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News analysis: Palestinian statehood could end agreements with Israel

(Xinhua)

09:01, September 02, 2011

JERUSALEM, Sep. 1 (Xinhua) -- All the agreements between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel may end up if the PNA decides to declare an independent state after winning the backing of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren warned in a recent interview.

Oren argued that "we have a lot of agreements with the Palestinian Authority, we have no agreements with a 'Government of Palestine.'"

According to Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University, "Oren is absolutely correct." He told Xinhua the Oslo framework, including the Declaration of Principles signed in 1993 and two interim agreements, were all inked by Israel and the PNA.

"There was no recognition or framework in which an interim Palestinian state was used... so it was strictly between the PNA and Israel," Steinberg said.

Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, both sides went on to sign hundreds of other agreements, ranging from security cooperation to tax collection, water distribution, and waste disposal.

However, Steinberg pointed out that "international law depends much on the framework and the setting," and due to what he called the politicization of the international legal system, there will be "different interpretations depending on people who are making those interpretations."

When direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations came to a halt in September 2010, PNA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to seek full UN membership and recognition with its borders along the cease-fire lines that existed prior to the 1967 war, during which Israel came into control of the West Bank, the largely Arab- populated eastern side of Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Israel and the United States oppose the bid, and Washington has already indicated that it would use its veto in the UN Security Council. Such a move would make a vote more likely be held in the General Assembly, whose resolutions, however, are non-binding. The Palestinians believe they have collected enough votes to secure a majority in the General Assembly.

In the interview, Oren also pointed out that the United States is a cosignatory to the Oslo Accords and the efforts to push for the UN recognition could seriously undermine the agreement's stipulations.

"Unilateral steps would have legal, economic, and political ramifications for us and for America as a cosignatory," said Oren.

Steinberg also said the differences in interpretations aren't limited to the legal system. He predicted that there would be factions within the Israeli government, which will argue that -- according to their interpretation -- all agreements with the PNA are annulled if independence is declared.

However, there will be other factions in Israel and abroad that will hold that the PNA was the foundation for what would become a Palestinian state, and therefore the agreements have to be maintained, Steinberg added.

Steinberg argued that what is going to be important if independence is announced is not so much the legal issues, but the "political infighting."

Yuval Shany, professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua that he backs Steinberg's argument and Oren's reasoning is correct.

"Under international law, in the event of a material breach of a treaty by the other treaty partner, the offended party may renounce the agreement," Shany said, adding that "but that is a political decision of the offended party, it is not an automatic effect of a breach."

Shany added that while he supports the argument that a unilateral declaration of statehood would be against the Oslo Accords, it wouldn't be the first time since it was signed that the fundamental change in circumstances would trigger its invalidation.

"Oren is right: Israel could have invoked this before," according to Shany, but the double-edged sword means that the Palestinians also could have invoked it before.

Shany added that what is happening on the ground these days had only a limited relationship to the text of the agreement, and that he and other scholars are arguing that the agreements are no longer even formally enforced. But what is in place now is a " modus vivendi" that neither side has been willing to officially give up.

"It's fair to say that over the years the Palestinians could also have officially renounced the agreement in response to what they may have considered Israeli violations," Shany said.

No formal date has been set for the vote, but Abbas is expected to approach UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sept. 22 and a date would then be set for sometime in October.

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