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World

Palestinian statehood would require real changes

The Palestinian drive toward diplomatic recognition is overrated, Israel’s former ambassador in Berlin and Brussels tells Deutsche Welle. Until things change on the ground a virtual Palestinian state is pure symbolism.

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Avi Primor served as Israel's ambassador to the EU from 1987 to 1991 and as Israel's top diplomat to Germany from 1993 to 1999. He currently directs the center for European Studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and is president of the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations.

In recent weeks a number of South American countries including Brazil, Chile and Argentina have officially recognized Palestine as an independent state. Palestinian Foreign Minister Malki predicted that by September of this year the majority of the international community would recognize a sovereign Palestinian state which Israel opposes. Can and should Israel really do anything to stop that trend?

I don't think this trend is really very important and I am not even totally convinced that it is good for the Palestinians. Let me explain that. The Israeli government is opposed to it because the Israeli government is opposed to any unilateral move from the Palestinians and says the only thing the Palestinians could or should achieve is via direct negotiations with Israel.

But in fact Israel is not ready to conclude an agreement with the Palestinians based on the borders of 1967. So if the Palestinians today would declare an independent Palestinian state the reality on the ground, meaning the partial Israeli occupation would continue and in fact the Palestinian state would be within the small limits which the present Israeli government wants to have anyway. So I am not sure it's good for the Palestinians and I am also not convinced that the Israeli opposition and protests against it are very sincere.

In December, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the EU to recognize a Palestinian state, but was only told that the EU would recognize Palestine when appropriate. But the Palestinian Foreign Minister said last month that the EU would recognize a Palestinian state in September. Do you think the EU will really recognize Palestine despite strong Israeli opposition against it?

I don't think so and again I don't think that Israeli opposition is so strong. I think it's on the surface only. But I don't think the EU will do it because the EU will want to remain coordinated with the United States and as long as the United States doesn't do it and the US cannot do it because it pursues a different policy, I suppose the EU will not undertake its own initiative or at least abstain. But let me reiterate that this doesn't have the great importance that everybody seems to grant it. So the whole thing is probably not much more than a propaganda game.

You argue that this matter isn't really that important, but Israel usually voices strong opposition whenever a country recognizes the independence of a Palestinian state. Recently Ireland didn't even recognize a Palestinian state, but upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegation which sparked Israeli protest. But couldn't Palestinian statehood also be a chance for Israel to achieve better relations with Palestine as it would level the playing field to some degree and perhaps raise the bar for the Palestinian politicians?

All this is a game of words. What really matters is the definition of the borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state. And on that, there is with the present Israeli government no agreement possible unless the United States would very energetically intervene which they don't do and I'm afraid they won't do either at least not until the next presidential elections in the United States which brings us to about two and a half years from now.

I don't believe that because a virtual Palestinian state behind provisionary, temporary borders doesn't mean much more than the present autonomy of the Palestinian government we already have. So it will be called a state and it will be sovereign, but the conditions on the ground will not change, the borders will not be defined, the Israeli occupation forces will remain where they are, the airspace and the water will be under Israeli control and the borders of this so-called Palestinian state will be under Israeli control. So what will really change on the ground except that the Palestinian representative will be able to call himself an ambassador instead of representative?

Germany is one of the most important members of the EU and due to its history also has a very special and close relationship with Israel. Do you think Germany will recognize a Palestinian state and how would Israel react to such an act?

I don't suppose Germany would recognize a Palestinian state unless there is an overall decision of the EU. Even though Germany supports very strongly a Palestinian state and Chancellor Angela Merkel in her last visit to Israel said it for the first time by the way very officially and openly and urged Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians, I don't think there will be a unilateral German decision on this for all the reasons I have already enumerated. But also because Germany is very careful when it comes to Israel and is very conscious of its responsibility toward Israel, so it will not single itself out and take a lead in a matter which is controversial with Israel.

Interview: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge