Barak Scrambles To Prevent Acceptance of PA Statehood

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel and the Palestinian Authority are seeking European support for their differing positions on Palestinian statehood.

PA leader Yasser Arafat plans to declare an independent Palestinian state later this year, with or without an Israeli agreement. On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is visiting leaders in London and Paris, hoping to block European acceptance of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood.

The Palestinian Central Council voted late Monday evening to support Arafat's bid to declare a state, with Jerusalem as its capital, and "to realize its sovereignty over" the West Bank.

The key Palestinian decision-making body said statehood would be declared about two months from now - "upon the termination of the interim period that was decided upon."

Israel and the PA have set September 13 as a final deadline for arriving at a permanent understanding, which is meant to include an agreement on Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in disputed territories, Palestinian refugees, and final borders.

Barak, who reacted strongly to the announcement, hopes to persuade British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac not to support the PA's planned declaration.

Before the Palestinian Central Council's decision, Arafat met with Chirac, hoping to win his support for a unilateral declaration of independence in case the U.S.-sponsored talks fail to produce an agreement with Israel.

Chirac did not give his blessing, however, saying he would first have to check with other EU members. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the Union.

Barak said he would respond to any Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence with one of his own: Israel would annex the blocs of Jewish settlements on disputed territory, bringing an estimated 80 percent of the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those areas under Israeli sovereignty.

Israel would also establish a security zone in the Jordan Valley, he warned.

President Clinton is expected to announce within the next few days whether or not he will host a summit between Israel and the PA, designed to work out a final agreement between the two sides.

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed his doubts that a Clinton-hosted summit at this time could succeed in bridging the wide differences between them.

"How do you go and have negotiations when the trust level is zero?" he asked. Israel needed to carry out another interim territorial transfer and release more Palestinian prisoners, Erekat said.

But Israel has been digging in its heels on making any more concessions to the PA while there are threats of violence and unilateral declaration of independence hanging in the air.

Two months ago, street violence erupted in PA areas against Israeli troops. PA officials and the Israeli security establishment have warned that more violence can be expected ahead of an agreement, or in the event that an agreement is not reached.

Foreign Minister David Levy added his voice to the growing call for a national unity government on Tuesday, citing "real and imminent" dangers facing Israel.

Levy, who is part of Barak's One Israel faction, said it was up to the prime minister to call for national unity.

Inviting the opposition Likud party into the coalition government would broaden Barak's support base but severely limit his ability to offer wide-ranging concessions to the PA.

Such a move is not likely to happen while peace negotiations are continuing. If they break down completely, however, or the PA declares a state unilaterally, then the Likud could well be invited to join.

The PA is demanding that Israel withdraw from all the land it captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, based on United Nations resolution 242, which recognizes the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war."

Israel's Attorney General Eliyakim Rubinstein argued recently that U.N. resolution 242 does not apply to the PA in the same way as it applies to Syria and Jordan, because there was never an international border between Israel and the West Bank. Nor did the PA exist in 1967 when the resolution was passed, he added.

The resolution also guarantees "[every state's] right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." Israel's borders from 1948-1967 were arguably not "secure."

In 1968, the late President Lyndon B. Johnson said that the United States should not be "the ones to say where other nations should draw lines between them that will assure each the greatest security.

"It is clear, however, that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967 will not bring peace," he asserted.