With the independence of the new Republic of South Sudan, the world isagain reminded that states are created on the basis of local, regionaland international necessity. At least two decades of internationalaction, as well as a long, bitter and bloody conflict produced theindependence of the south, a state that has been already welcomed bythe 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 theinternational community. In recent decades numerous new countries havecome into existence, arising out of the former Soviet Union, theformer Yugoslavia, the split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia,the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, and so forth. Yet more than 60years after its existence was envisaged by the UN partition plan forPalestine, more than 40 years after its creation was implied in the UNSecurity Council resolutions 242 and 338, and almost 20 years sincethe 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 damagethis failure to secure Palestinian independence is having on theMiddle East as a region, and, indeed, throughout the globe. TheIsraeli-Palestinian conflict and the ongoing occupation that began in1967 is completely disproportionate to its geographical anddemographic size because of the profound emotional, ideological,religious and symbolic investment people throughout the world havemade in it. Passions run high far beyond Israel and the occupiedPalestinian territories, and it's no exaggeration to describe theconflict and the occupation as a cancer on the body politic of theglobal community.
The bottom line is this: in the area between the Jordan River and theMediterranean Sea -- what has been the de facto Israeli state since1967 -- there are approximately equal numbers, about 6 million ofboth, of Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Onegroup has a state, citizenship, self-determination and independence. Asmall group of Palestinians, about 1 million, are citizens of Israelbut subject to significant forms of discrimination. But the largemajority of Palestinians live in the occupied territories withoutcitizenship or enfranchisement of any kind, self-determination orindependence, and are subject to the arbitrary and typically abusiverule of a foreign military. Moreover, they have watched as their landis steadily colonized by Israeli settlements, which are both aviolation of international law and a human rights abuse against thoseliving under occupation according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.Nowhere in the world is there any comparable level of separate andunequal as there is under Israeli rule in the occupied Palestinianterritories.
David Ben-Gurion, who was Israel's prime minister twice, during1948-1953 and 1955-1963, respectively, eloquently spoke in 1945 of theJewish yearning for national validation and self-determination. Hestated, "We are a people without a State and, therefore, a peoplewithout 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 aPalestinian leader in 2011.
Two years later, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations GeneralAssembly passed Resolution 181, recommending the partition ofPalestine into two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with theJerusalem-Bethlehem area to be placed under special internationalprotection, administered by the United Nations. However, the UNSecurity Council failed to implement Resolution 181, and as soon asthe British Mandate was terminated, Jewish leaders declared theestablishment of Israel, leading to the intervention by five Arabarmies in what was already a raging communal civil war in Palestine.This conflict left Israel in de facto possession of not the 55 percentof mandatory Palestine envisaged in the partition resolution, but 78percent, which are now generally regarded as the internationallyaccepted borders of Israel.
Sixty-three years later, and following seven wars, the displacement ofover a million Palestinian refugees during the 1948 and 1967 wars (whonow number more than four million), two Palestinian intifadas, andcountless dead and wounded, Israel remains a nation at war and infear, and Palestinian national aspirations remain totally unfulfilled.Israeli settlements continue to be built at an alarming pace, with 200already constructed, and the half-million Jewish Israeli colonistsliving in them are squeezing Palestinians into ever smaller areas ofthe West Bank and Jerusalem, and denying them access to water andother resources.
Peace efforts such as the Oslo accords (1993); Wye River accord(1998); Camp David meeting (2000); Taba negotiations betweenPalestinian 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 wouldlive side by side within secure and recognized borders (2002); theArab 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 havesucceeded 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 ofthe past, have created a serious disconnect between Israelis andPalestinians. Each national community is caught up in its owntendentious and exclusive narratives: Israel using the past and thepresent to create the future; the Palestinians using the present torecreate the past in service of the future. Both are laboring underserious illusions.
Unfortunately, while US policy has emphasized that a two-statesolution is imperative for American national interests, because of the"special relationship" between the two countries, in practice itremains steadfastly in Israel's corner, vetoing 26 UN Security Councildraft resolutions on Palestine since July 1973. Domestic politicalconsiderations and a powerful American popular and elite consensus insupport of Israel make pressuring that country in the normaldiplomatic 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 ofAmerican participation, they are not taking any inordinate risks inentering into a peace agreement with the Palestinians. So far, thisstrategy, while theoretically promising, has yet to demonstrate muchefficacy.
