The 104th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which set into motion one of the greatest ongoing human tragedies in the 20th century, passed quietly and generally unnoticed. However, breaking from the general silence in the Arab region, the Arab League issued a statement calling on Britain “to rectify its historical mistake and bear its legal and moral responsibility towards the Palestinian people.” The statement urged Britain to apologise to the Palestinian people for more than a century of suffering and pain that it caused them, and to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and halt its aggressive war machine. The Arab League also called on the international community to undertake its responsibility to implement the UN resolutions that address this tragedy, to put an end to Israeli crimes, impose sanctions on the colonial settler state and provide international protection for Palestinians.
To me, the most important part of the Arab League statement was its demand that Britain should recognise Palestine as an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. I want to discuss this point from a perspective different from that which Israel has forced us to swallow as a basis for peace talks. Let us take the issue outside the frames of reference that we have begun to reiterate without thinking, transcend our state of Arab weakness, and discuss the Palestinian question independently of certain ideas that we have somehow agreed to take for granted upon entering the endless process of negotiation.
First, why did the Arabs fall in with the Israeli notion that any Palestinian state emerging from these negotiations has to conform to conditions that Israel sets, such as that it must be unarmed and its territorial waters and airspace subject to Israeli sovereignty. Whatever made us even entertain such absurd conditions? We should never have accepted as a principle that Israel’s approval was required for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Did not the UN issue a resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state side-by-side with a Jewish one? The UN Partition Resolution establishing the state of Israel did not make that contingent on Arab approval. Why should the reverse apply? In fact, the Arabs at the time opposed the partition resolution, but world powers paid them no heed and proceeded to recognise Isreal in implementation of that resolution after it was adopted in 1947. It seems that we should take the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (and other occasions) to demand the implementation of the resolution in accordance with which Israel was established rather than asking for Israel’s approvals. In fact, the very fact that the resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state has never been implemented undermines the international legitimacy on which Israel’s establishment is based.
Some might counter that it was the Arabs who rejected the partition resolution when it was issued. But this argument does not hold since the resolution was adopted and partially carried out. It has never been rescinded, either, regardless of what the Arabs had to say, because if it had, that would have meant that Israel’s creation did not rest on an international resolution granting it legitimacy. Therefore, since the UN has done nothing to indicate that the resolution has been rescinded, we should be demanding the implementation of the rest of the resolution - namely the establishment of a Palestinian state - instead of negotiating with Israel to obtain its approval on the establishment of a Palestinian entity encumbered by conditions that were never mentioned in the UN resolution in the first place.
Palestine existed before the partition resolution, just as it has continued to exist afterwards. The Israeli occupation does not alter this fact. After all, the existence of a state is not contingent on the withdrawal of occupation forces from its territory. France and other major powers were occupied at one point or another in their history, and in no case did the occupier set the conditions for recognition of the state under its occupation. What the Arab states should do on the occasion of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration is to issue a joint resolution under the auspices of the Arab League recognising the Palestine state as called for in the resolution the UN adopted over seven decades ago, then they should leverage their influence through their various bilateral relations to pressure other countries to recognise the state to which they had already agreed when they approved the resolution in 1947.
Can the Arabs do this? Do they want to? If yes, then they only have to declare their recognition of what already exists. If not, then I suppose we should thank the Arab League for issuing the aforementioned statement at a time when its members are vying with each other to normalise relations with the occupation authorities.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly