Palestinian Statehood (repost plus a few new thoughts)
In September 2011, I wrote about the Palestinian plan to seek statehood from the United Nations. In light of last week’s vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state, I think that it’s worth reposting my thoughts from last year as, unfortunately, not much has changed.
This month, the Palestinian Authority will petition the United Nations to recognize a universal declaration of independence (UDI) that will form an independent nation of Palestine. The United States has vowed to veto this act in the Security Council, preferring instead for issues to be resolved via negotiation rather than unilateral acts. Presuming that the veto is cast, the Palestinian Authority will then petition the General Assembly for something just short of statehood (which only the Security Council can, apparently, recognize). Given the makeup of the General Assembly, this petition will almost certainly pass (just think about it: How many Arab and Muslim countries are represented in the United Nations?) with, most likely, overwhelming support. As Abba Eban once said: “If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”
This whole endeavor raises several interesting points that are, I think, worth at least discussing.
First, why now? In 1947, the United Nations voted to accept a partition plan creating an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Jews accepted the partition plan and announced the creation of Israel. By contrast, the Arabs rejected the partition and launched a war against Israel, which eventually resulted in a cease fire, a victorious Israel, and a host of defeated Arab armies. So why didn’t the Arabs (note that they weren’t really called Palestinians in 1947…) accept the partition?
More critically, let’s look at what happened at the conclusion of the 1948 war. The new nation of Israel was now a fact (though with almost completely indefensible cease fire lines serving as a de facto, though not de jure, border). And Jordan occupied the area now most commonly known as the West Bank while Egypt occupied Gaza. That was largely the status quo until 1967. So query why the Palestinians didn’t seek independence or statehood from Jordan or Egypt during that 20-year period?
It is also worth remembering that during that 20-year period, Jews were not allowed to visit East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City of Jerusalem and the holiest place in Judaism. Subsequent to the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel not only continued to allow Muslims to access their holy sites in the Old City, they even allowed the Arab Waqf to maintain control over the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque.
Another thing to note about this timeline: The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded, not in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, but rather in 1964. So, at the time of its formation, what exactly did the PLO want to liberate? That’s right, the goal of the PLO was not to create an independent Palestine next to Israel, but rather, in place of Israel.
It is also worth noting that over the last 15 years or so, the Palestinian Authority has been offered an independent state by Israel over virtually all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. The borders of these offers were largely based on the 1967 armistice lines with swaps of land so that large Jewish communities would remain part of Israel. But, in each case, the Palestinians rejected the offer. Think about that for a minute. The offers extended to the Palestinians gave them almost everything that they wanted, but still they said no.
And now they’re looking to the United Nations to give them what they didn’t take when offered in 1947, didn’t take when they were occupied by their own “allies” from 1948 through 1967, and didn’t take when offered, repeatedly, by Israel in the course of negotiations.
One possible answer to the “why now” query is a bit counterintuitive. I have to wonder whether the Palestinians so expected President Obama to “be on their side” that they’ve come to the recognition that the current American position is as good as it’s going to get for them. I personally don’t think that President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus or made substantial changes in American policy toward Israel (though I will agree that he has made some mistakes, in particular his efforts to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze, though I understand the reasoning). But if an African American President that many Americans believed to be a “sekrit Muslim” isn’t going to push Israel to bend over and … er, to surrender to Palestinian demands, and if there is the possibility of a far right Christian Zionist to be elected, then the Palestinians may think that they need to act now.
And the Palestinians refuse to engage in additional negotiations with Israel. Why? Because the Palestinians demand that Israel halt settlement activity in the West Bank before they will resume negotiations. Forget that a settlement freeze had never been a demand of the Palestinians in the past prior to engaging in negotiations and forget that one of the things to be negotiated is the actual border between Israel and a newly independent Palestine. Forget too that Israel has agreed that land swaps would be a part of that negotiation. But do ask yourself this: Why is a cessation of settlement activity so important to the Palestinians?
The answer you’ll most often hear from Palestinians is that settlement activity is an attempt by Israel to pre-establish the borders or a “land grab”. But when we recall that final borders are a part of the negotiations and that final borders will include land swaps, then this argument doesn’t really make much sense, does it? If the negotiations are supposed to include land swaps, then why does it matter if Israel gets one particular parcel on which Jews have built houses if the Palestinians are given a reasonably equal parcel in its place?
No, the real answer is much more insidious, though you rarely hear this from the Palestinians. They don’t want any more settlements because they don’t want to swap land. Rather, they want all of what they think is theirs. But here’s the problem. The Palestinians don’t want Jewish communities in the newly independent state of Palestine. In fact, just last week, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to the United States admitted that:
The Palestine Liberation Organization's ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that any future Palestinian state it seeks with help from the United Nations and the United States should be free of Jews.
