraw. Otherwise it will be subject to international sanctions.”
“This is an unpalatable alternative. Will Barack Obama embark on it? I believe it’s unlikely to happen, but this, as the New York Times wrote, is very serious leverage,” Naumkin said.
Vitaly Naumkin is director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies