The President’s Vision: Development Under Occupation

President George W. Bush participates in a conversation on High School Initiatives at Parkersburg South High School in Parkersburg, W. Va., Thursday, May 13, 2004. (White House)

According to the president, “[m]y vision is two states, [Israel and Palestine] living side by side in peace and security”.

This was a vision which three months previously had been incorporated in the preamble to UN Security Council resolution 1397 of 12 March 2002. The preamble “[a]ffirmed a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.”

This vision was recently reaffirmed in UN Security Council resolution 1515 of 19 November 2003, which endorsed the Quartet Performance-based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The Quartet is comprised of the US, EU, UN and Russia. The Roadmap envisions the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.

However on 8 May 2004, Bush gave an interview to the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, with its editor-in-chief Ibrahim Nafie. In response to a question on the president’s pledge to create a Palestinian state, and whether he thought this could still be possible, he responded:

“Well, 2005 may be hard, since 2005 is right around the corner. I readily concede the date has slipped some, primarily because violence sprang up. When I laid out the date of 2005, I believe it was around the time I went to Aqaba, Jordan … But we hit a bump in the road – violence, as well as Abu Mazen being replaced, which changed the dynamic. I don’t want to make any excuses, but nevertheless I think the timetable of 2005 isn’t as realistic as it was two years ago. Nevertheless, I do think we ought to push hard as fast as possible to get a state in place.”

The problem with Bush’s vision is that it keeps changing.

But then this is not new. After all, it was thought that in 1922, when the League of Nations granted the British a mandate over Palestine, the outcome would be an independent Palestinian state when the British left in 1948. Forty years later, in 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation issued its declaration of independence in Algiers, retroactively accepting the UN partition plan as bestowing international legitimacy upon the Palestinian Arab people’s claim to self-determination and sovereignty. The Palestinian National Council then voted after the adoption of this declaration to declare the territorial boundaries of the state of Palestine to be the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital. This declaration was recognized by over 100 states. However nothing happened.

In 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles, which kick-started what was popularly known as the “Oslo Peace Process”. This envisioned the creation of a Palestinian state by 1999. That did not happen either.

In 2003 Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the then Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) agreed to the “Roadmap”, which envisaged a Palestinian state by 2005. This has now, however, been postponed to some unspecified date.

Statehood is a mixture of law, fact and politics. What is striking about the painful process of Palestinian statehood is the complete disregard for its legal aspect. The traditional criteria for statehood are laid down in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States. Article 1 provides that a state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:

(a) a permanent population
(b) a defined territory
(c) government
(d) capacity to enter into relations with other states

These provisions are not static. There are also other important criteria such as recognition, independence and sovereignty. Palestine as it stands does not satisfy most, if not all, of the criteria.

The majority of Palestine’s permanent population are refugees living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As regards territory, one wonders what will be left. The construction of a series of walls and fences will leave the Palestinians in a series of fragmented cantons. The Palestinian Authority does not exercise independent authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and it has no control over East Jerusalem.

The agreements signed between Israel and the PLO (during the “Oslo Peace Process”) limits the territorial, functional and personal jurisdiction of the PA. Whatever powers it has have been transferred to it from Israel and not from the Palestinian people. According to the agreements signed with Israel, the PA does not have the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The PLO does, but this has been restricted to international negotiations regarding economic, social, cultural and technical development.

However, the most important factor in all this is that Israel is still in occupation of Palestinian territory. Israel controls all the borders, air space and movement of persons, goods and capital. Israel is in charge of security, and can arrest and detain Palestinians at will. It also has the power to veto any Palestinian laws it deems objectionable. As long as Israel maintains its unlawful military occupation of Palestinian territory, it is premature to speak of Palestinian statehood.

It is farcical for US presidents past and present to set dates for the attainment of Palestinian statehood if they are not prepared to lean on Israel to end the occupation. Ending this should be a priority. Giving the Palestinians the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination would be a good starting point.

However, statehood cannot be forced on the Palestinian people by outside powers. It must flow from the Palestinian people. Any discussion of Palestinian statehood must take into account the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian refugees, their descendents, and those Palestinians resident in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A state that comes into being under belligerent occupation is a puppet state and it should not be recognized by other states. If Sharon goes ahead with his plan of unilateral disengagement from only parts of the West Bank and Gaza, while maintaining control over borders, the sea and air space, it would be erroneous for other states to recognize this. Bush may have a vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, but it is only a “vision”.

Victor Kattan is a correspondent for Arab Media Watch who covered the oral pleadings which took place before the International Court of Justice in The Hague in February 2004. He is the author of “The Right of Return Revisited”, which will be published in a forthcoming edition of the Mediterranean Journal of Human Rights.