There is worldwide support for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state. Consequently there was wide jubilation after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) admitted Palestine as a member state. It was thought that Palestine’s entry into UNESCO would pave the way for its full membership as a sovereign state in the UN general assembly. The jubilation may be premature. There are compelling reasons to suggest that the Palestinians in their haste may have shot themselves in the foot. Mr. Daniel Halper in an article for the influential US neoconservative journal, The Weekly Standard, has advanced reasons for this.
Mr. Halper has presented three arguments in his article.
First, UNESCO has exceeded its brief by taking a contentious political decision. UNESCO’s stated goal is "to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information". Whether this justifies UNESCO to implicitly determine an unresolved political dispute by extending recognition to Palestine will doubtless be strenuously questioned by America .
Secondly, even if elements within America were to support the UNESCO decision the hands of the government are tied. In 1994 the US State Department passed a law that still stands: "No funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any other Act shall be available for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization the same standing as member states."
Thirdly, as a result of the financial embargo created by this law UNESCO will stop receiving the monthly financial contribution from the US which accounts for a quarter of its budget. Worse, Canada too has followed the US and stopped contribution of funds to UNESCO which further increases its shortfall. That the shoe is pinching hard became clear from the lame overture expressed by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. She stated: "UNESCO is encouraged that the United States will maintain its membership in the Organization and hopes that a resolution to the funding issue will ultimately be identified." It is a fond hope. The US with its commitment to Israel will insist upon successful peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians before resuming financial contributions.
The Palestinians are understandably frustrated with peace talks. Over the decades these have proved fruitless. But the recognition of a sovereign Palestine before peace is established would be an unrealistic demand. However frustrating the past, there is no alternative to negotiations. What must be accomplished is a new approach that achieves success. That is where India and Pakistan could have played a constructive role. Unfortunately neither government can preach to the world what it does not practice. The establishment of a South Asian Union would have created a template that could have been adopted by other trouble spots in the world.
The experience of South Asia would suggest that a feasible formula for stability in this Middle East region could result from creating not one but two sovereign Palestinian states in Gaza and the West Bank. Even if Israel were to withdraw from all occupied territory the borders of Gaza and the West Bank would not be contiguous. Israel would remain wedged between both entities very much like India was wedged between erstwhile West Pakistan and East Pakistan. The latter of course has now emerged as sovereign Bangladesh. What should be attempted is the establishment of a Community comprising the sovereign states of Jordan, Israel, Gaza and West Bank that enjoys common tariffs, joint security and free movement across borders. The people of this region due to shared history and culture have an identity distinct from the rest of the Arab world. The challenge lies in persuading the Israelis and the Palestinians to accept this formula.
Israel must recognize that more land will not guarantee security. Only a friendly neighbourhood would do that. The Palestinians must accept that armed guerilla struggle is futile. It will not achieve a Palestinian state. Only meaningful negotiations would do that. What is required is a new approach that might render peace talks meaningful. A novel approach may be attempted. Peace talks between Israel and Palestinians moderated by Jordan could be televised live for global viewing with total transparency. The weight of public opinion in Israel and Palestine might encourage peace. The whole world watching might encourage restraint. No world power might be allowed to interfere. The whole world might be allowed to watch. Such talks could well achieve results that have eluded the disputants for over half a century. Some may consider this approach too utopian. Perhaps they would be right. But six decades of conventional practicality have brought no results. It may be time to become utopian. The world has completed the first decade of a new century. Is it not time for the world to attempt a new phase of diplomacy fully transparent for the entire world’s people?