De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty

By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann et al. | Go to book overview

9

Palestine 2003

The perils of de facto statehood

Dan Tschirgi


Introduction

De facto statehood grew up in Palestine in the short period between 1993 and 2000. However, in the even shorter period separating the dawn of the twenty-first century from today (December 2002), the viability of that de facto Palestinian state has been seriously called into question. In part, the intellectual problem at this point is whether what seemed (in the long ago days of 2000) to be so tantalizingly close - the conversion of Palestinian statehood to a de jure status - has now been removed from the realm of practical alternatives in the Middle East. In part, it inevitably also entails the problem of discerning what, if any, lessons Palestine's frustratingly sad recent history implies for the dynamics, obstacles and prospects of success surrounding such potential conversions.

Although Palestine's recent history is not this chapter's primary focus, its high-points are worth recalling: as the Oslo Peace Process (1993) unfolded, a functioning quasi, or de facto, Palestinian government (the Palestinian National Authority, under Yasser Arafat) assumed limited authority over large parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. With the United States functioning as principle peacemaker, various political and administrative problems were resolved over the next few years by Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. However, as deadlines for resolving 'final status' issues (issues central to Palestinian/Israeli rivalry) approached, tensions between the principal protagonists skyrocketed. Among the thorniest final status issues were Jerusalem's final disposition, the boundaries of Israel and the ultimate fate of Palestinian refugees.

By the autumn of 2001, the press of final status issues was cracking the structure of the Oslo peace process. The outbreak of the Second Intifada, provoked by Israeli Likud leader Ariel Sharon's 'visit' to Jerusalem's Haram as-Sharif, signalled the overture of the Oslo Process's death knell. The violence soon rose to the level of virtual war between Palestinians and Israelis, the original protagonists in the 'Arab-Israeli' drama.

11 September 2001 suddenly injected a major new element into the brewing communal conflict. The war on terror declared by George W. Bush's administration soon led to a reordering of Washington's foreign-policy priorities that resulted in the relegation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the backburners of official US attention. Within a year it was not only clear that Washington was counting on

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