Chapter 7: Palestine

On This Chapter


At the mercy of others


Enter the PLO

The first intifada

Peacemaking and homecoming

Ambiguity and fragility

The second intifada

Exit Arafat, enter Hamas

Economic costs of political conflict

Alternative futures



Unlike most contested states, Palestine has not been suffering from a lack of collective recognition. The right of the Palestinian people to an own state, located in the so-called Palestinian territories and co-existing with the state of Israel, enjoyed universal recognition. The UN similarly recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. This titular recognition has, however, not been translated into UN membership – the final baptism into the international community – for the self-proclaimed independent state of Palestine. The nature of a future confirmed state of Palestine remains a contentious international issue, especially its status vis-à-vis Israel. International controversy has also dogged the first two phases of the life cycle of the purported Palestinian state, namely its origins and the way in which the Palestinian territories have been governed. There is consequently ample reason to treat Palestine as a contested state, albeit a rather exceptional one.

At the mercy of others

The Palestinian national movement, the vehicle for the Palestinian people’s quest for statehood, emerged within a broader Arab nationalism that developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.1 Although stirrings of Arab nationalism could be detected in the wake of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, it was the Arabs’ experiences of Ottoman rule that provided the spark for their modern nationalism that arose in the latter quarter of the 19th century. Some Arabs clamored for independence (for example in Lebanon in the 1870s) while others aspired to autonomy or the recognition of their language and cultural rights in the Ottoman Empire. The so-called Arab Revolt of 1916 against the Turks was, however, driven by a desire to create a wholly independent Arab kingdom. To advance their cause, Arabs – including those from Palestine – joined the Allied forces in the war against the Ottoman Empire. With the defeat of the Turks in 1918, Arab expectations of statehood soared. The nearly 700,000 Palestinians, whose territory of 27,000 km2 had formed part of Ottoman-dominated Syria, shared their Arab brethren’s desire for independence and Arab unity. The Arabs’ hopes were pinned on the victorious British to help them achieve statehood.2

It was not to be. Instead of gaining independence, the Arabs found their lands converted into mandated territories under the newly established League of Nations. Britain was appointed as the mandatory power over Palestine, which had been under British military administration since 1917. The mandate for Palestine, approved by the League in 1922, was unique in that it placed two contradictory obligations on Britain. On the one hand the mandatory power was responsible for developing self-governing institutions and safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all inhabitants of Palestine, and on the other Britain had to create the political, administrative and economic conditions necessary for ‘the establishment of the Jewish National Home’ in Palestine.3

Britain’s commitment to a Jewish homeland was first enshrined in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was subsequently incorporated into the Palestine mandate agreement. The historic pronouncement of 1917 was a response to representations made to Britain by the Zionist Organization, founded in 1897 to promote the creation of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour expressed Britain’s support for ‘the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people’, while promising that ‘nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.4 Balfour made no secret of where Britain’s priority lay in pursuing these two irreconcilable objectives: ‘in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination’, he stated in 1919. What is more, in Palestine ‘we do not even propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the inhabitants of the country’ – 90 per cent of whom were Palestinian Arabs.5 The British were sowing dragon’s teeth.

Dr Chaim Weizmann, President of the Zionist Organization, was forthright in his understanding of a Jewish national home: ‘To build up something in Palestine which will be as Jewish as England is English’.6 By contrast the Arab majority in Palestine interpreted Britain’s other obligation under the mandate as a pledge of eventual Arab independence. In practice, however, the Palestinian Arabs discovered that when these commitments came into conflict the British rulers gave precedence to their undertakings to the Jews. As increasing numbers of Jews settled in Palestine in the course of the 1920s and 1930s, the Arab community expressed its frustrations in spontaneous protest actions and incidents of violence that were both anti-Zionist and anti-British. More organized resistance took the form of political parties and even guerrilla movements, all of which favoured national independence and opposed Zionism.7

Palestinian opposition to British rule reached a climax with the revolt of 1936 to 1939. An intimation of the later intifadas, it involved a boycott of British authority and a general labour and business strike accompanied by sporadic acts of violence and sabotage. The highly effective boycott-cumstrike, which paralysed the territory, lasted for six months only but incidents of violence continued until 1939. The Peel Commission, appointed by the British to determine the causes of the boycott, highlighted Arab demands for self-government, the banning of land purchases by Jews and an end to Jewish immigration.8 Some of these demands were met in a major revision of British policy announced in 1939. Restrictions were imposed on Jewish immigration and on the transfer of Arab land to Jews. More radically, Britain gave notice of its commitment to ‘the establishment within ten years of an independent Palestine State…in which Arabs and Jews share in government in such a way as to insure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded’.9 The condition attached by the British was that independence could be granted only if relations between Arabs and Jews allowed the withdrawal of foreign authority. A representative Arab body rejected the new policy, instead demanding immediate independence. The Zionists also opposed the revised British policy and some of their armed groups resorted to violent attacks against both the British authorities and Palestinian Arabs. Constituting about 30 per cent of the total population by then, the Jewish community had the manpower, means and motives to press their claims with vigour.10

Exhausted by the Second World War, Britain lacked the stamina to continue governing its unruly wards in Palestine on behalf of the international community. The costs far outweighed whatever benefits its stewardship of Palestine held for Britain. In 1947 Britain conceded that ‘the Mandate has proved to be unworkable in practice, and that the obligations undertaken to the two communities have been shown to be irreconcilable’ – and simply gave the mandate over to the UN.11 Forced to handle the hot potato, the General Assembly in November 1947 approved a plan to partition Palestine (resolution 181). The decision was far from unanimous: 33 states (including the major powers, among them the Soviet Union) approved the resolution concerned, 13 were against (notably Arab countries) and ten others abstained.12 Under the partition plan roughly 56 per cent of the total area of Palestine would become a Jewish state accommodating 498,000 Jews and 497,000 Arabs; about 44 per cent was reserved for a Palestinian Arab state housing 725,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews; and Jerusalem and surroundings (0.65 per cent) would be given a separate and unique international status under UN administration. Provision was also made for an economic union between the two states and the joint management of the City of Jerusalem by a board including representatives appointed by the UN.13 While the Palestinian Arabs vehemently rejected the partition scheme as a violation of their right of self-determination and weighted in favour of the Jewish minority, the Zionists welcomed the proposal. The Jewish community worked zealously to extend their grip on the allotted land, a process accompanied by a mass exodus of Arabs from the would-be state.14

The next major confrontation was not long in coming. It coincided with the proclamation of the state of Israel and the final departure of British troops in May 1948. Military units from seven Arab states attacked Israel in an attempt to strangle the new polity in its cradle. Israel routed the invaders and also managed to extend its territory by a further 4,000 km2. Arab Palestine was the main loser: Jordan took control of the West Bank, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel. About 850,000 Palestinians became refugees, most of them ending up in camps in neighbouring Arab states.15 This left the Arab Palestinians ‘not only a stateless people but the majority of them a homeless people as well’.16 With most of them already in diaspora by the end of 1948, the Palestinians developed a deep sense of grievance against what they considered an interloper Zionist state created on their historic land.

