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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Antiwar Radio Interview on Palestinian Statehood

[UPDATED September 27, 2011]

Scott Horton, the great host of the great Antiwar Radio, interviewed me last week about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition as a state. Download the MP3 here.

[CLARIFICATION: I am reminded by Joe Lauria that Palestine is not seeking recognition as a state by the UN but only full membership as a state. Since Palestine declared independence 23 years ago, 128 countries have formally recognized it as a state, including nine current members of the UN Security Council, the number required, in the absence of a veto by a permanent member, to win recommendation for full membership to the General Assembly. The United States does not recognize Palestine, which today has only "observer mission" status at the UN.]

I'd like to amplify a few points and fill in a gap or two. First a correction: I misstated when the Palestine Liberation Organization, in its Declaration of Independence, relinquished claim to 78 percent of Palestine, that is, what today is Israel. That Declaration, which concomitantly and formally recognized the State of Israel, was made in November 1988, not earlier, as I state in the interview. This relinquishing of the claim was no morally empty gesture on the PLO's part. In the creation of Israel in 1948 and the War 0f Independence that followed, over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs (out of 1.3 million) were driven from their homes in response to the violence the Hagannah and other Zionist military forces inflicted on the inhabitants of Arab villages in the future Israel. Hundreds of towns and villages were wiped from the map, their names buried and their place taken by Jewish villages with Hebrew names. (Read about the Deir Yassin massacre, a key event.) Those refugees and their children had hoped to return; many still carry the keys to their former homes. But they were forbidden to return. (Meanwhile, any Jew, no matter where he or she was born, may instantly become an Israeli citizen.) Thus for the Palestinians' purported representative organization to agree to settle for just 22 percent of their former homeland was no minor concession. Israel's supporters constantly talk about Israel's generous offers to the Palestinians, but this major Palestinian concession is ignored and unappreciated on the rare occasions it is acknowledged. (I must leave aside here the libertarian objection that no organization can relinquish an individual's valid claim to his or her property.)

Israel's defenders also emphasize that, unlike the Jewish leaders, the Palestinians rejected the UN partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1947. They did indeed, but this is no point in Israel's favor.

When the UN partitioned Palestine, there were more than a 1.3 million Arabs living in what was designated the Jewish state; the number of Jews was fewer than 600,000. Were the Arabs residents consulted about this pending change by UN fiat in their political fate? No. Their opinion was deemed irrelevant. As David Hirst writes in The Gun and the Olive Branch:
Palestine comprises some 10,000 square miles. Of this, the Arabs were to retain 4,300 square miles [43 percent] while the Jews, who represented one-third of the population and owned some 6 percent of the land [details here], were allotted 5,700 square miles [only 10 percent of which was Jewish owned]. The Jews also got the better land; they were to have the fertile coastal belt while the Arabs were to make do, for the most part, with the hills.
(Hirst's figures differ from the current 78/22 split because Israel seized designated Arab land in the 1948 war. It should be added that with Israel's building of towns ["settlements"] on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, the 22 percent has shrunk to about 10 percent.)

One may properly object to the morality and prudence (are those really different?) of Arab violence against the Israeli Jews after partition, but one cannot reasonably question the Palestinians' conviction that they are the aggrieved party in the arbitrary UN action and the catastrophe that befell them in the aftermath -- al Nakba.

(See this useful discussion by Avi Shlaim.)

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