While the Arab Spring has garnered acres of news coverage since the start of the year, events in the Middle East’s most volatile and seemingly intractable conflict have gone all but unnoticed. Yesterday’s attacks in southern Israel have brought the Israel-Palestine story back into the headlines – but behind the scenes the biggest battle has been diplomatic rather than military.
At next month’s UN General Assembly, the Palestinian Authority (PA) will seek recognition for an independent Palestinian state – something that Israel is steadfastly opposed to, unless it is part of a broader peace process.
Arab League representatives met in Doha last week to outline the application. The UN vote will be a further test of Qatar’s growing diplomatic prowess – the gas-rich nation is chairing the General Assembly when the vote takes place.
After the talks in Qatar’s capital, the Arab League promised support to the PA via meetings with the Security Council and other UN members to gain approval. But in reality, their influence is limited.
Basem Zubeidi, a political science professor at the West Bank’s Birzeit University, believes recognition of statehood is crucial for peace, allowing the territories to be treated as a sovereign entity with appropriate rights. But he sees little sign such legitimacy or authority will be attained.
“America will definitely veto any steps taken by the Palestinians. It will end by gaining another resolution stressing the right of the Palestinians in a state and probably recognising that state. But that state would not have any teeth to act on the ground,” he says.
Should PA representatives give in to US demands and not apply for statehood, Palestinian public sentiment could turn against a government that already has a weak mandate.
Israel says that Palestine is making a unilateral attempt to declare statehood – something the PA, with about 120 nations already recognising a Palestinian state, denies.
Raanan Gissin, a former advisor to Israel’s ex-prime minister Ariel Sharon, says it would repudiate all previous agreements between Israel and Palestine. “The Oslo agreements, all trade agreements – they’re all on a bilateral basis,” he says. “The whole issue of establishing a Palestinian state or two states for two people, their borders and other outstanding issues, are to be based on direct face-to-face negotiations between the two parties.”
Whether the occupied Palestinian territories – with two non-elected governments, divided land and ultimate dependence on aid – would meet the criteria for a state is another question. The worry for analysts is that a diplomatic failure at the UN could lead to a resumption of more aggressive behaviour on the ground.