With South Sudan fast on the way to statehood, the world’s eyes are turning to what will likely be the world’s next new state (assuming the Libyan rebels don’t give up and establish Cyrenaica), Palestine. Palestine’s diplomats, under the leadership of widely-respected PM Salam Fayyad, have spent the past several months shuttling from capital to capital, seeking support for a bid for UN recognition expected this September. It’s a savvy move by the Palestinians, by which I mean it’s the only move available. As I’ll discuss in future posts, Palestine’s internal fragmentation and Israel’s current ruling coalition and very strong position on the ground make a peace deal a pipe dream. Though Gaza’s crisis is more urgent and thus gets more attention, the economic situation in the West Bank is also quite unpleasant, so Fatah needs to find a way forward–preferably one that garners some international aid. Statehood would add a layer of legal support to Palestine’s claims, though it wouldn’t change any facts on the ground, and would thus be a real test of the allegedly law-based international order.
Fayyad has, however, had a bit of a gaffe today. Following negotiations with a large range of international actors in Brussels, he’s said that their actions “effectively recognized the reality of a state in Palestine.” He even referred to a UN report (official overview here) analyzing institutional readiness for statehood a “birth certificate.” That report, though it validates some Palestinian claims of Israeli unpleasantness, also recognizes a key challenge to the legitimacy of a future Palestinian Authority government, namely, its lack of authority in Gaza. Unmentioned by Fayyad and the report is the challenge of getting support for the UN recognition measure in one key regional player–the US. Lobbyists are already working to get the US Congress to push against recognition, and unilateral Palestinian independence does not fit the stated American narrative.
Fayyad’s glowing account is thus somewhat at odds with reality, something that the other parties involved in the talks probably do not appreciate. If the path to recognition weren’t already so open, it might have made key players a bit wary of dealing with him–they do not, after all, want their initiatives to be misrepresented, and they’d certainly like to recognized Palestine on their own, rather than by a Fayyad declaration.