The Long Overdue State of Palestine

07/18/2011 09:45 am ET | Updated Sep 17, 2011

With the independence of the new Republic of South Sudan, the world is
again reminded that states are created on the basis of local, regional
and international necessity. At least two decades of international
action, as well as a long, bitter and bloody conflict produced the
independence of the south, a state that has been already welcomed by
the international community, the African Union, the United Nations,
and has been invited to join the Arab League.

South Sudan is only the latest newly-created state in the
international community. In recent decades numerous new countries have
come into existence, arising out of the former Soviet Union, the
former Yugoslavia, the split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia,
the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, and so forth. Yet more than 60
years after its existence was envisaged by the UN partition plan for
Palestine, more than 40 years after its creation was implied in the UN
Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and almost 20 years since
the Oslo Accords led the whole world to expect that Palestine would,
soon, enjoy independence, there is still no Palestinian state.

It's hard to overestimate the strategic, political and cultural damage
this failure to secure Palestinian independence is having on the
Middle East as a region, and, indeed, throughout the globe. The
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ongoing occupation that began in
1967 is completely disproportionate to its geographical and
demographic size because of the profound emotional, ideological,
religious and symbolic investment people throughout the world have
made in it. Passions run high far beyond Israel and the occupied
Palestinian territories, and it's no exaggeration to describe the
conflict and the occupation as a cancer on the body politic of the
global community.

The bottom line is this: in the area between the Jordan River and the
Mediterranean Sea -- what has been the de facto Israeli state since
1967 -- there are approximately equal numbers, about 6 million of
both, of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Muslims and Christians. One
group has a state, citizenship, self-determination and independence. A
small group of Palestinians, about 1 million, are citizens of Israel
but subject to significant forms of discrimination. But the large
majority of Palestinians live in the occupied territories without
citizenship or enfranchisement of any kind, self-determination or
independence, and are subject to the arbitrary and typically abusive
rule of a foreign military. Moreover, they have watched as their land
is steadily colonized by Israeli settlements, which are both a
violation of international law and a human rights abuse against those
living under occupation according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Nowhere in the world is there any comparable level of separate and
unequal as there is under Israeli rule in the occupied Palestinian

David Ben-Gurion, who was Israel's prime minister twice, during
1948-1953 and 1955-1963, respectively, eloquently spoke in 1945 of the
Jewish yearning for national validation and self-determination. He
stated, "We are a people without a State and, therefore, a people
without credentials, without recognition, without representation,
without the privileges of a nation, without the means of self-defense,
and without any say in our fate." These might easily be the words of a
Palestinian leader in 2011.

Two years later, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations General
Assembly passed Resolution 181, recommending the partition of
Palestine into two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with the
Jerusalem-Bethlehem area to be placed under special international
protection, administered by the United Nations. However, the UN
Security Council failed to implement Resolution 181, and as soon as
the British Mandate was terminated, Jewish leaders declared the
establishment of Israel, leading to the intervention by five Arab
armies in what was already a raging communal civil war in Palestine.
This conflict left Israel in de facto possession of not the 55 percent
of mandatory Palestine envisaged in the partition resolution, but 78
percent, which are now generally regarded as the internationally
accepted borders of Israel.

Sixty-three years later, and following seven wars, the displacement of
over a million Palestinian refugees during the 1948 and 1967 wars (who
now number more than four million), two Palestinian intifadas, and
countless dead and wounded, Israel remains a nation at war and in
fear, and Palestinian national aspirations remain totally unfulfilled.
Israeli settlements continue to be built at an alarming pace, with 200
already constructed, and the half-million Jewish Israeli colonists
living in them are squeezing Palestinians into ever smaller areas of
the West Bank and Jerusalem, and denying them access to water and
other resources.

Peace efforts such as the Oslo accords (1993); Wye River accord
(1998); Camp David meeting (2000); Taba negotiations between
Palestinian and Israeli delegations (2001); George Mitchell's proposal
(2001); George Tenet's plan (2001); United Nations Resolution 1397,
which affirmed a vision of a region where Palestine and Israel would
live side by side within secure and recognized borders (2002); the
Arab Peace Initiative adopted unanimously twice by the Arab League
(2002); and the "roadmap" for peace adopted by the Quartet (2003);
have all been creditable efforts to develop peace, but none have
succeeded and thus far the agony and tragedy have simply continued.

Years of conflict and insecurity, narratives of exclusion and pain,
and incompatible visions of the future, let alone understandings of
the past, have created a serious disconnect between Israelis and
Palestinians. Each national community is caught up in its own
tendentious and exclusive narratives: Israel using the past and the
present to create the future; the Palestinians using the present to
recreate the past in service of the future. Both are laboring under
serious illusions.

