So this could be a big deal. Look for the Palestinian Authority, particularly after the U.S. midterm elections, to start working various international institutions, including the United Nations, to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. Look for Israel, of course, to vigorously oppose such recognition: As U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren said yesterday, “Like Ben-Gurion, [Prime Minister] Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.” But most of all, look to the United States: While it would ordinarily be expected to halt any such effort immediately, President Obama’s strong emphasis on settlements, which are once again being built now that the freeze has expired and not been extended, as well as reports that the U.S. team is immensely frustrated with Bibi’s failure to extend the freeze, suggest U.S. backing might not be quite so easily forthcoming.
Basically, several different but related trends have conspired to make this more likely. There is the increased West Bank state-building—illusory though it may actually be—led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (who has in the past floated unilateral independence). There is the Obama administration’s emphasis on settlements, which even center-left observers like Aaron David Miller and David Makovsky have argued is misguided. There is Netanyahu’s inability to get his coalition, much of which is to the right even of him, to agree to a freeze extension (which in turn suggests that one endgame could see the split of this coalition and the union of Netanyahu’s Likud and Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima). Put it all together, and you can get Thomas Friedman scolding Israel for not further freezing settlements.
(To briefly lay my cards on the table: I think the settlement project has been immoral, arguably illegal, and practically disastrous historically. I also think there was a deal, itself the result of negotiating and bargaining, ten months ago, under which Israel would freeze West Bank construction for ten months; that Israel lived up to its end of the deal; and that for the Obama administration to then push further, after the agreed-upon freeze had expired, was at the very least unwise and fated to fail. I also don’t see how you can consider settlement-building to be the prime obstacle to peace when you have a radical, maximalist movement, Hamas, which governs Gaza and enjoys immense popularity in the West Bank, and indeed would be unsatisfied, even quite displeased, with a Palestinian state in the West Bank run by the Palestinian Authority.)
So what’s next? Laura Rozen, who reported that you can expect little further movement until after the November midterms, notes that said midterms might produce a more Republican House that would be less amenable to putting pressure on Israel. Netanyahu could abandon the current coalition and join with Livni. European nations could start making real noise about the settlement issue and Palestinian statehood. Ultimately, though, one gets the sense that the Obama administration holds the trump card. If it wants to stop a non-negotiated Palestinian state, it assuredly can. And if it turns the blame on the Israelis, and articulates that settlement-building is the primary obstacle to peace, and even toys with not pledging to veto a binding U.N. resolution on independence, well, that would send a different message.
Palestinians Consider Shift in Strategy on Statehood [NYT]
Holding Pattern: Middle East Peace Track at Impasse Until After Midterms [Laura Rozen]
Israel’s U.S. Ambassador: No One Will Dictate Israel’s Borders [Haaretz]
Related: How Obama Sabotaged Middle East Peace Talks [PostPartisan]
Earlier: Too Good To Be True
Bibi Floats Oath Quid for Freeze Quo