Palestine still has problems
Last week, perhaps the most significant event in Middle Eastern history occurred: Palestine officially became an internationally recognized state. With the United Nations General Assembly voting overwhelmingly (only nine countries voted no, particularly the United State and Israel) to recognize Palestine as an official non-UN member state, the long fight for sovereignty and self-determination has been achieved. Now Palestine can legally participate in the Geneva Conventions, the International Criminal Court, and global organizations. However, there is still much work to be done in Palestine, as it will now have to accept responsibility for the actions of its people, but also a major change will have to begin in Israel.
It’s no surprise that the far-right Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t want to have Palestine recognized. A man close to the mentality of Ariel Sharon, identified by some as a militarist and even war criminal, Netanyahu essentially considers Palestine as Israeli property, and is very serious when it comes to Zionism. For those who don’t know, Zionism is fundamentally an ideology that believes that a Jewish state of Israel (as opposed to a state for Jews, if you can see the distinction) must occupy and reclaim its believed ancient territories (which include Palestine and bits of surrounding countries) and establish settlements of poor Jewish farmers in order to fulfill prophecy and have the Messiah come. As Christopher Hitchens, a supporter of a two-state solution, once said critically, “It’s a waste of Judaism.” So true, and many Israelis and Jews throughout the world are actually opposed to the far-right doctrines of Netanyahu and favor a state of Palestine, as former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert does.
One of the biggest issues of the past few decades has been the question of Palestinian control of the West Bank (Gaza finally came under control of all of Gaza years ago). For years the Israeli state has forcefully been pushing out inhabitants of the West Bank in order to establish Israeli settlements and essentially make the surrounding areas part of Israel. This is why today the Palestinian Authority, the internationally recognized government of Palestine (as opposed to Hamas, an Islamic terrorist organization under the guise of a humanitarian group), has sporadic areas of control in the area. This is why Palestinians have been calling to a return of the pre-1967 borders, something that at one point they refused to accept then.
To put everything in historical perspective, during the Israeli-Arab wars of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, the main end game of Palestinians and the Arab states was not coexistence, but the complete elimination of Israel (it should be noted that Palestine is about 10-15% Christian, though Israeli policies count all Palestinians the same). Even when the area of present-day Israel and Jordan was under British control, proposals were made to allow a Jewish state to only occupy three percent of the land (about the size of the West Bank now), yet the Arabs refused the offer – to them there would be no compromising the Arab/Islamic dominion of the land.
After the creation of Israel in 1948, none of the Arab states (with slight exception of Jordan) would take in any of the Palestinians as refugees or new citizens. As far as Arab nationalists like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser were concerned, the Palestinians needed to retake Israel, and if not they could be used as theatrical props for world pity and anti-Israeli sentiment. It was only after Israel itself was able to trounce all of the Arab states in war after war did the idea of coexistence began to become accepted. So, despite the anti-Israeli rhetoric and propaganda of even the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, compromise and coexistence is now the new norm.
Palestinians still have much work to do if they want to build a modern state, and one of the most important issues is to deal with Islamist groups inside their borders. Hamas is arguably the largest group, with a Pan-Islamic outlook (or for it, a restoration of the great Islamic empire that once spread from Spain to Persia) and an anti-Semitic rhetoric. For example, in their charter is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a old Russian Orthodox Church and Czarist fabrication that claims that World Jewry is in a conspiracy to not only establish a Zionist Israeli state but also dominate the world. This insidious document has been a large cause of blatant anti-Semitism historically in Western culture (it helped give rise to fascism in Europe) and has now spilled over into the Middle East. Abbas’s party is essentially left-wing and a member of the Socialist International, so the best hopes for secularists and the West for a non-Islamofascist Palestine lies with Abbas.
Back to Israel, the vote to legitimize the Palestinian state will have repercussions on Netanyahu and his allies. Now, if the Israeli state launches an attack on Palestinians it can be officially declared as an act of war on another state, and Palestinians can invoke the Geneva Convention and accuse the Israeli military of war crimes. Knowing this, Netanyahu’s government has called for a massive increase in Jewish settlements in the West Bank (despite pressure form the Obama administration, Israel recommenced building settlements in 2010), as well as cutting off humanitarian aid as a form of punishment (even in the U.S., conservative members of Congress are proposing to cut off all aid to Palestine). In other words, acting in a political way of being a sore loser.
Don’t expect this article to even begin to explain the deep complexities of this situation; if policy-makers and activists like Jimmy Carter, Edward Said, Bill Clinton, and others haven’t been able to do so yet, then this article can’t. However, the more people know about this issue the more everyone can help out the situation. In the end though, both Israel and Palestine are going to have to reform themselves if they hope to survive. And good luck to the new state of Palestine, welcome to the club.