Libya's embattled transitional government is not only struggling to appoint a cabinet, disarm its powerful militias, and deal with the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It is also locked in a tense battle with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over where to try Muammar al-Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam and the former regime's mysterious intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi. Since the fall of Qaddafi's regime and the assertion of a newly sovereign Libya, the ICC's intervention has degenerated into a controversial and, at times, acrimonious battle between Libya's new rulers and the Court over where the highly prized indictees should be tried. Over the past year, Libya's transitional government has sought to demonstrate its effective sovereignty to its citizens and the world by proving itself able and willing to prosecute senior members of the Qaddafi regime. At the same time, the ICC has striven to establish itself as an effective institution that can have positive effects on post-conflict accountability. However, the fight over where to try Saif and Senussi may ultimately serve to undermine the aims of both the ICC and Libya -- not to mention the pursuit of post-Qaddafi justice.
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Is it time for Kofi Annan to declare that his bid to resolve the Syrian crisis has failed? A growing number of Western diplomats argue privately that he should. U.S. officials have stated publicly that Annan's peace plan "is failing," and the Saudi foreign minister has said confidence in his efforts is "rapidly falling." Syrian security forces continue to target dissidents, rebel forces remain active, and there have been attacks on convoys carrying U.N. monitors -- reinforcing the case that Annan should admit defeat.
The former U.N. Secretary-General has made it clear that he knows his mission is close to failure. But it's very difficult for him to call the whole thing off. While violence has continued in Syria at what Annan calls "unacceptable" levels, the death-rate has generally been lower than prior to the "ceasefire" he engineered in April. But whoever is attacking the U.N. observers probably wants to foment a full-scale war, and fighting appears not only to be on the rise again but also to be spreading into Lebanon.
On April 17, 2012, M. Cherif Bassiouni, international Arab legal expert and Chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry joined Middle East Channel editor Marc Lynch for a short conversation at George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies. Among the topics covered: Bahrain's response to the BICI recommendations, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's immunity deal, a war crimes tribunal for Syria...and why Muammar al-Qaddafi's sex addiction will make it difficult to convict Saif al-Islam.
Despite the tentative and fragile ceasefire that appears to have now taken hold in Syria, skepticism and outright vitriol regarding the mission of United Nations and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan remains. This frustration is understandable as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has until now shown no signs of credible compromise and the human costs of conflict have continued to escalate. The odds against success remain high. Even as the Syrian regime has observed a cessation in hostilities, it has ignored agreements to redeploy troops and heavy weapons from population centers. However, even if the current iteration of the Annan mission fails, a sequential diplomatic approach remains the only avenue by which an international consensus might be reached; without such consensus there is simply no hope for a near-term resolution of the conflict through managed transition.
The ceasefire that is at the crux of current attention is not an end in and of itself. The six-point plan endorsed by the Arab League and the United Nations also seeks to establish a Syrian-led political process that addresses the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. While the terms of a transition are left unspecified, it should be clear to Russia and others that any credible managed transition will require the removal of Assad from power. There can be no stability in Syria if the regime remains fully intact. In light of the indispensability of Russia and China and their reservations about the consequences of a political transition, focus should now shift to fashioning a serious transition process that retains specific figures and institutions from the Assad regime while allowing for genuine political change to take root. If international consensus cannot be marshaled around such basic realities then Syria is destined to suffer from escalating and protracted conflict that is the sole alternative to a diplomatic resolution.
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It's just over a month since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chose Kofi Annan to represent the United Nations and Arab League as their envoy for Syria. Annan has moved quickly to create a diplomatic framework for dealing with the crisis, putting together proposals for a ceasefire and "Syrian-led" talks that both the Security Council and Arab League have endorsed. But the last week has seen mounting criticism of this plan.
At first sight, Annan's proposals don't seem so contentious. The main pillars are an "inclusive Syrian-led political process," an "effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence," and "timely provision of humanitarian assistance." Other points include the release of political prisoners, letting journalists move freely, and permitting peaceful demonstrations. While these are unquestionably urgent priorities, however, the plan will ultimately be judged on the implementation of its political and military aspects.
