Palestinian Independence Day
The Palestinians will declare their independence next May, ironically, within a few days of Israel's birthday, and 51 years after rejecting the UN's offer of statehood. Meanwhile, Israeli officials are issuing grave warnings about the consequences of such an action, but the truth is that Israel may be much better off if Arafat goes through with his plan.
The Palestinians will have a state at the end of the Oslo process. Today, they have functional independence, though in only about a quarter of the territory they want. After two more required Israeli withdrawals, the Palestinians will control a minimum of 40 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians believe, however, the Netanyahu government will give up little or no territory in the seven months remaining before the peace process is due to be completed. The sacrifice the Palestinians will make by declaring statehood is the remaining territory because the Israelis will correctly interpret their action as a breach of the Oslo accords, freeing them from any obligation to make further withdrawals. By giving the Israeli government an excuse not to carry out those withdrawals, the Palestinians assure themselves a smaller and weaker state.
The overwhelming majority of nations, perhaps every nation except the United States, will recognize the new Palestinian state. If the U.S. holds out, the Palestinians may suffer a little, but will survive until an American administration reaches the inevitable conclusion that it is pointless to ignore reality.
Beyond annexing territory Israel plans to keep anyway, the other major threat is to use military force to try to prevent the Palestinians from declaring their independence. This would be a terrible mistake. First, no one outside Israel would support the action. Second, it is difficult to imagine how it could succeed, with the "best case" scenario returning the situation to what it was before Oslo. Israel would win the battle, but the cost would be high. The Palestinians have been stockpiling weapons and they will fight for their independence. Israel will also be gambling that no other Arab state will join the fighting. If this calculation is wrong, a war that threatens Israel in a meaningful way could result.
What about the threat to Israeli security created by a Palestinian state? Well, the peace process has not prevented terrorism. The Israeli government put out statistics recently showing that more Israelis have died in terrorist attacks since Oslo than in the years immediately preceding it. The government spin is that this shows the process has not brought peace and that Arafat has not fulfilled his commitments to stop terror. Of course, it is also an indictment of Netanyahu's own platform of bringing peace with security to Israel, since he is now admitting Israel has neither.
One assumption of the peace process has been that once Palestinian aspirations are met, they will no longer have any reason to engage in terrorism. This is a utopian dream. No Israeli government could ever satisfy all the Palestinians' demands, so an excuse would always exist to attack Israeli targets. Radical Islamic terrorists, moreover, couldn't care less about Palestine or statehood. Their objective is simply to kill Jews and excise the Israeli cancer from the Islamic body. So realistic assessments of the outcome of the negotiations with the Palestinians always assume a certain amount of terror. The hope was that Arafat would minimize the attacks to win Israeli concessions. We now know he is unwilling to do so.
Still, terrorism does not threaten Israel's survival. Opponents of Palestinian statehood claim the real danger is that other Arab states will attack Israel via Palestine. Again, unilateral action by the Palestinians would give them far less territory, and a strategically weaker position, from which to create a base of operations. And who is going to march through the West Bank? The Jordanians? Not unless the Hashemites are deposed by a radical regime. King Hussein shares Israel's interest in keeping Palestine as weak as possible. The Iranians? How would their troops get there without provoking a preemptive Israeli strike? The Iraqis? They've got enough problems and they are the one enemy that Israel could count on American help in repulsing. The Syrians? The most likely group to join the Palestinians in a war, but Israel would know what they were up to long before their troops reached the border of Palestine and would take appropriate action.
The main deterrent to future violence is likely to be the economic interdependence of Israel and Palestine. The Palestinians need jobs in Israel, access to Israeli goods and a reliable supply of water from aquifers controlled by Israel. Furthermore, the international community may back Palestinian independence, but nations are not going to pour the money Palestine needs into the new state if it is unstable and in constant conflict with its neighbor.
Call the Palestinians' bluff and let them declare their state. Israel should continue to respect the decisions that have been made, but declare the negotiations over by virtue of the Palestinians' unilateral imposition of a final settlement. After a respectful amount of time, Israel should recognize the Palestinian state and conduct all future negotiations as it does with Egypt, Jordan or any other country, with no obligation to make any concessions that are not in its interest.