Virginia Tilley, writing in the Electronic Intifada, under the title, “Bantustans and the unilateral declaration of statehood” has argued that the Palestinian Authority’s move toward a UN resolution declaring statehood is destructive of Palestinian aspiration for statehood.
Unfortunately, Ms Tilley’s grasp of the Palestinian situation is distorted by her experience with South Africa. Ms Tilley is herself South African. She fails to appreciate the significant difference between the South African proposal establishing Bantustans for South Africa’s black residents and the Palestinian proposal at the United Nations for statehood.
Ms Tilley says: “But Israeli protests could also be disingenuous. One tactic could be persuading worried Palestinian patriots that a unilateral declaration of statehood might not be in Israel’s interest in order to allay that very suspicion.”
Thus, in Ms Tilley’s view, Israel’s protest, the diplomatic missions of Israeli diplomats visiting capitals to try to dissuade UN members from supporting the Palestinian initiative, the effort of the US Congress to intimidate the Palestinians by threatening to cut off funding to the PA, Netanyahu’s impassioned threats to annex much of what remains of Palestine, the commitment of the Obama administration to veto such a resolution if it reaches the UN Security Council, and the recent last minute effort of the Obama administration to derail the effort are all “Burr rabbit in the briar patch” like tricks to achieve the opposite result.
The main difference, which Ms Tilley completely fails to recognize or address, is that the South African government proposed a series of disconnected Bantustans-islands completely isolated from one another each surrounded by the state of South Africa, with highly attenuated sovereignty, for the exclusive residence of the countries black majority, whereas the Palestinian proposal is for the very same state to which Arafat and the PLO agreed in 1988, that is, a continuously connected state on the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital and the Gaza Strip connected by a corridor and with control of its borders, water resources and airspace. Netanyahu opposes any such UN resolution because it provides international legitimacy for the right of a Palestinian state to exist in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, enjoying the full rights of any nation, with control of its borders, its international relations, with embassies abroad and the right to bring legal matters before the United nations, including torts brought before the UN Criminal Court for Israel’s violations of human rights.
The Bantustan concept in which a Palestinian state would lack “any meaningful sovereignty over borders, natural resources, trade, security, foreign policy, water, …” is a concept which Arafat specifically rejected at Camp David in 2000 and does not comport with any reasonable concept of statehood, nor would it be the intention or understanding of the members of the UN Security Council voting for the Palestinian initiative, nor does it resemble anything the Palestinian Authority is seeking. The South African Bantustan was soundly rejected by the international community when it was proposed by the South African government.
But what is the alternative to this resolution?
The alternative would be a continuation of the present process which is no more than a cover to the continuous expropriation by Israel of all of Palestine, a expropriation which we are witnessing every day as Palestinians are constantly being displaced by Israeli expansion and their resources taken. Netanyahu argues that the expansion of Israel into East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which occurred in the context of the ’67 War, was legitimate and the West Bank and East Jerusalem is “disputed territory” in which Israel’s claim is as good as anyone else’s.
A UN resolution that East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip are properly part of a unified Palestinian state would undermine Mr Netanyahu’s argument and directly contradict it, and especially the centrality of his determination of ethnically cleansing all of Jerusalem which he has especially coveted for all of his adult political life, as have the members of the Lukud coalition, heirs to the Revisionist wing of Zionism. Revisionism, which advocated ‘revising’ the British Mandate for Palestine to include the east bank of the Jordan, is Netanyahu’s ideological underpinning. Some strains of the Revisionists were committed to the creation of a Jewish State extending from the Nile to the Euphrates.
We must not underestimate Mr Netanyahu’s fanatic dedication to Zionist Revisionism, or at least one content, for the present, with the capture of all of Palestine west of the Jordan, the so called land of Judea and Samaria.
According to historian Avi Shlaim, in his recent book, Israel and Palestine:
The day that the Knesset endorsed Oslo II by a majority of one, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Zion Square in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud, was on the grandstand, while the demonstrators displayed an effigy of Rabin in SS uniform. Netanyahu set the tone with an inflammatory speech, He called Oslo II a surrender agreement and accused Rabin of ‘causing national humiliation by accepting the dictates of the terrorist Arafat.’ A month later, on November 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a religious-nationalist Jewish fanatic with the explicit aim of derailing the peace process. Rabin’s demise, as his murderer expected, dealt a serious body blow to the entire peace process.
Netanyahu contributed energy, emotional and rhetorical, that contributed to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin.
Netanyahu spent his two and a half years in power in a relentless attempt to arrest, freeze, and subvert the Oslo Accords. He kept preaching reciprocity while acting unilaterally in demolishing Arab houses, imposing curfews, confiscating Arab land, building new Jewish settlements and opening an archaeological tunnel near the Muslim holy places of the Old City of Jerusalem. Whereas the Oslo Accords left Jerusalem to the final stage of the negotiations, Netanyahu made it the centerpiece of his program in order to block progress on any other issue. His government waged an economic and political war of attrition against the Palestinians.
This argument, by the way, that the territories occupied in the ’67 War are merely ‘disputed territories’ has never been opposed by Obama or by recent US administrations. Carter may have been the last US President to have explicitly rejected this self serving and false claim on the part of Israel. One has to think back a long way to even remember any mention by the American government of UN Resolution 242 which was written by the US government and passed by the Security Council in the aftermath of the ’67 War. UNR 242 includes the clause, the illegitimacy of territory captured by military force.
We should all be clear on the Lukud’s plans for the West Bank and East Jerusalem and their program for negotiations with the Palestinians. These policies were outlined, most likely inadvertently, in a singular outburst of honesty by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir upon his electoral loss in 1992 after having served for longer than any Israeli prime minister with the exception of David Ben Gurion. He said:
I would have carried on autonomy talks for ten years, and meanwhile, we would have reached half a million people in Judea and Samaria.
Mr Shamir would be happy to learn that his policies have been continued by his successors, including Mr Netanyahu, and there are now half a million Jewish settlers living Judea and Samaria.
In fact, a UN Resolution declaring the legitimacy and existence of Palestinian state, even if passed only by the General Assembly, would establish a legitimacy on the par with, or even greater than that provided by General Assembly Resolution 181, which Israel claims provided its initial international legitimacy and is incorporated into the Israeli Declaration of Independence. UN SC Resolution 181 was only a recommendation for the partition of Palestine into two states, of roughly equal land area, one for Jews and one Arabs, with Jerusalem set aside to be administered internationally. Such a UN resolution, as sought by the PA, would be a stronger one than UNSC 181 which Israel claims as the origin of it legitimacy. Mr Netanyahu’s opposition to such a UN resolution has an urgency which Ms Tilley completely fails to grasp. Among other features, it would deny to Israel any legitimacy for the takeover of East Jerusalem and would be fatal to the argument that the occupied territories are merely disputed.
Like the 29 standing ovations which the US Congress gave the Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu would take a rejection of the Palestinian proposal in the United Nations as another imprimatur, this time provided by the world community, for the continuation of his present policies of grabbing a piece of Palestinian land every day.
Personally, I favor, like Ms Tilley, one unified state with equal rights for all its citizens regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. But the more immediate and urgent problem is to halt the continual expansion of Israel and the dispossession of the Palestinians and to discredit Netanyahu’s argument that the occupied territories are ‘disputed territories’ rather than ‘illegally occupied’ territories.