Palestine does not need to be established as a state, because it is one already, and has been for millennia, writes Laila Takla
In discussions on the Palestinian question following Washington’s recent decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel we frequently hear talk of “creating” a Palestinian state. In fact, it would be more appropriate to speak of “recognising” that state. Palestine is an established state. Its existence is based on the same resolution that established the state of Israel. That resolution did not abolish Palestine; it divided it in order to give a portion of it to the Zionists. The partition resolution applied to an already existing entity.
Palestine has existed since antiquity. Herodotus, in the fifth century BC, spoke of the cities of “Palaistinê” that were located in the coastal area between Jaffa and Wadi Al-Arish. They had been inhabited since the 12th century BC by a people called the Philistines. In the second century AD, in the wake of the Jewish revolt in 132 AD, the Roman imperial authorities abolished the state of Judaea and created an area with clearly defined political boundaries that they called “Palaestina”. In the era of the Islamic caliphate, Palestine was referred to as “Jund Filastin”. Its historic borders “from the river to the sea” were designated in numerous documents that resulted from the various negotiations and agreements between the empires that controlled the Middle East and that eventually drew its political borders in the early 20th century. An area long the object of invaders, it fell under the British mandate following World War I.
After World War II, the newly formed United Nations organisation, which replaced the League of Nations, decided to review the mandates that the League of Nations had given to European imperial powers. The British mandate over Palestine was the most important and most complicated case. The idea to partition Palestine first emerged in two reports, one by the Peel Commission in 1937 and the other by the Woodhead Commission in 1938. Both commissions were formed by the British government that tasked them with studying the Palestinian question in light of the great Palestinian uprising from 1933 to 1939.
In May 1947, the UN created the Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) in order to find a solution to the Arab-Jewish dispute. The committee proposed two schemes, one calling for the establishment of two independent states, whereby a portion of Palestine would be allocated for the creation of a Jewish state and Jerusalem would be placed under international administration until the two sides agreed over its fate. The second proposal called for a federation consisting of the two states. The UN agreed to the partition scheme and submitted it to the General Assembly for discussion. There were 57 members in the UN at the time. The countries that were defeated in World War II
— Germany, Japan and their allies — were under occupation and banned from the international organisation. Most of the African and Southeast Asian countries had not yet attained their independence.
On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 by a majority that included the three major powers of the time, France, the Soviet Union and the US. The resolution provided for the “partition of Palestine” into three areas. One, about 11,000 square kilometres, was designated for an Arab state and the second, about 15,000 square kilometres, was designated for a Jewish state. A third area, consisting of Jerusalem and environs, was to be placed under international supervision.
The resolution met with overwhelming outrage at both the official and grassroots levels in the Arab region. Angry demonstrations condemning it were staged in the streets of Cairo and other Arab capitals. Officials described it as unfair and prejudicial against the Arabs. At the time, the Arabs constituted the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine (67 per cent as opposed to 33 per cent Jews). Yet the resolution offered 56.5 per cent of Palestine to the Jews who, at the time, only owned seven per cent of the land there.
Most Jews were satisfied with the decision. However, extremist Zionists such as Shamir and Menachem Begin, the head of the Zionist militant group, the Irgun, and a member of the underground Stern Gang, rejected the partition resolution and proclaimed that the whole of Palestine, including the region then referred to as the Transjordan, belonged to the Jews “and would remain so for all eternity”.
It is important to underscore such statements as they testify to the Zionist intention, from the outset, to seize the whole of the land of historic Palestine, in spite of the partition resolution and the many subsequent meetings and agreements that were reached from Madrid to Oslo and beyond.
Israel has since steadily expanded, relentlessly constructing settlements on occupied territory and seizing the whole of Jerusalem in flagrant violation of international law. It has simultaneously committed untold numbers of brutal crimes and human rights abuses against Palestinian political leaders and civilians, including women, children and the elderly. Numerous international resolutions have condemned the occupation and its practices as it relentlessly strove to destroy a people who were struggling to liberate their land and attain their right to statehood.
On 29 November 2012, the UN granted Palestine observer status. Yet, we have reached an unprecedented stage in history in which Israel is backed by a major world power in its drive to eliminate Palestine and seize control of its land. That power has not only departed from all previous positions of its government, it has violated international agreements and conventions that it, itself, had approved. That power had posed as a neutral mediator and now has revealed itself as an active accomplice in the aggression against an occupied territory. Washington has taken an unjust decision. It was rejected by the overwhelming majority of the Security Council and, once again, by the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly.
So where does all this leave us now?
The international climate is ripe for a just solution to the cause of a people who have waited too long for justice. The time is right to build up the momentum of a drive spearheaded by countries and organisations that strive for peace and justice to recognise the state of Palestine on the basis of the same resolution that sanctioned the creation of Israel and other relevant international resolutions and agreements. As for the status of Jerusalem, as the international resolutions state, it should be resolved by negotiations between the two concerned parties, by which is not meant Israel and the US.
Article 8 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Protected persons may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights secured to them by the present convention.” In addition, according to international laws and conventions, upon the termination of a mandate, the mandated territories should be restored to their rightful owners. In the case of Palestine, the land was given to a country that had wrongfully seized the land for the purposes of an operation to import people from across the globe on the basis of a particular ideological/religious affiliation.
Palestine has been subjected to numerous invasions and colonisations over the eons, from the Pharaohs and Assyrians, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, to the Arab caliphates, the Ottomans and the British, and finally the Israelis after the defeat of 1948. All those peoples had settled in Palestine at one point or another. Do they all have a right to that country?
Palestine in the annals of history is described as an Arab state. It is time to acknowledge this fact by recognising this state as an independent entity with a capital of its own. That project may seem difficult, but history has shown that nothing is impossible. If Israel, in a relatively short period of time, could manage to convince the world in a state project that was fundamentally unjust and had no legal foundation, surely the world can manage to recognise an already existing state that does have a legal foundation. Israel used every means at its disposal towards its ends. Surely, we should deploy the many cards that we possess and that we tend to use just as threats.