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October 4, 2015 / 21 Tishri, 5776
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If You Like Syria, You’ll Love ‘Palestine’


With the ongoing revelations about Syrian regime atrocities, regional and global attention has seemingly shifted from more usual concerns about Palestinian statehood. Nonetheless, the two issues are closely related, especially in their common reflection of irremediable fragmentations in the Arab world and in their resultant propensities for escalating violence and cruelty.

To be sure, in a Palestinian state – any Palestinian state – the internecine rivalries now so starkly evident in Syria would be quickly replicated, or even exceeded, by what would be ignited between Hamas, Fatah, and assorted splinter terror factions.

If you like Syria, you’ll love “Palestine.” Once such an entity is carved out of the still-living body of Israel, rocket bombardments on Israeli cities from Gaza will be augmented by multiple coordinated missile assaults from Lebanon. Oddly, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hizbullah would collaborate in their joint war against “The Jews,” while at the same time Fatah will be under attack from its Sunni “partners” in Palestine. And this is to say nothing about what can still be expected in Iran and, more urgently, from Iran.

By now it should be plain that Israel, a country half the size of Lake Michigan, has had nothing to do with causing persistent regional conflict, backwardness and squalor. If Israel had never even been formally reestablished in 1948, these disabling conditions would likely still be ubiquitous and full-blown. Nonetheless, though Washington fully understands the long and destabilizing history of scapegoating Israel, an almost atavistic mantra that echoes ritually from Morocco to Iran, President Obama remains stubbornly committed to the “Road Map.”

In principle, and contrary to his country’s overriding legal rights and security interests, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already agreed to a Palestinian state back in June 2009. Yet Netanyahu, more or less prudently, conditioned this concessionary agreement upon prior Palestinian “demilitarization.” More precisely, said the prime minister, “In any peace agreement, the territory under Palestinian control must be disarmed, with solid security guarantees for Israel.”

In fact and in law, this position offered absolutely no obstacle to Palestinian statehood and subsequent anti-Israel war.

Neither Hamas, now expressly closing ranks with its “parent” Muslim Brotherhood mentors in post-Mubarak Egypt, nor Fatah, whose security forces were recently trained by American General Keith Dayton in nearby Jordan, at very great American taxpayer expense, will ever negotiate for anything less than full sovereignty. Why should they? After all, supporters of Palestinian statehood can discover authoritative legal support for their stance in binding international treaties.

Pro-Palestinian international lawyers seeking to identify self-serving sources of legal confirmation could conveniently cherry-pick pertinent provisions of the Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (the 1933 treaty on statehood, sometimes called the Montevideo Convention), and the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Israel has a basic or peremptory right to survive. It was, therefore, proper for Netanyahu to have originally opposed a Palestinian state in any form, an opposition, by the way, once shared by Shimon Peres, the proudest Israeli champion of a “two-state solution.” In his book, Tomorrow Is Now (1978), Peres said the following about Palestinian statehood:

“The establishment of such a state means the inflow of combat-ready Palestinian forces into Judea and Samaria: This force, together with the local youth, will double itself in a short time. It will not be short of weapons or other military equipment, and in a short space of time, an infrastructure for waging war will be set up in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip…. In time of war, the frontiers of the Palestinian state will constitute an excellent staging point for mobile forces to mount attacks on infrastructure installations vital for Israel’s existence.”

In writing about “time of war,” this former prime minister neglected that Israel is locked into a permanent condition of war. The war is now. And the target “infrastructure installations” could include Dimona and other vulnerable Israel nuclear reactor facilities.

Moreover, any Israeli arguments for Palestinian demilitarization, however vehement and well-intentioned, are certain to fail. International law would not even expect Palestinian compliance with any pre-state agreements concerning the right to use armed force. This is true even if these agreements were to include certain explicit U.S. guarantees. Also, per the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, because authentic treaties can only be binding upon states, a non-treaty agreement between the Palestinians and Israel could also prove to be of little or no real authority.

About the Author: Louis René Beres (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is professor of political science and international law at Purdue University and the author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and strategic studies.

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