If political wisdom does not prevail, if no crucial decisions are taken in which ALL Palestinians are represented, and if we do not learn from the mistakes of the past by changing the previous policies and methods and those who made them, then we are embarking on a disaster greater and more catastrophic than that of Oslo. If today's relentless pursuit for the recognition of an "independent State of Palestine" had existed before 1947, we would have applauded it with enthusiasm, and sacrificed our lives for it, as did our people from 1920 onwards.
The League of Nations acknowledged in Article 22 of its Charter the independence of Palestine from the sea to the river, and from Ras al Naqura to Um Rashrash, and placed it under category A Mandate, like Iraq; that meant an independent state which only needed assistance and advice from the Mandate government to build its institutions. Iraq was Palestine's twin, with the difference that Iraq became an independent state; and Palestine did not.
The British Mandate undermined these legal foundations by admitting Jewish immigrants to Palestine and not allowing Palestinian parliamentary representation as long as the majority of the population of Palestine were Arabs. Then the Zionists undermined the whole foundations by occupying Palestine in two stages, in 1948 and 1967.
The great difference between the Mandate period and the present day is that the Palestinian people before 1947 were resident in their homeland, rooted for thousands of years. The demand for independence in the country was thus self-evident, as was the case with British colonies and protectorates.
Today, the Zionist movement has achieved through brute force its myth that Palestine was "a land without a people" by ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population. That's why the situation facing Palestinians now is different. The priority now must be to return Palestine once more to be a land on which its people live, like other people in the world. Then the people can struggle for independence and freedom in their homeland.
It is no accident that David Ben-Gurion, even before he declared the creation of Israel and before the end of the Mandate, performed the largest organized ethnic cleansing in modern history, expelling the population of 220 cities and villages from their homes in Palestine: on the coastal plain, in Marj Bin Amer, and Tiberias, then expelling the people of 400 other villages thereafter. It is also no accident that Israel's membership in the UN was conditional upon two requirements: the compliance with UN resolution 181 for the partition of the land, that is, Israel had to withdraw, and resolution 194, one year after the partition resolution, for the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes in any Israeli-occupied part of Palestine.
In the 93 years since the Balfour Declaration, the plan by Jews to grab more land in Palestine has been a permanent objective. However, instead of allocating 80% of historic Palestine to an Arab state, as suggested by the Royal (Peel) Commission of 1937, or 45% as proposed by the Partition Plan of 1947, the Palestinian share of their land has shrunk to just 20% of our historic land, which is the maximum demanded by the Palestinian Authority (not by properly constituted PLO); it shrank even further, to just 5% of Palestine, in Benjamin Netanyahu's plan.
Clearly, any UN proposal for partition cannot possibly expect or accept the ethnic cleansing of one section of the population in favour of the other. It was no coincidence, therefore, that the international community insisted that Israel, as a condition for its admission to the United Nations, must reverse its ethnic cleansing by the return of the Palestinians to their homes.
Thus, the return of the refugees is an essential requirement before any further discussion could take place, because the right of return is "an inalienable right" and of higher order than any recognition of sovereignty in all or part of the homeland. Such recognition is a political act which may vary according to the political circumstances. We only need to look at countries partitioned or united, especially, in Europe, during the twentieth century.
The right of return, however, is not only sacred to Palestinians but it is also a legal right enshrined in international law which cannot be revoked or bargained away; it is not a commodity for sale. It is also an individual right. The prime aim of the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization was "liberation" of Palestine, not its partition. The PLO, most certainly, was not created to give legitimacy to the dissection of Palestine.
The liberation of Palestine does not necessarily mean military operations; it can be achieved by other means, as was seen in India and South Africa. What is meant by liberation, in fact, is an end to the Zionist settler's project and its racist policies which have spilled the blood of innocent people and destroyed the Palestinians' heritage. Liberation will also free the Jews from Zionism, which has created in them a sick psychological state of inward fear and outward terror. As Alan Hart wrote, Zionism is "the real enemy of the Jews".
So what should we expect in the coming September when the Palestinian request for full membership of the UN on 20% of historic Palestine is presented at the UN? Why has Israel instructed its ambassadors, its lobby in the West and its compliant media to wage a war against UN recognition of Palestine?
If recognition is denied, the status quo remains, but if accepted, what difference will it make? It goes without saying that NATO will never be used to implement the will of the international community, as it did in many other cases. The UN may condemn Israel's aggression and occupation of the territory of "an independent member state". But such condemnation will simply add up one inch to the pile of the many resolutions which were ignored by the Zionists state. As it is backed by the United States, it will be able to carry on without a mere threat of sanctions.
But what's more dangerous, and probable, is for this to open the way for 'peace negotiations', backed by Europe and America to accept a Palestinian mini-state. We can see it now: after "hard negotiations" and "painful concessions" an agreement will be reached and celebrations will be held on the White House lawn with handshakes and smiles all round. This mini-state will be a nonentity, with no ability to defend itself; no control over its borders, airspace or land; no control over its water resources; and its final borders will be "agreed" through "land swap" and possibly the forced "transfer" of people. This is precisely the mini-state which Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert longed for and believed it is absolutely necessary, because, otherwise, "Israel will be finished".
The key words in this scenario are "land swap". A project which Netanyahu and his racist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman support has been planned for years by a team led by the Russian Gideon Biger of the University of Tel Aviv. It entails the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel itself (where they form one-fifth of the population of Israel) and making life unbearable for Palestinians in the West Bank so they leave "voluntarily".
This plan overlooks one simple fact: Israel does not own the land it occupied in 1948, or the territories it occupied in 1967. So the principle of land exchange is legally a non-starter. On the Palestinian side, land exchange is contrary to the tenets of the Palestinian National Charter which calls for unity of Palestinian soil (so did incidentally the Mandate Charter) and cannot, therefore, be accepted by any legitimate national leadership.
But what's worse is that such a proposal would legitimize and perpetuate the defunct Oslo agreement. Although the division of the West Bank to areas A, B and C was supposed to be a temporary measure pending the establishment of a Palestinian State by 1999 over the entire West Bank and Gaza, Israel has consolidated this division on the ground practically, legally and procedurally.
Hence, the large area "C" will remain under Israel, while area "B" will be under the practical sovereignty of Israel, where it can arrest whoever it wants at any time, leaving municipal tasks and street cleaning to the Palestinian Authority. As Amira Hass wrote in Israel's Haaretz newspaper, area "B" has become a den for thieves and drug dealers and the PA does not dare to interfere.
Area "A" will be the cage in which Palestinians from the West Bank and those ethnically cleansed from Israel itself will be corralled. They will be able to raise the flag of an 'independent Palestinian' statelet. This non-entity will bear no resemblance to the "State of Palestine" recognized and envisioned by the League of Nations in 1920, and will not be the Palestine defined by history as known to the Palestinian people. All the Palestinian national rights would be abolished or reduced in this "state", including the Inalienable Right to return. Such "return" would be interpreted as return to the Palestinian statelet, not to the refugees' original homes. Since the cage will be too small, refugees from 1948 Palestine will, therefore, face permanent exile.
It is evident, therefore, that Palestine needs newly elected leadership through an inclusive democratic process encompassing all Palestinians, not just those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Refugees in the camps of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon must be included, and those in the wider shatat as well. They are the primary constituency. The new leadership will be well-versed in the history and geography of Palestine and the rights of the Palestinian people, and will be prepared to defend them. To quote the words of the well-respected writer, Ghassan Kanafani: "If the lawyer loses the case, let us change the lawyer, not the case."
*Salman Abu Sitta is the General Coordinator of the Right of Return Congress
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.