They didn’t waste any time in starting to exploit the situation in Kosovo, and the precedent that Western recognition of its independence has set. Some interesting questions remain, however: Would they unilaterally declare the “West Bank” an independent state? Then, what about Hamas-controlled Gaza? And, of course, an independent state has borders. Where would they draw those, and would they commit to them permanently, even on paper?
By Mohammed Daraghmeh for the Associated Press:
RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinians should follow Kosovo’s example and unilaterally declare independence if peace talks with Israel fail, a senior Palestinian official said Wednesday, but the Palestinian president said the proposal was premature and pledged to keep negotiating until the end of the year.
The mixed Palestinian messages came a day after the latest meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The two men formally relaunched peace talks at a U.S.-hosted summit in Annapolis, Md., last November. While the sides meet regularly, Palestinian officials have complained the talks are proceeding slowly and that President Bush’s goal of brokering a peace treaty in 2008 is not realistic.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian negotiator and top aide to Abbas, said in an interview Wednesday that the peace efforts “are going nowhere.”
He said the Palestinians’ “first option” is success in the negotiations. “If this doesn’t happen, we have another option,” he said, noting Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia earlier this week.
“Kosovo is not better than Palestine,” he added. “If the whole world, the United States, the European Union, the majority of its states, have embraced the independence of Kosovo, why shouldn’t this happen with Palestine as well?”
Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian leadership is discussing the proposal. However, Abbas reacted coolly to the idea, saying in a statement that he remained committed to reaching a negotiated peace agreement this year.
“If we are unable to do that … we will return to our Arab (brothers) to take the appropriate decision,” he said.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, quickly quashed the idea of a unilateral decision and said such a proposal was never discussed by the Palestinian leadership.
“Decisions should be taken and then declared, and not be declared and then be taken,” Qureia told The Associated Press, in apparent criticism of Abed Rabbo.
Qureia said the negotiations with Israel are serious and are touching on all major issues, but concurred with Abed Rabbo that no progress has been made so far.
Normally talkative Israeli and Palestinian officials have released few details on the status of their talks. Palestinian officials say the White House has urged the sides to maintain secrecy, fearing leaks could hurt progress.
Olmert also is wary of publicizing progress because a key coalition partner has threatened to pull out of the government if he makes any concessions on the issue of Jerusalem. If the ultra-Orthodox Shas party follows through on its threat, Olmert would lose his parliamentary majority.
The Palestinians have already declared independence before, in 1988, but the international community did not recognize the declaration. At that time, there was no territory under Palestinian control.