Palestinian Statehood: Myth Or Reality?
The Palestinian people believe in the principles of justice, freedom, sovereignty, self-determination human dignity, and in the right of all peoples to exercise them" ( PLO Charter article 24,1968)
As a little baby my parents used to sing to me a lullaby with the reassuring words of "go to sleep little child, the glory of Palestine". It was sang to the melody of Paul Robson’s famous song My Curly Headed Baby. Paul Robson went on to become a leading advocate of human rights for black people, but Historic Palestine was no more, in a matter of few years. In November 1947 the Partition Plan was approved by the UN General Assembly (Resolution 181) and on 14 May 1948 the state of Israel was declared.
My childhood memories of that eventful period were a mixture of deep fear and turmoil which engulfed me throughout the events which followed, in particular, the battle around our kibbutz, the ensuing 1948 war, and its harsh aftermath that ended in the complete destruction of the Palestinian villages neighbouring our locality. My feelings of panic and alarm were soon to be replaced by the declaration of the Israeli state and awareness of being part of a great occasion whose meaning I did not really understood, but which seemed to mean a great deal to my parents and the members of our kibbutz. Suddenly, as if living in a dream, a blue-striped flag with the Star of David was waving on a long pole above the roof of our communal dining room, and a new national anthem - the Tikva (hope) - was sang in public ceremonies. The reverberating, gritty voice of the Israeli first Premier - David Ben Gurion - was bursting out of the Kibbutz's only radio set, calling, with great pathos, on the people of Israel to honour the new state and its declaration of independence. The solemn face of the members of the newly- appointed government peered out of the national press and my parents changed their Germanic surname to a Hebrew -meaning word, which I did not particularly like.
That was the past which turned to be the beginning of a sixty three years of entrenched conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. Now, a new dawn seems to rise which may open the way to an independent Palestinian state. Will the Palestinians take up the challenge or continue their determined combat against their brutal oppressors? Would the Palestinians be able to rise up and out of the confines of their decades-long struggle and adopt a new strategy of statehood in their effort to "arrive" on the global arena and acquire a new status as a UN member-state?
At this point I have to ask for a special dispensation from those who would rush to accuse me for expounding "lazy arguments". I do not write this piece as a political commentator, or an analyst. Nor do I see myself as an advocate of some kind of a rigid utopian paradigm. Moreover, I am fully aware that my views are personal ones and I am in no position to prescribe any form of policy to the Palestinian people. However, I do write as someone who was born in Historic Palestine, brought up in Israel , witnessed the reality of the creation of the Israeli state, of its the blood-shed aftermath and the ever consuming hatred between the two sides. I have been campaigning for many years for the Palestinian cause, and am nolonger part of the Israeli state - having lived in London for few decades. Perhaps some people may think that I do not have the "street credentials" to write on the issue, but I do feel the need to express views which were born out of my past reality and life experience .
I do not wish to enter here a scholarly about one or two- state models - though I believe that two nations who have been engaged in continued conflict since they had been living under one rule in Mandatory Palestine would find it hard to co-exist under the rule of a one, single state . The arguments espoused by the advocates of those two ideologies/models are well known and have been in the public arena for a long time. However, in light of the UN debate of Palestinian state some experts such as Guy -Goodwin -Gill (a barrister and Senior Research fellow of All Souls College, Oxford) were invited to offer their legal opinion challenges to PLO statehood bid (1) ).
Curiously , in his interview to Aljazeera Goodwin-Gill (25 August) states that "what concerns me is that insufficient attention has been given so far to representation of the Palestinian people at large – that is, to the diaspora also, for whom both self-determination and the right of return are basic human rights and crucial elements in national identity”. Yet, not one reference, either in his interview or his official legal advice, is made by Goodwin -Gill to the Hamas Government and the 1.5 million residents of Gaza as if they are altogether out of the equation - unless, of course, he regards them as part of the Palestinian "diaspora" (2) .
Goodwin -Gill concluded his legal advice by stating that "the interests of the Palestinian people are at risk of prejudice and fragmentation, unless steps are taken to ensure and maintain their representation through the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, until such time as there is in place a State competent and fully able to assume these responsibilities towards the people at large ". Such a conclusion seems to form a circular argument since a representative state could not be "put in place" unless the notion of state is to be realised -i.e. unless a state is to be created. Moreover, On 14 October 1974, the General Assembly, through Resolution 3210 (XXIX), recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and invited it to participate in the deliberations of the General Assembly on the Question of Palestine in plenary meetings. That means that any preliminary steps which may request the UN to recognise Palestine as a member state, or to open a direct negotiation with the UN on the Question of Palestine, will have to be initially undertaken by the PLO which is regarded by the UN as “the representative body of the people at large”.