Enter the PLO

At first the dispersed and dispirited Palestinians had little option but to turn to Arab states to relieve their plight. Apart from humanitarian support involved in hosting refugees, kin states gave the Palestinians a regional platform by allowing their representative to participate in meetings of the Arab League, including the right to vote on matters relating to Palestine.17 However, rivalries and conflicting interests weakened the resolve of the community of Arab states to advance the Palestinian cause. They moreover lacked the political will and military muscle to free Palestine of Jewish occupation. Recognizing their limitations, the Arab leaders decided to let the Palestinians fight their own corner. At a summit meeting in Cairo in January 1964, the assembled Arab heads of state recommended that the Palestinian people ‘assume their duties in liberating their homeland and determining their destiny’.18 The upshot was the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by a large representative meeting of Palestinians in Jerusalem in May 1964. The Palestinian National Covenant, the PLO’s quasi-constitution, denounced the 1947 partition of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel as ‘entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time’, committed Arabs to ‘purge the Zionist presence from Palestine’, asserted that Palestine was ‘the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people’ and that only Jews who had lived permanently in Palestine before the ‘Zionist invasion’ would be regarded as Palestinians; the latter stipulation meant that the majority of Jews in Israel would not qualify as Palestinians and therefore had no right to remain.19

For the first 30 years of the PLO’s existence its leadership was based in exile, unable to exert effective control in Palestine. What is more, the Palestinian people remained dispersed across several Arab states, in addition to those remaining in Palestine and Israel. Even so the PLO in time succeeded in ‘putting the Palestinians back on the political map, and bringing them back from the brink of oblivion’.20 This achievement was in no small measure attributable to the indefatigable Yasser Arafat, elected PLO chairman in 1969. He was also the leader of Fatah, the most powerful of six major guerrilla factions affiliated with the PLO.21

Barely three years after its creation the PLO and indeed the Palestinian people suffered a huge setback when Israel, during the Six Day War of 1967, occupied the remaining 20 per cent of the former Palestine mandated territory: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The entire area that the PLO had designated as a future state of Palestine was now in Israeli hands. While excluded from the Palestinian territories, the PLO effectively administered the large refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. The liberties the PLO took in Jordan eventually provoked a violent confrontation with that state, leading to the expulsion of PLO forces and their relocation to Lebanon. There they were driven out by Israeli forces in 1982, causing the PLO to move its headquarters to Tunisia.22

The 1967 war also had other profound consequences for the Palestinian cause. Israel’s victory underscored the need for the Palestinians to do their own international bidding, instead of relying on the now chastened Arab countries. Their principal instrument was the PLO, which managed to elevate the so-called Palestine issue from a humanitarian concern focused on refugees to a people’s right of self-determination. One way in which the Palestinians conducted their struggle was through a sustained campaign of violence against Israeli targets in the Jewish state and abroad.23 The other was the diplomatic route.

In 1974 the PLO achieved a series of diplomatic breakthroughs at the UN. In October the General Assembly through resolution 3210 recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and invited the movement to participate in Assembly deliberations during plenary meetings on the Question of Palestine (re-introduced to the General Assembly’s agenda after 22 years). As a result Arafat in November 1974 addressed the Assembly, the first representative of a non-state organization to receive such an invitation (except for the ceremonial occasion when Pope Paul VI addressed the body). That same month the Assembly (resolution 3236) acknowledged the Palestinian people as ‘a principal party in the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East’ and affirmed the Palestinians’ inalienable right to ‘national independence and sovereignty’. In so doing the Assembly endorsed key tenets of the PLO’s programme. In its very next resolution (3237) the General Assembly conferred on the PLO the status of observer so as to participate in the work of the Assembly and all international conferences arranged under its auspices. The PLO subsequently opened a permanent Observer Mission at the UN in New York and another in Geneva.24

In November 1975 the General Assembly (resolution 3375) enhanced the PLO’s role by calling for its participation ‘in all efforts, deliberations and conferences on the Middle East which are held under the auspices of the United Nations, on an equal footing with other parties’. The Assembly also created the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and requested the Secretary-General to establish within the Secretariat – a supposedly neutral organ – a Special Unit on Palestinian Rights to assist the PLO.25 Following the Assembly, the Security Council in December 1975 voted to permit the PLO to take part in Council debates under the procedural rule allowing the body to invite any UN member to participate when its interests are involved. The PLO was to enjoy the same rights of participation as would a member state thus invited. It was the first time that the Security Council extended this prerogative to a national liberation movement.26 The Economic and Social Council for its part called on the UN’s specialized agencies to cooperate closely with the PLO as ‘the representative of the Palestinian people’ in launching projects for the Palestinians.27

The European Community likewise recognized the rights of the Palestinian people and the role of the PLO. In the London Declaration of 1977, the EC stated that the ‘legitimate rights of the Palestinians should take the form of a homeland for the Palestinian people’.28 The EC’s Venice Declaration, adopted in 1980, reiterated that the Palestinian people were entitled ‘to exercise fully its right to self-determination’ and also acknowledged the need to involve the PLO in the search for peace in the Middle East.29

Arafat reaped other diplomatic dividends too. In 1979, for instance, he was received by the Austrian Chancellor, the Spanish Prime Minister, and the President and Premier of Portugal. Foreign ministers of several other Western states also met with visiting PLO representatives around this time, indicating the movement’s growing international recognition as a legitimate party to the Israel-Palestine issue.30 By 1980 the PLO had offices in over 80 states. The following year its representative in Moscow received ambassadorial status, with Malaysia and others following suit.31 Between 1974 and the early 1980s the PLO had indeed achieved unprecedented international recognition for an exiled liberation movement without any control over its would-be state.

It should not be forgotten that the image of a responsible liberation movement engaged in a just struggle was the one side of the Janus-faced PLO. The other was that of a ruthless terrorist organization living by the rule that the end (the destruction of Israel and the liberation of Palestine) justified the means (indiscriminate violence with no regard for human life). Described as ‘the pioneer of modern terrorism’, the PLO and its associated groups were said to ‘hold various records in the field of terrorism’ for several years. These distinctions were based on the killing, maiming and destruction caused by such acts as aircraft hijackings, hostage taking, bombings and other armed attacks in scores of countries. Between 1967 and the end of 1980 the PLO had, by its own calculations, carried out 10,000 armed operations. The PLO was moreover ‘the pivot of international terrorism’ at the time, maintaining active links with the likes of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Red Army Faction, Japanese Red Army and Irish Republican Army.32

The PLO’s uncompromising hostility towards Israel and the movement’s unapologetic practice of terrorism did not endear it to Western opinion, least of all the US. A further alienating factor was the PLO’s rejection of UN Security Council resolution 242 that required Israel to withdraw its armed forces from all Arab territories occupied in the wake of the 1967 war. The PLO objected to the resolution’s failure to deal with Palestinian rights. The PLO’s opposition to 242, shared by Arab states, thwarted US attempts after 1967 to promote a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. On a bilateral level the PLO deeply mistrusted the US, a committed ally of Israel. American antagonism towards the PLO was in turn reflected in Washington’s closure in 1987 of a Palestine Information Office run by American nationals of Palestinian origin since 1978. More importantly, the US opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state. The Carter administration, for example, insisted that it would not accept Palestinian ‘self-determination’ if it meant the creation of a Palestinian state on Israel’s borders.33 In like vein the subsequent Reagan Plan for the Middle East proclaimed that ‘peace cannot be achieved by the formation of an independent Palestinian state’ in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, the Reagan administration favoured ‘self-government by the Palestinians’ in those two areas ‘in association with Jordan’.34 As long as America (and Israel) resisted Palestinian statehood, it remained an internationally contested notion.

