Since World War II, Europeans have been understandably skittish about doing anything that could lead to armed conflict. Europe, and later the EU, has generally stuck to using negotiations and (in extreme cases) sanctions as the only tools in their arsenal to cajole dictators and despots to get in line.
Not surprisingly, this strategy often fails.
Nevertheless, one can understand the European fear of conflict. Europe was devastated by WWII and the collective memory of the horrors of that war are still raw. Medium-sized towns in Europe lost more people in the war than America lost on 9/11.
All of this makes the recent flurry of stories about European countries being eager to recognize a Palestinian state all the more puzzling.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that Britain is prepared to formally recognize an independent Palestinian state in September unless Israel opens peace talks with the Palestinians. (He somehow didn’t seem to notice that it has been “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas who has resisted negotiations, not Israel.)
French President Sarkozy has made a similar statement. So has Norway’s foreign minister. Spain doesn’t look too far behind.
Such a unilateral move is a recipe for disaster.
Negotiations are meant to solve the biggest issues between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs: Israeli towns and villages in Judea and Samaria, Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, water resources, Palestinian Arabs who live in other countries wanting to “return” to Israel, incitement to terrorism in the Palestinian Arab media and schoolbooks, Israel’s security, and Jerusalem. By recognizing a state, Europe would not be solving a single one of these issues. On the contrary, they will be exacerbating them.
Today, despite these outstanding issues, there is relative peace. Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank are doing well economically, they are not worried about Israeli army actions, their travel restrictions have been consistently diminishing, and they have more autonomy than they have ever had in their history. Even in Gaza, under the autocratic rule of Hamas, as long as Hamas is stopping rocket fire the Gazans can start to gain a semblance of normal lives.
If “Palestine” is unilaterally declared, all of the gains over the past two decades would disappear in an instant.
Israel’s Oslo obligations would no longer exist. Security cooperation between Israel and the new “Palestine” would disappear. The Palestinian state would consider Israel to be its enemy (this language is used daily in mainstream Palestinian Arab media). The peace treaty that the PLO signed with Israel would be null and void because the PLO would no longer exist. Israel would no longer provide electricity to Gaza – part of an enemy state. Tax revenue collected by Israel that make up 70% of the PA budget would disappear.
Most importantly, it would solve none of the issues that are outstanding in the conflict. On the contrary, it will encourage Israel to make its own unilateral moves concerning land, water, Jerusalem and so forth.
“Palestine” would not want to naturalize millions of Arabs of Palestinian descent who now live in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and their problem of being forced to remain stateless by the Arab League will remain. In fact, the Palestinian entity would continue to insist that they move to Israel, destroying the Jewish state demographically–a negotiating position that they have never wavered on, and a problem that is kept artificially alive by the Arab states.
Any of these issues–”refugees,” land, water, Jerusalem–is enough to spark a regional conflict. Together, such a conflict is inevitable.
Only Israel has made real, concrete concessions during the long Oslo process. The PLO has not only not budged–they have bragged about their own intransigence. If the Europeans decide to recognize a Palestinian Arab state, they would be rewarding intransigence. And if that state includes Hamas, then the EU will also be explicitly rewarding terror.
One thing is certain: if a Palestinian Arab state becomes generally recognized by the world community in September 2011, then the Palestinian Arabs who such a state is supposedly meant to help will be in a much worse situation for years, if not decades, afterwards. Terrorism–which has been successfully fought by Israel over the past eight years–will return, as the Palestinian Arab security forces would abandon all cooperation with Israel. Hezbollah and Hamas would be emboldened to increase rocket fire and other terror attacks.
More likely than not, European recognition of a Palestinian Arab state will culminate in another major Middle East war–and possibly a series of them.