04/11/2011

Israelis and Palestinians struggling between unilateralism and multilateralism

For several weeks now, the events are linked and are not alike in Israel and the Palestinian territories. After years of bogged down of peace negotiations and the freezing of dialogue, the colonization of Palestinian territories by Israel did not stop.  Palestine, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has decided to make of unilateral actions its new warhorse and diplomatic strategy. The Palestinian application for membership to the United Nations last September, strongly condemned by Israel, is still in talks and to date there is no draft resolution discussion. Besides, while the Palestinians need the support of two members of the Security Council to win (out of nine), Israel calls the Palestinians to get back to the negotiation table. Obviously, the threat of a U.S. veto would destroy any positive prospect. While the historical release of Sergent Shalit against 1027 Palestinian prisoners, two weeks ago, served the Hamas’ cause and stifled the temporary success of Abbas abroad, the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, for his part, had to undergo virulent domestic attacks from Israelis who feared only one thing: the resumption of violence and terrorism.

The short term success diplomacy, which became the norm, is holding again in the Middle East.  Thus, this week success of the Palestinian Authority, which managed to make Palestine a full UNESCO member (de facto, the first UN organization that accepted it), put diplomacy and unilateral political actions back in the foreground, removing the temporary success of the Islamist movement. If one can doubt the effective reconciliation of the two Palestinian parties, one cannot deny the overwhelming victory of Mahmoud Abbas on this one: 107 votes, 52 abstentions and 14 votes against, including the United States. It should be noted that Palestine can now submit their own sites and monuments to the UNESCO World Heritage list. This will pose new political issues for Israel that strongly condemned the UNESCO decision by extending its colonization project to 2000 new homes in the Palestinian territories. Israel also  probably hacked the Internet in the West Bank and Gaza for several days now. The disproportionate reaction of Israel was strongly condemned by the international community: in fact, $ 50 million to have monthly, which represents reimbursement of customs duties levied on Palestinian goods that pass through Israel, have been blocked. This amount represents almost 30% of the Palestinian Authority budget which is supposed  to ensure the salaries of nearly 150,000 Palestinian civil servants.

The United States is still adopting an inflexible position and do not support the wave of criticism against Israel. They have threatened to suspend their direct aid to the UNESCO which represents 22% of the organization budget. This will pose new political problems for the entire region as Palestine can also claim sovereignty on some of its territories such as the Dead Sea which the north-west is occupied by Israel since 1967.  To this purpose, Israel and Jordan should both demand the classification of this region on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This was never done until now. Anyway, even if they agree to do so, UNESCO would refuse such a classification because it does not recognize the occupation of the shores of the Dead Sea by Israel. It always comes back to the same obstacle. The road is still long for Palestine to be master of its memorial sites, but each step forward, even a little one, can be considered as a big step towards sovereignty. In any case, in the troubled context of the region,  Palestine  seems to have made the winning choice of diplomacy and international law rather than the one of violence. This is a significant point.

Sébastien Boussois