The Soviet Union had no such reservations about a Palestinian state, even though it had in 1947 supported the UN partition plan that gave birth to the state of Israel.35 But the PLO’s most outspoken foreign backers were developing countries from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In the latter two continents more states recognized the PLO than Israel; in the Middle East only Egypt had by the end of the 1970s officially recognized Israel’s statehood. Regional institutions, notably the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization, Islamic Conference Organization, Organization of African Unity, Non-Aligned Movement and Arab League, were committed supporters of the PLO cause.36

Egypt’s recognition of Israel came in the wake of the Camp David Agreements concluded between the two countries in 1978 through US mediation. The one accord was a bilateral peace treaty and the other provided for an overall Middle East peace settlement. The latter included a framework for a ‘self-governing authority’ elected by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip followed by the withdrawal of Israeli forces and civilian administration. The final status of the two territories would be negotiated by Egypt, Israel, Jordan and representatives from the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians, however, feared that the autonomy proposals were designed to swindle them out of independent statehood. This suspicion as well as disagreement over who should represent the Palestinians wrecked the proposed peace deal.37

The first intifada

On the home front, meanwhile, the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987 heralded a Palestinian uprising on a scale not witnessed since the so-called Great Arab Revolt of 1936–9. The intifada erupted, coincidentally, exactly 70 years after British forces first occupied Palestine and highlighted issues that had remained unresolved despite the passage of time. Beginning in Gaza, the intifada soon spread to the West Bank, effectively engulfing all of Palestine. Apart from being a widespread, popular response to foreign occupation and the denial of Palestinians’ self-determination, the intifada shared other features with the earlier Arab Revolt. Each lasted for several years; the intifada ended only in 1991. In both cases the occupying power used violent repression in a bid to end the uprisings, causing a large number of casualties. Over 5,000 Palestinians were killed by British forces and Jewish militias in the 1930s, while nearly 1,000 Palestinians and fewer than 40 Israelis died during the intifada.38 Initially a spontaneous uprising, the intifada was supported and subsequently orchestrated by the PLO.39 In international consciousness the event gave the Palestinians ‘the irrevocable status of a people dispossessed and under a brutal military occupation’.40 The intifada may also have played a role in at least the timing of Jordan’s renunciation of all claims to the West Bank in July 1988. This announcement benefited the PLO by eliminating any Jordanian challenge to the movement’s claims that it was the sole authentic voice of the Palestinians.41

It was during the first intifada that the PLO removed two major obstacles to recognition by the West, namely its use of terrorism and commitment to the liquidation of Israel. In November 1988 the Palestine National Council (PNC, effectively Palestine’s parliament-in-exile) accepted UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) as the basis for a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. (The former resolution guaranteed the right of all states in the Middle East to live in peace within secure and recognized borders, while the latter called on Israelis and Arabs to give effect to resolution 242.) The National Council announced its willingness to negotiate with Israel in the context of an international peace conference on condition that the Jewish state recognized Palestinian rights. The Palestinians’ decision was widely interpreted as a renunciation of the PLO’s goal of destroying Israel, and an implicit recognition of the Jewish state’s right of existence and hence of a so-called two-state solution involving the co-existence of separate Jewish and Arab Palestinian states.42

These watershed announcements were accompanied by the PNC’s unilateral declaration of the independence of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital. ‘The State of Palestine is an Arab state, an integral and indivisible part of the Arab nation’, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence read, and ‘the state of Palestinians wherever they may be’.43 The self-proclaimed Palestinian state of 1988 would be created alongside Israel in an area confined to the 22 per cent of the former mandated territory of Palestine, comprising the Israeli occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem. The declaration should be seen as a symbolic proclamation of the establishment of an independent Palestine on the basis of the UN General Assembly’s partition plan of 1947, rather than a proclamation intended to create the juridical effects of conventional statehood.44

The other critical decision taken by the PNC in November 1988 was to reject terrorism ‘in all its forms’. This change of tactics was softened by a simultaneous pledge by the Council ‘to provide all means and possibilities for the intensification of our people’s uprising [the intifada]…including the hit groups and the popular army’.45

The Palestine National Council’s new moderate course was widely applauded abroad. The UN General Assembly, in a resolution adopted in December 1988, acknowledged the proclamation of a Palestinian state and decided that the designation ‘Palestine’ would replace that of the PLO in the work of the UN. While stopping short of recognizing the phantom state, the Assembly conferred legitimacy on the notion of a Palestinian state. Scores of existing states went much further: within two weeks of its proclamation, the ‘State of Palestine’ had already been recognized by nearly 70 countries and soon by over 100.46 Arafat, elected as the first President of the State of Palestine by the PLO’s Executive Committee in April 1989, was treated as a head of state by several countries, while others regarded him as at best a president-in-waiting.47 Western states, among others, maintained that the PNC’s declaration of independence had no legal effect because Palestine failed to meet the traditional criteria of statehood. A further accommodation in Western approaches to the PLO nonetheless became evident in 1988. The US ended an official ban on talks with the movement and in December held its first diplomatic exchanges with the PLO in 13 years. At about the same time Britain had its first ministerial-level contact with the PLO.48

The PLO’s bona fides were further enhanced when Arafat in 1989 brought the Palestinian National Covenant in line with the new policy on Israel by declaring that the document’s references to the eradication of Israel were obsolete.49 The PLO’s new direction was confirmed in a memorandum sent to the American Secretary of State in 1991: ‘Our objective remains to establish the independent Palestinian state on the national soil of Palestine, next to the state of Israel and within the framework of a two-state solution’.50 By then the PLO knew full well that recognizing Israel’s right of existence improved the chances of a Palestinian state being created with general international backing.

Peacemaking and homecoming

Since the PLO’s make-over as a respectable international citizen, several Middle East peace initiatives were launched in which the Palestinians featured. The first was the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991, co-chaired by the US and Soviet Union. Although PLO-approved Palestinian delegates participated as part of the Jordanian team, their presence constituted yet further international recognition of the movement’s right to be involved in determining Palestine’s political fate.51 The PLO’s standing received another boost when Israel in 1993 eventually recognized it ‘as the representative of the Palestinian people’.52 Some analysts read an implicit Israeli recognition of the Palestinians’ right of statehood into this move.53

It was also in 1993 that Israel and the PLO agreed to a Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements as part of the Oslo Accords. The two sides concurred ‘that it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement’.54 Provision was made for a three-stage process extending over five years. During the first two, Israel would withdraw from designated parts of the West Bank and Gaza (under Israeli occupation since 1967), allowing the establishment of a Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority. The latter would be an elected body representing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for a transitional period of five years pending a permanent settlement. Excluded from its jurisdiction were matters to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.55 During the third stage, scheduled from 1996 to 1999, ‘final status’ negotiations were to address all remaining matters. These would include the major contentious issues between Israel and Palestine, namely Jerusalem’s fate, Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the borders of Israel, the situation of an estimated 4.5 million Palestinian refugees, and an eventual sovereign Palestinian state. A series of further agreements between Israel and Palestine flowed from the landmark Declaration of Principles, including the Wye River Memorandum of 1998.56

The Oslo Accords afforded the PLO a new lease on life at a time that the movement was facing ‘permanent obscurity or worse’. The PLO’s ill-advised decision to support Iraq during the Gulf War of 1990–1 offended many Arab states and prompted its principal donors (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) to cut off further funding. Destitute, the PLO was forced to close several of its offices and terminate many of its activities. Then came the fall of the Soviet Union, which left the PLO without its superpower patron.57 These realities, together with the fact that its nearly 30 years of struggle had still not liberated Palestine, made the PLO receptive to the compromise solution represented by the Oslo Accords. Although the deal fell far short of the central Palestinian demand of assured statehood, that prospect was plainly part of the package. First, though, the Palestinians would have to serve an apprenticeship of sorts by passing a test of autonomy before proceeding to a higher level of self-determination.58 The Oslo Accords thus enabled the Palestinians to take their most decisive step towards an own state since 1947.59

In 1994 Arafat and the PLO leadership duly went home to Palestine, thereby ‘returning the locus of the Palestine question, the arena of Palestinian politics, and the center of gravity of the Palestinian national movement to Palestine’.60 The de facto state of Palestine came into being when the PLO formed a Palestinian government on home soil, known as the Palestine Authority (PA). In elections two years later Arafat won the presidency of the PA and his supporters captured 60 per cent of the seats in the Legislative Council. Formally, the Palestinian government’s authority extended over some three million people living in the West Bank and Gaza. Symbols of sovereign statehood were much in evidence, including a national flag and anthem, police force and judicial system, diplomatic corps, Palestinian identity cards and passports, national airline and participation in the 1996 Olympic Games. In July 1998 the UN General Assembly upgraded the PLO’s status in the world body by allowing it to participate in general debates, co-sponsor resolutions and raise points of order during discussions on Middle East and Palestinian affairs. Three months later Arafat was allowed to address the Assembly’s plenary session under the agenda item ‘General Debate’. These additional rights and privileges of participation had previously been exclusive to UN member states. However, the PLO’s goal of full UN membership for Palestine as a state remained unfulfilled.61

