At the end of the Second World War, the colonial age in modern history had come to a close. The colonial period is a blemish on the nations of Europe, the US, and Japan, although none of them have practiced policies of sincere regret, let alone compensation. Rather, many opinion leaders from the former colonial powers have pointed to the legacy of organization and infrastructure that they left in the colonized world. Many also have remarked that the new, independent states that emerged were more often than not dictatorial and corrupt. Of course, there have been countries that have failed to produce either economic well-being or open political institutions for their people. That is regrettable; but the lesson to global powers (and former colonial powers) should be that direct intervention is neither justifiable nor morally warranted. The only appropriate policy is to engage developing nations with fair trade deals and incentives to develop both economically and politically.
Such reasoned and humanist policies are the exception rather than the rule unfortunately. More often the global powers have engaged in efforts to build alliances and strategic partnerships for the projection of their own power. And they have used those alliances and the local antagonisms that sustain them as an opportunity to sell arms to their client states.
Indeed, rather than practice an even-handed policy of international diplomacy, the former colonial powers pursue policies of indirect influence through commercial pressure and clandestine intelligence intervention, a practice often called neo-colonialism. Occasionally such policies develop into outright military intervention. When successful, such as in Libya for the moment, the leaders of France and the UK are able to visit the country in the guise of liberators and friends of the Libyan people.
Nonetheless, history has inched forward with many nations, former colonies, attaining not only independence, but successful political institutions and economic growth. The fate of the Palestinians represents a glaring exception to the historical trend. The Palestinians were never granted even limited autonomy, to this day remain pawns in the political maneuverings of global and local powers, and since 1967 have been under Israeli occupation. The current debate over Palestinian statehood must be seen within this broader context and analyzed with the unbiased and unabridged facts of modern history.
So what are those facts? The area of Palestine was administered colonially by the British after the retreat of the Turkish Empire following the First World War. The Jewish population in Palestine had been a small minority throughout history since the time of the Jewish Diaspora in 135 CE when Rome destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Serial waves of Jewish migration to Palestine began in the late 19th century culminating in the massive migration of Jews from Eastern Europe after WWII. Despite this influx of Jewish immigration, however, the Jews remained a minority, albeit a large minority, of the population in Palestine under the British Mandate. Nonetheless, a patchwork map of Palestine divided into multiple areas of Jewish and Arab inhabitants was tabled at the UN and a General Assembly vote recommended that a Jewish State be established within those patchy enclaves in Palestine. The local Arab inhabitants as well as the neighboring Arab States were opposed. In 1948 Israel unilaterally declared statehood ostensibly based upon the General Assembly resolution. (In 1948 Israeli leaders did not insist upon direct negotiations toward an agreed settlement.) War broke out immediately thereafter, and Israel defeated poorly organized Arab resistance and extended the borders from the patchwork territory they initially held to the contiguous territory including all of the area up to the pre-1967 borders, including half of a partitioned Jerusalem. The new state of Israel was essentially recognized ‘de facto’ within these ’67 borders as witnessed by the fact that all peace discussions focus upon these borders as the base case scenario for discussion. Many of the Arab inhabitants fled in the face of the advancing Israeli militias to become refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. During the 1967 war, Israel further expanded the territory it controlled to include the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula (the Sinai was subsequently returned to Egypt in the bilateral peace agreement between the two countries). Israel has remained the occupying power of the West Bank and Gaza Israeli since 1967.
The first thing that should strike anyone who honestly reflects upon the above facts is that the reputed UN ‘approval’ for the establishment of Israel was a failed decision. That decision resulted in conflict immediately following Israel’s unilateral declaration, continuous antagonism between the states in the region, a refugee crisis, and a continuing occupation for Palestinians living in the West Bank and in Gaza. Hence, the proverbial international community bears responsibility for the current impasse as well as for the fate of Palestinians living as refugees or under occupation. One would hope that ‘global leaders’ would attempt some sort of atonement and initiate action to set things right and alleviate the plight of the victims. But the powers that be have preferred over the years to support their respective client states and to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. Following the Oslo accords, the Palestinians were to be granted statehood within the West Bank and Gaza. But that has not happened. Instead they remain under Israeli occupation, and Israel continues to build new settlements for Jewish immigrants in the West Bank, although the practice is illegal, and in spite of international pressure to stop. The Palestinian authority has now decided upon a different tactic and intends to take their petition for statehood to the UN. Hence the current debate!
What can a reasonable and concerned observer make of this debate? The US is actively discouraging the Palestinians against the move and has stated rather forcefully that it will veto the proposal should it come to a vote in the Security Council. The Palestinians plan in that case to submit their case to the General Assembly, where they are assured of a large majority vote. (So who represents this proverbial international community? Is it the majority of nation states and members of the UN or the few global powers in the Security Council? And why is it that the US intends to exercise its veto despite having been snubbed by Israel when the US requested the cessation of settlement activity on the West Bank?) But here thing stand, so what is to be done?