As the brutal crackdown in Syria turns one year old with little sign of a solution on the horizon, skeptics and defenders of invoking the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine can agree: Syria has put the doctrine, which obligates states to be concerned about the welfare of those outside its borders, in crisis. Critics charge that it requires intervention on the Libyan precedent, exposing R2P as a crusading utopianism mandating perpetual war for peace. Supporters worry the doctrine will be made into a discredited farce if Bashar al-Assad is allowed to massacre innocents with impunity. In one colorful phrasing, "R2P, R.I.P."
Both are wrong. Military intervention in Syria would not only be a misapplication of R2P, but would radically weaken the doctrine's role in building both a better Middle East and a better world. Our responsibility to protect both Syrians and the R2P doctrine itself demands that we stay out of it.
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Yet another deadline passed late last month in the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," this time over the initial exchange of proposals on border and security issues. Palestinian negotiators were (and remain) under pressure on a number of fronts. The Quartet still holds to a resumption of talks under the current guise and a recent visit from Ban Ki-Moon called for "a gesture of goodwill by both sides" in order to create a positive atmosphere for continuing negotiations.
Instead, many Palestinians are urging the PLO to end negotiations altogether until Israel halts all settlement expansion in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Palestinian frustration with the international community and the hollow negotiation process was embodied by the slippers and sticks that showered the Secretary-General's convoy upon entry to the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.
For months, neither the Syrian regime, the international community, nor the opposition in exile have offered much hope in a dangerously deteriorating crisis. Increasingly, they seem to be unintentionally conniving in bringing about a civil war although it will serve no one's interests, destabilize Syria for years, and suck in the rest of the region. Their enduring pursuit of maximalist demands may sabotage what chance still exists for a negotiated transition.
The regime's vision consists in cracking down decisively against residual pockets of foreign-backed trouble-makers, then opening up politically within sensible boundaries -- similar to Jordan's or Bahrain's promise of limited reforms. Outside players currently bent on its demise, it wagers, ultimately will realize it cannot be destroyed; already hesitant for lack of good options and fear of ensuing chaos, they will grudgingly move to softer forms of pressure and, in time, even resume engagement. The regime's sympathizers and allies are all too keen to believe that it is strong, that the reach of the protest movement is wildly exaggerated by hostile media, that the foreign conspiracy is both all-encompassing and impotent, and that Syrian society is so disease-ridden -- a hodgepodge of fundamentalists, thugs, and third party proxies -- that it cannot but deserve the security services' tough medicine.
Another month and another delusionary speech by an Arab autocrat hanging on for power. If recent history is anything to go by, surely Bashar al-Assad's end is now at hand? The Syrian president's unwillingness to concede any of the legitimate demands of protesters, his continued reference to terrorist infiltrators, and his stated willingness to maintain an "iron-fist" incurred broad condemnation and a widening consensus that his days are numbered. And, yet, to dismiss his speech and subsequent hard-line address to crowds gathered in Damascus yesterday, as the ravings of a madman and suggest that Assad is all out of ideas may also be mistaken. Is the president really facing a fight against the clock?
The Arab League has had observers to monitor the violent situation in Syria for less than a fortnight, but they are already a source of derision. The Syrian opposition claims that the roughly 100 monitors, deployed to oversee the army's withdrawal from urban areas, have been manipulated and fed disinformation by the government. There have been accusations that the military has used the observers' presence as a cover for increased violence. Perhaps most notoriously, the League selected a Sudanese general associated with the war in Darfur to lead the mission. The observers, dressed in brightly-colored waistcoats and armed only with digital cameras, often look lost and ineffectual.
In any plausible scenario, the monitors were never going to have a decisive impact on Syria. Although the Syrian government promised that it would halt military operations against civilians in December, few analysts took this promise seriously. A handful of observers were not going to change political calculations in Damascus, especially as they have neither their own guards nor secure communications equipment -- leaving them excessively reliant on Syrian assistance to monitor and report anything at all.
On January 6, 2011, then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Sharm el Sheikh in an effort to resuscitate the flagging peace process. Egypt for many years played the role of regional protector of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which was extremely heavy on process while being ever-more transparently light on delivering peace. It is a role that the new Egypt is unlikely to volunteer for.
