Two months ago, I raised the questionwhether, in the absence of concrete moves towards a conclusive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian question, the Palestinian leadership might unilaterally declare the existence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even without an agreement with Israel.
Brazil recognized a Palestinian state last Friday, followed this week by Argentina and Uruguay. What now remains to be seen is whether other Latin American states will follow suit.
Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) says that this move is "a terrible precedent" but also acknowledges that the U.S. is not in a position to sanction countries that take this step. Instead, she (and others) are stressing that the act of recognition of a state does not "make it so"--and to that extent, she is right. The U.S. will not change its position and even if a whole number of states recognize, that does not mean that they will work to actively make Palestine a reality.
Palestine does not yet surpass Abkhazia--which four UN member states recognize as an independent country--but the question to watch is whether the actions of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay lead to other South and Central American states moving ahead iwth recognition. Is there a "magic number" of recognitions that will change the dynamics? If Palestine ends up with 20, 30 or 40 recognitions by the beginning of 2011, does this make the likelihood of a two-state solution more or less certain. I don't have any answers right now.
At this point, the Europeans seem reluctant to put obstacles in the path of negotiations by going ahead with recognizing Palestine, and states like China and India which are always uneasy when it comes to the means by which new states are created, are also not likely to rush in with any recognitions. Finally, with clear U.S. opposition to any unilateral declaration, these acts of recognition seem more symbolic. But symbolism can matter.