The concept of "people at large" may have different meaning for different people. Unlike Guy Goodwin-Gill , the crucial point, in my view, is not the insufficient attention given to the full representation of Palestinians who live in the "diaspora" (which I take as meaning outside Historic Palestine – namely, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza). I believe that the crucial element in preparing the way for an internationally recognised Palestinian state which will realise the aspirations of the Palestinian people for self-determination (as endorsed by the PLO charter), is a full political representation of Hamas in the PLO and the Palestine Legislative Council, (Hamas does not recognise the PLO and although it won an absolute majority in the 2006 election to the PLC it carries very little political clout in it). The division between Hamas and Fatah is seen as a major obstacle to achieving any significant political progress. According to press reports demonstrations in Gaza (March 2011) showed that “the Arab Spring can spread to the Palestinian territories. After intense Facebook debates, tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets demanding an end to “division” rather than an end to “occupation". The current division between Fatah and Hamas is quite fundamental since it is not only expressed in political terms, but, perhaps, more importantly, in ideological terms, namely, a secular versus a religion-based state. An official document in the form of a draft constitution or "bill of rights" signed by both Fatah and Hamas is, I believe, a key element for the foundation of an independent Palestinian state and its recognition by the UN member-states. Such a document has to be issued in line with modern democratic principals who call for equal opportunities to all regardless gender, faith, or creed. The 1948 Declaration of Independence by the fledgling Israeli state was exploited most effectively and cynically by the State of Israel- acting as an impressive "business card" which brought the new nation into the outreaching "arms" of the West. It formed a source of inspiration for Jewish members of the Israeli state and for Jewish communities all over the world - who subsequently offered an unquestionable loyalty to the new State of Israel.
A Bill of Rights endorsed by Fatah and Hamas, as well as other Palestinian factions (e.g. PFLP), may enshrine the "right of return" of refugees, in line with international law and the UN Resolutions. It should, however, be remembered that the interpretation of "rights Return" by international law is likely to be a point of controversy. UN resolution 194 (iii), which issued in the wake of the Israeli -Arab war (11 December 1948), "resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible". It implies that the "right of return" is conditional on the wish of refugees to live in peace with their fellow citizens/neighbours. In comparison, Resolution 242, which was passed in the aftermath of the 1967 war (22 November), made no reference to the right of return of refugees. It “affirms the necessity of achieving a just settlement of the refugees problem" without specifically referring to the act of refugees repatriation. This latest resolution may indicate that the repatriation of refugees has not been considered as a viable option any longer. It seems to accord also with the future intentions of present refugees. A survey of Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jordan and Lebanon (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey, 2003) demonstrated that only 10% were interested in coming back to their former homes in Israel. “The survey included interviews with 4,500 people, approximately half said they would like to live in an independent Palestinian state, while 17 percent preferred to stay in their current home. Similar surveys conducted in the past have reported some 95 percent demanding the right of return, but the question of whether the refugees would actually put their right into action was never posed to them" (3) . Those results may not be surprising, especially with respect to younger Palestinians who regard the State of Israel as a long-standing enemy whose brutal occupation and suppression they have been resisting for decades.
Being a staunch opponent and campaigner against the concept of "Jewish state" (in spite of the fact that its foundation was enshrined in UN Resolution 181) and of the automatic "right of return" granted by Israel to any Jew who wishes to live in Israel, I could not conceivably advocate a collective, non-negotiable "right of return“ for Palestinian refugees and their descendants worldwide. Moreover, a significant number of those descendants are likely to be generation away from being born in Historic Palestine and some may currently hold nationality of another state, or have little intention of living in peaceful co-existence with their (Israeli) fellow citizens/neighbours .Yet, I believe that a just settlement of the refugees problem is imperative to any solution of the decades-long conflict and to restoring the inequitable geopolitical map of the Middle East. The creation of an independent Palestinian state would open the way for the Palestinian people to break away from the stifling confines of a polarised dichotomy of an aid- dependency on one hand and inert resistance on the other hand, and embark on a nation-building endeavour.