Almost exactly one year later, Jordan has gone some ways toward assuming that role by convening Israeli-Palestinian exploratory talks in Amman on Tuesday. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators did not meet officially or publicly throughout 2011 at the Palestinian insistence that Israel first stop settlement activity. It took a considerable effort to make yesterday's meeting happen, given ongoing settlement construction, land seizures, and home demolitions. The meeting, hosted by Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on behalf of King Abdullah II, brought together Quartet envoys, Yizhak Molcho, legal adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu, and the indefatigable chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, awkwardly pictured at the table's head as he presented positions on border and security (proposals well known to his interlocutors). Following the meeting, Judeh sought to manage expectations while announcing that a series of talks will follow. Preserving an old school peace process is going to be very hard work in the new realities of the Middle East.
In light of the resignation of the National Security Council's Dennis Ross, and as the international community waits for the United Nations to consider Palestine's road to formal statehood, we call upon the Obama administration and so-called Middle East experts advising the various presidential hopefuls to take some introspective "down time." The purpose is to reassess heretofore time-honored policies, practices, political campaign pronouncements, and come up with a realistic and viable way forward.
It is clear that Obama's efforts toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire have been nothing short of a failure. When tallying on to previous failed administration attempts, the cumulative effect has been a clear loss of strategic leverage. This loss is detrimental to the U.S. interest of securing two states living side by side in peace in the region, as well as influencing the likes of Syria and Iran at a critical time. This trend must be reversed and replaced by revitalized action on a critical U.S. national security issue.
So the UNESCO's general conference has voted to admit Palestine as a member. The U.S. government has made good on its Congressionally-mandated commitment to withhold its dues payments to UNESCO. Israel has come up with a cute PR line (UNESCO is supposed to be about science, not science fiction), Europe is hopelessly split -- oh, and the Palestinian territories are still occupied.
Nevertheless, there are a few signposts for what might be coming down the pike worth paying attention to after today's vote:
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Cynicism and skepticism always have their place, but today might just go down as an historic day on the Israeli-Palestinian front. No, there is no direct or quick fix move from the Palestinian application for U.N. membership to the actual realization of a Palestinian state (and certainly not when one factors in the Israeli response) but the Palestinian U.N. move does represent the most definitive break yet with the failed and structurally flawed strategies for advancing peace of many a year. Many Palestinians and others are now suggesting that the PLO leadership progress from the symbolism of September 23rd to a concerted struggle for their freedom centered on nonviolent resistance, diplomacy, and international legality, believing that this would finally deliver a breakthrough.
In its theatrics, today was rather predictable -- other than the Quartet statement of the afternoon, on which more in a moment. The speeches of Abbas and Netanyahu held few, if any, surprises. Abbas played to the Palestinian community at home and around the world, and to the rest of the international community.
As President Mahmoud Abbas continues to prepare the Palestinian bid for "observer" status at the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, some members of congress have threatened to cut off economic and/or security aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA). One might expect this threat to resonate in Ramallah. The PA has long been one of the most aid-dependent administrations in the world and contributing $833 million in 2009, the United States is its largest provider of official development assistance -- outmatching the second largest donor, the United Arab Emirates, by almost a factor of four.
Yet Abbas and his advisors have solidly rebuffed Obama administration pleas and congressional threats to abandon the PA's petition. Why hasn't the PA been dissuaded by the prospect of less (or no) U.S. aid in one year's time? Part of the answer, of course, lies in the homegrown political challenges confronting Abbas and his Prime Minister, Salam al-Fayyad -- progress on which seems stagnant relative to the broader "Arab Awakening" in the region. Another part lies in the intransigence of the Netanyahu government, which offers little hope for meaningful negotiations. But the final part of the answer lies in the nature of U.S. aid itself.
Aid is best at buying leverage when it is in high demand by the recipient, unavailable from other donors, and does not directly serve donor interests. In these situations, donors can issue credible threats to withdraw aid if the recipient fails to implement the donor's foreign policy demands. This year, the United States will provide only about $400.4 million* in Economic Support Funds to the PA, much of which is distributed among technical assistance projects that are widely available from other donors. This is not good material for leverage -- Congress ought not bother. The two most important unique contributions that the United States makes to the PA are diplomatic support and security assistance. However, neither is well-suited to pressuring the PA on the statehood bid -- the former because it has proven ineffective, the latter because it serves U.S. and Israeli interests so well. And that leaves the US with few remaining cards to use with a desperate Palestinian leadership.
SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/Getty Image
Is there anyone familiar with the history of the Israel-Palestine peace process who still believes that this Israeli government would defy the over half-a-million settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- by far the most influential political force in Israel -- and their networks of supporters within Israel, and present Palestinians with a reasonable peace plan for a two-state solution that would be acceptable to even the most moderate and accommodating of Palestinian leaders?
Shelly Yachimovich, an Israeli Knesset Member who is a leading candidate for the Labor Party's leadership, recently declared that Israel's settlement project is "not a sin or a crime" since it was initiated by a Labor government, and therefore "a completely consensual move." Leaving aside the bizarre notion that the consensus of thieves legitimizes their theft, if these are the views of candidates for Labor Party leadership in today's Israel, what prospect can there possibly be for an acceptable peace accord to emerge from the peace process?
While the relentless pace of developments in the Middle East shows little sign of flagging, the region will briefly cast its gaze to New York next week -- with the backdrop for the next installment on Israel-Palestine being provided by Manhattan's East side digs of the United Nations. Any thoughts of the Arab awakening "proving" that Palestine was in fact a marginal concern in the region were unequivocally banished in recent weeks. To imagine that a popular Arab push for democracy, freedom, and dignity would ignore Israel's denial of those same aspirations for Palestinians was a flight of fancy. The opposite is unsurprisingly proving true -- Arab democracy will be less tolerant of Palestinian disenfranchisement than was Arab autocracy.
What is actually likely to happen to the Palestinian effort at the United Nations and what might it mean for all concerned?
As more information seeps out from the Quartet principals meeting held in Washington on July 11, it becomes harder not to reach the conclusion that American policy on Israel-Palestine is now being driven almost exclusively by a desire to prevent any possible U.N. vote on the matter in the Autumn. Reading the draft text proposed as a Quartet statement by the U.S. (the text is not yet public, but the authenticity of the draft described here has been reliably confirmed) and rejected by the EU, Russia, and the U.N. Secretary General entrenches that conclusion -- and worse, that the U.S. was attempting to pull something of a diplomatic fast one on the senior Quartet officials assembled. But more on that later.
First, a veritable minefield of myths that have sprung up around a possible Palestine vote at the U.N. should be debunked.
No a U.N. vote will not in practical terms deliver a sovereign Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal and de-occupation. Nor will Israelis instantly be hauled in front of various international legal bodies as a consequence of a U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution. Several other steps would have to take place subsequent to a U.N. vote for either of those things to happen and those do not flow seamlessly, one from the other.
Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli intellectual and politically very much a centrist, is to be commended for dismissing Israeli fears that outside criticism of their country's occupation policies is an effort to challenge Israel's very right to exist. Writing in Ha'aretz, Avineri notes there is not a single country in the world that maintains diplomatic ties with Israel that has ever questioned the legitimacy of Israel's existence.
Avineri maintains that whatever political problems might result for Netanyahu's government from a United Nations decision to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it would in no sense "delegitimize" the state of Israel. On the contrary: recognizing Palestine within 1967 borders, he argues, would result in the international recognition of the 1967 lines as the border of Israel, which would mean recognition for the first time of West Jerusalem as a legitimate part of the state of Israel. Avineri concludes, therefore, that "there are no significant moves afoot anywhere on Earth to delegitimize Israel."
Historical dates often emerge by sheer coincidence. In 2009, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad formulated an operational goal for his tenure: by 2011 he wanted to build institutions that would justify the proclamation of a Palestinian state. This would not just have symbolic value, as PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat's statement in 1988, but would carry practical implications. Fayyad's efforts have commanded international admiration. The West Bank is indeed run in a way that meets many criteria for successful statehood. As opposed to the past, funds are used responsibly and accounting standards are transparent. The security forces -- originally trained by U.S. Lieutenant General Keith Dayton -- are remarkably effective. Both the Palestinian population and the Israel Defense Forces rely on them more than ever. Hence, September 2011 began to crystallize as a realistic date for the founding of a Palestinian state.
