Palestinian prime minister hails donor endorsement

Friday, April 15, 2011

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- The Palestinian prime minister on Thursday hailed the international community's endorsement of his development efforts as a "birth certificate" for an independent state, but said outside intervention may be needed to make a future Palestine a reality.

Salam Fayyad spoke a day after key donor states meeting in Brussels confirmed that the institutions developed by the Palestinian Authority are now "above the threshold for a functioning state." The donors, who give the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year, cited reports prepared by the World Bank, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

"That for us is the birth certificate for our state," Fayyad said.

Fayyad, a U.S.-educated economist, alluded to the emerging Palestinian strategy -- given the breakdown in peace negotiations with Israel -- of asking the United Nations to recognize their independence at a vote in the annual General Assembly gathering in September.

"In September we will be in a better position to advance our cause until the international community intervenes and our state is born," he said.

Fayyad gave no specifics on what the Palestinians had in mind, reflecting a growing realization among the Palestinians that a U.N. vote may change little on the ground, and could even bring about angry disappointment among his people.

Israel has played down the U.N. gambit, noting that General Assembly resolutions do not have the force of law and cannot result in U.N. membership. That can only be bestowed by the Security Council, where Israel is counting on a United States veto of any such move.

Israel's position -- that a Palestinian state built on lands occupied by Israel can result only from negotiations -- is supported not only by the United States but also Britain, Germany and others in Europe.

Nonetheless, Israeli officials acknowledge a setback at the U.N. would deepen Israel's international isolation. The latest U.S. attempt to restart negotiations broke down in September, only weeks after being launched, over Israel's settlement building in the West Bank. The United States is continuing to urge a return to talks.

Even if talks resume, Israel's hard-line government is unlikely to agree to Palestinian terms of a near-total pullout from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Israel occupied in 1967 and has since settled with more than a half million Jews.

The U.S. remains committed to brokering an agreement by September, the target set by President Barack Obama, but the Palestinians appear to have given up on that.

Fayyad said the Palestinians would "continue our struggle until the international community holds its responsibility [of] ending the occupation ... until the international community intervenes and has our state born."

A U.N. resolution would not uproot the dozens of settlements that dot the West Bank or remove the Israeli troops in control there.

Even so, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top Palestinian official, said General Assembly recognition could shake things up enough to give the Palestinians "a new legal and political stage to struggle for ending the Israeli occupation and removing the Israeli settlements."

Israel seems torn between ignoring the Palestinian unilateral statehood drive and trying to pre-empt it.

One notion being considered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officials say, is an interim arrangement in which the Palestinian autonomous zones set up in the 1990s might be enlarged and upgraded to full sovereignty.

The Palestinians have always rejected any idea of an interim settlement, fearing it would become permanent, and the world would lose interest in their further claims.

Another complicating factor is that the Gaza Strip, part of any future state, is controlled by Hamas, a rival Palestinian faction that the United States, EU and Israel consider a terrorist group. The Islamic militant Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are bitter rivals. Hamas overran Gaza in 2007.

Abbas has been trying to organize a reconciliation with Hamas before September, so far in vain.

Fayyad did not say what the Palestinians would do if they won a General Assembly vote in September.

Privately, Palestinian officials have suggested they might start organizing peaceful protests outside Jewish settlements and try to ratchet up pressure on Israel by pushing for sanctions.

Some have called for reducing or halting security cooperation with Israel, which Israelis agree has contributed to the dramatic reduction of violence in recent years.

A test of the strategy may come next month, when Palestinian youth groups plan marches on settlements to mark the anniversary of Israel's May 15, 1948, creation, which Palestinians call the "nakba," or catastrophe, because the refugee crisis that resulted.

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