Palestinian Statehood to be Decided by UN?

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on December 20, 2010 with 5 Comments

By Ralph E. Stone

December 20, 2010

On November 15, 1988, the State of Palestine was unilaterally declared in Algiers when the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s National Council adopted the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. The independent State of Palestine is widely recognized by over 100 United Nations member countries, although oftentimes in equivocal terms. Although an independent state, it has no universally recognized borders. In 1993, the Palestinian Authority recognized the state of Israel. Now is the time for Israel and the world to recognize Palestine as an independent state in the 1967 borders.

The last thing Israel wants is for the issue to end up in the UN. But why not the UN? Consider that at the creation of Israel in 1947, the UN partitioned the land, allotting the Jews 55 percent of Palestine. The Arabs did not agree to this partition. The action of the UN conflicted with the basic principles for which the world organization was established, namely, to uphold the right of all peoples to self-determination. By denying the Palestine Arabs, who formed a two-thirds majority of the country, the right to decide for themselves, the UN had violated its own charter. Now is the chance for the UN to rectify its 1947 action and give the Palestinians a chance, denied them in 1947, to have a say in their future.

Why the 1967 borders? In the war of 1967, Egypt did not attack Israel. Rather, Israel conducted a pre-emptive strike against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. After the war, the remaining Palestinian territory was captured by Israel. Out of this captured land, Israel created the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by chopping up the land into isolated enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements and Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinians lost 78 percent of their land to Israel and are left with 22 percent. Under the UN Charter there can lawfully be no territorial gains from war, even if a state acted in self-defense. Therefore, even if Israel’s action were to be considered defensive, its retention of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is unlawful.

A group of prominent former political leaders in Europe – foreign ministers, prime ministers, and other luminaries – has urged the European Union (EU) and its member states to explore the Palestinian statehood issue. In early December 2010, this group addressed an open letter (VIP letter) to the EU. The VIP letter makes reference to the twelve “Council resolutions on the Middle East peace process,” which the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted on December 8, 2009. Since then, they write, “we appear to be no closer to a resolution” and the reason is that “developments on the ground, primarily Israel’s continuation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem, pose an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state also embracing Gaza, and therefore pose a commensurate threat to a two-state solution to the conflict.”

The VIP letter further states: “We believe the EU should at the December 2010 Council meeting set a date at which it will take further action. It should, for example, say that if there is no progress by its next meeting scheduled for April 2011, this will leave the Council with no alternative but to refer the matter to the international community [the UN] to enable the latter to lead efforts to define a vision and a strategy for a resolution of this conflict.”

Further, the VIP letter quotes from the EU Council’s 2009 document to the effect that the EU “will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties.” In response to unilateral measures by Israel, “we recommend that the EU reiterate its position that it will not recognize any changes to the June 1967 boundaries, and clarify that a Palestinian state should be in sovereign control over territory equivalent to 100% of the territory occupied in 1967, including its capital in East Jerusalem.”

The White House had, prior to the VIP letter’s publication, acknowledged Israel’s refusal to stop settlements.

It is unclear what effect the VIP letter had or will have on the EU. But on December 16, 2010, Palestinian Authority negotiator Nabil Shaath asked the EU and several member states to recognize a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Faced with this formal request from the Palestinian Authority and citing growing frustration with the Israeli settlement expansions, the EU warned that it is seriously considering recognizing an independent Palestine along the 1967 borders.

The move by the EU would follow high profile recognitions by Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in early December. Other Mercosur members and associate members may follow. (Mecosur is an economic and political agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay founded in 1991. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela currently have associate member status.) In addition, Norway declared its support.

Predictably, the Israelis are outraged. An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said, “Recognition of a Palestinian state is a violation of the interim agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995, which established that the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be discussed and solved through negotiations.” He also claimed that such a stance violated provisions in the Oslo Accords and the Road Map. But really, has the Netanyahu government ever respected the provisions of those agreements. Israel’s continued building of settlements is one glaring example. And why should Israel have the final say on the borders of a Palestinian state?

What would happen if the Mideast conflict landed back to the UN? In the General Assembly an overwhelming majority would probably vote to recognize a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. But what about the Security Council? How would the U.S. vote?

In this regard, on December 15, the lame duck Congress passed Res. 1765 by a voice vote . Presented by U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D. Cal) — a self-described Zionist — the resolution states that the Palestinians are “pursuing a coordinated strategy of seeking recognition of a Palestinian state within the United Nations, in other international forums, and from a number of foreign governments;” and some Latin American governments are moving in that direction; and, on the other, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said only negotiations can lead to a Palestinian state, a position endorsed by Israel; the Congress therefore opposes any such recognition strategy, calls on Palestinians to cease and desist from such efforts, and rather return to negotiations. The resolution ends with a call on the Administration to “affirm that the United States would deny recognition to any unilaterally declared Palestinian state and veto any resolution by the United Nations Security Council to establish or recognize a Palestinian state outside of an agreement by the two parties.”