Fayyad's 2011 deadline for the declaration of Palestinian statehood had acquired enormous importance, even though Fayyad never connected it to the bid for U.N. recognition. It has provided Palestinians with a political horizon and a strong motivation to try the route of peaceful resistance and reliance on the international community's support for the new state. The idea of turning to the U.N. for recognition of Palestine seems not to have been a long-term strategy; it emerged as an option faute de mieux, in the absence of negotiations, and without reasonable hope that Netanyahu has the will or the mandate for a meaningful Israeli compromise.
What conclusions are to be drawn about the state of Middle East peacemaking from the extraordinary spectacle of the adversarial encounter between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their several major adversarial addresses in the second half of May?
The spectacle did not bring an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement any closer. Indeed, Netanyahu's address to the U.S. Congress, no less than Congress's reaction to that speech, effectively buried the Middle East peace process for good. For what America's solons were jumping up and down to applaud so wildly as they pandered pathetically to the Israel lobby was Netanyahu's rejection of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, thus endorsing his determination to maintain permanently Israel's colonial project in the West Bank.
If Netanyahu succeeds in his objective, these members of Congress will be able to take credit for an Israeli apartheid regime that former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert predicted would be the inescapable consequence of policies the congressmen cheered and promised to continue to support as generously as they have in the past.
"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December/But the days grow short when you reach September/ When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn't got time for the waiting game." -- Maxwell Anderson, September Song, 1938
In his speech on the Middle East Thursday, President Obama greeted the arrival of spring in the Arab world with enthusiasm. His prescriptions for achieving Arab-Israeli peace, however, leave the Palestinians once again stalled between seasons.[I] Although the President characterized the transformations sweeping the region as a "story of self-determination" and lauded the courage of Arab citizens who had "taken their future into their own hands," he took a dim view of efforts to pursue international recognition of Palestinian statehood this fall. According to Obama, "Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state." Instead of taking their future into their own hands, Obama suggested, Palestinians should continue down the path of negotiation with the Netanyahu government, however futile talks might seem.
What Obama seems unwilling to acknowledge is that the protest movements across the region and the drive for Palestinian statehood have more in common than just the anxiety they are producing in Israel. They are also premised on a similar impulse. No less than the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis who have revolted against autocratic regimes, what the 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli occupation are seeking is the freedom to govern themselves. For them, independence means more than a seat at the Unuted Nations General Aassembly (UNGA). It means being able to decide where in their country they will live, work, and worship. It means knowing that their government is able to keep them safe. And it means having a say in how their country's resources are used and distributed.
The United States may not be able to propose solutions for all the Middle East, but it can prescribe the course of events unfolding in some Arab Spring countries. Case in point: Bahrain.
After thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets in the small Gulf kingdom earlier this year, the Bahraini government's response was brutal and systematic: shoot civilian protesters, detain and torture them, and erase all evidence. On the frontline, treating hundreds of these wounded civilians, doctors gained firsthand knowledge of these abuses.
As part of a Physicians for Human Rights investigation in Bahrain last month, Dr. Nizam Peerwani and I conducted in-depth interviews with 47 medical workers, patients, and other eyewitnesses to human rights violations. We corroborated these testimonies by conducting physical examinations of beaten and tortured protesters and by examining their medical records and X-rays. We also investigated four suspicious deaths in custody.
The Palestinian leadership seems to have given up on negotiations with the Netanyahu government and is obviously moving towards seeking recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, possibly in September this year. Most pundits believe that they will muster a substantial majority in the UN General Assembly.
Israel's foreign ministry has now informed the members of the Security Council as well as a number of European countries that it will react to this Palestinian move with a series of unilateral steps. There are indications that these might include the annexation of some major settlement blocs in the West Bank.
What on earth is this move supposed to achieve? Is it intended to frighten the Palestinians, the UN, or the EU? Does the foreign minister expect the international community to meekly accept Israel's annexation and immediately to stop the process of recognizing the Palestinian state?
In September 2007, U.S. soldiers raided a desert encampment outside the town of Sinjar in northwest Iraq, looking for insurgents. Amid the tents, they made a remarkable discovery: a trove of personnel files -- more than 700 in all -- detailing the origins of the foreign fighters al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had brought into the country to fight against coalition forces.