"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador, said during a meeting with reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor. He was responding to a question about the rights of minorities in a Palestine of the future.
Ah, you say. But the headline of the USA Today article says he didn’t really mean Jews, just Israelis. Um, not so fast. Note that USA Today doesn’t tell us the exact question that prompted the response, but The Jerusalem Post does provide that information:
When asked by Jamie Weinstein, senior editor and columnist for The Daily Caller, whether a Jew could be elected mayor of Ramallah in an independent Palestinian state, Areikat said, “after the experience of 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it will be in the best interests of the two peoples to be separated first.”
Hmm. So somehow, querying whether a Jew (not an Israeli) could be elected mayor of Ramallah, the Palestinian ambassador to the United States says that the “two peoples” should be separated. Now one would presume, wouldn’t one, that you’d have to be a citizen of Palestine to be elected mayor of a Palestinian city. So the ambassador is, in effect, saying that Jews and Palestinians (not Israelis and Palestinians) should be separated and that a Palestinian Jew (remember that they are an enormous number of Muslim Israelis…) could not be elected mayor of a Palestinian city.
Ah, you say, but he must have simply been misunderstood or he didn’t understand the question or that’s not what he really meant or …. Nope. Sorry. Here’s what Ambassador Areikat said a year ago (formatting revised for readability purposes):
Interviewer: When you imagine a future Palestinian state, do you imagine it being a place where Jews, if they wish to become Palestinian citizens, could own property, vote in elections, and practice their religion freely?
Areikat: I remember in the mid-’90s, the late [PLO official] Faisal Husseini said repeatedly “OK, if Israelis choose to stay in a future Palestinian state, they are more than welcome to do that. But under one condition: They have to respect and obey Palestinian laws, they cannot be living as Israelis. They have to respect Palestinian laws and abide by them.” When Faisal Husseini died, basically no Palestinian leader has publicly supported the notion that they can stay.
What we are saying is the following: We need to separate. We have to separate. We are in a forced marriage. We need to divorce. After we divorce, and everybody takes a period of time to recoup, rebound, whatever you want to call it, we may consider dating again.
Interviewer: So, you think it would be necessary to first transfer and remove every Jew—
Areikat: Absolutely. No, I’m not saying to transfer every Jew, I’m saying transfer Jews who, after an agreement with Israel, fall under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state.
Interviewer: Any Jew who is inside the borders of Palestine will have to leave?
Areikat: Absolutely. I think this is a very necessary step, before we can allow the two states to somehow develop their separate national identities, and then maybe open up the doors for all kinds of cultural, social, political, economic exchanges, that freedom of movement of both citizens of Israelis and Palestinians from one area to another. You know you have to think of the day after.
(And note that in that same interview, the Ambassador claims that ancient Israel was never in Jerusalem. Seriously.)
People accuse Israel of Apartheid and “ethnic cleansing” all the time (though usually without any sort of context or understanding of those terms). Yet here are the Palestinians petitioning the United Nations to recognize their new state that they acknowledge will, in fact, exclude Jews. You tell me which is the “Apartheid regime”? Israel, which grants the 20% of its population that is Muslim full voting rights and participation in civil society (including, among other things proportional representation in the Knesset, a judge on the Supreme Court, ambassadorships and consul postings to other nations, and participation on Israeli sports teams and beauty pageants [Miss Israel 1999 was an Arab]), or Palestine which will be essentially judenfrei (free of Jews)?
Can you imagine the international outrage if Israel’s ambassador to anywhere were to say that a Muslim could not be elected Mayor of an Israeli town, to the Knesset, to the Supreme Court, or participate in another part of Israeli civil society? But if a Palestinian admits this, well, that’s OK. Certainly Israeli politicians who have said anything similar have been (rightly) lambasted.
Even some Palestinians are troubled by Ambassador Areikat’s statements, but not for the reason you’d expect:
[T]he real victims of the [Ambassador]’s espousal of apartheid will not be Jews — whom the PA already conceded would remain in settlements to be annexed to Israel — but Palestinian citizens of Israel.
That’s right. The real victims would be Palestinians because Israel, being an Apartheid state and all, would use those statements as justification to ethnically cleanse Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel.
To be fair, at least one representative of the Palestinian Authority has tried to walk back Ambassador Areikat’s statements, as has the Ambassador himself:
Trying to tamp down a controversy over whether a Palestinian state would be Jew-free, Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian minister of religious affairs, said a future state would be open to people of all religions, including Jews.
