THE PALESTINE PROBLEM
“The Palestine problem took birth with the disintegration of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after the World War 1. Palestine was also among the several former Ottoman Arab territories which were placed under Great Britain under the Mandates System of the League of Nations pursuant to the League’s Covenant (Article 22).”
Except Palestine all of these Mandated Territories became fully independent States. The exception was Palestine where, instead of being limited to ‘the rendering of administrative assistance and advice’ the Mandate had as a primary objective the implementation of the ‘Balfour Declaration’ issued by the British Government in 1917, declaring support for ‘the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.’
During the years of the Palestine Mandate from 1922 to 1947, large-scale Jewish immigration from abroad, mainly from Eastern Europe took place, the numbers swelling in the 1930s with the notorious Nazi persecution of Jewish populations. Palestinian demands for independence and its resistance to Jewish immigration led to a rebellion in 1937, followed by continuing terrorism and violence from both sides during and immediately after World War II. Great the Britain used various formulas to bring independence to the land ravaged by violence. In 1947, the Great Britain handed over the problem over to the United Nations.
After taking into account various alternatives the UN proposed the partitioning of Palestine into two independent States, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish Palestine. One of the two States envisaged in the partition plan proclaimed its independence as Israel and in the 1948, war expanded to occupy 77% of the territory of Palestine. Israel also occupied the larger part of Jerusalem. More than half the indigenous Palestinian populations fled or were expelled. Jordan and Egypt also occupied the other parts of the territory of the Palestinian Arab State which did not come into being.
During the 1967 War, Israel occupied the remaining territory of Palestine, which was until then under Jordanian and Egyptian control (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) including the remaining part of Jerusalem, which was subsequently annexed by Israel. The war brought about a second exodus of Palestinians. Security Council resolution 242 of 22nd November, 1967 called on Israel to withdraw from territories it had occupied during the 1967, conflict.
In 1974, the General Assembly reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty. In 1975, the General Assembly established the Committee on the Exercise of the inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The General Assembly also conferred on the PLO the status of observer in the Assembly and in other international conferences held under United Nations auspices.
Events on the ground, however, were not positive but remained negative. In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the declared intention to eliminate the PLO. A ceasefire was arranged. The PLO troops withdrew from Beirut and were shifted to neighbouring countries after guarantees of safety were provided for thousands of Palestinian refugees left behind. Subsequently, a large-scale massacre of refugees took place in the camps of Sabra and Shatila.
In September 1983, the International Conference on the Question of Palestine, which was widely attended, adopted, inter alia, the Geneva Declaration containing the following principles : the need to oppose and reject the establishment of settlements in the occupied territory and actions taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem, the right of all States in the region to existence within secure and internationally recognized boundaries, with justice and security for all the people and the attainment of the legitimate, inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
In December 1987, a mass uprising against the Israeli occupation began in the occupied Palestinian territory. Methods used by the Israeli forces during the uprising resulted in mass injuries and heavy loss of life among the civilian Palestinian population.
A Peace Conference on the Middle East was convened in Madrid on 30th October, 1991 and with the aim of achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace settlement through direct negotiations along 2 tracks: between Israel and the Arab States and between Israel and the Palestinians based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 (the ‘land for peace’ formula). A series of subsequent negotiations culminated in the mutual recognition between the Government of the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. This signed by the two parties of the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in Washington, DC, on 13th September, 1993, and the subsequent implementation agreements, led to several other positive developments, such as the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the elections to the partial Palestinian Council and the Presidency of the Palestinian Authority, the release of prisoners and establishment of a functioning administration in the areas under Palestinian self-rule. The involvement of the United Nations has been essential to the peace process, both as the guardian of international legitimacy and in the mobilization and provision of international assistance.
The UN General Assembly welcomed the Declaration of Principles as an important step forward. The Assembly also reaffirmed that “the United Nations has a permanent responsibility with respect to the question of Palestine until the question is resolved in all its aspects in a satisfactory manner in accordance with, international legitimacy.”
During the past years, there has been an increasing concern at the stalemate in the peace negotiations. The General Assembly, particularly the Assembly’s Tenth Emergency Session, was called upon to deal with the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territory. There has been an increasing alarm at acts of violence against civilians, the position and actions of the Government of Israel with regard to Jerusalem, the expansion of settlements, land confiscation and punitive collective measures which were seriously undermining the peace process due to violence taking place in the region.
However, during the Recent Years
Various measures have been implemented by the Israeli Government in order to strengthen and develop the Palestinian Economy. These steps have been both bilateral and multilateral, involving the PA, Israel and the international community (both governmental and non-governmental). The results have been impressive and encouraging. With World Bank and PA statistics showing an 8% growth in the West Bank Economy in 2009.
On 8th March, 2010, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell made the following statement.
‘I’m pleased that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have accepted indirect talks. We have begun to discuss the structure and scope of these talks and I will return to the region next week to continue our discussions. As we have said many times, we hope that these will lead to direct negotiations as soon as possible. We also again encourage the parties, and all concerned, to refrain from any statements or actions which may inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of these talks.”
After his meeting with US President Obama (6th July, 2010) Prime Minister Netanyahu said “There’s a much greater meeting of the minds between President Obama and me on how to move forward at this time, how to make the transition from proximity talks into direct talks, and how to ensure that those direct talks are as substantive as possible and as soon as possible. I think that this delay does not get us any benefit. I think delaying the process, talking about talking; making conditions about getting into talks is a big mistake. I think its cost us about a year, and I don’t think it should cost us any more time”
On 20th August, 2010 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Israel and the Palestinians to hold direct negotiations. “I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on 2nd September, in Washington. DC tore-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues which we believe can be completed within one year.”
Addressing a Joint Meeting of the US Congress in May 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state, adding “I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland. We seek a peace, in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.”
While Israel remains dedicated to direct negotiations as the only method of resolving the conflicts, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on the path of unilateral action, preferring to attempt to force their will on Israel through international pressure, with the submission of a request for admission to the United Nations in September 2011. But, like all such other disputes, this one will also find a solution and the day may not be far off.