Unfortunately, while US policy has emphasized that a two-state
solution is imperative for American national interests, because of the
"special relationship" between the two countries, in practice it
remains steadfastly in Israel's corner, vetoing 26 UN Security Council
draft resolutions on Palestine since July 1973. Domestic political
considerations and a powerful American popular and elite consensus in
support of Israel make pressuring that country in the normal
diplomatic manner very difficult for an American president.
Palestinians have hoped to be able to use the "special relationship"
to help mollify Israeli concerns and reassure them that because of
American participation, they are not taking any inordinate risks in
entering into a peace agreement with the Palestinians. So far, this
strategy, while theoretically promising, has yet to demonstrate much

According to almost all opinion polls, most Palestinians and Israelis
are in favor of a negotiated two-state solution, based on the 1967
borders, with agreed upon land swaps. Unfortunately, similarly large
majorities do not believe it will happen and do not trust the other
side's intentions. Unless President Barack Obama is able to persuade
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to negotiate on the
aforementioned parameters, then the Palestinians will be facing many
more checkpoints and a stonewall of delay while the Israelis continue
to seize more Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Unfortunately, many Palestinians and Israelis believe that Netanyahu
has no interest in pursuing a negotiated solution along the lines that
Palestinians would deem acceptable. And, even more unfortunately, his
unenthusiastic approach to the peace process and insistent emphasis on
security above all, including peace, has proven extremely popular in
Israel and he leads an unlikely but extraordinarily stable coalition
government. In other words, his default position of saying "no" to
everything is serving his political interests, leaving him with few
incentives to be more forthcoming.

However, as numerous Israelis with impeccable national security
credentials, including some very strongly rooted in the political
right, have been publicly stating in recent months, it is essential to
Israel's national interest to help secure the creation of a viable,
democratic and peaceful State of Palestine. While the Israeli
occupation resulted from conditions of the 1960s or even earlier, the
time for its ending has come. An independent, contiguous, and secure
Palestine (democratic, pluralistic, non-militarized, and neutral)
living in peace alongside Israel is, as an apparent consensus of
Israeli national security experts appear to recognize, the only way to
secure Israel's long-term safety and stability. The occupation is
untenable, dangerous and, ultimately, self-destructive.

The Arab states, as well as the United States and Israel, strongly
require the creation of a Palestinian state for their fundamental
national interests. For too long the Palestinian question has been a
volatile, destabilizing variable in regional politics, the source of
conflict and tension, and a powerful tool in the hands of extremists
of many different varieties. This understanding was most importantly
expressed through the Arab Peace Initiative, but has also been
repeatedly emphasized by Arab leaders across the region. King Abdullah
II of Jordan, in his memoir, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of
Peace in a Time of Peril
, expressed "a sense of urgency, a conviction
that the window for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is
closing." We agree with him when he states, "Both sides have a moral
responsibility to strive for peace... the alternative is more conflict
and violence."

Every moment that is lost only benefits the proponents of extremism on
all sides. Albeit a minority, they will continue to monopolize the
political narrative and dictate the facts on the ground in the absence
of peace. The moderates will lose heart and fade away in the smoke of
violence and hate and the fog of deception.

Enlightened leadership not only leads and serves but finds like-minded
followers as well, leaders in their own right, who would be eager to
sustain positive change for the common good of both Palestinians and
Israelis. It not only responds to constituencies, it creates them. The
need for allies for peace and statehood is equally important as the
need for such a consensus locally, regionally, and internationally.

What Ben Gurion envisioned for his people in 1945, all Palestinians
have sought for decades. It is high time that the United States and
the rest of the international community stood by them, not just
rhetorically or in terms of development aid, but with practical,
effective diplomatic efforts that ensure that the occupation will end,
and that a Palestinian state alongside Israel will be created,
recognized by the major powers of the world, and welcomed as a member
state of the United Nations. Without a doubt this will require Israeli
acquiescence as well, which means that negotiations are unavoidable
and indispensable.

But the international community has an important role to play in
laying the groundwork for such an agreement, making it crystal clear
that it will accept no other outcome, applying both negative and
positive pressure on both sides to make it happen, and doing
everything possible to avoid any other outcome. Simply leaving it up
to the parties, which are defined by the most extreme degree of power
asymmetry imaginable, is not a viable option. International
engagement, led by but not exclusive to the United States, is more
indispensable now than ever. Especially given the role the
international community played in the creation of Israel, it has a
right and a responsibility to play a similar role in the creation of

This is a delicate process, and we are not proposing an implausible
and impracticable "imposition" of a solution on the parties by an
international community that is unwilling and probably unable to take
such steps. Nor are we suggesting that the Palestinian demand for full
UN membership in September is likely to prove successful. Clearly a
failed confrontation with the United States at the UN Security Council
over the issue of statehood is not in anybody's interest, let alone
the Palestinians. However, a greater role for the international
community in resolving this exceptionally damaging and destabilizing
ongoing conflict is essential. Palestinians can and should receive a
major upgrade of their observer mission status from the General
Assembly, and should be recognized on a bilateral basis by every state
that is serious about Israeli-Palestinian peace.

There is much the international community can do to promote a
two-state solution, particularly by clarifying its unshakable
commitment to this outcome and its categorical refusal to accept any
alternative. There is no longer any excuse for postponing or delaying
such measures. They do not undermine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations;
they support them insofar as they make the only reasonable, workable
outcome far more likely and demonstrate that the world expects and
will help the parties arrive at a two-state solution in the near
future. The international community has made its commitment to Israel
very clear since 1948. It must now move quickly to make its commitment
to Palestine alongside Israel equally clear, especially to the
Palestinians and the Israelis.

Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Force
on Palestine and blogs at Saliba Sarsar is
professor of political science and associate vice president for global
initiatives at Monmouth University, and is a member of the Board of
Directors of the American Task Force on Palestine.