65 years ago, today, the 29th of November, 1947, the United Nations voted in favor of partitioning Palestine into two states, one for Jews, one for Arabs.
Reports say that all the Jews in Palestine were listening to the radio as the votes were called, and when enough votes were cast to ensure the measure passed, cheers rang out throughout the country. The international community was supporting a Jewish state in Israel for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
Meanwhile, in the Arab capitals, the same news was greeted with anger and dismay. Instead of seeing the glass as half-full – there would be an Arab state in Palestine, the first time there would have ever been an independent majority-Muslim country in these parts – they chose to see the glass as half-empty. Their arch-rivals the Jews were getting a few scraps of land, and they couldn’t tolerate that, and instead of accepting the UN resolution on that fateful day, they rejected it. When Israel declared its independence six months later the Arabs launched an all-out war.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Israel won the War of Independence in 1948/49, and ended up with a lot more territory than it would have had if the Arabs had agreed to the UN proposal. Gaza and the West Bank were under the control of Egypt and Jordan respectively. In 1967 the Arab states made another try to crush the Jewish state, and in the process Israel gained control of not only the West Bank and Gaza but it took the Golan Heights from Syria as well.
Today, November 29, 2012, is a date poised to become part of Palestinian history as well as Israeli history. The UN is expected to vote on accepting Palestine as a “non-member state” – a major upgrade in status. The vote in favor will be overwhelming; a far larger majority than supported the original partition plan 65 years ago.
The only countries clearly opposed are Israel, the US, Germany, and Micronesia. Some countries will abstain. But this is way more than the Palestinians’ “automatic majority” in the UN. Major Western powers such as France, Spain, and possibly even Britain are expected to vote in favor of the resolution.
It’s hard to believe that the US and Germany are siding with Israel for any reason other than to express solidarity. The US and Germany have also said they do not oppose a Palestinian state – they only prefer to see it happen as the result of negotiation rather than a UN vote. Hillary Clinton famously said the Palestinian state gets formed in Jerusalem and Ramallah, not in New York.
But progress in Ramallah and Jerusalem has been very slow. It’s not hard to see why the Palestinians are getting impatient.
In 1993 Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accord. The accords acknowledged a Palestinian right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza, established the Palestinian Authority as an interim method of governing the territories. The Palestinians were supposed to have a state, with “final status” negotiated, within 5 years.
It’s now been nearly 20 years. In the meanwhile the Israeli land grab has continued unabated. Well over 500,000 Israelis now live on land across the “green line,” land that was administered by Jordan prior to 1967. Land where the Palestinian state would exist. Excluding those who live in suburbs of Jerusalem, there are 350,000 Jews living in the West Bank. Israelis in the meanwhile have made life miserable for Palestinians living in “Area C,” the 60% of the land of the West Bank that is under full Israeli security and administrative control – the land of the settlements. Checkpoints make freedom of movement difficult, access to agricultural land is curtailed by the security barrier and by radical extremist violent settlers (a very small percentage of the settlers, but they do a lot of damage), and building is virtually impossible because the Israeli Civil Administration denies building permits to Palestinians in the Area C in an effort to get them to move to Areas A and B, which are under the control of the PA.
It’s a sad irony that 65 years ago the Jews welcomed the partition of Palestine, and accepted a Palestinian state, while the Arabs rejected it. Today the Arabs are welcoming the partition of Palestine and it’s the Jews who are doing the rejecting.
I frequently travel in and around the West Bank. It’s not a big place. If the land for the Palestinians is carved up into too many different sections, bisected by special “bypass” roads for settlers and checkpoints, the Palestinians will not be able to have a “real country.” Many on the Israeli left fear that it’s already going to be almost impossible, the land is so carved up.
As such, as an ardent Zionist – Zionist enough to leave the comfort of America and come live here in Israel – I welcome today’s vote. The only possible solution here that leaves a Jewish state an enduring state and not a blip in the march of history is the two-state solution. If the Palestinians don’t get their own state, the only option will be the “one state” solution. And we can’t morally annex the West Bank with making the population citizens. And that would be the end of the Jewish state and the Zionist dream. Any other alternatives are nothing but wishful thinking of the Israeli far right. The status quo is not sustainable forever.
I wish my country would follow a wiser a path. The wiser path would be to vote in favor of the Palestinian state today, and hold out a hand, in peace, welcoming negotiations on the details of difficult issues such as borders. To immediately stop ANY construction of new settlements in the West Bank.
But we won’t. The right-wing “Likud-Beiteinu” government of Netanyahu and Lieberman insists on taking us down a path of increasing international isolation.
Yes, one “historical error” may be corrected today – the Arab rejection of the Jewish state of Israel. It is, sadly, being offset by another “historical error” – the Jewish Israeli rejection of the state of Palestine.
Why do we insist on being such a “stiff-necked people?”
PS. To be clear – the Palestinians have also made a large number of major mistakes since 1967. As Abba Eban said, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Negotiations with both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert got them pretty close to a state. They should have accepted. But their mistakes in no way justifies or excuses us making another mistake. Didn’t mother say two wrongs don’t make a right?