Palestinians Buoyed by ‘Birth Certificate’ for Independent State

By Patrick Goodenough | April 15, 2011 | 5:23 AM EDT

P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addresses a news conference in Ramallah on Thursday, April 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

( – Forty-seven years after it was established with the goal of replacing Israel with an Arab state through “armed struggle,” the Palestine Liberation Organization is edging closer to achieving independence on at least some of the territory it claims.

After a meeting of donor states in Brussels, Palestinian Authority (P.A.) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Thursday hailed what he called “a very important and historic step.”

Speaking in Ramallah, he said donor states at the Brussels meeting had accepted reports by the U.N. and World Bank endorsing the P.A.’s institution-building efforts in the areas under its control.

“It was an admission of victory for the justice of our cause and the right of our people for freedom and independence,” added Fayyad, who was appointed to his post by P.A. president and PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

Earlier this week Fayyad described the positive international assessment as “the birth certificate for our state.”

“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 in Brussels on Wednesday.

The PLO plans in September to seek Brussels meeting Brussels meeting backing for Palestinian statehood, following a hiatus in negotiations with Israel and a series of diplomatic victories.

Since last December, nine Latin American countries have formally recognized Palestine as a state, bringing the total number of countries to have done so to 110, a majority of the General Assembly’s 192 members.

Providing a further boost, the U.N.’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, released a report to the Brussels meeting saying that in six core areas – governance, rule of law and human rights; livelihoods and productive sectors; education and culture; health; social protection; and infrastructure and water – P.A. “governmental functions are now sufficient for a functioning government of a state.”

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq put it more succinctly, telling a press briefing in New York Wednesday that “on those six core areas, they are ready for statehood.”

Haq added that an ultimate evaluation on statehood was not one to be made by the U.N. secretariat, but by member states.

Serry’s report was presented to a U.S.-European Union panel of donors to the Palestinians, known as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC). Fayyad also submitted to the AHLC a report detailing P.A. development efforts over the past two years which concluded that readiness for statehood has been achieved.

The AHLC chairman, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store, in a statement welcomed the assessments “that the PA is above the threshold for a functioning state in the key sectors they studied, and that Palestinian institutions compare favorably with those in established states.”

In its section on human rights, Serry’s report said the P.A. has upheld “normative functions of governance, including transparency, freedom of media, and mitigation of corruption.”

In contrast, the recently-released U.S. State Department report on human rights lists problems in the P.A.-ruled area including “mistreatment in detention, arbitrary and prolonged detention, poor prison conditions, impunity, corruption, and lack of transparency.” It also says P.A. security forces “continued to restrict freedom of speech and press” and “reportedly harassed, detained, and prosecuted journalists several times during the year due to their reporting.”

‘Obama promised’

While concerned about the PLO’s plans for September, the Israeli government has pointed out that General Assembly resolutions are largely symbolic and not legally binding.  Declaration of a new state requires a Security Council resolution, as well as the backing of two-thirds of the General Assembly.

President Obama and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas talk in the Oval Office on June 9, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

At the same time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has hinted at preemptive steps, and Israeli media speculate that these could include a unilateral withdrawal from some additional areas in the West Bank in a bid to undercut the U.N. initiative.

Although the Obama administration says a peace deal must be reached through negotiations and that it is opposed to “unilateral” declarations or actions, at least some of the responsibility for the Palestinians’ focus on September can be attributed to President Obama.

Addressing the General Assembly in New York last September, the president put September 2010 squarely on the agenda.

Obama told the gathering that if Mideast negotiators “reach for what’s best within ourselves,” then “when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”

The statement, which drew enthusiastic applause, has been cited by Palestinian leaders since then as amounting to a U.S. pledge.

“Obama in last September promised that Palestine will obtain full membership in the General Assembly of the United Nations,” Abbas said in an interview aired on China’s China CCTV last week, adding that this was one of what the P.A. is calling “the September entitlements.”

Another of the “September entitlements” is the fact the Obama administration and its Mideast Quartet partners set September 2011 as a target date for peace talks to be wrapped up. The administration announced the one-year deadline when it launched direct talks – now stalled – between Israel and the P.A. in early September 2010.

The PLO’s decision to seek formal U.N. recognition comes more than six decades after Palestinian Arab leaders rejected a proposal by the world body for the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River to be partitioned into separate Jewish and Arab states.

Jewish leaders accepted the U.N. “partition plan” and in May 1948 declared statehood in the area which the plan earmarked for a Jewish state; Arab states turned down the proposal and attacked the newly-declared state of Israel. The war ended with Jordan occupying the West Bank and Egypt controlling the Gaza Strip.

The PLO was established in 1964 with the goal of liberating all of “Palestine.” Its charter called the partition plan and establishment of Israel “entirely illegal” and listed among its aims “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.”

Three years after the PLO’s founding, Israel during the Six Day War captured territory including the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza from Egypt.

A General Assembly resolution in 1974 declared the PLO to be the official representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to participate in meetings as an observer. After a 1988 resolution, the U.N. began referring to the PLO observer as “Palestine.”

The Oslo accords brokered by the Clinton administration in the early 1990s handed the PLO control, either entirely or in conjunction with Israel, of about 40 percent of the West Bank, an area accounting for some 95 percent of the Palestinian population; as well as the Gaza Strip, which since 2007 has been ruled by Hamas.

If its September initiative goes ahead, the Palestinian leadership hopes to win U.N. recognition of an independent state comprising all of the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow