Palestinian Independence and the Right of Return


Today Palestinians mark the 23rd anniversary of their declaration of independence by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who issued the declaration at a Nov. 15, 1998 meeting in Algeria of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the Palestinian parliament in exile. Today 128 countries, representing 5.5 billion people, recognize the Palestinian state—but Israel, backed by the United States, refuses to withdraw its occupation forces or settlers from Palestinian territory.

After finally acknowledging the futility of more than two decades of peace talks with Israel, Palestinians took their application for statehood to the U.N. this past September. Once again Washington has blocked Palestinians’ diplomatic efforts to become an independent nation. While 8 of the 15 Security Council members (Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon) could be expected to back the Palestinian Authority’s application for full U.N. membership, the PA needs 9 votes. The U.S. threatened to veto, France and Britain will abstain, and 4 others—Colombia, Portugal, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Germany—now are not expected to support the Palestinian application.

Palestinians are considering whether to go directly to the UN General Assembly on Nov. 29 to request observer status, a move that would give it de facto international recognition as a state, but with very limited rights. When members of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) voted 107 to 14 (with 52 abstentions) to approve the Palestinian Authority’s full membership into that organization, the United States and Israel punished both UNESCO and Palestinians by withholding badly needed (and promised) funds.

Dec. 11, 2011 marks the 63rd anniversary of the passage in 1948 of U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, the landmark resolution that reaffirmed the fundamental, inalienable rights of the Palestinian refugees to return, restitution and compensation.

As the photos on the back cover of the December 2011 Washington Report so clearly illustrate (see above), after all these years the fact remains that American Jews can “return” to Israel, even if they have never been there, but Palestinians cannot return to their family homes.

In a Nov. 14 press statement, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) pledged that the Palestinian people and their leaders will continue “their diplomatic battle for independence.” Let’s do our best to support peace and justice for Palestinians, as well as Israelis. Whether that means an independent Palestinian state now, as part of a two-state solution, or one truly democratic state of all its citizens, Israelis and Arabs alike, down the road—we need to end this conflict now. Given the support of the majority of the world’s countries and people, working within the context of the U.N. seems the most appropriate way to go.

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