An official recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN member-states will grant the new state an access to international organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank, the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, ICC, ICJ, UNICEF and dozens of other bodies associated to the UN. It could also facilitate the acceptance of the new state to the OECD, (of which Israel has been recently recognised as a full member), and to the EU (with which Israel enjoys close political, economic, and trade links). But above all it would place Palestine on the global map and give the State a direct voice and political clout in the UN assembly and associated international bodies. From this vantage point the Palestinian state will be able to negotiate the imperatives of the "right of return" by having direct access to international courts and UN bodies. Those rights should include: repatriation for those who wish to return to their ancestral home and live there in peace , the repayment of compensation for property, assets and land lost, unfreezing Palestinian assets held by the Israeli Custodian of Absentees' Property, and reparations for the loss of livelihood, family life, loss of opportunities, loss of life and physical and mental injury. Moreover, a post -WWII Marshall Plan-like ought to be constructed for the region. It should resettle the millions of refugees held in camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank (totalling 4.7 million UNWRA-registered, and 1 million non-registered refugees, according to BADIL Resource Centre for the Palestinian Residency and Refuge). The Plan ought to offer refugees opportunities to: (a) become equal citizens in their "host" country (b) assume a Palestinian citizenship in the new state of Palestine (C) return to their ancestral home under mutual agreement of the parties involved - in line with UN resolutions and international and humanitarian law. Any resettlement plan should apply equally to the Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) who reside in Israel and have been dispossessed of their villages and land since the 1948 war - having been deprived of their human and civil rights as citizens of the State of Israel (totalling 350,000 in September 2009, according to BADIL). The resettlement plan will also have to address the stark inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel in the provisions of public, local, and social services. According to the Middle East Monitor, the amount of welfare spent on Palestinians living in Israel, per capita, (2008) was less than 30% of that spent on Jews. ” As a result of which there are three times as many Arab families [in Israel] living below the poverty line as there are Jewish families and 50% of poor children in the state are Arabs". (4)
Statehood In The Making
The constitutional and practical obstacles facing the establishment of Palestinian state should not be overlooked. However, those difficulties are not insurmountable and may be confronted by the new statehood status which would offer the Palestinian nation unprecedented moral, political and diplomatic clout. The new statehood status, even if confined to non-UN membership will legally enable the Palestinians to challenge, through the UN Security Council or the ICJ, the occupation of their country by a foreign force and illegal settlements. As Victor Kattan (Advisor to Al Shabaka -The Palestinian Policy Network) argues in his forensic analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of Palestinian state (May 2011) “Should Israel continue to reject dismantling the settlements and withdrawing from the territory of Palestine, then the State of Palestine can as an aspect of its sovereignty demand that those persons either accept to become Palestinian citizens and abide by the rule of law in Palestine or leave. Should Israel still refuse to withdraw from the territory or dismantle the settlements then Palestine would be able to ask the UN Security Council to take measure to force Israel’s departure from the territory. If the Security Council does not do so, then Palestine could seek support elsewhere and ask for a further advisory opinion from the ICJ asking what third states would be obliged to do in the event that Israel fails to bring to an end to the occupation that threatens international peace and security". (5)
It is likely also that a staged withdrawal of the Israeli troops from the West Bank, combined with some "relocation incentives", would facilitate a departure of settlers - especially of those who moved to the West Bank for the economic benefits offered to them by the Israeli state (an estimated majority of 77% according to a Peace Now survey,2002) (6). The old settlements would have to be transformed into mixed communities where Palestinian and settlers who took up official Palestinian residency/citizenship will have to live side -by-side under Palestinian rules and on land which will be transferred legally to an ownership of the Palestinian state. Those who chose to stay will not only have to take up official Palestinian residency/ citizenship, but will also have to take part in the transformation of the old settlements into mixed communities in which Palestinians would be equal residents (as was the case in Historic Palestine and to a lesser degree in East Jerusalem and some urban areas of Israel).
As an interim measure, a UN peace keeping force (which should include members of Muslim and EU countries ) will be in a position to replace the present Israeli military in the West Bank and in any border crossing with Israel (including those of Gaza). A transport network of secured passage between Gaza and the West Bank would have to be constructed which may include internationally guarded underground tunnel, airports in both Gaza and the West Bank, and restoration of the Gaza seaport.
Embassies and Consulates of states who officially recognised the Palestinian State, as well as UN bodies, will be requested to be located to East Jerusalem- thus reinforcing its status as a the Capital of The Palestinian state. Such a move might be undertaken through a trade- off with Israel whereby the UN would officially recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel - allowing foreign states to relocate their offices there ( Resolution 181 declared the city to be an international territory - corpus separatum - and presently UN member-states do not recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ). As Victor Kattan argues in his cogent article about the future of Palestinian state: "One of the consequences is that this would formally level the playing field between Israel and Palestine on the diplomatic level. In other words, it would become a relationship between states rather than between a state and a non-state actor. Palestine would be able to formally join the international community and to insist upon a relationship based on sovereign equality. Moreover, Palestine’s status will be formally recognized without Palestine having to make any concessions on settlements, the right of return, or Jerusalem, etc. Accordingly, in any future negotiations on these issues Palestine can negotiate with Israel as a state, i.e. as an equal rather than as an occupied people". Kattan cautiously concludes that “although there are risks involved, and although the PLO’s current leadership lacks credibility given the grievous mistakes of the past two decades, the advantages of this Palestinian strategy could outweigh the disadvantages".
Yet, it should be remembered that collaboration between Fatah and Hamas is a crucial element without which the notion of a sovereign Palestinian state that represents the Palestine people in full will only stay an unachievable dream. The divisive hostility between Fatah and Hamas will have to be overcome by building together the apparatus of modern governance system based on democratic elections and endorsed constitution /bill of rights which offers appropriate representation to all the members of the new state.
Having campaigned for a sovereign Palestine for many years and joining my fellow campaigners with banners calling for” Free Palestine", I hope the Palestine solidarity movement would soon be able to pronounce in affirmation: "long live the Palestinian state and the Palestinian people - the future is yours to reclaim". Ruth Tenne's personal appeal on Jerusalem Day was written in commemoration of a city in which she spent the early 60s as a student - being unaware of the plight of the Palestinians and remaining blind to the many expropriated Palestinian homes which were taken over by Israeli residents in the aftermath of the 1948 war . Ruth confronted her ingrained Zionist heritage in the aftermath of the 1967 "six days war" and became an active supporter of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the BDS movement and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.