Since the proclamation of independence in 1988, the Palestinian leadership has on a number of occasions threatened to unilaterally declare an independent state of Palestine. This confusing situation seems to acknowledge that the original act had been less than a full assertion of sovereign independence and accordingly produced less than juridical statehood.62 In terms of international law, the PA possessed only ‘some form of limited international personality’.63

Ambiguity and fragility

Its ambiguous international status suggested that Palestine was still not a state in the conventional sense. Consider Palestine’s questionable compliance with the standard legal criteria of statehood, starting with an independent government in effective control of the purported state. Created in terms of agreements between the PLO and Israel, the Palestine Authority was an autonomous body assigned temporary and limited powers, many of which had to be exercised with the approval or cooperation of Israel. Pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations between the two sides, Israel retained final residual authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.64 On the ground in Gaza and the West Bank, ‘the PA’s effective mandate remained so circumscribed in practical terms by the realities of external power that its writ on all major issues and most minor ones, was at best tentative’.65 That power of course belonged to Israel.

Turning to the possession of a defined territory, in the second place, the PA had grave difficulty in proving that it had sovereign title over the territory concerned. Israel retained control over all external borders of Palestine and its airspace and territorial waters. By 1999 the Israelis controlled over 70 per cent of the West Bank and 30 per cent of Gaza. Thereafter Israel continued with its occupation and seizures of Palestinian land for settlements. Palestine furthermore lacked undisputed control over vital resources such as water, and the areas under Palestinian control were highly fragmented and non-contiguous. To add to the complications, the Palestinians’ purported state had no fixed national boundaries.66 Although the total area of the West Bank and Gaza – 6,335 km2 – was modest and much smaller than Israel (22,145 km2), it should be noted that 30 UN member states had smaller territories than Palestine. The closest comparison was Brunei, covering 5,765 km2.

Third, international law required that the government of a state should exercise effective and independent control over a permanent population. Although the PA enjoyed significant powers over Palestinian residents in the West Bank and Gaza, its jurisdiction could not be described as either independent or comprehensive. Through its control of large segments of these two territories, Israel effectively regulated the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank and within each. What is more, the majority of the people claimed as citizens of Palestine lived outside the entity.67 By the end of 2005, under 40 per cent of the estimated ten million Palestinians worldwide lived in the Palestinian territories; roughly 11 per cent were in Israel, 30 per cent in Jordan and nearly 5 per cent in Syria.68

The final traditional criterion of statehood refers to a capacity to freely engage in international relations. The problem for Palestine was that the matter of foreign relations had – under agreements concluded with Israel – been explicitly reserved for permanent status negotiations. Israel in practice allowed Palestine to engage in limited foreign interaction in such areas as the acquisition of international aid. For the rest international relations were conducted by the PLO rather than the ‘State of Palestine’.69

In short, Palestine was ‘not a state, not sovereign, and under occupation’.70 Palestine’s consolation was that its right of statehood had been generally accepted by the international community – something no other contested state could match.

While Israel’s omnipresence was a major factor in Palestine’s lack of empirical statehood or domestic sovereignty, a good deal of the blame can be attributed to the Palestinian leadership. As Khalidi recorded, the PLO leaders dominating the PA ‘proved to be poorly suited for the task of state building, for transparent governance, or for a stable structure of governance based on law’.71 Arafat, above all, had much to account for. His authoritarian rule, characterized by the concentration of power in his office, gave Arafat individual control of the bureaucracy, security courts, the fragmented security services and the police force. This made Arafat ‘executive administrator, patron, legislator, and judge all in one’.72 The personalization of power was accompanied by a personality cult built around Arafat. But despite his strongman-image, Arafat was notorious for indecisiveness and impulsive decision-making.73 As in authoritarian systems elsewhere, Palestine’s gave rise to a host of familiar vices such as a lack of transparency and accountability in government, corruption and nepotism, human rights abuses, and violations of the rule of law.74

There were also tensions between the previously exiled PLO leadership and the people of Gaza and the West Bank, and the PLO itself was riven by ideologies, personal interests and political loyalties to rival Arab countries. More ominously, Arafat faced a serious challenge to his leadership from Hamas, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas and some other militant groups rejected both the PLO’s recognition of Israel and the Oslo peace agreements, vowing instead to continue the armed struggle against the Jewish state. For such groups the PLO’s most besetting sin was that it had betrayed its credentials as a national liberation movement by allowing the Israeli occupiers to remain in place.75 Under these inauspicious conditions the Palestinian majority had in the course of the 1990s become ‘disillusioned, demoralized, politically paralyzed, and unable to mount any significant action to change conditions on the ground in the occupied territories or internationally’.76

The second intifada

What added to the Palestinians’ sense of despondence was that a final peace agreement with Israel was still not in sight by the turn of the century. In fact, Palestinians came to doubt whether any peace deal based on a two-state model was possible when a growing segment of the Palestinian territories was being absorbed into Israel through settlement and de facto annexation.77 Their frustrations gave rise to the second intifada, which broke out in September 2000. Again, Israelis and Palestinians found themselves in a virtual state of war. Nearly 3,000 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Israelis died in the violence.78 Israel’s military forays into the Palestinian territories had by the end of 2002 demolished the PA’s security and administrative organs and laid siege to Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters; occupying Israeli forces kept the President of Palestine under house arrest for over a year.79

External attempts at peacemaking were not abandoned, though. In 2000 American President Bill Clinton brokered the Camp David peace talks between Arafat and Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Under the Clinton plan Israel would surrender the majority of its West Bank settlements and relocate its settlers, and share sovereignty over Jerusalem with the Palestinians. The latter would in turn have to accept that most refugees would not be able to return to their original (pre-1948) homes in Israel, but only to a new state comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the Israeli side was ready for far-reaching compromise, Arafat stone-walled, causing the talks to collapse.80

In April 2003 the so-called Quartet (the US, Russia, UN and EU) produced a ‘performance-based roadmap to a permanent two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. Its declared ‘destination’ was a ‘final and comprehensive settlement’ of the Israel-Palestine conflict by 2005, allowing for ‘an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state’ living in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. The roadmap provided a timeline for implementation consisting of three phases. In the first, terror and violence would be stopped, Palestinian life normalized and Palestinian institutions built. The second phase, called transition, would focus on ‘creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty, based on the new constitution [drafted in phase 1], as a way station to a permanent status settlement’. Quartet members would ‘promote international recognition’ of a Palestinian state, including ‘possible’ UN membership. The last phase would culminate in a final, permanent status settlement in 2005. Since the Quartet would ‘assist and facilitate implementation’ of all phases of the plan, the roadmap provided for an internationally supervised transition to independence for Palestine, comparable to what had previously occurred in Namibia and East Timor, among others.81

Although Israel approved the roadmap, implementation was threatened by the Jewish state’s construction of a ‘security fence’ in the West Bank. Israel justified erection of the barrier, begun in 2002, as a security measure to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings on Israeli soil, whereas Palestinians saw it as an attempt to annex slices of their land.82 Arafat was not particularly helpful either. His inability to rein in militants like Hamas (which continued terrorist attacks against Israel) and to stem the rot in the PA, caused the US and Israel to turn their backs on Arafat during the last two years of his life. Instead of negotiating with the Palestinian leadership under Arafat, Israel unilaterally withdrew its settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank – moves ostensibly aimed at imposing Israeli demarcated ‘final’ borders on Palestine.83 Arafat’s death in November 2004 brought some hope of reviving the peace process.

