T K Arun
Like Israeli hardliners, Arab regimes don’t want a democratic Palestinian state. Such a state may well threaten govts defined by the kings-emirs-theocracy formula.
As Israel pounds the Gaza Strip, targeting Hamas after its terror strike against Israel that killed a reported 1,300 people, mostly civilians including children, and the stage is set for mass casualties in Gaza, where do the rights and wrongs of the Israel-Palestine conflict fall?
Some propositions of America’s Declaration of Independence are couched in universal terms that offer a framework to answer that question, one that resonates with Indian foreign policy as well. All peoples are entitled to separate and equal status, and, within a people, everyone is entitled to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Historical Background of the Conflict
Hamas takes the view that Israel has no right to exist, that it is an illegitimate state created by displacing native Palestinians. The idea of creating a Jewish state in the territory of Palestine crystallised in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, an outcome of British efforts to secure the support of Jews across Europe in the ongoing war, and to partition the enemy Ottoman empire. Geopolitical expedience, rather than considerations of welfare of Jews or Palestinians, underpinned the proposal.
In Zionist mythology, Palestine was not just the original land of Canaan, to which Moses had led his people fleeing slavery in Egypt, but also a land without people. Since Jews were a people without land, it was deemed a fitting match. Except that millions of Palestinians already lived in the Zionists’ promised land, along with a Jewish population. They had to be displaced when Israel was created and Jews started immigrating in large numbers.
Is Hamas’s stand that Israel has no right to exist tenable? Absolutely not. Jews are among the most persecuted communities anywhere, anytime – Kerala is the only place where Jews have lived a couple of thousand years without ever being attacked for being Jew. After the horrors of Nazi persecution and Holocaust came to light at the end of World War II, the desire for a nation of their own, free from discrimination and pogroms, became a powerful force among Jews. The British ended their dither on the promise of the Balfour Declaration.
Nehru allowed Israel a consular office in Mumbai, remarking that Israel is a fact. Historical facts are powerful solvents of iron-clad ethical arguments. Is it wrong to invade a place, massacre inhabitants and build a grand mansion on the remains? We would tend to loathe the perpetrators. Yet the world today loves Taylor Swift, the Moon Landing, Silicon Valley and pretty much everything else American. Native Americans are a historical tragedy, buried at Wounded Knee, with due sentiment, of course. The US is a historical fact, in the specific form of the superpower.
The Need for Palestine Governance
Don’t Palestinians have a right to their ancestral land? Yes, but they need to share it with Jews, who also have claims to the region as ancestral land. There is no science to determine vintage of historical iniquity that deserves present-day mitigation. Goodwill, mutual respect and the sense of human solidarity can find a solution, a workable peace, even if not fully to everyone’s satisfaction.
Israel sided with India in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, regardless of the contrary stand of their biggest patron US. During the Emergency, Indira Gandhi initiated relations with Israel, although it was only in 1992 that India opened an embassy in Israel.
Israel, a sanctuary state for Jews, was envisaged as a democracy, not a place where non-Jews would be subjugated. Yet Palestinians subsist as second-class citizens, with restricted freedom and opportunity – essentially stateless – forced to flee, herded into refugee camps, which were later savaged.
Palestinians deserve a state of their own. But Palestine is a friendless project. No Arab state has wanted an independent Palestine. The Palestine Liberation Organisa tion, which spearheaded the movement, was a democratic, rather than faith-based, organisation. Democracy continues to threaten every Arab regime. Jordan wanted Palestine as part of its kingdom. Egypt saw Palestine as but one fragment of a hoped-for pan-Arabic nationalism – Nasser thought he would head a United Arab Republic.
Astate of their own would give Palestinians governance, through which alone their inalienable rights can be realised. Since the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995, the peace process made faltering progress to a two-state solution, but stymied thereafter. The PLO has lost authority and de facto representative legitimacy, giving rise to radical claimants to such representation, including the Islamist Hamas.
Israel’s politics has been fractious leading to the installation of a populist like Netanyahu, who thought the Palestinian problem could be ignored through a policy of forcible containment. The Hamas attack shows the hollowness of letting the core political problem of Palestinian statelessness fester.
Attacks, such as Hamas’s, are abhorrent. So is every one of the past 6,407 Palestinian deaths in Israeli strikes over the past 15 years, as well as the killing of 308 Israelites in Palestinian attacks in the same period. The world needs an end to the persecution by Israel, and the formation of a state of Palestine. By keeping unfree Palestinians as a part of a nominal democracy, Israel resorts to toxic chemotherapy for its entire body.
Broader Implications of Regional Reform
Palestine can form and flourish as a democracy only when Arab states themselves reform, shedding their kings, emirs and autocrats and embracing democracy untainted by theocracy. Writing on the Jewish Question, Marx speculated that the problem would be solved only as part of the general emancipation of mankind. After the formation of Israel in Arab lands, just emancipation of Arabs in general might suffice.
TK Arun is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
The article was first published in The Times of India as Shadow of Sheikhs on Gaza on October 16, 2023.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.
This article was posted by Mansi Garg, a researcher at IMPRI.
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