The always-savory bitterlemons is especially interesting this week: four essays that seem, for once, to converge in agreement. The topic at hand is Palestinian unilateralism, specifically as hinted at by both Abu Mazen and Salam Fayyad. The agreement is in the utility of a more unilateral Palestinian approach.
Of the essays, Alpher's is best at outlining and anticipating the consequences of Fayyad's plan to begin building up state infrastructure in preparation for a de facto statehood to be declared in two years -- assuming the failure of negotiations. As the essayists mention, this is not the first time that Palestinians have attempted this route, having tried and failed in 1988, and threatened a second time just prior to Oslo. But those were gestures undertaken by Yasser Arafat, whose disorganization and corruption made such declarations threatening only (or at least mostly) in the abstract.
Fayyad is a different animal: a competent technocrat, seemingly incorruptible, deft at more than just political gamesmanship. When he threatens (if that can even be the word) to build up infrastructure, he does so as nearly the only Palestinian official with the drive to follow through.
Israeli officials and supporters ought to be welcoming Fayyad's plan with open arms. Israel has nothing to fear from an organized and structurally sound polity in the West Bank. On the contrary, this is precisely what we have been hoping for: a credible and strong central government, capable of reigning in Hamas and other disparate extremists; curbing Islamic fundamentalism; and continuing to assume the security burden now carried largely by Israel.
A unilateral Palestinian action would complicate issues of territory, and possibly force Israel to work under pressure to make difficult decisions regarding larger settlements. But the upshot, as Alpher points out, is probably worth it: "[unilateral action] would seemingly free Israel of any further need to consider the refugee issue since it would have been delinked from bilateral territorial questions between two sovereign states. Indeed, UDI might reflect Palestinian recognition that the insurmountable refugee problem has to be bypassed."
This would be a tremendous revelation on the part of the PA. For those within the pro-Israel camp who take a more reasonable and sympathetic line with Palestinians, granting them the territory they need, refugees are the only really impossible demand. The establishment
Ironically, if we are to believe Alpher's description, it may be in the best interests of this camp to do very little while Fayyad maneuvers. If he really does follow through with his two-year plan, Israel the Territories both stand to gain in the short term. And a unilateral declaration in two years that releases Israel of the refugee burden while enforcing 1967 territorial claims is just about as reasonable a deal as anyone could hope for.
But then there is FM Lieberman, who, as they say, never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, declaring that "Israel will respond" to any hint of Fayyad's plan going into action. Why, exactly? This is coming from the man who ostensibly favored territorial trades in exchange for the cleansing of Israel's Arab minority, and its transfer to the West Bank. Isn't Fayyad laying plans that would align rather nicely with these? Is it possible that Lieberman knows something we don't? Or perhaps the "thuggery as foreign policy" strategy that served the US so well for eight years has now migrated to the office of the Israeli PM.