“The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion,” Habbash said, according to USA Today. “We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, (and) accept to be Palestinian citizens.”
Maen Areikat, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s ambassador to the United States, told POLITICO that his comments earlier this week which some interpreted as meaning Jews would not be welcome were misconstrued.
“In no way was there a suggestion that Jews cannot enter Palestine or be in Palestinian state in the future,” Areikat said.
So which statement do you find more credible?
Of course it’s not just Jews who will be unwelcome in Palestine. Gays aren’t welcome, either:
In response to a query from John McCormack from The Weekly Standard about whether homosexuals would be tolerated in a newly-formed Palestinian state, “Ah, this is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” said Areikat.
Nor, for that matter, are Palestinians.
Um, what was that? Yep, you read that right. Even though the goal is an independent state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, citizenship in that new nation won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees”, including those (and their descendants) who have been living in refugee camps for 60 years or more! Nor will Palestinians who don’t presently live in the new state of Palestine have a right to claim citizenship. Thus, the Palestinian “refugees” (and their descendants) living in Jordan, Syria, or elsewhere in the Middle East (or the world), won’t be entitled to claim Palestinian citizenship. That’s what the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon told Lebanon’s The Daily Star:
Palestinian refugees will not become citizens of a new Palestinian state, according to Palestine’s ambassador to Lebanon.
From behind a desk topped by a miniature model of Palestine’s hoped-for blue United Nations chair, Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah spoke to The Daily Star Wednesday about Palestine’s upcoming bid for U.N. statehood.
The ambassador unequivocally says that Palestinian refugees would not become citizens of the sought for U.N.-recognized Palestinian state, an issue that has been much discussed. “They are Palestinians, that’s their identity,” he says. “But … they are not automatically citizens.”
This would not only apply to refugees in countries such as Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan or the other 132 countries where Abdullah says Palestinians reside. Abdullah said that “even Palestinian refugees who are living in [refugee camps] inside the [Palestinian] state, they are still refugees. They will not be considered citizens.”
Abdullah said that the new Palestinian state would “absolutely not” be issuing Palestinian passports to refugees.
How can that be and, more importantly, why?
The unfortunate answer to the “how” is that the world simply doesn’t pay attention. The Palestinians can largely do or say anything and bear no responsibility. They can continue to air television programs that encourage martyrdom, they can honor suicide bombers, they can use textbooks that omit Israel entirely or claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen (raise your hand if you knew that “moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctoral thesis claimed that “only” several hundred thousand Jews were killed in the Holocaust and calls the “claim” that 6 million were killed a “Zionist fantasy”). And they can try to establish a Jew-free, gay-free nation that won’t even open citizenship to other Palestinians. And the world will turn a blind eye.
Ah, but why? Now that is the more interesting question. Let’s think that one through. First, if the Palestinians living abroad were to suddenly return to their new homeland, how easily could the new nation absorb and integrate that population? Don’t forget that Israel absorbed refugees from the Holocaust as well as about 800,000 Jews who left or were forced to leave Arab countries, plus another 100,000 or so Ethiopian Jews (oh, and for those who claim that Israel is a “racist” country, I’d really like to hear them explain that view to the black Ethiopian Jews that Israel had to rescue via airlift…). I mean, come on, we’d hate for the new government of Palestine to have to, you known, strain itself to take care of the Palestinian people. And note that the Palestinian Authority has even claimed that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the agency responsible for Palestinian [and only Palestinian] “refugees”, must continue to be responsible for Palestinian “refugees” in Palestine; the new government won’t assume that responsibility.
But there is an even more important reason that citizenship won’t be extended to Palestinian “refugees” already living in the West Bank or Gaza. You see, if those people were citizens of Palestine, it would be hard for them (or the PLO) to argue that they should also have a “right of return” to Israel. But by preventing the “refugees” from becoming citizens of Palestine, the “promise” of a right of return to Israel remains intact. If those “refugees” become citizens of Palestine, then they have no reason to need to “return” and, in essence, the original partition plan will be largely operative. But if those “refugees” remain just that — “refugees” — then they can continue to agitate for their “right to return” to Israel, a major issue of contention between Israel and the Palestinians will remain unresolved, and those “refugees” will remain either a weapon or bargaining chip in the ongoing conflict.
And just in case you think I’m making this up, let’s go back to that interview with the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Lebanon:
Neither this definitional status nor U.N. statehood, Abdullah says, would affect the eventual return of refugees to Palestine. “How the issue of the right of return will be solved I don’t know, it’s too early [to say], but it is a sacred right that has to be dealt with and solved [with] the acceptance of all.” He says statehood “will never affect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
The right of return that Abdullah says is to be negotiated would not only apply to those Palestinians whose origins are within the 1967 borders of the state, he adds. “The state is the 1967 borders, but the refugees are not only from the 1967 borders. The refugees are from all over Palestine. When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not a solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.”
