Independence and Nakba are two sides of one coin. The 1948 war
marks the event which the Israelis celebrate as the creation of
their state, and which the Palestinians commemorate as the loss of
their homeland, Palestine.
For centuries, Arabs and Jews lived in Palestine in peace and
harmony as one people, until the establishment of the Zionist
movement towards the end of the 19th century and the arrival of the
first waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine. That was the
beginning of the friction and confrontations between the two sides.
The Palestinians saw in the Jewish immigration a threat to their
existence and national aspirations for a state. No one had the
right to expect the Palestinians to become Zionists and welcome the
incoming waves of Jewish immigrants. Palestine was not "a land
without a people for a people without a land."
Britain's role in creating the problem was clear. The Balfour
Declaration in1917 switched on a red light. It aroused the fears,
frustrations, and anger of the Palestinians who felt betrayed by
the British and their allies, and led to an escalation of the
confrontations between Arabs and Jews. The Partition Plan of United
Nations Resolution 181, passed in November 1947, represented the
first international recognition of the legitimacy of the creation
of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs, who until
then had formed the majority of the population in Palestine, owning
93% of the land, could not accept that they should be made to pay
for the Nazi crimes committed in Europe and share their country
with newcomers from that continent. They rejected the Partition
Plan, but later lost the war in 1948. The result was their
dispossession and expulsion from their homeland; they became
refugees in the four corners of the world.
Although 60 years have already elapsed since the Nakba, children in
Palestinian refugee camps and the Diaspora still identify
themselves with the villages, towns and cities from which their
parents or grandfathers were driven out or which they were forced
to leave as a result of the 1948 war. The sense of belonging to
Palestine across the generations continues to deepen, and their
willingness to struggle for the liberation of Palestine remains
unabated - a struggle which started in January 1965, two years
before the June 1967 War.
Over the years, and in a historic development within the
Palestinian national movement, the Palestinians shifted from their
claim to the liberation of all of Palestine to the pragmatism and
realpolitik of a readiness to recognize Israel within the June 4,
1967 borders, and the establishment of a Palestinian state
alongside Israel in the territories occupied in 1967. This
moderation on the Palestinian side was met with a parallel
radicalization on the Israeli side. The Israeli peace camp is
shrinking, and the whole political map in Israel is shifting to the
right. The growing power of the religious camp in Israel is
inspiring its counterpart on the Palestinian side. And the lack of
progress in the peace negotiations is playing into the hands of the
extremists on both sides.
The year 2008 saw a surge of activities among the Palestinian
Diaspora worldwide as well as among the Palestinians in the
occupied territories to commemorate the Nakba. It expressed the
reaffirmation of their will not to surrender or give up the claim
for return. Criticism against the moderate leadership that is
seeking a compromise with Israel is on the rise, simply because of
its failure to end the Israeli occupation and, with it, the
suffering of the Palestinian people.
Israel is not showing any sign of readiness for a historic
compromise with the Palestinian people. On the contrary, it is
expanding the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories
occupied in 1967 and aborting the possibility of the establishment
of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with
East Jerusalem as its capital - the solution to the conflict on the
basis of two states for two peoples.
If this situation continues, the future will prove very bleak for
both sides. It will degenerate into an apartheid system that will
not readily lead to a bi-national state, as some people tend to
believe. The Israelis will not give up their Jewish state, and
violence and bloodshed will become the norm. The two-state solution
remains the most practical option accepted by the majorities of
both peoples and supported by the international community. The road
to this solution goes through the immediate cessation of all
settlement activity, the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the
Palestinian territories, the solution to the issue of Jerusalem on
the basis of equal sharing, and the achievement of a just and fair
solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
Is this a realistic expectation? And is it possible to implement?
It is obvious that the lack of charismatic leadership on both
sides, the growing power of the nationalist and religious right
wing in Israel, and the Fateh-Hamas split within the Palestinian
side are an impediment to any bilateral progress in the peace
process. The only remaining hope is a U.S.-led international
intervention. This seems unlikely under the current circumstances.
The next year or two are very crucial. Either the window of
opportunity for a settlement will be lost for decades to come -
with all the possible implications and disastrous results - or a
two-state solution will be imposed by the international community,
guaranteeing the accomplishment of all the above-mentioned
This is the real challenge facing the international community as
well as the parties to the conflict. Time is pressing and the
challenge must be met for the sake of regional and global stability
This will not be an easy task, but it is still much easier than
going through the experience of an apartheid regime with all its
implications, and an uncertain fate for the two peoples. The Jews
achieved their independence and statehood 60 years ago, while the
Palestinians are still struggling to reach the same goal.
The fulfillment of the Palestinians' aspirations to statehood,
independence and justice is the key to peace, stability and
prosperity for the peoples of Israel and Palestine.