The Palestinian Authority's push to declare a Palestinian state is hardly a new idea. By my count, this is the fourth iteration. I described the first instance as follows:
on October 1, 1948, Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem, stood before the Palestine National Council in Gaza and declared the existence of the All-Palestine Government (Hukumat 'Umum Filastin). In theory, this "state" already ruled Gaza and would soon control all of Palestine. Accordingly, it was born to lofty proclamations of Palestine's free, democratic, and sovereign nature, and with a full complement of ministers. But the whole undertaking was a sham, for Gaza was run by the Egyptian government of King Faruq, the ministers had nothing to do, and the All-Palestine Government never expanded to all of Palestine. Instead, this state quickly withered into insignificance, and for the next two decades, the goal of a Palestinian state virtually disappeared.
Almost exactly forty years after the first proclamation of a Palestinian state, a second one took place on November 15, 1988, again before a meeting of the Palestine National Council. This time, Yasir 'Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), declared the existence of a State of Palestine. In some ways, this exercise was even more futile than the first, for the new state was proclaimed in Algiers, almost 2,000 miles and four borders away from Palestine; this state controlled not an inch of the territory it claimed; and this one faced a powerful Israeli adversary.
Those two instances are ancient history but the third attempt, in 1999, uncannily resembled today's situation. As I noted at the time:
When a state is declared, the results will be severely adverse for Palestinians and Israelis alike. This flagrant breach of the Oslo accords will cause economic relations to diminish further and violence to increase. … The United States and Israel are more important in this case, as in so many others, than the other 180 nations. I hope they will not just refuse to recognize the Palestinian state by make it very clear to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority that a unilateral declaration will be costly to the Palestinians. Continued negotiations are the sensible alternative to a unilateral declaration of independence. The issues are difficult and the process protracted; there can be no arbitrary date for the conclusion of negotiations, for this merely invites Palestinian procrastination. For negotiations to succeed, the process must go on until its natural conclusion.
And now September 2011. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. (August 3, 2011)