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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 4 Volume 1

The devil is in the details

by Ghassan Khatib

A Palestinian state seems to be the only part of the future Israeli-Palestinian agreement that is agreed on by all relevant parties: Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, and the rest of the international community. The agreement, however, is superficial. When we look beneath the surface to understand the parties' concept of the Palestinian statehood part of the solution, we find differences so significant as to render their agreement on a Palestinian state completely meaningless.

Each party to the conflict has its own final status concept, but each calls it a Palestinian state. When the Palestinians speak of statehood, they mean the complete Israeli withdrawal from all the territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem. They expect to practice their right of self-determination by establishing an independent, sovereign, and contiguous state that can live in peace with its neighbor Israel alongside the borders of 1967.

For Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the current right-wing extremist government in Israel, the solution is simply autonomy arrangements on the minimum possible part of the territories that encompasses the maximum possible number of Palestinians. The Palestinian entity would have no real sovereignty and include no part of East Jerusalem. Sharon doesn't mind calling this a Palestinian state.

The American concept of the Palestinian state fluctuates according to changes in the Israeli government's composition and positions. While there is a certain level of American influence on Israel, to a large extent the American position and extent of maneuvering vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a function of the Israeli position or extent to which the particular Israeli government can go.

For all of these reasons, it is not very significant that the different parties to the conflict support the idea of a Palestinian state. What counts, instead, is whether or not they agree on two things: (1) willingness to end the occupation, the ultimate source of violence and instability, especially since the Palestinians are determined to continue with the legitimate struggle until the end of this occupation; and (2) willingness to implement the relevant stipulations of international law vis-a-vis the conflict. So far the differences on these two issues are very wide. This explains the ferocity of the confrontations between the sides.

Published 14/6/2003©bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 16-06-2004



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