Exit Arafat, enter Hamas

The mood of anticipation was strengthened by the appointment of the moderate Mahmud Abbas to succeed Arafat as PLO chairman and President of the PA in January 2005. A founding member of Fatah, Abbas had been the leader of the Palestinian delegation in the Oslo peace negotiations and served briefly as Prime Minister under Arafat in 2003.84 Only weeks after taking office, President Abbas and Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon met at Sharm esh Sheikh, with Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan in attendance. At the summit Abbas announced a ceasefire, while Sharon undertook to halt Israeli military operations in Palestine if militant attacks on Israel stopped. Hamas refused to be bound by the agreement to end hostilities and continued its attacks on Israel, provoking the customary Israeli retaliation.85 On the domestic front there was no love lost between Hamas and Fatah. Tensions between them had been rising ever since Arafat’s demise, causing sporadic armed clashes and politically inspired assassinations. The militancy of Hamas played well with the Palestinian people, who voted the movement into office in the general election of January 2006. To the alarm of Israel and Western states, Hamas swept Fatah from power in the Legislative Council by winning 74 of the 132 seats against Fatah’s 45. In March Hamas’s first Cabinet under Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was inaugurated.86

Far from ending the political schism between the two movements, the voters’ verdict intensified the mutual hostility. Palestinians faced the specter of civil war as fighters of Hamas and Fatah battled it out in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. The Economist summed up the dire situation within Palestine at the end of 2006: ‘things have never been so volatile, the guns so plentiful and the forces so large as now’.87

In a desperate effort to steer Palestine out of the crisis, Saudi Arabia brokered a ceasefire (the Mecca Agreement) between the two rival groups in February 2007. That same month Abbas eventually managed to persuade Hamas and Fatah to join a national unity government under a powersharing arrangement. Hamas held 12 cabinet posts, Fatah six, and independents and smaller parties seven. The two main parties were also represented on a new national security council.88 The Mecca ceasefire failed to stem the tide of violence, though. After a particularly intense round of fighting between Hamas and Fatah in the Gaza Strip in June 2007, leaving as many as 100 Palestinians dead, Haniyeh’s faction dislodged officials loyal to Fatah and seized control of authority structures in Gaza. This illegal take-over of the government of Gaza, a coup d’etat of sorts, caused President Abbas to dissolve the government of national unity (and hence dismiss Prime Minister Haniyeh) and impose a state of emergency. Following a brief spell of ruling the West Bank and Gaza by presidential decree, Abbas in June appointed Salam Fayyad as prime minister and mandated him to form a new government. All the while armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah continued.89

The advent of Hamas created a huge new stumbling block on the boulder-strewn road to peace between Palestine and Israel and the formal establishment of a Palestinian state. Israeli officials feared that Gaza could be turned into a Taliban-like Islamic stronghold or ‘Hamastan’ – ‘a kingdom of thugs, murderers, terrorists, poverty and despair’.90 Some of these apprehensions were confirmed by the continuous barrage of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel after Hamas took over.91 Add to this Haniyeh’s uncompromising rejection of talks with Israel. ‘The option of the resistance and jihad is the shortest way to liberate Palestine, and to restore Jerusalem and Palestinian rights. Not the path of negotiations’, he declared in December 2007.92 The previous April Haniyeh made the categorical statement that ‘the issue of recognition of Israel has been settled once and for all…Recognition of Israel is out of the question’.93 America and the EU greeted Hamas’s assumption of power with the suspension of their aid to Palestine until Hamas met three conditions laid down by the Quartet group: the recognition of Israel, adherence to agreements previously concluded between Palestine and the Jewish state, and the renunciation of violence against Israel. Haniyeh, however, vowed that Hamas would not comply with any of the conditions.94

Siding openly with the moderate Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad in their power struggle with Hamas, the Americans and Europeans resumed their assistance to the PA. The intention, shared by Israel, was to ‘shower love, money and weapons’ on Abbas so that the West Bank would prosper under PA control.95 Gaza would by contrast be punished – and further impoverished – by tightening the already severe sanctions imposed in the wake of Hamas’s election victory. The PA also turned the screws on Gaza by boycotting the judicial, security and other government agencies and restricting ties with the Hamas government.96 The assumption was that the suffering population would turn against Hamas and re-embrace the more moderate Fatah.

The strategy soon failed. Hamas immediately stepped into the vacuum created by the boycotters and managed to establish a virtual monopoly on the use of force and open political activity in Gaza. While economic conditions in Gaza indeed became desperate, popular anger was directed as much against Fatah, Israel and their Western backers as against Hamas. Fatah thus failed to gain from Hamas’s losses. Punishment through isolation did not stop the armed attacks between Islamic militants in Gaza and Israeli forces either.97 Alarmed by the turn of events in Gaza, Egypt brokered a ceasefire which Israel and Hamas signed in June 2008. Under the terms of the truce Israel would also relax its blockade on Gaza.98 If honoured, the six-month truce would save lives and bring relief to the besieged people of Gaza. It was, however, not meant to address the fundamental issues of power and governance in the Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, at the height of the Gaza crisis in November 2007 yet another international peace conference took place. Convened by US President George W Bush in Maryland, the palaver was attended by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The occasion produced little more than a Joint Understanding in which Olmert and Abbas recommitted themselves to ‘the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security’. They agreed to immediately start bilateral negotiations leading to a peace treaty resolving all ‘outstanding issues’ before the end of 2008. This would involve the immediate implementation of their respective obligations under the roadmap of 2003.99 Months later there was still little evidence of progress, leaving a confirmed Palestinian state a distant dream.

Economic costs of political conflict

Dependence on foreign aid and on Israel rendered the Palestinian economy highly vulnerable to external political manipulation. Over the past 15 years or so, Palestine drew the highest per capita foreign aid in the world. The PA had reportedly received $350 million in 2005 and $738 million in 2006. The major donors have been the US, EU, Japan and Arab countries.100 Israel, in turn, was Palestine’s principal trade partner. Over 95 per cent of Palestinian trade was conducted with the Jewish state, with their bilateral trade worth an estimated $2 billion annually.101 This utter economic dependence on Israel was exacerbated by the fact that up to 40 per cent of the PA’s budget emanated from the transfer of taxes and duties collected on its behalf by Israel.102

The Palestinian economy has been in decline for most of the present decade. The downturn began with the eruption of new hostilities with Israel in 2000. The following year Palestine’s economy contracted by 17 per cent, increasing to 27 per cent in 2002. After a moderate recovery between 2003 and 2005, the economy shrank again in 2006 by six per cent. According to the World Bank, 2007 recorded zero growth and the Palestinian economy was likely to remain stagnant in 2008. Since 1999 the territory’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita had dropped nearly 40 per cent. The Palestinian figure of under US$1,130 in 2006 compared poorly with Israel’s $27,000.103 Palestine’s economic woes were also evident in increasing poverty resulting from rising unemployment. From only 10 per cent prior to the second intifada, unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip grew to roughly 23 per cent by 2006. Gaza was worst off with an unemployment rate of 33 per cent in 2006. The proportion of Gazans suffering ‘deep poverty’ (based on a budget for food, clothing and housing only) increased from nearly 22 per cent in 1998 to 35 per cent in 2006; for the West Bank the corresponding 2006 figure was 13 per cent.104 Such has been the magnitude of the deterioration that Palestine’s economy may well have suffered longer-term structural damage.105

A confluence of three factors accounted for Palestine’s protracted economic woes: the suspension of direct foreign aid in the wake of Hamas’s election victory in 2006, the increase in Israeli settlements in the Palestinian areas, and Israel’s restrictions on movement in and access to those territories.106

