Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unilateral action

The biggest potential danger threatening Israel, apart from a nuclear Iran, is the impending unilateral application for Statehood by the Palestinians at the UN.

Why are the Palestinians taking this initiative? They claim that after 17 years of negotiations with Israel they have achieved nothing. But, that is not true, the Oslo Accords were very generous to them, and they achieved the establishment of the Palestine Authority and control of all the major Palestinian cities and ca. 95% of the Arab population. Also, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza. They also rejected the generous concessions made by PM Barak to Arafat, and by PM Olmert to Abbas. But, the fact is that no Palestinian leader can afford to make a peace treaty with Israel and accept the "end of conflict". That would lead to a permanent split in the Palestinian entity, which has already in fact occured between Hamas and Fatah. It would also lead to a collapse in Palestinian culture that is totally based on the conflict with Israel (see for example "The Dream Palace of the Arabs" by Fuad Ajami), and it would almost certainly lead to the assassination of any Palestinian leader who would accept Israel and end the conflict. That is why Abbas is making an end run around negotiations with Israel to the UN.

What is the danger in this maneuver? It is not in the application itself, for while the Palestinians surely have enough support to gain passage of a resolution in the General Assembly, this resolution will not guarantee the legitimacy of a sovereign State without the necessary imprimatur of the Security Council. The US has publicly declared that it will veto any unilateral attempts to impose a solution without negotiations. But, the likelihood is that the Palestinian leadership will then move to establish their State on the ground in place of the Palestine Authority that was created under the Oslo Accords of 1993. But, by doing so the Oslo Accords will become invalid and the agreed separation of the West Bank into interim divisions (A for Palestinian control, B for joint control and C for Israeli control) will become void. If the Palestinians then send in their militias (trained and supported by the US, UK and other western countries) or masses of Palestinian civilians to take over all areas, then there could be clashes with the IDF seeking to protect Jews living in settlements in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) where they have a legitimate claim under international law. In summary, the Palestinian application to the UN is effectively a declaration of war against Israel.

The competing claims of the Arabs and Jews will not then be resolved by negotiation but by unilateral Palestinian action followed by reactive Israeli moves. The IDF will be sent in to occupy and protect those areas that include the large Jewish settlement blocs (Ariel, Ma'ale Adumim, Etzion, Maa'le Efraim). If Israel doesn't move, then the Palestinians will take over, with possible calamitous consequences for the 200,000 or so Jews living there, possibly including massacres. If the IDF does take over the Jewish-settled areas, then it is likely that the Israel Government and Knesset will move to annex those areas into Israel, making the Palestinian area remaining less (by ca. 10%) than the total West Bank. This will be considered a "land grab" by the Palestinians and possibly a breach of the UN GA resolution, possibly resulting in sanctions against Israel by the GA, even though these would not be enforceable under international law. This may be interpreted as a causus belli by many Arab and/or Muslim States, leading once again to a state of war between Israel and an expanded Muslim bloc, possibly including Iran and Turkey. It is precisely this scenario that the US and the EU are trying to avoid in persuading Pres. Abbas of the PA from taking this unilateral course of action.

However, in this scenario there is the germ of a potential solution. Once Israel has annexed the regions that it considers essential, the rest of the West Bank will remain under Palestinian control, and the border between them could become a de facto border. Although contested by the Palestinians they might not find enough support to actually result in a war against Israel. After all Syria is otherwise occupied, Egypt is hardly prepared for an external conflict, Lebanon is split between Hizbollah and the Christians, and Jordan is hardly a threat. So it comes down to whether Turkey and/or Iran have the balls to take the bull by the horns and actually make war over this for the Palestinians. I doubt if they would, because Erdogan is interested in currying favor with the Arabs, but not actually fighting for them. Iran might, but they can't depend on Syria now or Hizbollah, and Hamas in Gaza are not a significant military threat. So in any event Israel would win this round and the situation would likely return to an uneasy truce, that in time might solidify into a long-term solution. It's a possible scenario at least, but one of many.


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