Time for a Palestinian state?


Next Tuesday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will make a formal application for UN membership. The Palestinian ambassador in Dublin, Dr Hikmat Ajjuri, and the Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai set the scene from their respective viewpoints

It is high time for world states including Ireland to recognise the state of Palestine and to support its accession to the United Nations, writes HIKMAT AJJURI

ON SEPTEMBER 20th, President Mahmoud Abbas will make a formal application for United Nations membership for the state of Palestine. If successful, Palestine will be the 194th member of the UN. We have been told by Israel and others it is somehow inappropriate for us to take our case for statehood to the UN, but it is hard to imagine a more relevant matter for the UN to act upon, considering the UN charter enshrines the principles of self-determination and respect for nations’ sovereignty.

Article 1 of the charter says one of “the purposes of the UN” is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self- determination of peoples”. How can self- determination and statehood for the Palestinian people not be an appropriate agenda item for the UN?

Israel’s own legitimacy as a state is derived from UN General Assembly Resolution 181, passed on November 29th, 1947. The role of the UN in the birth of Israel is acknowledged in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948: “On the 29th November, 1947, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the UN of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.”

If the UN had a role in the creation of the Israeli state, how can it be inappropriate for it now to have a role in that of a Palestinian state? The right of the Palestinian people to an independent, sovereign state has awaited implementation for 64 years. It is a long overdue debt owed by the international community to our people.

When the British government sought to terminate its mandate in Palestine in 1947, the international community, through the UN, recommended a solution to the conflict between immigrant Jewish communities and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs. That solution, contained in UN General Assembly Resolution 181, called for the creation of two states, with Jerusalem under international control. Today, however, only one state, Israel, exists and is a full member of the UN.

In 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) declared the establishment of the state of Palestine in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, that is, in just 22 per cent of our historic homeland. By limiting our national aspirations to this extent, the PLO made a historic compromise in the interest of peace.

From then on, the way has been open for a two-state solution, a Palestinian state in 22 per cent of mandate Palestine, with Israel continuing to exist in the other 78 per cent – but this generous gesture by Palestinians has never been reciprocated by Israel.

It continues to occupy the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which it has illegally annexed. It continues to expand its settlements on stolen Palestinian land, contrary to Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention – in 1993, there were about 150,000 Jewish settlers: today, there are more than 500,000. This is undermining the viability of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leadership wants a negotiated two-state solution, but Israel refuses to negotiate on a realistic basis.

In February 2009, during his election campaign, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he would “not withdraw from one inch” of territory.

In his speech to the US Congress on May 24th this year, he set preconditions that would make a viable Palestinian state impossible, saying no to a return to the 1967 borders, no to military withdrawal from the Jordan river (so a future Palestinian state would be completely encircled by Israeli armed forces), no to a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and no to even a symbolic return of some refugees. There cannot be realistic negotiations for an independent and viable Palestinian state when Israel lays down preconditions such as these.

The internationally approved framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is the road map, drawn up by the Quartet in 2003 and endorsed by the Security Council. It was accepted by Israel in May 2003. Under the road map, Israel was supposed to freeze all settlement activity prior to the start of negotiations. Israel has categorically refused to fulfil this obligation.

The territory which is supposed to belong one day to a Palestinian state is being steadily eaten into by Jewish colonisation.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore told the Dáil on July 13th: “The continuing Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories is at the heart of the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict . . . It is the continuing occupation, and the creation and growth of illegal settlements on the occupied lands, which are now the major obstacles to peace.”

Now is the time for the international community, including Ireland, to help us overcome these obstacles by recognising the state of Palestine on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and by supporting its admission to UN membership.

By these steps the international community would reaffirm its commitment to a Palestinian state being established in this territory and would re-emphasise that Israel has no valid claim to any part of this territory, which it took over by force in 1967. This conforms to the long-established principle of international law that the acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible, as the Security Council has stated on many occasions in relation to Palestine.

Recognition of the state of Palestine is not a substitute for negotiations. Rather, it increases the possibility of reaching a just and lasting peace based on the terms of reference accepted by the international community as the basis for resolving the conflict.

Dr Hikmat Ajjuri is the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland

The demand for full Palestinian statehood resonates particularly with the sympathies of the Irish. However there is more to the issue than meets the eye,writes BOAZ MODAI

SINCE THE 1993 Oslo Accords, relations between Israel and the Palestinians have been based on dialogue. Now the Palestinian Authority has decided to take a unilateral action. After a speech by the authority’s chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, on September 20th, the UN General Assembly will vote on his demand for recognition of full Palestinian statehood.

At first sight, the demand seems an eminently just and reasonable one; for historical reasons, it resonates particularly with the sympathies of Irish people. However there is much more to the issue than meets the eye, and I would sincerely ask Irish readers to take pause for thought before making up their minds.

First, a little background. When the UN General Assembly voted in 1947 to set up the first ever state for Palestinian Arabs, the resolution was accepted by the newly born state of Israel but rejected by the Arab leadership and surrounding Arab states, which went on to launch a war of extermination against the Jewish state.

When Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip were occupied (illegally) by Jordan and Egypt respectively between 1948 and 1967, the Palestinians made no demand for a separate state.

Palestinian nationalism, therefore, does not have a long pedigree.

Nevertheless, Israel has accepted for several decades the existence of a Palestinian national movement. Further, Israeli governments of left and right headed by six prime ministers, as well as a large majority of Israeli public opinion, have recognised the Palestinian people’s right to a national homeland, a state living in peace alongside the existing state of Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people.

As far as acceptance in principle of their state by Israel goes, the Palestinians are pushing at an open door. The only problem lies in the implementation of such a noble vision.

The current Palestinian unilateral initiative at the UN is dangerous to peace on several counts.

Some claim that it arises out of “frustration” at the failure of the peace process since the 1990s Oslo Accords to raise their status from autonomy to full independence. This view ignores the repeated efforts of Israel to reach a final status agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state.

In the talks at Camp David in 2000 and at Taba in 2001, Israel offered almost all of the West Bank (with land swaps for the rest) and all of Gaza for such a state. The Palestinian leadership rejected the offers and instead launched the second intifada, in which 1,200 Israeli citizens died violently. Another generous offer from the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to Mr Abbas at Annapolis in 2008 was similarly rejected.

In August 2005, all Israeli troops in Gaza were withdrawn and all 9,000 Jewish settlers were uprooted from their homes and farms there, at huge cost to the state. In conflict resolution, a move of this kind is usually seen as a goodwill gesture, a “down payment” on the full concession, and brings a reciprocal gesture from the other side.

Not so in Gaza, where the agenda was set by its terrorist Hamas rulers. The rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel, which had averaged 10 attacks a week from 2001 until the withdrawal, escalated to 21 a week in the following two years and to 64 a week by mid-2008.

In all, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars were launched at Israel’s civilian communities. The attacks continue – more than 550 this year so far.

The agenda of Hamas is clear both from its 1988 charter and from recent statements by its leadership.

Its goal is the destruction of Israel and its method is violent jihad. Any apparent concessions it is willing to make are, at best, merely tactical steps towards that goal.

The UN vote initiative is being put forward in the name of a notional “unity” coalition government of Fatah and Hamas. The biggest danger is that a positive vote at the UN risks legitimising Hamas, a body that has been condemned as a terrorist organisation by the Quartet of the UN, US, the EU and Russia.

Palestinian spokespeople speak of the “1967 borders” (which are merely the armistice lines that lasted from 1949 to 1967) as the rightful boundaries of their new state, citing UN Security Council Resolution 242.

That resolution though did not call on Israel to withdraw all the way to those lines; it did, however, say that all states should have “secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”, and that only negotiation can establish such boundaries.

Why has Mr Abbas turned his back on negotiations with Israel, his only possible partner for peace, and allied himself with Hamas?

The reason given is an issue that was never previously a barrier to negotiation – the settlements. Jews who choose to live in Judea and Samaria, the cradle of Jewish civilisation, are described as part of a “colonisation” of Palestinian land, although their towns actually occupy less than 2 per cent of West Bank land.

While Israel accepts the fact that one-fifth of its population is Arab (both Muslim and Christian), it was Mr Abbas, the Palestinian moderate (?) leader, who promised that a future Palestinian state will not allow even one Jew to live within its borders.

Settlements, like all other final status issues such as Jerusalem, the refugee question and secure borders, are a matter that can only be resolved through face-to-face negotiation around the negotiating table.

Other initiatives may temporarily win the world’s attention, but can only lead the Israeli and Palestinian peoples into, at best, a cul-de-sac, with real peace as far away as ever.

Boaz Modai is the Israeli ambassador to Ireland

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