With over 90 per cent of its foreign aid emanating from the West and Japan, the interruption of this flow in the wake of Hamas’s election victory left Palestine in a financial crisis.107 Israel in turn punished Hamas by stopping the transfer of tax and customs revenue collected on behalf of the PA; by early 2007 Israel was withholding the bulk of $800 million thus collected.108

As regards Israeli settlements in the West Bank, there had been 149 by mid-2007, East Jerusalem included. An additional 100 or so illegal outposts were maintained without the approval of the Israeli government. The settlement population of roughly 450,000 represented an increase of over 60 per cent on the number at the time of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Israel may have confiscated up to 50 per cent of West Bank territory for existing and future settlements, outposts, restricted military zones and other purposes.109 In Gaza, by contrast, Israel unilaterally closed its settlements in 2005, evacuated its settlers and withdrew troops, thus ending almost 40 years of military occupation.110

Israel has long been controlling the flow of people and goods to, from and within the Palestinian territories, but imposed a far stricter ‘closure regime’ in 2000 in response to the second intifada.111 In the West Bank Israel maintained a staggering 600-odd checkpoints and roadblocks by late 2007.112 Particular reference must be made to Israel’s security barrier in the West Bank. The ‘seam zone’ along the wall has been proclaimed a closed area for an indefinite period. Comprising approximately 8.5 per cent of the West Bank, the zone had housed 50,000 Palestinians in 38 towns and villages.113

Israel defended its restrictions on movement on the grounds of countering insurgency and terrorism targeted against its settlements in the Palestinian territories and in Israel proper. While Israelis may have been left safer, the Palestinians have suffered grievously. A study sponsored by the New Israel Fund and the British embassy in Tel Aviv found that the security wall ‘almost totally ignores the daily needs of the Palestinian population’, while focusing on the desire ‘to maintain the fabric of life of Israeli settlers’.114 Although an Israeli official gave the assurance that ‘[w]e have no interest in seeing a failed Palestinian economy’,115 that may be the very result of Israel’s closure policy. It has constricted the movement of goods between the Palestinian territories and Israel, effectively separated economic and social interaction between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and fragmented the Palestinian economy. The West Bank itself has been split up ‘into ever smaller and more disconnected cantons’116 which, in Khalidi’s words, ‘resemble open-air prison camps’.117

Tiny Gaza (comprising 365 km2 and 1.4 million Palestinians) – economically far weaker than the West Bank (5,970 km2, 2.4 million Palestinians) – suffered a further blow after Hamas took control of the Strip in mid-2007. Gaza became virtually cut off from the West Bank and indeed most of the outside world as Israel imposed an economic blockade against what it designated a ‘hostile territory’.118 The restrictions have caused the suspension of over 90 per cent of Gaza’s industrial activities, transforming the area into ‘a consumer economy driven by public sector salaries and humanitarian assistance only’.119

In the World Bank’s assessment, the combination of Israel’s settlements and closure policy and the suspension of foreign aid ‘placed an already fragile Palestinian economy in a downward cycle of crisis and dependence’.120 This situation of course undermined Palestine’s development of empirical statehood and invariably conjured up familiar doubts about its viability as an independent state. Israel’s role in causing economic havoc in the Palestinian territories in turn raises serious questions about the Jewish state’s commitment to Palestine’s independence. Israel is obviously well positioned to play the role of veto state over an aspirant Palestinian state.

Alternative futures

Today Palestinians no longer face the problem of convincing the international community of their legal, political and moral right to an own state. The universal recognition of their right is typically couched in terms of a two-state arrangement: an independent Palestinian state peacefully coexisting with Israel.121 (Israel’s right of existence may not enjoy the same global acceptance.) Yet the Palestinians have to prove to an increasingly sceptical world that they are capable of governing a modern state. Their record since 1994 has not been encouraging, even when making due allowance for the unique challenges of building a state under conditions of partial occupation by a hostile power. Israel’s consolidation of its hold over the West Bank and East Jerusalem has equally called the prospects of a two-state solution into question – if by a ‘State of Palestine’ is meant ‘a viable, contiguous, sovereign, independent state on the entirety of the 22 percent of mandatory Palestine constituted by the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in June 1967’.122 After all, a two-state outcome and peace between Israelis and Palestinians are hardly conceivable if Israel refused to give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem with a state of Palestine.123 Although it may be premature to consign the two-state formula to the dustbin of irretrievably lost opportunities, it is only prudent to consider alternative political destinations for the Palestinians.

One of the older options has been dubbed the ‘Bantustan plan’. It envisaged Israelis and Palestinians living under Israeli sovereignty, with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip given only civil autonomy.

For the rest the Palestinians (including those who were citizens of Israel) would be ‘controlled, economically disadvantaged residents of greater Israel’. The parallel with South Africa’s black homelands is readily apparent. Such an arrangement would not appeal to the Palestinians, considering that their claims to statehood have long been endorsed the world community.124 For Israelis the option of exercising sovereignty over the Palestinian territories may not be attractive either. Apart from dealing with a hostile subject people, Israel would have to contend with a serious demographic challenge too. Current population trends suggest that Israel’s Jewish population (presently 5.4 million) and the Palestinian population in historic Palestine (currently 5.2 million) would be equal in numbers by 2010, after which Palestinians will gradually outnumber Jews.125 Such a scenario would threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, it has been said. Hence the growing importance in Israeli thinking of ‘demography over geography’.126

A second option, fragmented cantons, was also bound to be unpalatable to Palestinians. Even under the Oslo Accords the West Bank in particular resembled ‘a crazy patchwork of distributed control’. Since then Israel has ceaselessly expanded its settlements and enclosed them in a network of walls, barriers and fences that will eventually turn the West Bank permanently into numerous small and separate Palestinian cantons surrounded by Jewish settlement blocs. Having effectively annexed large portions of the West Bank, Israel would then leave the remaining pockets of land for the Palestinians to call a ‘state’, if they so wished.127 Alternatively, a Palestinian state may consist of three geographically non-contiguous parts or cantons, namely the northern West Bank, the southern West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. (This fragmentation has also been likened to South Africa’s Bantustan design.) The people affected could be left with fewer civil and political rights than the Palestinians living in either Israel or Jordan.128

A third and entirely different set of proposals involved some form of association between Palestine and Jordan. According to one variant, an increasingly autonomous Palestinian legislature could emerge from successive general elections, asserting its independence from both Israel and an Arafat-type regime and drawing the West Bank and Gaza away from Israel’s ‘octopuslike grip’ towards a confederation with Jordan. A second variant called for the incorporation of the West Bank into a confederation with Jordan. The new binational state would comprise two legislatures, one based in the West Bank and representing Palestinians and the other reserved for East Bank Jordanians. The option implied a permanent separation of the West Bank from Gaza and the end of the dream of an independent Palestinian state. Under this proposal Gaza could perhaps be turned over to Egypt as a protectorate.129 Lastly, the idea of a joint Jordanian-Israeli condominium over Palestine has also been mooted.130

The growing belief among several informed observers that the chances of implementing a two-state arrangement have deteriorated over the years, has prompted renewed consideration of a radical fourth alternative, namely a one-state solution. For some this was the ideal future for Palestine/Israel; for others it was the most likely default outcome. Those taking the latter view did not advocate a one-state option but saw it as the inevitable result of present trends. Israel’s policy of settlement-cum-annexation was likely to turn the whole of Palestine into an Israeli-dominated polity. It would, however, prove impossible to keep Israelis and Palestinians segregated in a single small land. Nor could Jewish domination be sustained indefinitely when the Palestinians inevitably became the numerical majority in this ‘greater Israel’.131

