Which way – Palestinian statehood, or “returning the keys?”

My esteemed +972 colleague Roi Maor recently posted an article that, if I may say bluntly, took out a lot of the hot air I’ve been blowing over the past few months into the Palestinian UDI (unilateral declaration of independence). Maor claims that UDI will not be as much of a game changer that I’m hoping it will be, and that there is another trick in the box that just might work better: the “giving the keys back” option, where the Palestinian Authority is dismantled and Israel is left to deal once again with full control of the West Bank.

First, I have to be clear: I believe UDI has a better chance of being successful if the United States decides to make a U-turn and support it (this is what I have called the “Wild Card” option). As of today, the chances of Barack Obama mustering up the strength to do so seem bleak. Therefore, I too have my doubts as to how much UDI will indeed change the game.

Another thing I need to make clear, is that I think Maor and I are basically talking about the same thing: what is the move that will give Palestinians their freedom sooner? And what will not cause any further delays, particularly after 44 years of occupation?

Allow me to first take one step back. As the current impasse in the conflict became more and more obvious in the last two years, two main ideas have surfaced that have purported to be new solutions. One, the aforementioned dismantling of the PA; and two, the one-state solution (OSS).

I won’t deal here with the OSS for two reasons: one, it will mean a further delay of many years in Palestinians gaining their civil rights, and as i just mentioned – time is if the essence. Two: OSS is not a solution, it’s more of an outcome. In fact, it should be termed the one-state scenario – something that will inevitably happen once the two-state solution (TSS) collapses. And as we all know, this will happen in the next year or two if nothing brings about a change in the status quo (for example, the U.S. changing it’s mind and standing up to AIPAC).

Which leaves dealing with TSS and how to restart it. The UDI and the “giving back the keys” options both support this solution, but one must understand: they are not necessarily “either/or” options. In fact, the second could indeed follow after the first, if UDI proves to be a non-game-changer as Maor predicts. Also, dismantling the PA may not lead to Israel “giving up” and negotiating a two-state solution – it just might lead to OSS…

To be honest, I believe this is both Maor’s and my own weakness: speculations. Neither of us are 100% sure what will happen after UDI nor the dismantling of the PA. I must say, though, that if Maor had convinced me that the dismantling of the PA would usher in Palestinian freedom sooner than the UDI, I’d be the first to sign on to it. But as things go, and as Maor himself said he has serious doubts about the efficiency of UDI (which I share, by the way) I also have my doubts about the “game changer” he proposes.

Here are just some of the points Maor brought up:

Israel has held land before (and today) of independent states, so why should UDI change that?

Maor mentioned that Israel has held Egyptian land in the past, Lebanese land and till this day Syrian land – and no one doubts their independence. True. But why not mention that Israel also gave back land? Once through negotiations (Egypt), and once with a unilateral retreat (Lebanon). So yes, we held land – and then we left it. There seem to be two sides to that coin worth mentioning. And also, can’t one use that argument about any country that has conquered land during war and then given it back?

Maor also mentions that Israel had no qualms retaliating when it was attacked by Hezbollah in 2006, after its withdrawal from Lebanon, and that it occupied land there briefly during the war. I would certainly hope so! Of course land is occupied during warfare. In fact, why should it be called “occupying” in the first place? It is nothing like the Occupation of Palestinian territories. It’s a simple war maneuver, no need to look into it any deeper than that.

Giving back the keys will impose an immediate economic burden on Israel

True, regaining control of all the West Bank will be an  immense financial burden. But hasn’t Israel occupied for decades when its economy was much weaker? If anything, Israel has never seemed riper financially to take over the territories again, what with finding gas in the Mediterranean, with it’s record breaking growth levels (7.8% in Q4 of 2010), with its acceptance into the OECD. And let’s not forget what enlargement of the occupation will mean for Israel’s huge military industries.

Supporting UDI is a way for pressuring Israel into false “peace moves”

This is a strong argument, precisely because of what the past has shown us: the world has fallen again and again for Israel’s tricks. I can only argue that my gut feeling is that the world’s patience with Israel and its policies is beginning to run out. Whether it be German Chancellor Angela Merkel voicing her frustration on the phone with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, or the recent veto in the UNSC – which despite the sad outcome of the U.S. using its veto once again, it was not done with much ease to say the least.

UDI won’t change a thing

One of Maor’s most important questions was: “Is it really so hard to imagine a world in which Palestinians declare their independence, the vast majority of the world recognizes them, including even the US administration (Congress will never accept that, of course), yet nothing really changes?

I hate people who reply with a question of their own, but here goes: “Is it really so hard to imagine a world in which the PA is dismantled, a full occupation returns, yet nothing really changes?” I honestly don’t think it’s so far fetched to see the Israeli public actually being OK with taking over land under Palestinian Authority rule again. Right now, Israel controls 80% of the land and just under 50% of the population. It’s not that big a jump, and let’s face it – we’ve got the experience.

With some of Maor’s other points, I admit I don’t have an answer (specifically the psychological issues). I will say that as I have mentioned in my own posts the danger that UDI may lead to bloodshed, I believe the chances for violence are even higher with Maor’s game changer. Dismantling the PA and its security apparatus, where city gangs take over and Darwinian-like battles emerge throughout the West Bank could mean a massive loss of life on both sides.

Also, both UDI and “giving back the keys” suffer from the same problem: Hamas and Gaza. There have been reports recently about talks between the PA and Hamas. The success of these would be crucial to UDI. But if giving back the keys is the option, what happens to Gaza?

Despite the show of strength from some of Israel’s preeminent elders yesterday in favor of UDI, most on the left will most probably not give it much thought, or claim it to be a waste of time.

Shame. This option is alive and kicking, only a few months away. Why not give it a push, as one group, together?


I’d like to end this post with one of the most intelligent, down to earth, powerful comments I’ve seen in a while on +972, which was posted on Maor’s last article, by a Palestinian named Nizo:

“As a Palestinian who has always believed in the two-state solution, I would like to say that from my perspective, this declaration of statehood is the biggest gift that we could ever give Israel.

An independent Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza implies that we have accepted Israel’s existence on the lands lost in 1948. As someone hailing from those lands, this isn’t an easy compromise for me.

My link to Ramallah is abstract, ideological at best, while in Israel proper I still have family, connections, a longing.

For a very long time I’ve been willing to accept the historic compromise and look forward rather than back.

But there are limits to patience.

If you will not even let us have our truncated, midget state and allow us to start our healing process then we will change the parameters of the game and start asking for civil rights in Israel proper.

I have always thought that a bi-national state is a recipe for disaster by virtue of the massive paar tarbuti (cultural gap) between our 2 nations. But this will be your problem from now on, not mine.

As we say in Arabic, Bateekh ykassir Baado. May the watermelons smash each other.

Israel is too drunk with power to realize where it’s heading.”