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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Let's create the first-ever Palestinian state

Nobody would be happier than I would be if the Quartet succeeded in creating a Palestinian state by the end of 2012. That is what I have always believed in: a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel. Given that Prime Minister Netanyahu has again said that he would like to talk unconditionally to President Abbas today, what is stopping President Abbas? So let the world facilitate negotiations to create a Palestinian state. 

So long as we are clear that, when it is created, this Palestinian state will be the first the world has seen - there has never been one before. Prior to the Anglo-French carve-up of the Middle East in the 1920s, today's Israel/Palestine was part of a much larger province (including many other parts of the Arab world) that was ruled for centuries by Turkey's Ottoman Empire. When that empire lost the First World War, Britain and France divided up its territories, with Britain getting a bit that was given the name of Palestine. Britain then gave 78% of this Palestine to the Hashemites as their new Kingdom of Transjordan (today's Jordan) - a kingdom which Jews were barred from living in. So the Palestine that was left, under British rule in the 20s to 40s, was only 22% of the Palestine that Britain had originally taken. 

The Arabs living in that Palestine did not call themselves Palestinians until the 1960s, at which point (in political terms) they began to develop a specific national consciousness as Palestinians (as opposed to as Arabs more generally) that they had never previously had - before the creation of Israel in 1948, Jews living in Palestine often called themselves Palestinians, while Arabs living there didn't. 

There were many proposals to divide that remaining 22% of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states (with an international zone in Jerusalem). It may sound like an over-simplification to say that the Jews accepted these proposals and the Arabs rejected them, but it happens to be true. There was then a war in 1948/9, in which the West Bank and Gaza (which were supposed to have been part of a proposed new Arab state) were instead taken by Jordan and Egypt. Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950, with almost nobody (apart from Britain) recognising this illegal annexation. Neither Jordan nor Egypt showed the slightest inclination to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza while they had them. 

It is also true that, prior to 1950, the West Bank (which is the west bank of the River Jordan) was never known as the West Bank - it really did tend to be known by the Biblical-sounding name of Judea and Samaria, so those who call it that today are not (as many people wrongly imagine) religious nutters. For many centuries, until Jordan took over, Jews had lived with other people on the West Bank. It was only in the seventeen years of Jordanian occupation after 1950 that there were no Jews there. In the Six Day War of 1967 - a war that Israel desperately tried to avoid - Israel won control of the West Bank and Gaza, so Jews started living on the West Bank again, as they had done for centuries prior to Jordan chucking them out in 1950. 

So long as we are clear about this history? Then let's continue with the hard work of negotiation to create a Palestinian state that will live in peace and security alongside Israel.


  1. Hello Matthew, I tend to agree that this would be a first-ever Palestinian state. The problem is how all of the parties involved will ever agree on where to locate it.

  2. Thank you. I suggest that a new Palestinian state would be in the West Bank and Gaza (which could be linked), with Israel allowed to keep the larger settlement blocs that are on or near its border with the new Palestinian state (with Israel giving the Palestinians other land in recompense for that). We have come very close to achieving that before ( and I am sure that we will get there in the end. By 'we' I mean 'the world community.

  3. Mathew,
    why exactly, should the Palastinians give up land Israel has turned into settlements - is that a) unlawful and b) rewarding israel for its brutal and racist occupation?

  4. To answer your question, Andi, the Palestinians could choose to give up some land in the West Bank in exchange for some other land that the Palestinians would be given from Israel proper in a land swap, as part of a two-state peace agreement that would involve painful compromises by both sides.

  5. But why should they give up land? All Israel needs to do is pull back to its 1967 painful compromises (at least on the Palastinians part)need may be painful for israel to pull back to its 1967 boarder but they shouldn't be there in the first place should be.

  6. So you want Israel simply to return to its 1967 border and give the West Bank and Gaza back to the countries that had them before the 1967 Six Day War? That's Jordan in the case of the West Bank and Egypt in the case of Gaza.

  7. So you don't favour the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza - you want Jordan to occupy the West Bank, and Egypt to occupy Gaza?