The Coming Palestinian Winter

The Dallas Morning News

May 30, 2011

By Scott Miller and Anna Popp

The Arab Spring that has toppled autocracies in Tunisia and Egypt and threatens others raises hope for a transition to democracy in North Africa and the Middle East. But the process could be pushed disastrously off track by the Palestinian plan for a unilateral declaration of independence of a state encompassing Gaza and the West Bank, to be followed in September by a U.N. General Assembly resolution recognizing that state.

The resolution is sure to be backed by a large majority, including all the Arab and Muslim states. Leaving aside the legal questions it raises, the likely disastrous consequences on the ground and the precedent it sets for other irredentist movements elsewhere, the initiative casts grave doubt on the prospects for democracy in the Arab world.

One would expect emerging forces of Arab democracy to feel an affinity with the sole existing democracy in the region, Israel, and at the very least to lower the decibel of anti-Israel rhetoric. Surely Palestinians, who have never had a state of their own and seek to build one on a democratic basis, should see democratic Israel as a partner and ally and negotiate face-to-face with it.

After all, Israel was the only nation that sought to bequeath the Palestinians a state, most notably in 1947, when it accepted the U.N. partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, and in 2000-01, when the Israeli government agreed to evacuate land it had gained in a defensive war so that a Palestinian state might be set up there. On both occasions, Israel's offers were rebuffed.

That pattern is now repeating itself. The Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate and entered into alliance with Hamas, which rules Gaza with an iron fist; tramples on the freedom of religion, speech and assembly; fires rockets across the border at Israeli civilians; denounced the killing of Osama bin Laden; and is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. It is this unified Palestinian Authority-Hamas front that is about to declare an independent Palestine and take its cause to the U.N.

Hamas' charter not only rejects a Jewish state in the Middle East but even calls for the murder of Jews. As President Barack Obama said, "Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection." While some claim to hear vague suggestions that Hamas may be willing to accept a long-term truce with Israel, the opposite seems to be closer to the truth: The Palestinian Authority is moving toward the rejectionism of Hamas. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wrote May 16 in The New York Times for a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem not in the hoped-for unilaterally declared state of Palestine, but in Israel proper. Flooding Israel with thousands of Palestinians would put an end to Israel as a Jewish state and create two Palestinian states, the antithesis of Obama's call for "two states for two peoples." And neither Abbas nor Hamas is willing to commit to an end to the conflict with Israel, even if their demands are met. Surely Israelis are justified in suspecting that the Palestinian leadership's current stance is aimed at the ultimate elimination of Israel.

One often hears that one of the most positive features of democracy is that no democratic state has ever made war on another. Those nations that support the unilateral declaration of independence in the General Assembly will be effectively trying to elevate to statehood an entity that has declared a long-term war of annihilation on a democratic member-state - the only one in the Middle East.

In doing so, they will help bury the democratic promise of the Arab Spring.

Scott Miller is the Dallas board president of the American Jewish Committee, and Anna Popp is its Dallas director.

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