What will President Obama do in the face of this biased resolution?

Clearly, pressure is being applied on Israel by the international community. The U.S. cannot continue to be treated like a doormat by Israel. The credibility of the UN, the EU, and the U.S. is at stake. As more and more countries recognize the Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, the matter may ultimately have to be debated and decided in the UN.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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  1. PART 3
    The historical answer
    Was it really like that? I turn now from the biblical answer to the historical answer. The Bible is a little library of books of many genres. Its narratives can be mythical (or symbolic), legendary, fictional or historical. In the Bible we do have some genuine historiography but only from about 900 bce onwards. What precedes that is pseudo-history, a mixture of myth, legend and tribal oral tradition and even then it is told from the point of view of the final victors of Canaan. From this it is possible to reconstruct a general account of what took place in the Holy Land before the reign of King David.

    The stories of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, shadowy figures though these now are, nevertheless point to a time when semi-nomadic tribes from Aramaea began to infiltrate into the land of the Canaanite city-states. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not related to one another as father, son and grandson, as the Bible now portrays them. The names refer to separate tribal migrations. The Abraham migration settled round Hebron. The Isaac migration settled near Beersheba. The Jacob tribe settled near Shechem, or modern Nablus.

    There is good reason to conclude that some, but by no means all, of these Aramaean settlers did go down to Egypt, even though there is absolutely no archaeological evidence to confirm their presence there. The biblical figure of Joseph is entirely fictional. Some scholars have referred to the Joseph story7 as the first novel ever written. Its purpose was to join up the patriarchal traditions with the Mosaic tradition in order to form one continuous narrative. There probably was an historical Moses, for his name is Egyptian and not Hebrew. He probably did lead a migration back to Canaan but it was relatively small, say, about five thousand people. On entering the Holy Land they linked up with their fellow Hebrews and made a tribal treaty with them; memories of this amphictyony, as it technically called, are found in the covenant described in Joshua, chapter 24.

    But these early tribes did not annihilate the Canaanites, as the book of Joshua implies, though there were some fierce local skirmishes. They lived in reasonable harmony with the Canaanites, occupying the pastoral stretches of land outside the Canaanite city-states. It was not until a common enemy arrived on the scene that the Israelites and the Canaanites eventually became integrated into one people.

    The common enemy were the Philistines. These were not a Semitic people but a highly cultured people of Greek origin, who landed on the Mediterranean coast in the twelfth century bce. They introduced the use of iron for both weapons and farm implements; thus they took the Holy Land out of the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age. They established strong walled cities along the coast, some of whose names have survived to this day — Gaza, Ashdod, and Askelon.

    As soon as they were well established, the Philistines began to move into the interior, and, because of their superior weapons, they were able to make the Israelites and the Canaanites subject to their rule. It was the need to re-establish their independence, which brought the Canaanites and the Israelites together in a common cause. Under the leadership of David, the young new Israelite king, the Philistines were finally forced back to their coastal cities. There their power and influence remained until Roman times. That is why the Romans called the Holy Land Palestina — the land of the Philistines.

    Thereafter David established a strong and stable Kingdom, which at its height included much of modern Jordan and Syria. He also subjugated the remaining Canaanite cities, the most important of which was Jerusalem. From this time onwards the indigenous Canaanites and the incoming Israelites began to fuse into one people though it took some centuries. The Israelite tribal traditions dominated the culture of the people but the indigenous religious practices, celebrated at what were called the ‘high-places’, were not finally eradicated until the seventh century.

    In some ways David had established a mini-empire and his rule was looked back upon as the Golden Age. It was his son Solomon, who squandered this inheritance; he imposed forced labour in order to carry out his lavish building programme, which included the first Temple. As a result the Kingdom of David split into two on the death of Solomon. The larger section rejected the dynasty of David, took to themselves the name of Israel, and established a new capital at Samaria in the north. The smaller group, which remained faithful to the Davidic dynasty and retained Jerusalem, called itself Judah; it is from this term that we derive the word Jew.

  2. PART 2
    The biblical answer
    The biblical answer runs like this, starting with the story of Abraham. All Jews claim to be his descendants; so the Holy Land is rightfully theirs since it was given by God to Abraham and his descendants. Abraham belonged to the northern section of the Semitic people — the Aramaeans. The Jews long preserved this memory in the liturgy of their harvest festival, which began with the words, ‘A wandering Aramaean was my father’.1

    The story of the Jewish people started when Abraham heard God say to him, ‘Go from your country and your kindred to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great. By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves’.2 So Abraham left Aramaea (which is today Northeastern Syria) and went forth to the land of Canaan. And when he reached Canaan God appeared to Abraham and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land’.3 Elsewhere in the Bible this promise is made even more explicit — ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates’.4 That meant everything between the Nile in Egypt and the Euphrates in Mesopotamia and, today, would include both the Sinai Peninsula at one end and most of Syria at the other.

