The State of Palestine


If the media were to temporarily ignore the soap operas of Liberal Party leadership, there would be space and time for the Australian public to ponder a much more serious matter – the promise and prospects for a Palestinian State.

The claim by Palestinians for a State of their own is based on their rights to self-determination as contained in the United Nations Charter. This says that a responsibility of the UN, and thus the Security Council, is to develop friendly international relations based on respect for the ‘principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.’

On December 29, 2014 when the Security Council voted on a Jordanian resolution to recognize Palestine through settlement on pre-1967 lines, a majority voted in favour.

Australia voted against.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr commented, ‘The voting pattern of Australia sends the message that Australia is completely relaxed about the degradation of Palestinian life.”

Recognition and Reciprocity

Irrespective of an Australian Government’s attitude, peoples’ hopes to realize certain freedoms by living in their own country depend on other nations recognizing such freedoms.

This significant political act has occurred. The parliaments or governments of over 140 nations have voted to recognize Palestine.

Such recognition invites reciprocity. In this respect, the Palestinian leadership, exercising their non-member observer status at the UN, has entered into at least 15 international treaty obligations.

On April 1st 2014, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed letters of accession to core human rights treaties, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Other agreements made by the Palestinian leader include adherence to the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Compliance with these treaties has the hallmarks of a State. Many countries that call themselves a State have not signed these treaties, yet adherence to them is the surest way to work for peoples’ security.

It’s the antidote alternative to the usual assumptions about security – the need for  militarism and associated violence.

In spite of separation from a homeland, in spite of the fragmentation of peoples, a common Palestinian culture exists in language, in religion, in music and in poetry.

The creation of a Palestinian State would be the cue for identifying that cultural common ground which has been so difficult to experience when the same peoples lived in occupied territories, as homeless individuals in diverse refugee camps and in a widespread diaspora.   In his poem ‘We Travel Like Other People’ Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish expressed  this fragmentation and the desperate need for ending  his people’s powerlessness. . 

We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere. As if travelling
Is the way of the clouds.
We have a country of words. Speak. Speak so we may know the end of
this travel.
Ending Hypocrisy

An end to this travel depends on support for Palestinians’ claim to statehood. But in deliberations about such support, powerful nations must cease their hypocrisy – expressing respect for international law yet opposing Palestinians’ rights.

Successive United States governments say they are upholders of the rule of law, yet veto any UN motion that would see an advance of Palestinians’ rights. Their language and those policies are evident in cruel ironies which amount to double standards and the impasse of numerous Catch 22 situations.

Palestinians are asked to be democratic, but that can only be achieved through the respectable status of statehood. When, in January 2006, the Palestinians did conduct a scrupulously fair election, morally sanctimonious Western nations, including EU members, did not like the result – the election of Hamas – so the Palestinians’ commitment to democracy was not only ignored, but became the reasons for the eight-year long siege of Gaza.

Palestinians are told that they must commit to peace on Israel’s terms. But the Government of Israel can’t tolerate the idea of a Palestinian State, which shows that Palestinians can’t be serious about peace.

In similar vein, as part of the inherent view among Israel’s supporters that Palestinians would be incapable of government, they are told to learn about the principles of a civil society. Yet military occupation will be continued to preclude any chance of building such a society.

A prospective state of Palestine is expected to respect human rights, yet with regard to control over the most precious of all resources – water – the Palestinians must accept that Israelis should receive at least five times the amount available to Palestinians.

Opposition to the creation of Palestine includes the admonition that Palestinian leadership needs to respect religious differences. Yet Israeli leadership can’t tolerate the predominant Palestinian forms of worship and Israel must be allowed to consolidate its existence as a religious-based State.

Inclusion or Exclusion

Palestinians’ yearning for a coherent sense of identity has to be bolstered by international recognition but a key question remains: who will Palestinians include, who might they exclude?

Israel has been built around the Zionist project of a Jewish State which excludes Palestinian Arabs or confers only second class citizenship on the 20 per cent living within official Israeli borders. A secular, inclusive Palestinian State would have to work out its relationship to Israel, but not by imitating Israel’s exclusionary practices, as in always treating the Other – Palestinians in this case – as the enemy.

To deal effectively with inclusion/exclusion conundrums, a unitary Palestinian state would require projects of national healing and reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as well as with Israel. Such tasks would require acknowledging the atrocity of the Holocaust in building Israeli identity; but Israel should also be asked to acknowledge the brutality of the occupation, the legitimacy of international law and the entitlement of Palestinians to realize their homeland.

Tasks of healing and national reconciliation have to be on the State building agenda. In his commentary ‘ ‘Fear, Victimhood, Self and Other’, Ilan Pappe writes, “For Israel to put an end to its victimization of the Palestinian, recognize its role as victimizer and accept the Palestinian other into the national discourse, these I see as constituting the only path that can bring us closer to reconciliation.”

That Social Contract

Palestinian leaders’ commitment to healing and reconciliation would demonstrate the norms their government wishes to live by and the nature of the freedoms they would respect. The nurturing of such freedoms will depend on the relationship between government and people, a process to be affected not so much by the signing of international human rights treaties as by domestic commitments to promote political and economic equality.

The signing of such treaties does impose obligations on a Palestinian government to protect and fulfil the human rights of all people under their authority and control. Chief Palestinian negotiator in years of peace talks, Saeb Erekat, says that the signing of such treaties “is consistent with the values of our nation, the foremost of which is respect for international human rights and humanitarian law”.

Respect for such rights would give a government legitimacy. Such legitimacy would depend on protection of diverse interests, people of different ethnic backgrounds, various religious beliefs and different sexual orientations.

An inspiring social contract between a Palestinian government and Palestinian society could be built. Palestinian State builders could then claim that the new Palestine will become the only genuinely democratic State in the Middle East.   

* Stuart Rees is the Founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation

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Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees AM is a regular New Matilda contributor, an Australian academic and author who is the founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation and Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia.