At its core, the question of Palestine is the struggle of the Palestinian people to end the Israeli occupation of their land and to establish their own independent and sovereign state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, an area that is 22% of historic Palestine. This struggle, like all others, has often been violent and nasty costing the Palestinians and Israelis much suffering and loss of life.
No one denies the Palestinians this right to self-determination. Numerous UN resolutions have endowed it with international legitimacy. Only Israel and the US governments stand against it in practice although not in rhetoric.
There is considerable evidence from public opinion surveys over the years that a majority of the Israeli public as well as a majority of the American public fully endorse the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own in coexistence with Israel. One finds as well significant majorities throughout Europe and the rest of the world that endorse it. At the same time, there is convincing evidence that the majority of the Palestinian people favor the establishment of an independent state of their own alongside Israel. The logical question is: why, given such overwhelming support, does the problem persist, with such violence and tragic loss of life on both sides?
The current extremist Israeli government is not really interested in a fair settlement based on international legality, beginning with the June 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242. They want to subdue the Palestinians by force and destroy their infrastructure in order to prevent them from being able to establish a viable state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli government is willing to accept a severely constrained Palestinian state, one similar to the Bantustans in South Africa during the apartheid era. Sharon wants this Palestinian entity to be established on 42% of the 22% of the land occupied in 1967, where the Israelis have set up illegal settlements for Jews on confiscated Arab land with full American funding. (It is definitely not true that the Palestinians rejected a more generous offer by Clinton and Barak at Camp David) The Israelis have established an apartheid system where Jews have rights and Palestinians have none; where Jews have access to water and Palestinians don’t, where Jews have the right to travel freely on roads built for them and Palestinians don’t.
The US government has endorsed the Israeli position and provides Israel with huge foreign military and economic aid and loan guarantees as well as significant political support, most recently, vetoing a UN Security Council Resolution that criticizes Israel’s plans to either deport or assassinate Yasser Arafat who, regardless of what one might think of him, is the only elected leader of his own people in the Arab World. At the same time, only the US government is in a position to intervene to stop the vicious cycle of madness between both sides.
The Palestinians are not without blame. They have been poorly led for a number of years and they have failed to engage in the struggle in a more effective political way, opting often for acts of violence that only alienate their potential supporters. But being poorly led does not mean that the Palestinians lose their historic rights.
I am not very optimistic that this US administration will intervene effectively to put an end to the conflict. I also fully agree with my late friend and colleague Edward Said who has argued that it is already too late to have a settlement based on a two- sate solution. The establishment of Jewish settlements in the heart of Palestinian territory and the setting up of the so-called security wall deep into Arab land makes it almost impossible for the Palestinians to build a viable state that could offer real security and welfare to its inhabitants.
I think we are witnessing the end of one era and the beginning of another in the tragic history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians must now demand full political and economic equality with Jews in one democratic state for two people.
Professor Fouad Moughrabi
Dept of Political Science
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga