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The New Track to Palestinian Statehood

Will anti-settlement sentiment prove a tipping point?

Marc Tracy
January 03, 2011
Palestinian President Abbas and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.(Jorge William/Globo via Getty Images)
Palestinian President Abbas and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.(Jorge William/Globo via Getty Images)

“Fayyadism” is the strategy under which increased state-building in the West Bank would give the Palestinian Authority enough of the trappings of sovereignty that international legitimacy, particularly through the United Nations, would grow to the point that a unilateral declaration of independence may not seem ridiculous. Though it was disowned by its namesake (Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad), and though it is not apparent that state-building is particularly advanced, recent events and currents suggest that Fayyadism may merely have been hibernating during the latest unproductive round of peace talks. Cut to Palestinian President Abbas publicly hoping for a state in 2011.

All of South America except for Colombia and Peru have either recognized or plans to recognize a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders. Abbas was in Brasilia last month for a groundbreaking ceremony—complete with flying doves!—for what will be the Palestinian embassy. Meanwhile, the P.A. is drafting a Security Council resolution that would condemn settlements, which the United States has pledged to veto.

The resolution—which will not call for Palestinian statehood or even sanctions against Israel—is a microcosm of the larger trends: Lacking much in the way of teeth and unlikely to produce any concrete changes in the near future, it nonetheless threatens to prove the groundwork for an eventual climate wherein Palestinian statehood comes to seem inexorable. The point is less the eventual climate than the threat, to Israel and the U.S., that it is in their interests to get onboard.

The fact is—and no offense to Ecuador, which I hear is lovely—these South American nations’ recognition of a nonexistent state don’t, practically, amount to anything. (Although it is interesting that Argentina, with its nearly 200,000 Jews and generally philo-Semitic populace, is among these nations.) And the resolution isn’t even really designed to be passed—the U.S. has pledged to veto it. Besides, even if it were passed, it would explicitly have no practical effect.

But what the resolution is designed to do is embarrass the Americans. After all, as veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat put it, “It’s a very moderate resolution, by design, because we don’t want the U.N. to veto it. We want the international community to tell Israel that the settlements are against international law.” That is not exactly the truth, of course: Erekat does want the U.N.—specifically the U.S.—to veto it, which it no doubt will. This is because, as he goes on to say, since the resolution’s anti-settlement argument basically reflects the Obama administration’s stated position, were the U.S. to veto it anyway, “then that’s a story” (which also isn’t entirely true, since it wouldn’t exactly be the first time the U.S. blocked an anti-Israel resolution, but you see his point).

On top of all this, top American Jewish opinionmakers Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Goldberg (a Tablet Magazine contributing editor), and David Remnick recently made comments that seemed to go further than they ever had before in condemning Israeli settlement-building as both immoral and dumb. None of what they said is groundbreaking if you have been following the region closely, but most people don’t follow the region closely and instead take their cues from people like Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Goldberg, and David Remnick, so this is not irrelevant news.

In a sense, Israeli illegitimacy is the new Palestinian state-building: The most resonant argument for fast-tracking an independent Palestine, potentially without Israeli support. This is dangerous: Whereas successful Palestinian state-building is a logical argument for a Palestinian state, Israeli illegitimacy is more of an emotional one. But, of course, that is also why it may be more persuasive. Pointing to a new fire station is one thing. Pointing to a dead protestor is another.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.