    In this very secular age many people may regard this ancient biblical material to be quite irrelevant. We need to remember, however, that all devout and religious Jews, supported by many Christian fundamentalists, take these ancient divine promises very seriously. The Jewish claim to possess the Holy Land, therefore, rests initially on a divinely given right, though few would be brave enough today to lay claim to the whole of both Sinai and Syria.

    Even in the Bible, however, the process by which the descendants of Abraham actually took possession of the land of Canaan is much more complicated and is related in two successive traditions. In the first of these5 we are told how Abraham and his descendants entered Canaan as semi-nomadic people who occupied the land not being used by the Canaanites. The Canaanites lived in walled cities and farmed the land in their immediate vicinity. For some centuries, therefore, the Abrahamic tribes shared the Holy Land with the Canaanites, mostly in peace but occasionally in conflict. There was even some intermarriage.

    The second tradition starts with a time of famine, when the descendants of Abraham were forced to migrate to Egypt in search of food. By divine providence one of their number, Joseph, had already preceded them and risen to a position of prominence in Egypt from which he could welcome them and provide for them. According to this tradition the Hebrews, as they were now called, stayed in Egypt for some centuries until they were eventually reduced to slavery. They were delivered out of bondage and led back to the Promised Land by Moses.

    The epic story of how this occurred dominated Jewish life thereafter. It stretches out over five whole books of the Bible — from Exodus to Joshua. This story constitutes a second tradition of how the ancestors of the Jewish people entered into possession of the Holy Land and there is a striking difference between the two. The first entry was by peaceful infiltration; the second was by military force. Moses led his people for forty years in the wilderness and lived only long enough to view the Promised Land from Mt. Nebo, which is in present day Jordan. It was left to Joshua to conquer the land from the Canaanites by force, starting with Jericho. As told in the book of Joshua, this was a quite bloody affair. Joshua and his army went from one Canaanite city to another and ‘smote it with the edge of the sword and every person in it he utterly destroyed’. 6 According to the Bible the Israelite ancestors of the Jews not only conquered the Holy Land by force but they also completely exterminated the Canaanite population and then proceeded to parcel out the land to their own twelve tribes.

  3. PART 1
    What is the Holy Land?
    We start with the Israeli claim to the possession of the Holy Land. The Holy Land is a relatively small piece of territory. In ancient times it used to be called Canaan and was said to stretch from Dan to Beersheba. At Dan, the northern boundary, the chief source of the Jordan river pours out as a large spring from the foot of the snow-capped Mt. Hermon. Beersheba in the south was on the edge of the desert which stretched all the way to the Gulf of Aqaba, and joins the Sinai Peninsula.

    The Canaanites
    Since special rights of ownership are accorded these days to indigenous people; so we should first ask: Who were the indigenous people of the Holy Land? No one can say! Being the bridge between Africa and Asia this land was inhabited from very early times. But the earliest inhabitants of whom we have any historical knowledge were the Canaanites. They were a Semitic people, basically of the same stock as the Phoenicians, who occupied ancient Lebanon. The Canaanites and the Phoenicians constituted the Western branch of the Semitic family, the Northern being the Aramaeans, the Eastern the Assyrians and Babylonians, and the Southern the Arabs. The language known as Hebrew, originated as the language of the Canaanites
    According to archaeological and historical evidence, the Israelites probably emerged during the Early Iron Age, between 1400 and 1100 BCE.

    How are Jews and Canaanites related?
    If the Canaanites were the earliest known indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land, how are they related to the Jewish people, who now lay claim to the Holy Land as theirs by right?

    Let me sketch two quite different answers to this question — the biblical answer and the historical answer

  4. In a highly controversial book, “When and How Was the Jewish People Invented?”, Israeli scholar Shlomo Sand argues, among other things, that: (a) the Diaspora–the founding narrative of modern Israel–was actually a myth, there being no evidence that the Romans drove all the Jews into the wilderness en masse; (b) many of the European Jews who moved to Palestine after the Holocaust were really not related to the Jews who once dwelt in the Holy Land, but had descended from Europeans living in the Kingdom of the Khazars (in eastern Russia), who converted to Judaism in the 8th or 9th century; and (c) that the people known as “Palestinians” today are probably descendents of the Jews who lived in Jesus’s time. Sand’s book calls into question some long held paradigms such as the argument that “the Jews” are an eternal monad, who have somehow stayed genetically distinct from every other people throughout history and that the Jews who live in Israel today are the direct descendents of the Jews whom Moses guided to the Promised Land. Sand’s book should make for some lively discussion.

  5. Don’t forget that 76% of the original Palestinian mandate was used to create “Transjordan”, which later became known as “Jordan”. So in reality the Jewish people, who also have a right to self-dertermination – moreso than the Palestinians, only occupied a considerably small portion of the land. And don’t foget that at no time before 1967 did Jordan or Egypt offer to give the Palestinian Arabs a state. Indeed, Jordan expelled the PLO for trying to topple the Hashemite kingdom.