The Sinjar records -- which we analyzed extensively in a series of reports for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center -- revealed that at least 111 Libyans entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007. That was about 18 percent of AQI's incoming fighters during that period, a contribution second only to Saudi Arabia's (41 percent) and the highest number of fighters per capita than any other country noted in the records.
The current dangerous situation in Libya has become a serious test for the international community's resolve and credibility, especially in the context of a changing Arab world. In particular, it is a test of the ability of a much heralded multipolar new world order, which includes the United States and Europe and the newly emerging actors, China, Brazil and India. The challenge now is how to respond to a situation where the UN believes there are occurring gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including "crimes against humanity."
It is a test that the international community has to pass. Failure would shake further the faith of the people's region in the emerging international order and the primacy of international law. Success would demonstrably draw a line in the sand to deter other Arab autocrats who resort to attacking their people rather than dialogue and genuine reforms.
The Quartet on Middle East peace will meet on the sidelines of the Munich security conference tomorrow to discuss the current impasse facing the Palestinian-Israeli search for peace. Breaking this impasse will depend largely on whether the Quartet is prepared to take a qualitative shift in the way it does business.
The Middle East "peace process" is in serious trouble. After years of fruitless negotiations, Israel's occupation is still firmly entrenched, eroding what hope remains for establishing a sovereign Palestinian state and concluding a just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution. Recent efforts by the United States to revive stalled peace talks have been nothing short of disastrous.
The Obama administration will face a moment of truth in deciding how to vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements under international law now being drafted on behalf of the Palestinians for presentation early this year. But the administration's thwarted efforts to freeze settlements, the huge obstacle settlements pose to a two-state peace, Israel's aggressive expansion of settlements, and the need to restore U.S. credibility as a peace maker are all powerful reasons for supporting this initiative.
Nevertheless, the State Department has said it prefers that settlements be resolved through negotiations as "the only viable path" for ending the conflict. This position is also being pressed by Israel and domestic groups that support Israeli policies unconditionally, and by the House of Representatives which has already called for an American veto of U.N. resolutions not approved by Israel. The Obama administration has not yet said how it would vote on such a resolution. It still has time to decide that the U.S. should vote yes, for compelling reasons.
With the U.S.-led peace process looking increasingly moribund, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has begun enlisting foreign leaders in a dangerous effort to recognize a Palestinian state without Israel's agreement. Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, began this effort earlier this year to strengthen the Palestinian negotiating position, and it is bearing more fruit than even he could have expected. Abbas, however, should be careful what he wishes for. A declaration of statehood without Israeli approval could start a war in which the Palestinians themselves would pay the highest price.
Abbas has been laying the diplomatic groundwork for a unilateral declaration of statehood for months, visiting foreign capitals and lobbying governments to extend recognition. But his efforts have gained momentum this month as a U.S. proposal for an Israeli settlement freeze has fallen apart.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Hanan Ashrawi has lived through all the ups and downs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. She was present at the birth of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at the 1991 Madrid Conference, where she served as a spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause. Two decades later, Ashrawi, now a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's Third Way Party, fears that she is witnessing the death of the peace talks. As U.S. President Barack Obama's attempts to revive the stalled negotiations continue to falter, Ashrawi tells Foreign Policy that the PLO is considering a number of out-of-the-box ideas to fulfill its goal of an independent Palestinian state -- including taking their case to the United Nations.
FP: On Nov. 9, the Arab League is going to meet again to consider an extension of Israeli-Palestinian talks. What do you see as the future of the current round of negotiations? (Editor's note: The decision whether to extend the negotiations was subsequently delayed.)
Hanan Ashrawi: There are many options, of course. But I think I would hate to limit all our options only to bilateral negotiations. It seems to me that we've been trying that for the past two decades, and what has it done? It has [resulted in] increased settlement activities, increased Israeli control -- particularly the transformation of Jerusalem, which has led to tremendous suffering on the part of the Palestinians. The state of siege, home demolitions, ethnic cleansing -- all these things are ongoing while there's an abstract process without a relationship to reality.
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