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Move Toward Palestinian Statehood Progressing in Stages, Israelis Warn

December 30, 1998
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The Palestinian Authority is working to get the weight of the world behind the idea of a Palestinian state, and the effort is causing mounting concern among Israeli officials.

The push over the last year has occurred in what Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations sees as a “strategy of stages,” moving “from the phase of talking about the principles of Palestinian statehood, to a stage where they’re talking about a date for Palestinian statehood, May 4.”

Indeed, the Palestinian Authority has an elected government and diplomatic presence recognized throughout the world, a new airport that was visited by President Clinton and enhanced status at the United Nations, with the right to participate in General Assembly debates.

“Our people are still acquiring, piece by piece, these things we need ultimately to satisfy our dream and the people’s dream of an independent state on the land of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital,” Ahmed Qurei, chairman of the Palestine National Council and one of the architects of the Oslo peace accords, wrote in a Dec. 21 newspaper article.

In that same that article, the Palestinian official may have also begun to outline the geography of that state, according to the Israeli ambassador, Dore Gold.

His insight is based on a comment that Qurei, a Palestinian moderate, made in the London-based, Arab-language newspaper Al-Hayyat al-Jadida, in which he referred to the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan as the basis for the legitimacy and the borders of a Palestinian state.

English excerpts of the article were disseminated by the Middle East Media and Research Institute, an organization that monitors the Arab-language press and is run by Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli intelligence officer.

In the Dec. 21 article, Qurei, who is also known as Abu Ala, spoke of “a Palestinian state, with all the rights and duties that other states possess.” He wrote that the state should have internationally recognized borders, “which are the borders set in the partition resolution.”

U.N. Resolution 181, adopted Nov. 29, 1947, divided mandatory Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and an international zone that included Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The 1947 borders would have allotted nearly 60 percent of the territory to the Jewish state — more than half of which was the Negev Desert — and 40 percent to the Arab state, including the entire contemporary West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the northern towns of Acre and Nahariya.

Israel accepted the plan and then declared independence in May 1948. The Arab League forcefully rejected it, precipitating the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The cease-fire lines after the war pretty much served as Israel’s borders until the Six-Day War of 1967, when the Jewish state gained control of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and Sinai Desert.

Past Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — including the 1991 Madrid Conference and the 1993 Oslo accords — have been based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which called on Israel to return territories occupied during the Six-Day War.

Gold stressed in a recent telephone interview that “Israel itself has stated emphatically that it won’t be pushed back to the ’67 borders, and certainly not the ’47 borders.”

The 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence does rely on U.N. Resolution 181 as a source of international legitimacy for a Palestinian state. But Gold believes Qurei’s comments are the first published direct reference to the 1947 borders as a basis for the Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly articulated its intention to declare statehood on or after May 4, 1999 — the end of the five-year interim period of the Oslo accords.

Israel insists that any plans for Palestinian autonomy must be decided in mutual negotiations.

The Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Nasser al-Kidwa, said, through a spokesperson, that Qurei’s comments do not represent a change in Palestinian policy with regard to borders.

The spokesperson said references to Resolution 181 serve only to reaffirm the Palestinian right to statehood.

“The international community recognized the creation of the Palestinian state next to the Israeli state at the time of partition based on the partition resolution,” Qurei wrote.

“That means the legitimacy of the Israeli state stands alongside and as a condition of the creation of a Palestinian state,” he continued, citing several U.N. resolutions that, he said, are based on the resolution.

Palestinian leaders, including Arafat, Qurei and al-Kidwa, have stated their desire to reach an agreement with the Israelis by the end of the interim agreement, but are firm in their ambitions to statehood.

Israel has consistently said that it would view any declaration of Palestinian statehood as a “unilateral action” outside the peace negotiations, and that it would react with “all necessary steps, including the application of Israeli rule, law and administration” to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Israel has talked about secure, defensible borders,” Gold said. “We’re willing to compromise,” but the borders must be negotiated, “not thrown out ahead of time.”

“This doesn’t look like compromise,” Gold said. “It looks like moving the goal posts.”

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