Another approach to a one-state model drew on the long-standing Palestinian notion of a unitary state of Palestine, comprising Israel too. Presented as an ideal outcome, it had two variations. One was the PLO proposal of a secular, democratic state extending equal rights to all its inhabitants (Palestinian Arabs and Israelis alike), regardless of religion; Israelis would not receive separate national rights. The other variation, championed by Hamas, envisaged an Islamic state of Palestine in which nonMuslim groups (notably Jews) would be tolerated minorities.132

None of the above alternatives to the two-state option will gain the support of both Palestinians and Israelis. This leaves us with the last alternative, the so-called binational approach that was predicated on the recognition of two national communities and hence ‘two national realities’ in Palestine/Israel.133

One of the most elaborate proposals for a binational state was produced by Abunimah in 2006.134 His point of departure was also that a two-state solution was further away from realization than ever before because of Israel’s creeping annexation of Palestinian territory. A further complicating factor was the reality of ‘two deeply intertwined populations living on a small piece of land’. Rather than pursue the virtually impossible dream of two distinct ethno-national states, Abunimah set out a model allowing Palestinians and Israelis self-determination within a single democratic state. The main appeal of this option, in Abunimah’s view, was that it ‘allows all the people to live in and enjoy the entire country while preserving their distinctive communities and addressing their particular needs’. A single state also offered the prospect of resolving three intractable issues: the fate of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, the status of Jerusalem, and the rights of Palestinian refugees.

In devising a political system for such an entity, a balance had to be found between the desire of many Palestinians and Israeli Jews for cultural autonomy and self-determination on the one hand and on the other the need for a government that did not encourage ethnic or territorial competition, protected the rights of all citizens and promoted interaction between them. Taking his cue from the Belgian example, Abunimah envisaged separate self-governing regions for Jews and Palestinians, with Jerusalem becoming a binational capital. Alternatively, non-territorial community governments could operate alongside a national government. Both variants pointed to a federal arrangement.135

Finally, we note some Israeli perspectives on Palestine’s future status. Israelis who assumed that an independent Palestine would be a dysfunctional state hostile to theirs, favour unilateral separation. This meant that Israel would disengage unilaterally from the West Bank (as it had done in Gaza), leading to the establishment of a ‘limited, constrained Palestinian state’ within borders determined by Israel. This route was likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, namely an irredentist Palestinian state locked in continuous conflict with Israel. Alternatively, Israel could combine unilateral moves with negotiations with the Palestinians on less than comprehensive agreements. The latter option could also lead to a Palestinian state, but unresolved issues were bound to make for a strained and unstable bilateral relationship.136 Reference can also be made to the idea (not confined to Israelis) of limitations being imposed on an independent Palestinian state’s military forces and on its freedom to enter into military alliances with other states. These restrictions could be enforced through bilateral arms control agreements that would not undermine Palestine’s legal status in the world community. The major reason for such conditional independence would be to address Israel’s security concerns – and so presumably improve the prospects for peaceful coexistence between the two states.137 In the late 1990s Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indeed favoured a ‘state-minus’ option for the Palestinians, with restrictions on their freedom of choice in the military and foreign policy domains.138


Palestine is a unique contested state in that its right of independent statehood has been collectively recognized by the world community acting through the UN. Equally exceptional among contested states is that the Palestinians’ liberation movement, the PLO, was recognized by the UN as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The self-declared state of Palestine has, however, not been treated as a full-fledged state by confirmed states; the Palestine Authority nonetheless enjoys many of the trappings of statehood. More than any other contested state, Palestine has been at the centre of repeated diplomatic initiatives aimed at settling the conflict over its future political status. Still the dispute remains unresolved. One reason is the conflict’s multilayered character: at the regional level there is tension between so-called moderate and radical countries over Palestine’s co-existence with Israel; at the bilateral plane the Israelis and Palestinians remain at odds on many key issues surrounding the final status of Palestine, and Israel acts as a powerful veto state through its dual policy of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories and a draconian closure regime; finally, at the intra-Palestinian level fundamental disagreement between Fatah and Hamas has sparked a mini-civil war. All this leaves the Palestinians further away from achieving confirmed statehood than at any time since the conclusion of the path-breaking Oslo Accords in 1993. It will be for future historians to judge whether the Palestinians had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 1990s, condemning themselves to unnecessary contested statehood.


