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Mideast Experts Skeptical on New Palestine State

by Thalif Deen

Arab Support For Palestinian State Seen As Fading
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is praising a landmark Security Council resolution calling for a new Palestinian state. But U.S. academics and Middle East experts voice skepticism over the proposal.

The resolution, also the first to be adopted on the Middle East crisis in the last 17 months, reaffirmed "a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders."

"I am convinced that this vision is shared by the great majority of people on both sides, and indeed by the whole world," Annan told reporters Mar. 13.

Stephen Zunes, a University of San Francisco political scientist, said that in many ways the resolution was a symbolic gesture because what would remain a Palestinian state remains unclear.

Zunes told IPS he was not sure whether the proposed new entity would be a viable state based on a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip or "a kind of non-contiguous Bantustan-type entity as pushed by Israel and the United States last July."

In 1959, the government of apartheid South Africa advanced its policy of racial segregation by creating several bantustans -- separate, dependent states for the country's black population. Although these "homelands" were intended as separate nations, none was internationally recognized.

Zunes said the last time a two-state solution was put to a vote in the Security Council in the late 1970s, the United States vetoed it.

"So, at least the Security Council is finally on record supporting a two-state solution, which has in many respects been the international consensus -- except for some hardline Arab states on one extreme and the United States and Israel on the other extreme -- for least 25 years," he added.

Annan, however, said the move was not merely symbolic. "It is really part of a building block," he said. "We now have to get the Israelis and Palestinians to stop the violence and to meet at the negotiating table."

Annan added that both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell had already supported the creation of a Palestinian state.

At a late night session spilling into the early hours of this morning, the 15-member Security Council voted 14 to nil in favor of the U.S.-sponsored resolution, with Syria abstaining.

Syrian Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe said resolution was weak because it did not deal with the root question at the heart of the issue: the Israeli occupation.

"The resolution treated the killer and the victim equally," he said, pointing out that it did not demand that the "occupying power" respect the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The resolution came less than 24 hours after Annan used strong language to urge Israel to end its "illegal occupation" of Arab territory seized during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

Phyllis Bennis, author of "Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN," said it is important that the Security Council finally recognizes what even Bush acknowledged when he addressed the UN General Assembly last November.

But in light of the full-scale assault now under way in Palestine, it has little impact to speak of a "vision of two states," Bennis told IPS.

What is needed, she added, is full endorsement of Annan's calls for Israel to end its occupation and efforts to implement longstanding UN resolutions and requirements of international law.

She also said that the United Nations could make the Council resolution a reality only on three conditions:

First, steps should be taken to reaffirm the clear meaning of the land-for-peace Security Council resolution 242, which is based on the illegality of Israel's occupation. Second, the Council should agree to send international, not simply U.S., observers to the occupied territories. And third, member states, perhaps with South Africa or a combination of European countries taking the lead, should initiate under direct UN auspices, an entirely new peace process.

These talks should be based on implementing UN resolutions, particularly regarding Israel's two major responsibilities: to end the occupation and to protect the occupied population under the terms of the Geneva Conventions.

Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Chicago-based Arab-American Action Network, said there is a wide gulf between the "strong and correct statement" by Annan calling for an end to Israel's "illegal occupation" and the Security Council resolution.

The resolution, he said, omits any direct reference to Israel's obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

While the reference to a vision of a state called Palestine is welcome, he said, it is highly unlikely that this can ever become a reality if the Security Council refuses to enforce all aspects of international law.

This, he said, should start with the requirement of a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories.

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Albion Monitor March 17, 2002 (

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