Palestine – Unleashing The Self-Determination Genie


By: David Singer

It is hard to believe that the possibility of the Palestinians successfully approaching the UN in September and obtaining “a license to statehood “ is even being seriously contemplated.

The Palestinians have never comprised a separate and unique group in recorded history.

Their defining Constitution – the PLO Charter – which only came into operation in 1964 makes this quite clear in Article 1 which states:

“Palestine is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people; it is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian people are an integral part of the Arab nation. “

Palestinians are Arabs – part of the Arab nation currently comprising 21 independent States. The vast majority of Arabs only came to live in Palestine in the 20th century at the same time as the country was being opened up and developed by the return of the Jews.

Article 5 again confirms the Arab identity of the Palestinians by declaring:

“The Palestinians are those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or have stayed there. Anyone born, after that date, of a Palestinian father – whether inside Palestine or outside it – is also a Palestinian.

Jews and non-Arab Christians residing in Palestine in or after 1947 are excluded. This smacks of apartheid and racism at its worst – which the international community accepts without a whimper.

Any approach to the UN in September will seek to have the UN recognize a Palestinian State in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – which runs counter to the provisions of Article 2 of the PLO Charter which affirms:

“Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.”

British Mandatory Palestine comprised:

* Jordan – almost 77% of Palestine
* Israel – about 17% of Palestine and
* Gaza and the West Bank – the remaining 6% of Palestine

Would the Palestinian Authority be prepared to forgo its claim to Jordan and Israel as a quid pro quo for UN recognition? I doubt it.

The fiction that constitutes the Palestinian identity is revealed in Article 4 of the PLO Charter:

“The Palestinian identity is a genuine, essential, and inherent characteristic; it is transmitted from parents to children.”

Certainly at the time the Mandate for Palestine was created in 1922 by the 51 nations comprising the League of Nations – no Palestinian identity rated a mention. The Preamble to the Mandate document spoke of :

“ … the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine ..

The censuses undertaken by the Turkish and English authorities in Palestine had always been based on counting the numbers of Jews, Moslems and Christians. The idea of a separate Palestinian identity never arose.

In 1946 Transjordan (now Jordan) was granted its independence by Great Britain. No attempt was made to define its Arab residents as Palestinians. They were called Trans-Jordanians and later Jordanians – even though that territory comprised almost four fifths of Palestine and the entire population comprised Arab nationals residing in Palestine at the time.

In 1947 the UN Partition Plan proposed for Palestine spoke of dividing the remaining 23% of the territory of the Mandate into a Jewish State and an Arab State – not a Palestinian State.

After the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza had been occupied by the invading armies of Jordan and Egypt from 1948-1967 – the Palestinian Arabs chose to unify the West Bank and East Jerusalem with Jordan in 1950. West Bank and East Jerusalem Arabs became Jordanian citizens. Any claim to a separate Palestinian identity was still well and truly hidden from sight. The State they now demand could have been created at any time during those 19 years when not one Jew lived there after all had been driven out during the 1948 War.

1964 really marked the starting point for a claimed Palestinian identity as defined in the PLO Charter. A very successful campaign undertaken during the last 47 years has seen this identity internationally deserving of recognition as a distinct separate and national group.

But what does this say for long standing authentic national and secessionist movements such as the Kurds, the Tibetans, the Chechens, and the Basques?

If the road to self-determination can be successfully pursued through the UN by the Palestinian Arabs on what is at best a contrived and artificial identity – then how can the UN possibly refuse to grant similar recognition to these other far more credentialed and long standing peoples with their own history, culture and language going back centuries and even into antiquity?

If the Palestinian Arabs can have a state recognized by the UN – what arguments can possibly justify the UN refusing to accord the same status and recognition to these other groups ?

In the case of Palestine the legal conditions required for the declaration of a Palestinian State – as laid down in the Montevideo Convention 1933 – are not capable of being met unless first agreed in direct face to face negotiations with Israel.

A similar obstacle impedes the many other nationalist and secessionist movements around the world and makes their independence or breakaway conditional on agreements being successfully negotiated with their host states.

The large number of these movements looking on with keen interest from the sidelines can be gauged from the following survey:

“There are 37 recognized and recognizable secessionist movements in Africa. There are 65 in Asia, including 13 in Burma, five in China (Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongolians among them). Russia straddles continents and faces five secessionist movements in Asian Russia and 13 more in European Russia, including Chechens. The rest of Europe has more than 50, including 18 in Italy and nine in Spain. France has four irredentist movements, four secessionist movements, five autonomist movements and several movements to change the borders of Departments. There is one each in Poland, the Netherlands, Romania and Switzerland. Parties in Greenland want to secede from Denmark and in Puerto Rico they want to secede from the United States – which also has American Indian, Southern and Texan movements to secede, as well as one in Manhattan and one in New York State. The Miskito Indians want to secede from Nicaragua and Chiapas from Mexico. French and British colonies in the Caribbean and Oceania have separatist movements.”

The UN needs to tread carefully to avoid unleashing the genie of self-determination by ignoring the well established principles of international law. This genie will have the capacity to wreak havoc in the conduct of the affairs of a large number of UN member states who will have their flanks exposed to similar demands.

As you sow – so shall you reap.

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