As more and more nations join the bandwagon of recognising Palestine, one must ask the question: What does this achieve?
Currently, 136 of 193 UN member states recognise the State of Palestine. The de facto reality in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank, however, is far from state-like.
Driving through Ramallah, one could easily be forgiven for believing they were in central Jerusalem. New-builds dominate the hilly terrain, with offices of major western corporations, luxury hotels and institutions of the Palestinian Authority standing proudly around the city. The stark contrast to the traditional media reports of West Bank refugee camps is profound; however this growing metropolis has setbacks of its own.
Army checkpoints, erected to prevent the steady flow of suicide bombers that plagued Israel in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, stand between all traffic in and out of the city. Owing to the easing of tensions (by Israeli-Palestinian standards) many of these checkpoints are opened and unguarded, however the majority remain in use, disrupting the domestic movement of Palestinians greatly.
This is compounded by the issue of the security fence, which becomes a concrete barrier as it approaches the areas surrounding Jerusalem, jutting into the West Bank and significantly restricting the contiguousness of a future Palestinian State. As with the checkpoints, the barrier serves to prevent terror attacks in Israel- which have been reduced by over 90% since 2003- however this has come at the cost of free Palestinian movement.
The status quo is ugly- Israel cannot engage in territorial compromise for fear that doing so will create a power vacuum to be filled by Islamic extremists, and the Palestinian Authority cannot find the correct balance between ‘normalisation’ and opposition to those they see as occupiers.
The current stalemate has been allowed to continue for far too long, relying on stagnant regional politics in order to sustain itself. Israel impacts the lives of Palestinians immeasurably, however it is because of this that it must be involved in the solution.
Recognising ‘the State of Palestine’ is a gross miscalculation on the International Community’s part. Without negotiations to ensure peace, mutual recognition and reconciliation, there is no incentive for Israel to withdraw its presence from the West Bank. It is simply ludicrous to expect Israel to forget all its security concerns overnight. Global recognition or not, the situation on the ground would remain unaltered, and one of the world’s most notorious conflicts would continue.
In 2005, Ariel Sharon completely withdrew all Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and, in what later proved to be a military disaster, returned the Philadelphia corridor that had separated Gaza from Egypt. This move was unilateral, and Sharon made a point of side-lining the Palestinian Authority during its enactment. The power vacuum this generated saw the rise of Hamas, the ousting of the PA from Gaza in 2007, and a vast increase in the onslaught of rocket attacks on Israeli civilian population centres.
Contrast this with the 36 years of peace that Israel has enjoyed with Egypt after engaging in bilateral negotiations, and the evidence of what a ‘forced peace’ achieves is clear.
It is about time for there to be an independent and proud State of Palestine; however this has to be achieved through negotiation between both sides, not from polarising measures imposed by outside actors with little understanding of the region’s complexities.