Palestinians Should Declare Statehood

The unceasing building of settlements on Palestinian land underscores the need for Palestinians to take a more definite action regarding their future and their rightful desire to have their own state. They should declare statehood.

While condemning Israel's recent decision to build more settlements in east Jerusalem as a move that could "inflame" tensions, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden has told Palestinians that they deserve a "viable" independent state with contiguous territory. At the same time, both French and Spanish officials are reportedly working the conditions that would lead to a European recognition of an independent Palestine State.

This measure has the support of some Israelis. A recent newspaper ad by Gush Shalom, one of the best known peace groups in Israel reads, "We shall welcome the declaration of the Free State of Palestine."

What could lead Palestinians to follow such a drastic course? On one of the more contentious issues, the building of settlements, no progress has been achieved. For the past 25 years, every U.S. President has tried to persuade Israel to stop building settlements in Palestinian lands to no avail. And this is just one of the topics separating Israelis and Palestinians.

The Palestinians declare that they have already made important concessions by accepting a state covering only the areas of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem which are significantly smaller than the territory allocated to them in UN Resolution 181.

At the time of that resolution, which recommended the division of the British Mandate of Palestine into two provisional states, one Jewish and one Arab, the UN General Assembly also recommended that the City of Jerusalem be administered by the United Nations. This could be one of the options to overcome the present impasse on the status of that city.

Israel most probably would reject a Palestinian declaration of independence as it did in 1978 during the Camp David negotiations between Israel and Egypt when Anwar Sadat, Egypt's president, proposed the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza.

But there is an important precedent regarding the status of Jerusalem. At the Annapolis conference of 2007, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an important proposal. He offered East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and 99.3% of the West Bank to the future Palestinian State. His position, however, was strongly criticized by Israel's right wing political parties.

Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, threatened that his party would leave the government coalition, thus ending the coalition's majority in the Knesset, if Olmert agreed to divide Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer due to the non-inclusion of the Gaza Strip and continuing settlement construction.

A unilateral declaration of statehood is fraught with complications, although it would follow on the steps of Israel's unilateral declaration of independence on 1948. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu has warned Palestinians that such a declaration would lead to Israeli counter-measures that could include annexation of more of the occupied West Bank, a move that is illegal from the point of view of international law and of the UN Security Council Resolution 465. However, as the noted Israeli journalist Gideon Levy recently stated, "Israel is so much not willing to make peace, someone has to push Israel, and the only actor who can push Israel is the United States."

By some criteria, a unilateral declaration of statehood by the Palestinians is an expression of desperation. But it is also an act that can give them a much needed sense of belonging to the community of nations. As stated by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish "...we declare our presence as a wound crying in the depths of time and space in spite of the tempests which try to rend our roots from the very earth to which we gave our name."

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