As those who follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will know, the Palestinian Authority/PLO is considering going to the United Nations General Assembly in September to obtain a resolution recognizing Palestine as an independent state based on the 1967 borders. While the move would not in itself end the Israeli occupation, nor necessarily result in recognition by UN member states, nor even win Palestine a full seat at the UN (only the Security Council can grant admission), it would be a major political boost. For that reason, Israel strongly opposes the move. The US is trying to discourage the Palestinians too. European attitudes are more mixed.
And what does this have to do with PAXsims? Recently the highly-regarded Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research convened a simulation to help Palestinian decisonmakers think through the possible options and implications. Some Israelis also participated, which led to a report on the exercise in today’s Ha’aretz:
The participants, past and present senior figures from the PA and Fatah, assumed the roles of representatives of the PA and the U.S. administration, and other key international figures. Three Israelis were also invited (including one of this column’s co-authors ), who, alongside a Palestinian academic, played the Israeli government. Senior Hamas figures in the West Bank were invited to participate but refused because of the Israeli presence. The proceedings were held in Arabic.
In the first scenario, on the day of the UN vote, the United States and the European Union present separate initiatives to have the matter struck from the General Assembly agenda. Washington suggests recognizing a Palestinian state without setting its borders or capital; the EU suggests postponing the vote by a year, recognizing that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, and stipulating that if the parties do not reach an agreement within a year, the EU will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries, with Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinian team rejects both initiatives. The Israeli team accepts the U.S. proposal and rejects the EU proposal.
The second scenario predicts an outburst of violence the day after the UN vote: The Israeli army kills seven Palestinians at a demonstration at Qalandiyah, north of Jerusalem. In response young, albeit unarmed Palestinians hold another demonstration there, and block the road to the Beit El settlement. Simultaneously, Islamic Jihad launches Grad rockets from Gaza into Be’er Sheva.
The second scenario seemed a bit far-fetched at first. However, a poll Shikaki released 10 days ago casts things in a different light: It showed that 65 percent of respondents support the UN initiative. Moreover, 52 percent say they will take part in “peaceful” demonstrations and processions to Israeli checkpoints after the vote; 76 percent want the PA to be active in Area C (which is under full Israeli control ) after the state is recognized – for example, by building airports, roads and housing, and deploying security forces – even if this means a confrontation with Israel. Fully 75 percent support the deployment of Palestinian security forces at the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River, even if this means the West Bank’s only access to the outside world will be closed for a few months. In other words, it is hard to say who will set the tone: the public or the leadership.
The third scenario has dozens of Palestinians killed and hundreds wounded by Israeli fire in West Bank demonstrations a few weeks after the UN vote. Meanwhile, rockets are being fired at Sderot and Ashkelon, the Palestinian security services are preparing to deploy in Area C and the Allenby Bridge, and the Israel Defense Forces has begun to take action against PA forces….
You’ll find the rest of the report here. A previous Israeli simulation on similar issues was convened by the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) Herzliya back in January—you’ll find a Reuters report on their results here.
The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research is best known for its regular public opinion polling of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, which forms one of the richest and most detailed sources of information on any fragile and conflicted-affected area in the world. Consequently, reporting on their recent simulation exercise should probably be read in conjunction with their most recent opinion poll on attitudes to various Palestinian initiatives:
Findings show a split in public attitude regarding the Obama proposal for terms of reference for the peace process on borders and the national identity of Israel and Palestine, both supported by half of the public. But three quarters of the public oppose Obama’s suggestion that the Palestinian state should be non-militarized and about two thirds reject the US position that going to the UN in September to seek recognition of a Palestinian state would be a mistake. Findings show that three quarters of the Palestinians support an exercise of sovereignty over the so-called area (C) including the deployment of Palestinian security forces in those areas in the context of the UN recognition of Palestinian statehood. Similarly, three quarters support exercise of Palestinian sovereignty over the Allenby international crossing with Jordan even if such a step leads to the closure of the crossing. Findings indicate that a majority wants to participate in big popular peaceful demonstrations that would seek to breach checkpoints and to block roads used by Israeli settlers and army.
The full survey results can be found on the PSR website.