Jul 27 2000

Statehood and Jerusalem

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

For more than a year, my brother Jonathan and I have had a running disagreement over the viability of declaring a Palestinian state. He has repeatedly rejected the importance of declaring a Palestinian state under the current circumstances.

“A Palestinian state is an Israeli goal these days,” he would say to me and to anyone else who would listen. The kind of state that the Israelis are willing to allow us to have will do more to serve their purpose, by creating a buffer zone between them and the rest of the Arab world, and to announce once and for all that the conflict is over.

“They want to give us the symbolism of the state without the substance,” he would say.

I disagree with him, and with others who are opposed to a declaration of a state. At this time, when the Palestinians are weak, even symbols are important. I believe that declaring statehood will also create a dynamic that will allow Palestinians to use the most effective asset they have – their people.

Because agreements can be amended and abrogated. Lands can be returned or exchanged for other lands or other issues. But if you have people on the ground, all you need is for your people to stay put and slowly you can change the balance of forces in their direction.

Palestinian professor Sari Nusseibeh had for years argued against the two-state solution. He would say that the Palestinians and Israelis are so intertwined that arbitrarily deciding where and how to separate them is not a viable solution. In defiance of conventional wisdom, he had suggested the possibility of one state for both people.

A few weeks ago, however, I heard Nusseibeh make a new argument. He argued that a Palestinian declaration of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital is the best solution in the present situation. (Long before the Camp David talks, Nusseibeh told me that he couldn’t see how Palestinians and Israelis can come to an agreement on the issue of Jerusalem.)

Nusseibeh’s scenario is that both sides could live with the declaration of a state.

“Arafat can show Palestinians, Arabs and Moslems that he has not given up Jerusalem and the Israelis can live with such a state since they will allow it to exist only on areas that it is willing to let go of.”

What will happen on the ground, according to Nusseibeh, is that Palestinians can have a state wherever they have sovereignty, and they will keep on negotiating for the rest of the areas of the declared state.

I thought of this scenario shortly after the announcement of the failure of Camp David talks. If a declaration of a Palestinian state takes place this fall without an agreement, Israel will be forced to react. They could fight it, or recognize it. Fighting a Palestinian state will mean that Israel will close the borders and deny Palestinians the practices associated with sovereignty.

On the other hand, Israel could be the first country to recognize this Palestinian state and begin sincere negotiations about the movement of people and goods from and to this new state.

Of course, this will not in any way be the end of the conflict. Palestinians will continue to use all legitimate means to struggle for the rights enshrined in the key UN and Security Council resolutions. The right of Palestinian refugees to return (resolution 194) and the inadmissibility of taking land by force and the need for Israel to withdraw from areas it occupied in 1967 (resolution 242) will be the key legal instruments through which Palestinians will continue to demand rectifications.

At the end of the Camp David talks, the Israelis and the Americans tried to paint Arafat as intransigent and uncompromising. All the Palestinian leader was asking for was the implementation of United Nations resolutions for which the US and the world community voted for.

Naturally, the Israelis, who illegally took so much Arab land and denied Palestinians their rights, felt that they have come a long way. But as long as the Israeli occupiers have not returned the lands that they conquered in war, they have not come far enough to buy them the peace of mind that will come when the conflict is over.

In 1967, Israel claimed it took Arab lands in a preventive war, which they claim they had initiated strictly for security purposes. Israeli leaders boasted about the fact that they were waiting for a phone call from an Arab leader willing to exchange land for peace. In Camp David (both I & II) the Israelis found such Arab leaders. But when the moment of truth came, the Israelis wanted to keep occupied east Jerusalem, not for security reasons but for religious reasons.

But 33 years have failed to make the Palestinians of Jerusalem go away. Whether a Palestinian state is declared this year as part of an agreement or unilaterally, the status of Jerusalem and its people can’t glossed over and taken for granted.

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