As cold winds blow from Washington, Israel is worried.
In the aftermath of last month’s diplomatic ruckus—Israeli bureaucrats referred, with Vice-President Biden in town, to building apartments for Jews in East Jerusalem; the Obama administration took severe umbrage; the Palestinians pulled out of the nascent proximity talks—things, at this moment, remain stuck. Does that mean no progress toward the administration’s cherished goal of a Palestinian state, and frustration all around?
Not necessarily. Moshe Elad, a columnist for Israel’s largest daily Yediot Aharonot, notes that the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salaam Fayyad, have been talking about unilaterally declaring such a state in 2011—and that while “in the past, such statements would anger the Americans…this time around, even if we heard a response from the White House or the State Department, it was rather meek.”
Palestinians, Elad reports, have been setting aside their traditional anti-Americanism and “taking pleasure in feeling that ‘America is with us’”; and are “coordinating with the Americans the building of infrastructure across the West Bank as preparation for economic independence and detachment from Israel’s hold.” Elad goes on to ask “What will Israel’s position be in respect to the long list of guests invited to the ceremony that will seek to land in Ben-Gurion Airport?”—that is, if and when the Palestinians declare their state next year and invite many of the world’s dignitaries to honor the event.
Yaakov Katz, military correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, describes Israel as “extremely worried” about the prospect “because it may lead to a third intifada, during which Israel would be fighting a 20,000-strong militia”—much of which would be American-trained. As Katz explains,
Five battalions of 500 soldiers each and trained by US security coordinator Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton in Jordan have already deployed throughout the West Bank alongside seven regional battalions.
By 2011, another five battalions will have undergone training. Fayyad’s plan is to then dismantle the regional battalions and expand the Dayton-trained battalions to close to 1,000 soldiers each, bringing the total number to around 10,000. Add the police and the presidential guard and the number of armed PA security officers comes out to around 20,000.
The Palestinians would still then have to face the fact that about 300,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank. “The solution—an official PA decision to launch a violent terror campaign branded around the world as a war for freedom.”
Or, in another scenario, Fayyad goes to the UN Security Council to get his state recognized; with the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese likely to assent, the question mark is the United States.
Traditionally the U.S. has vetoed anti-Israeli resolutions in the Security Council, and also has upheld the principle of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the way to resolve the dispute. But given what is now known about President Obama’s identification with Palestinian goals, delegitimization of any Israeli presence in the West Bank and even East Jerusalem, contemptuous treatment of Israel’s prime minister, and hurried timetable for Palestinian statehood—augmented by General Dayton’s activities that started under President Bush—Israelis can no longer be confident of U.S. backing in such a situation.
Some say these fears are exaggerated because Abbas and Fayyad lack sufficient Palestinian support. While Abbas’s Fatah movement (with which Fayyad, while not a member, is effectively aligned) is thought likely to defeat Hamas in this summer’s municipal elections, Fatah is itself deeply divided with its young guard scorning Abbas and Fayyad as weaklings—to the point that even a civil war is not ruled out.
Israel, though—as if not already pressured enough by the Hamas, Hezbollah and, ultimately, Iranian threats—has to take all scenarios into account, and now would be the time to start emphasizing to friends in the U.S. the dangers posed by a Palestinian state. True, in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he could accept such a state as the outcome of negotiations if it, in turn, was genuinely accepting of Israel and effectively demilitarized.
Clearly, a unilaterally declared Palestinian state would be neither. It would be bristling with hatred instilled by the seventeen years of hate-education enabled by the “peace process,” and with largely American-provided forces that would only grow as further weapons, trainers, and fighters flowed in from the Arab and Muslim world.