Furthermore, when considering this point, remember that the Palestinians claim to support a two state solution. Yet by holding out the promise of a “right of return” they are, in essence, still laboring toward a one state solution. Should Israel be compelled to permit millions of Palestinian “refugees” to “return” to Israel, then the demographic character of Israel as a majority Jewish nation would be destroyed and, even were Israel to remain (briefly) democratic, it would quickly become just another Arab state and probably become linked with Palestine. Oh, and remember what I said before about Palestine being judenfrei?
Two final points: The goal of the negotiations toward a two state solution is to eventually have a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. That could prove difficult:
That’s right. The President of the Palestinian Authority said, just a few weeks ago, that the Palestinians could never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And he notes that the “refugee” problem will never be solved by the Palestinian state. Well, then.
And I also thought that a point of symbolism chosen by the Palestinians was also important, but not for the same understanding:
The Palestinian Authority chose the mother of 4 terrorist murderers, one of whom killed seven Israeli civilians and attempted to killed [sic] twelve others, as the person to launch their statehood campaign with the UN. In a widely publicized event, the PA had Latifa Abu Hmeid lead the procession to the UN offices in Ramallah and to hand over a letter for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
The official PA daily reported that she launched the UN campaign last week, and noted that she is the “mother of seven prisoners and of the Shahid (Martyr) Abd Al-Mun'im Abu Hmeid.” However, the paper did not mention that 4 of her imprisoned sons are murderers.
What does it say of the Palestinians that they chose this woman, of all possible representatives of the Palestinian people, to launch their bid for statehood from the United Nations? Of course, given that former PLO Chairman and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat once addressed the United Nations while wearing a holster (his aides say it was empty) and that the Palestinian Authority continues to name streets and squares after and hold soccer tournaments in the name of terrorists, then I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised.
So anyway, when you hear about the Palestinian petition for statehood, remember to think about some of the issues that you may not otherwise hear about.
There is one further critical point of which I just became aware yesterday. The formulation for peace negotiations for the last twenty or more years has been on the general basis of the 1949 armistice lines (the so-called 1967 border, pre-1967 border, or the Green Line) with agreed upon land swaps. That last bit is critical because that is how the issue of Israeli settlements (especially those that are essentially suburbs of Jerusalem) will be resolved (and perhaps the issue of some Arab communities within Israel). However, the resolution adopted by the United Nations speaks only of a Palestinian state “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders” without mention of land swaps and recognizes “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”.*
Moreover, the UN resolution mentions nothing about Israeli security, failing for example, to note the text of Security Resolution 242 (adopted in the aftermath of the Six Day War) which notes the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." The reason that Resolution 242 did not demand that Israel give back all of the land captured in 1967 was the recognition that those pre-1967 borders were indefensible.
So how now does Abbas go back to his population and say, “Gee, the UN said that we should get everything in the pre-1967 borders but we’re actually going to give some land to Israel while they give us some?” In other words, how does he sell his people on something less (or at least) other than what the UN has recognized? The text of the resolution adopted by the UN will, unfortunately, make peace more difficult to achieve.
You might also be interested to read Are Israeli Settlements Really Such a Problem? A Primer (posted in November 2009).
*I hate to be hyper-technical (OK, so maybe I don’t really mind…), but there was no “Palestinian territory” occupied in 1967. No nation of Palestine has ever existed. Prior to the 1947 partition plan, all of the land was occupied and controlled by Britain. In 1947, there could have been a Palestine, but the Arabs rejected the UN partition plan. Moreover, at the end of the 1948 war, there was no Palestinian land or Palestinian state. Instead, Jordan occupied and controlled the West Bank and Egypt occupied and controlled the Gaza Strip. So, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, those lands were taken from Jordan and Egypt, not from “Palestine” or the “Palestinians”. So one has to wonder whether the UN reference to “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” is merely a reference to the West Bank and Gaza or actually a broader reference to all of Israel. Perhaps if we look at the emblem of the Palestine Liberation Organization (recognized by the UN as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”), we can find an answer to this question:
Hmm. Is it my imagination or does that green image in the middle of the emblem resemble the current state of Israel plus the West Bank plus Gaza?
Perhaps we should look, instead, at the flag of Fatah, the largest political party in the PLO and the current ruling party in the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank:
It’s a bit harder to make out, but once again, the green “stripe” in the middle of the flag is all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza.
So perhaps that is the answer as to what is meant by occupied “Palestinian territory”.