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.[1]  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’[2] 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?)[3]  But here thing stand, so what is to be done?

In fairness, we should examine the arguments against granting statehood to the Palestinians.  So let me review all of the arguments from the silly to the more serious.

• The First claim is that Israel is the historical land of the Jewish people and that the land was given to them by God.  This argument retains currency in religious circles and was even raised by Israel’s former Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.  Of course, Palestinians claim their own historical and religious roots in the Territory.  I could facetiously say, “There is no God and his name is neither Yahweh nor Allah.”  But let’s simply consider the issue of claims within a legal framework free of conflicting myths.  What is the legal basis for Israel’s claim to the territory?  As the facts show the Jewish population in Palestine was a small minority for approximately 1,700 years.  After the Diaspora, the territory was ruled successively by the Byzantine, the Arabian, and Turkish empires, with a brief interlude during which Palestine was ruled by Crusaders.  (During the period of Turkish rule, Sephardic Jews fleeing Spain were given refuge both in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe.)  So the Jewish claim to the land is based essentially upon the influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, especially during and after WWII,  on the ‘ reputed approval’ of the General Assembly of some patches of land inhabited largely by these immigrants, and subsequently upon military victories which expanded these areas, thus establishing a reality on the ground.  The Israeli claim therefore is tenuous at best in strict legal terms and in any case does not apply in any manner to the West Bank or Gaza.  Anyone who doubts this analysis should do some simple research.  As an example note that the first leaders of the state of Israel were all born in the Russian Empire.  More recent Israeli leaders were born in Israel to first generation immigrants to Palestine. (Imagine what the birther movement would think of all this assuming its ranks were capable of logically consistent thought.)

• At the inception of the State of Israel, no statehood was granted to the Palestinians.  The Palestinians then by default became subjects of Jordan, Egypt, and, of course, refugees as previously explained.  The second objection to Palestinian statehood rests upon this brief reality from 1948-67.  The argument, though, that the Palestinian population should be absorbed by Arab States and given citizenship in these respective states became a moot point following the ’67 war.  Since then, the Palestinians have been a people occupied by Israel.  Furthermore, the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel recognized a process toward Palestinian statehood.  Although the Oslo path to statehood has been obstructed, a legal precedent is already in place to permit the establishment of a Palestinian State.  And both Jordan and Egypt have forsworn territorial interests in the West Bank and Gaza.

• Israel today claims that the Palestinian authority should not be granted statehood before it fully recognizes and acknowledges Israel as a Jewish State.  Of course, the flip side of the coin begs the question as to why Israel refuses to recognize the Palestinian’s right to self-determination.  In fact, this argument cloaks a thorny precedent.  By acknowledging Israel as a Jewish State, the Palestinian authority would undermine the claims of Palestinian refugees to any ‘right of return’ or alternative compensation.  Such acknowledgement would also undercut the future rights of Palestinians who live within Israel’s pre-’67 borders.  In fact, one should ask whatever happened to the principle of separation of church and state.  Is it appropriate that the community of nations recognize such an exception in the case of Israel and effectively condemn current and future minorities within Israel to second class citizenship?  History undoubtedly began with the emergence of civilizations whose power structure was a partnership between kings and religious hierarchies.  But history has lumbered forward at no little human cost and such structures belong in the past.

• The final argument is that the Palestinian Authority has been unable to prevent attacks against Israel and has entirely lost control over Gaza.  Every time a rocket is fired from Gaza into Israel this argument reverberates in Washington and London.  Setting aside the obvious fact that the people of Gaza are under an inhumane occupation and blockade (hence, ‘one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter’), it should be clear that dealing with such problems would be facilitated by the end of Israeli occupation and settlements and the onset of a full scale project of state building to be undertaken by the UN following the recognition of Palestine.

