The view of the mountains surrounding Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro was breathtaking and the horizon seemed full of promise. Hundreds of Brazil's influentials had accepted the invitation of pertinent businessman and socialite Henrique Pinto to welcome 2011 at a fabulously lavish party at a stunning residence. Over the course of the evening, the host's gracious hospitality and the abundant champagne let everyone relax and have a good time. One could be forgiven for losing focus and clear vision.
Earlier that day, December 31, 2010, a mere 90 flight minutes away, there was another festive celebration. But it was not a New Year's Eve event. In the country's capital Brasilia, the president of a Middle Eastern entity had traveled across the Atlantic to lay the cornerstone of the first Palestinian Embassy in the Americas. With the promise on the horizon being an independent Palestinian State, it was clear that by taking this step, focus and clear vision had been lost here as well.
Brazil, arguably Latin America's most important country, joined a trend, namely the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the ceasefire lines of 1967. Three other South American countries, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador, recently formally acknowledged a sovereign Palestinian state. Uruguay has said it would follow suit soon. Already several years ago, Costa Rica, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela had recognized Palestinian statehood.
The focus Brazil, those several Latin American countries, and the Palestinian Authority (PA)'s President Mahmoud Abbas, has lost is that a Palestinian state would come into being in a negotiated framework, through an Israeli-Palestinian final status peace agreement. The Palestinians themselves had agreed to this in a binding agreement, namely the Oslo Accords. Still, Abbas thanked Brazil "for its support in the construction of a Palestinian state." This is therefore but the latest example of the PA's pursuing an agenda of unilateralism by trying to obtain international recognition of a Palestinian state. It is to state the obvious that this behavior is an affront to Israel as well as the United States, which have being trying so hard to get the Palestinians back to the negotiation table.
The focus the PA has lost that by pursuing this agenda it undermines the negotiation framework with Israel. Not that Abbas is willing to negotiate right now. He certainly knows how to try to have his cake and eat it, too. The PA is hoping for a diplomatic domino effect that would seemingly give validity to their claim of statehood in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Recognition by the United Nations (UN) would complete the fait accompli.
The domino effect strategy which worked so swimmingly for the Palestinians in Latin America effect did not work when on December 13, the Council of the European Union (EU) rejected the Palestinian pressure to support a unilateral declaration of independence on the 1967 lines. Sensibly, the EU Foreign Ministers called "for all parties to refrain from provocative unilateral actions." While the pressures against Israel are increasing the EU is obviously not ready (yet?) to break with the United States on such the sensitive issue of the Middle East Peace Process. With the EU being such a vital donor to the Palestinian cause the PA going nowhere with a unilateral declaration without European support. There is, thankfully, nothing inevitable about the Palestinians ultimately succeeding in their aims through unilateralism.
What should be clear by now is that by prematurely seeking recognition of a Palestinian state President Abbas is shooting his own proverbial foot. The damage to the bilateral political relationship between Israel and the PA and between those 'recognizing' Latin American states still needs to be assessed. This damage is real, lasting, and regrettable.
At the same time, the gains for the PA are anything but solid and it has been pointed out that recognition of a Palestinian state in 1967 borders carries no significance other than as a political expression of opinion. It is a terrible irony that these acts by Brazil and Argentina and others run counter to statements by, well, Brazil and Argentina in the UN Security Council in 1967, post Six-Day War, in favor of freely negotiated borders between the parties and an internationally sponsored peace negotiation process as set out in Resolution 242.
There is a whole set of specific UN resolutions that specify and regulate how to deal with the settlement of the Middle East conflict, such as Resolutions 242 and 338. These resolutions were witnessed, guaranteed and/or endorsed by key players of the international community. Additionally, the Palestinians have entered, voluntarily, into several still-valid agreements with Israel, such as the Oslo Accord and subsequent interim agreements.
By contravening the stipulations of UN Resolutions and bilateral agreements, President Abbas and the PA are causing damage that undermines any good faith between them and their Israeli counterparts but also between them and the American Government. This damage is real and regrettable.
It is tragic that important players of the international community, such as Brazil, not only contradict their own statements in support of a freely agreed upon and negotiated settlement between the Palestinians and Israel, but simultaneously undermine the chances of exactly such a settlement by letting Abbas score political points through an embassy groundbreaking ceremony.
Such actions and behavior do absolutely nothing to solve and maybe even perpetuate problems that stand in the way of progress. These problems include the fact that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA is in control of the West Bank but not of the Gaza Strip, where Hamas reigns. How can the international community want a half-state for the Palestinians? How can the 'let's try it unilaterally' Palestinians build trust with the Israelis, trust they need to find solutions to the crucial issues of the supposed Right of Return, East Jerusalem, borders, and security?
The Palestinians need to realize that, as was the case in the past, the attempt to dictate a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outside the internationally accepted and sponsored peace negotiation process, based in UN Resolutions, will simply never be a positive contribution to solving the issue. Looking at this Palestinian self-destructive behavior, from Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, or anywhere else in the world, it is difficult to be optimistic for the future in the Middle East in the year ahead. Happy New Year 2011?