According to almost all opinion polls, most Palestinians and Israelisare in favor of a negotiated two-state solution, based on the 1967borders, with agreed upon land swaps. Unfortunately, similarly largemajorities do not believe it will happen and do not trust the otherside's intentions. Unless President Barack Obama is able to persuadeIsraeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to negotiate on theaforementioned parameters, then the Palestinians will be facing manymore checkpoints and a stonewall of delay while the Israelis continueto seize more Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Unfortunately, many Palestinians and Israelis believe that Netanyahuhas no interest in pursuing a negotiated solution along the lines thatPalestinians would deem acceptable. And, even more unfortunately, hisunenthusiastic approach to the peace process and insistent emphasis onsecurity above all, including peace, has proven extremely popular inIsrael and he leads an unlikely but extraordinarily stable coalitiongovernment. In other words, his default position of saying "no" toeverything is serving his political interests, leaving him with fewincentives to be more forthcoming.
However, as numerous Israelis with impeccable national securitycredentials, including some very strongly rooted in the politicalright, have been publicly stating in recent months, it is essential toIsrael's national interest to help secure the creation of a viable,democratic and peaceful State of Palestine. While the Israelioccupation resulted from conditions of the 1960s or even earlier, thetime for its ending has come. An independent, contiguous, and securePalestine (democratic, pluralistic, non-militarized, and neutral)living in peace alongside Israel is, as an apparent consensus ofIsraeli national security experts appear to recognize, the only way tosecure Israel's long-term safety and stability. The occupation isuntenable, dangerous and, ultimately, self-destructive.
The Arab states, as well as the United States and Israel, stronglyrequire the creation of a Palestinian state for their fundamentalnational interests. For too long the Palestinian question has been avolatile, destabilizing variable in regional politics, the source ofconflict and tension, and a powerful tool in the hands of extremistsof many different varieties. This understanding was most importantlyexpressed through the Arab Peace Initiative, but has also beenrepeatedly emphasized by Arab leaders across the region. King AbdullahII of Jordan, in his memoir, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit ofPeace in a Time of Peril, expressed "a sense of urgency, a convictionthat the window for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isclosing." We agree with him when he states, "Both sides have a moralresponsibility to strive for peace... the alternative is more conflictand violence."
Every moment that is lost only benefits the proponents of extremism onall sides. Albeit a minority, they will continue to monopolize thepolitical narrative and dictate the facts on the ground in the absenceof peace. The moderates will lose heart and fade away in the smoke ofviolence and hate and the fog of deception.
Enlightened leadership not only leads and serves but finds like-mindedfollowers as well, leaders in their own right, who would be eager tosustain positive change for the common good of both Palestinians andIsraelis. It not only responds to constituencies, it creates them. Theneed for allies for peace and statehood is equally important as theneed for such a consensus locally, regionally, and internationally.
What Ben Gurion envisioned for his people in 1945, all Palestinianshave sought for decades. It is high time that the United States andthe rest of the international community stood by them, not justrhetorically 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 memberstate of the United Nations. Without a doubt this will require Israeliacquiescence as well, which means that negotiations are unavoidableand indispensable.
But the international community has an important role to play inlaying the groundwork for such an agreement, making it crystal clearthat it will accept no other outcome, applying both negative andpositive pressure on both sides to make it happen, and doingeverything possible to avoid any other outcome. Simply leaving it upto the parties, which are defined by the most extreme degree of powerasymmetry imaginable, is not a viable option. Internationalengagement, led by but not exclusive to the United States, is moreindispensable now than ever. Especially given the role theinternational community played in the creation of Israel, it has aright and a responsibility to play a similar role in the creation ofPalestine.
This is a delicate process, and we are not proposing an implausibleand impracticable "imposition" of a solution on the parties by aninternational community that is unwilling and probably unable to takesuch steps. Nor are we suggesting that the Palestinian demand for fullUN membership in September is likely to prove successful. Clearly afailed confrontation with the United States at the UN Security Councilover the issue of statehood is not in anybody's interest, let alonethe Palestinians. However, a greater role for the internationalcommunity in resolving this exceptionally damaging and destabilizingongoing conflict is essential. Palestinians can and should receive amajor upgrade of their observer mission status from the GeneralAssembly, and should be recognized on a bilateral basis by every statethat is serious about Israeli-Palestinian peace.
There is much the international community can do to promote atwo-state solution, particularly by clarifying its unshakablecommitment to this outcome and its categorical refusal to accept anyalternative. There is no longer any excuse for postponing or delayingsuch measures. They do not undermine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations;they support them insofar as they make the only reasonable, workableoutcome far more likely and demonstrate that the world expects andwill help the parties arrive at a two-state solution in the nearfuture. The international community has made its commitment to Israelvery clear since 1948. It must now move quickly to make its commitmentto Palestine alongside Israel equally clear, especially to thePalestinians and the Israelis.
Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Forceon Palestine and blogs at www.ibishblog.com. Saliba Sarsar isprofessor of political science and associate vice president for globalinitiatives at Monmouth University, and is a member of the Board ofDirectors of the American Task Force on Palestine.