In my humble estimation, the analysis above effectively refutes the best of the arguments against Palestinian statehood.  I would in fact go further to say that the arguments are essentially bogus and are meant to allow Israel to continue the occupation and continue settlement activity, perhaps waiting for a new historical opportunity to scatter the Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem and the West Bank and to annex the entire land.  When the Prime Minister of Israel says that he cannot accept the ’67 borders because they are not defensible, he is indirectly confirming such suspicions.  What gives any state the right to determine whether its borders are defensible and to pre-emptively occupy neighboring territory as a defensive measure?

Several questions remain open however.  If a Palestinian State were approved, what would be the next steps?  How can such an intransigent conflict be successfully resolved?  It is at this point a foregone conclusion that the US will veto Palestine’s bid soon to be tabled by President Abbas.  This is an unfortunate and morally indefensible use of the USA’s veto power, but it is of course not without precedent; the US has made a habit of exercising vetoes in the Security Council to protect its client state Israel.  By far the best course of action would be for the Security Council to approve the measure and ask the two states to negotiate for a limited period of time on an equal footing.  But in all likelihood, this will not happen.  And even if it did, I would guess that subsequent bilateral negotiations between the states would still fail.  Eventually, a just settlement will need to be imposed.  Failing that, the victims in this conflict will be denied justice until Israel is recognized as an apartheid state.[4]

But what might be the shape of a just settlement?  This is the last issue that I will briefly address here.  There are effectively only two possible solutions.  The solution usually put forward by that proverbial international community is the so-called two-state solution.  Most agree, including the US, that the two states should be established along the ’67 borders.  However, they further allow that final borders be subject to negotiated land swaps and agreements over the fate of Jerusalem and the question of Palestinian refugees.  The logic behind this current consensusl is that it recognizes the ’67 borders as a fait accompli and leaves the remaining issues to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  In fact, this is far from an equitable settlement, since it grants Israel negotiating rights over the West Bank settlements and places the Palestinians in an inferior negotiating position on the question of refugees by accepting the ’67 borders.  And the status of Jerusalem is as well slanted in Israel’s favor by virtue of its being under Israeli occupation.  Essentially this consensus has allowed Israel to stall without end

This then is why I personally feel that any two-state solution will ultimately need to be imposed.  So, what might an imposed settlement look like?  Obviously, such a decision ought to be a judicial one by an impartial international court or by impartial diplomatic consensus.  But my own position would be that the two states should be established precisely along the ’67 borders.  All Jewish settlements in the West Bank should be dismantled as illegal, with no right to negotiation, and Palestinian refugees from Israel should be granted full and fair compensation for their loss of property and the injustice they have endured.  Finally, Jerusalem should be declared an International City governed by the UN, with free rights of travel but significantly limited right of further, permanent settlement.  Many may disagree with this position, but I will be happy to defend or debate it.  I would further say that it represents a favorable decision for Israel given the historical facts.  Having said that, let me again say that such a decision should ideally come from an impartial judicial proceeding.

In the previous paragraph I made mention of two possible solutions.  What then is the second one?  The second solution would be modeled on South Africa.  Effectively, this means recognizing that the State of Israel has been in place since 1948 and has governed an expanded territory since 1967.  So simply recognize that the Palestinian populations should be granted citizenship and voting rights immediately, and, of course, recognize the right of refugees to return and enjoy the same rights and access to courts to reclaim their lost property.  This new state would be overwhelmingly Palestinian, of course, and so the Zionist dream of a Jewish homeland would be lost.  But this solution was found appropriate in South Africa, so why not in Israel/Palestine?  I suspect that Israel is not ready for this solution.  But if they continue to resist any discussion along the lines of the first solution, history will eventually overtake their state.  The status quo is not sustainable!


[1] UNGA resolution 181, 1947

[2] I have put the word approval in brackets because the vote was taken in the General Assembly and not the Security Council.  See, a relevant article by Jeremy R. Hammond.

[3] The questions in parenthesis are of course rhetorical.

[4] Former President Carter, for the moment a lone voice, has foreseen such a development in his 2007 book, Palestine, Peace not Apartheid.