  1. Jamal R Nassar, The Palestine Liberation Organization: From Armed Struggle to the Declaration of Independence, Praeger, Westport, 1991, p.1. Also see Baruch Kimmerling & Joel S Migdal, Palestinians: The Making of a People, The Free Press, New York, 1993.
  2. Jamal R Nassar, pp.2–5; Paul JIM de Waart, Dynamics of Self-Determination in Palestine: Protection of Peoples as a Human Right, EJ Brill, Leiden, 1994, p.103.
  3. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.9.
  4. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.9 and by Dan Tschirgi, ‘Palestine 2003: The perils of de facto statehood’, in Tozun Bahcheli et al (eds), De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, Routledge, London, 2004, p.191.
  5. Quoted by Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, ‘Introduction: On achieving independence’, in Jamal R Nassar & Roger Heacock (eds), Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads, Praeger, New York, 1990, p.4; Dan Tschirgi, p.191; Jamal R Nassar, pp.7–9; Paul JIM de Waart, pp.101, 108–9.
  6. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.10.
  7. Jamal R Nassar, pp.10–11; Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, p.5; Dan Tschirgi, p.191.
  8. Jamal R Nassar, pp.12–13; Dan Tschirgi, p.193.
  9. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.13.
  10. Dan Tschirgi, p.194; Jamal R Nassar, p.13.
  11. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.13; Dan Tschirgi, p.194.
  12. Jamal R Nassar, p.14; Paul JIM de Waart, p.121.
  13. Jamal R Nassar, p.14; Shibley Telhami, ‘The road to Palestinian sovereignty: Problematic structures or conventional obstacles?’, in Stephen D Krasner (ed.), Problematic Sovereignty, Contested Rules and Political Possibilities, Columbia University Press, New York, 2001, pp.301–2; Paul JIM de Waart, pp.132–5.
  14. Jamal R Nassar, p.15.
  15. Dan Tschirgi, p.194; Jamal R Nassar, p.16.
  16. Jamal R Nassar, p.16.
  17. Jamal R Nassar, p.18.
  18. Quoted by Jamal R Nassar, p.20.
  19. Quoted by John Laffin, The P.L.O. Connections, Corgi Books, London, 1982, pp.40–2 and by Paul JIM de Waart, p.140.
  20. Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006, p.165.
  21. Don Peretz, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising, Westview Press, Boulder, 1990, p.184.
  22. Paul JIM de Waart, p.129; Shibley Telhami, pp.309–11, 315.
  23. Dan Tschirgi, pp.195–8.
  24. Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, ‘Status of Palestine at the United Nations’, undated, status.shtml.
  25. Deon Geldenhuys, Isolated States: A Comparative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990, p.132.
  26. Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, ‘Status of Palestine at the United Nations’; Jamal R Nassar, p.149.
  27. Deon Geldenhuys, p.132.
  28. Quoted by Dan Tschirgi, p.200.
  29. Quoted by Dan Tschirgi, p.200.
  30. John Laffin, pp.54–5, 78.
  31. John Laffin, p.155; Shibley Telhami, p.313.
  32. John Laffin, pp.17–19, 153.
  33. Jamal R Nassar, pp.154–6.
  34. Quoted by Paul JIM de Waart, p.183.
  35. Jamal R Nassar, pp.161–2.
  36. Jamal R Nassar, pp.168–9.
  37. Geoffrey Aronson, Israel, Palestinians and the Intifada: Creating Facts on the West Bank, Kegan Paul International, London, 1987, pp.179–85.
  38. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, pp.3, 6, 9–10; B’Tselem, Fatalities in the first Intifada, undated,
  39. Shibley Telhami, p.315.
  40. Edward Said, quoted by Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, Palestine and the Palestinians, Westview Press, Boulder, 1997, p.299. 41 Dan Tschirgi, p.201.
  41. Deon Geldenhuys, p.133; Don Peretz, 1990, p.187.
  42. Quoted by Don Peretz, pp.211–14.
  43. Rashid Khalidi, pp.194–5.
  44. Quoted by Deon Geldenhuys, pp.133–4.
  45. Deon Geldenhuys, p.134; Dan Peretz, p.187.
  46. Don Peretz, p.187.
  47. Tal Becker, International Recognition of a Unilaterally Declared Palestinian State: Legal and Policy Dilemmas, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, undated, at footnote 2,; Deon Geldenhuys, pp.133–4.
  48. Deon Geldenhuys, pp.133–4.
  49. Quoted by Paul JIM de Waart, p.141.
  50. Dan Tschirgi, p.202.
  51. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Israel-PLO recognition: Exchange of letters between PM Rabin and Chairman Arafat’, 9 September 1993, http://www.mfa.…
  52. Shlomo Brom, From Rejection to Acceptance: Israeli National Security Thinking and Palestinian Statehood, United States Institute of Peace Special Report No. 177, February 2007, p.1,
  53. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Declaration of Principles on Interim SelfGovernment Arrangements’, September 13, 1993, Peace…
  54. Malcolm N Shaw, International Law, 5th edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003, p.221.
  55. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.253; Barry Rubin, The Transformation of Palestinian Politics: From Revolution to State-Building, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1999, pp.10–11; Glenn E Robinson, Building a Palestinian State: The Incomplete Revolution, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1997, p.175; Dan Tschirgi, pp.188, 206; Malcolm N Shaw, p.221–2.
  56. Glenn E Robinson, pp.175–6.
  57. Time, 22 November 2004.
  58. See Raja Shehaded, From Occupation to Interim Accords: Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Kluwer Law International, London, 1997.
  59. Rashid Khalidi, p.172.
  60. Dan Tschirgi, pp.188–9; Glenn E Robinson, pp.195–7; Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.284; Barry Rubin, pp.192–3; The Europa World Year Book 2006, Routledge, London, 2006, p.3418; Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, ‘Status of Palestine at the United Nations’.
  61. Tal Becker, p.2, from the executive summary. 63 Malcolm Shaw, p.222.
  62. Tal Becker, p.2, from the executive summary.
  63. Dan Tschirgi, p.189.
  64. Tal Becker, p.3, from the executive summary; Dan Tschirgi, pp.206–7; Rashid Khalidi, p.199; Barry Rubin, pp.1–3.
  65. Tal Becker, p.4, from the executive summary; Dan Tschirgi, pp.206–7.
  66. PCBS, Palestinians in Diaspora and in Historic Palestine End Year 2005, 1 January 2006, p.1,
  67. Tal Becker, pp.3–4, from the executive summary.
  68. Rashid Khalidi, p.159.
  69. Rashid Khalidi, pp.158–9.
  70. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.280.
  71. Glenn E Robinson, pp.181–7; Barry Rubin, p.4.
  72. Dan Tschirgi, p.205; Rashid Khalidi, pp.203–4.
  73. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, pp.219, 315; Barry Rubin, pp.2, 7, 24; Dan Tschirgi, p.205; Glenn E Robinson, p.191.
  74. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.304.
  75. Rashid Khalidi, p.200.
  76. The Europa World Year Book 2006, p.3419; Dan Tschirgi, pp.187, 203; Time, 22 November 2004.
  77. Dan Tschirgi, p.188; The Europa World Year Book 2006, pp.3421–2.
  78. The Economist, 26 May 2007; Time, 22 November 2004.
  79. BBCNEWS, ‘The roadmap: Full text’, 30 April 2003, middle_east/2989783.stm.
  80. The Europa World Year Book 2006, pp.3422–3.
  81. Time, 22 November 2004.
  82. Time, 22 November 2004.
  83. The Europa World Year Book 2006, pp.3424–5.
  84. The Europa World Year Book 2006, p.3429.
  85. The Economist, 23 December 2006.
  86. The Economist, 24 March 2007.
  87. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, Report for the Pledging Conference, Paris, December 17th, 2007, pp.5–6; ‘Hamas takes control of Gaza’, 15 June 2007,, world/2007/jun/15/israel14.
  88. Quoted in ‘Hamas controls Gaza, says it will stay in power’,, 14 June 2007.
  89. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Terror in Gaza’: Eight months since the Hamas takeover’, 14 February 2008, pp.1–12 Terrorism…
  90. Quoted in Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Terror in Gaza’, p.11.
  91. Quoted in Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Palestinian PM Haniyeh: Recognition of Israel is out of the question’, 3 June 2007, p.1, MFA/Terrorism…
  92. The Europa World Year Book 2006, p.3426; The Economist, 23 December 2006.
  93. The Economist, 23 June 2007 and 2 February 2008.
  94. ICG, Ruling Palestine I: Gaza under Hamas, Middle East Report No. 73, 19 March 2008, from the executive summary,
  95. ICG, Ruling Palestine I: Gaza under Hamas, from the executive summary.
  96. BBCNEWS, ‘Israel and Hamas ceasefire begins’, 19 June 2008, http://newsvote.…
  97. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Joint Understanding on Negotiations’, 27 November 2007,…
  98. Steven Stotsky, ‘Will massive infusions of aid rescue the Palestinian economy?’ Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, 2 November 2007, pp.1,4,…
  99. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, p.10; Ziv Hellmann.
  100. Dan Tschirgi, pp.206–7.
  101. The Jerusalem Post, 10 December 2007; World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, 2.
  102. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, p.7; Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, ‘Statistical Abstract of Palestine’, No. 8, 15 November 2007, p.2, http:///…; International Herald Tribune, 27 April 2008.
  103. The Economist, 24 March 2007.
  104. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, pp.5–6.
  105. Barry Rubin, p.199.
  106. The Europa World Year Book 2006, p.3426.
  107. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, p.9; World Bank, Movement and Access Restrictions in the West Bank: Uncertainty and Inefficiency in the Palestinian Economy, Report of a Technical Team, 9 May 2007, p.2.
  108. BBCNEWS, Country profile: Israel and Palestinian territories’, 18 December 2007,
  109. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, pp.5–6.
  110. The Economist, 6 October 2007.
  111. The Guardian, 9 May 2007.
  112. Quoted in The Guardian, 9 May 2007.
  113. Quoted in The Guardian, 9 May 2007.
  114. World Bank, Movement and Access Restrictions in the West Bank, p.12.
  115. Rashid Khalidi, p.202.
  116. Ziv Hellmann; The Economist, 26 May 2007.
  117. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, p.8.
  118. World Bank, Investing in Palestinian Economic Reform and Development, p.5.
  119. Haig Khatchadourian, The Quest for Peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Peter Lang, New York, 2000.
  120. Rashid Khalidi, p.207.
  121. The Economist, 26 May 2007.
  122. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.314.
  123. PCBS, Palestinians in Diaspora, p.3; The Economist, 26 May 2007.
  124. Shlomo Brom, From Rejection to Acceptance: Israeli National Security Thinking and Palestinian Statehood, Special Report No. 177, February 2007, United States Institute of Peace, from the summary, sr177.html.
  125. Rashid Khalidi, pp.213–15.
  126. Glenn E Robinson, p.198; Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, p.315.
  127. Ian Bremmer in Khaleej Times, 17 June 2007.
  128. Samih K Farsoun & Christina E Zacharia, pp.314–15.
  129. Rashid Khalidi, pp.207–8.
  130. Rashid Khalidi, pp.208–9.
  131. Rashid Khalidi, p.209.
  132. Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2006, pp.12–16, 105, 109.
  133. Ali Abunimah, pp.109–12, 116–18.
  134. Shlomo Brom, from the summary.
  135. Shibley Telhami, p.320. 138 Barry Rubin, p.190.

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