Abbas vs. Obama

By Rosen, Steven J. | Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Abbas vs. Obama


Rosen, Steven J., Middle East Quarterly


Having sidelined Barack Obama's peace initiative by refusing to return to the negotiations table without apriori Israeli concessions, the Palestinian leadership seeks to secure an international declaration of statehood at the next U.N. General Assembly session in September 2011. This "date certain" strategy, whereby its entitlement to a state will be fulfilled by the world powers, has long been preferred by the Palestinian leadership to any arduous, bilateral negotiation with Israel, which would require painful concessions. The Palestinians enjoy wide support in many European capitals, and they know that the Obama administration is close to their positions on many of the core issues. So forcing the statehood demand into a multilateral forum can entice governments into satisfying the Palestinian aspirations by a fixed date.

EUROPEAN SUPPORT

Some key European leaders have shown growing receptivity to setting a date for the creation of a Palestinian state. Their frustration has mounted since the breakdown of the Oslo negotiations when Yasser Arafat launched his war of terror in September 2000, then rejected Bill Clinton's final proposal in January 2001. In 2002, the Europeans hatched the idea of a "road map" for Arab-Israeli resolution as a way to create deadlines for the establishment of a Palestinian state,1 and European Union pressure led to the creation of the Quartet (the United States, U.N., European Union, and Russia), and to the Quartet's first statement on September 17, 2002, announcing "a concrete, three-phase implementation road map that could achieve a final settlement within three years."2

But the Bush administration was unwilling to go all the way with fixed deadlines and a date certain because it recognized that this would free the Palestinians from the responsibility to compromise with Israel. Bush insisted that the road map deadlines be conditional: Transition from one phase to the next would be "performance based" - i.e., based on the responsibilities of the parties themselves. The road map announced "clear phases, timelines, target dates, and benchmarks."3 But the Quartet partners were forced to agree that "progress between the three phases would be strictly based on the parties' compliance with specific performance benchmarks to be monitored ... based upon the consensus judgment of the Quartet of whether conditions are appropriate to proceed."4

For these reasons, the road map did not achieve its stated goal of "a final settlement within three years," and European frustration continued to mount. In July 2009, Europe's thenforeign policy chief Javier Solana called for the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state by a certain deadline even if Israelis and Palestinians had failed to agree among themselves: "After a fixed deadline, a U.N. Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution ... set a calendar for implementation ... [and] accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN. ... If the parties are not able to stick to [the timetable], then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table."5

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner moved in the same direction in February 2010: "One can imagine a Palestinian state being ... recognized by the international community, even before negotiating its borders. I would be tempted by that."6 Kouchner and his Spanish counterpart Miguel Angel Moratinos wrote on February 23, 2010, that the European Union "must not confine itself to the ... outlines of the final settlement" but "should collectively recognize the Palestinian State ... There is no more time to lose. Europe must pave the way"7 Then in July 20 1 0, Kouchner said, "France supports the creation of a viable, independent, democratic Palestinian state ... by the first quarter of 20 12."8

But none of this happened. Solana, Moratinos, and Kouchner are no longer in their positions, and Europe has not delivered what the Palestinians sought. …

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