A vote on Palestine at the UN

President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority (picture Paul Morse / White House)

The non-existence of a Palestinian state is one of the last bits of unfinished business after the end of the second world war, when millions of people were forced or fled from their homes, and the lines on maps were redrawn in a hurry or by accident.  Germans from the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, Hindus and Muslims on different sides of the new border in Punjab, Poles from Lviv, all were uprooted and moved to new lands.

The event that the Israelis think of as independence and which the Palestinians call the Nakba is another example of this sort.  Against a background of terrible suffering, further injustices followed.  There have been pages and pages devoted to arguing which atrocity was worse, and whether one atrocity excuses or condemns another.  It is the conviction of this blog that such argument does not help.  The wrongs of history cannot be put right: all that we can do is make sure that we do not repeat them.

And the continued non-existence of a Palestinian state amounts to the repetition of one of those wrongs.  The Palestinian people are just as entitled to be citizens of Palestine as the Israelis are to be citizens of Israel or, for that matter, the French people are entitled to be citizens of France.  Note that I describe this as the right of people to be citizens, and not as the right of states to exist.  The latter derives from the former, and not the other way round.

One would have to be a certain kind of nationalist not to accept that the Palestinians should have equivalent rights to the Israelis.  Not the same, but equivalent.  This is the so-called two state solution.  But the vote in the United Nations next week is not necessarily about this ambition.  The debate is about the status of Palestine, but in a number of countries the debate is not yet settled about the status of Israel.

There are many states that have yet not recognised the state of Israel, even after 63 years of its existence.  While it is right to vote for the recognition of Palestine as one of the states in a future two state solution, it only makes sense to do so if the second state in that solution is also recognised.  As long as this second half of the proposal is missing, it is not surprising that the Israelis themselves are cautious about the first half.

Of course, there remains the fear that the Israeli government is in fact in the hands of that certain kind of nationalist I referred to above, that there is no desire on the part of Israel to see a Palestinian state but rather a perpetual occupation maintained by military dominance.  If that is not the preference of the Israeli government, it is entirely in its own hands to make this clear.  Let us hope that it does so.

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