December 16, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
There is a very thin line indeed between truth and fallacy; between justice and injustice. When the great Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato were debating on what constitutes justice in a society, they also debated on a view that was current and articulated by the Sophists. The Sophist’s view stated that justice was the interest of the stronger based on their belief that the human society was just an extension of the animal world where the stronger dictated the weaker. Socrates and Plato rejected strongly the Sophist view and based their perception of justice on issues of rationality and morality.
Unfortunately, if one takes a dispassionate view of world history, it is the Sophist view that has been the realistic one that has defined justice in a society over these thousands of years of human existence in organized society. The stronger elements in society are the ones who have used the state and its institutions to enact laws/customs/etc so that they are able to protect and sustain their interests and their powers in society. Concepts such a democracy, equality, human rights, rights of self determination, etc are just carrots that have been dangled by the powerful and the stronger sections of the society before the weaker seeking justice. The unfortunate fact of history is the weak and the powerless have always succumbed to these carrots.
The case of what has happened in Palestine most recently is yet another example on the world stage that points graphically that the powerless and the weak cannot expect justice and that they are susceptible to consider carrots danged before them as achievements and feel that justice has been done to them. The Palestinians were granted non member observer’s status at the United Nations recently, a status that will give them the right to participate in the deliberations of the General Assembly; membership of many other UN organizations and strengthen its position vis-à-vis Israel on the two-state solution. It is an up-gradation of their status from simply non-member status. Nevertheless, for an entity that is at the periphery of world politics, where its rights to statehood are weak and subject to favour of the big powers, a non-member observer’s status is a big achievement.
But Palestine’s case to statehoods is neither weak nor unjustified. This is what happens when untruth is allowed to be told over and over again by the powerful. People start to forget their perception of judging right from wrong and accept what is repeated over and over again as true even if what is being repeated is untrue. The Palestinians have lived in what now constitutes Israel and the West Bank where they are now walled on the Israeli side, for thousands of years with the Jews and the Christians in peace and harmony. Over different periods of history, the Jews dispersed mainly to Europe and in the last century to the United States for a variety of reasons; a dispersion in which the Muslims of Palestine, who converted from other religions of the region after islam was established, had no role to play.
In fact, while Jews were persecuted in Europe by the Nazis and fellow Europeans, the Jews in Palestine lived happily with their fellow Muslims and Christians. The problem of the Palestinians started after the Balfour Declaration of 1917 by which “His Majesty’s Government (Great Britain) view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Soon afterwards, Jews from Europe started to migrate to Palestine to build the state of Israel as their “promised land.” These migrants with the assistance of the great powers of the time led by Great Britain drove Palestinians to the West Bank and established the state of Israel in 1948. In creating this state, the Israelis used terror tactics against Palestinians that are all but forgotten. It is one of the great ironies of history that today the Palestinians are accused of being terrorists for trying to reclaim their own land. The Palestinians were driven from their homeland and became refugees in the land that was theirs for thousands of years where the only claim against their right on the land was the Biblical grant of the “promised land” to the Jews.
Today, the Palestinians are rejoicing because they have been given an ungraded UN status to represent a territory that is truncated from a bigger territory that was theirs. The UN has adopted innumerable resolutions over the years demanding from Israel to give the Palestinians the land that was theirs till the Egypt-Israel War of 1967 what was still a part of their whole claim. Israel has thrown these UN resolutions out of the widow with contempt. Instead of giving Palestine the right of statehood based on 1967 boundary which was roughly half their claim, the Israelis have in the last 4 and a half decades claimed more of Palestinian land where they have built settlements after settlements, grabbing more and more of Palestinian land with the US with its veto power always ensuring that no binding UN resolution favouring the Palestinians was ever implemented to stop these illegal settlements.
The US did the same this time with the UN resolution adopted at the UN General Assembly granting Palestine observer status. Together with Canada and Czech Republic, it voted with 6 other countries against the resolution that was adopted by a massive margin of 138 and 41 abstentions. In retaliation for seeking the UN Observer status, the Israelis have since made its intentions clear to build “thousands of new houses in the West Bank”. It has also decided to withhold tax revenues from Palestinian Authority that runs part of the West Bank under Israeli eyes as additional punishment. The Israeli actions were too much for its greatest sponsor to digest. Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s Mayor and President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and one of Israel’s most vocal and ardent supporter called these actions “as betrayal of US friendship.”
In the entire first term of President Obama, the Palestine peace process has not moved an inch. It seemed like the US President who had given so much hope in his Cairo speech in June 2009 to the Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular was overawed and afraid of the powers of the hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He made no serious attempt to jump start the peace negotiations that started once in his current term but stalled when Israel went ahead with construction of illegal settlements. With Benjamin Netanyahu getting more hawkish, and showing no concern for world opinion or international law, and given the powers of the Jewish lobby in US politics, it seems unlikely that the US President would do much for the Palestinian cause in his second term that is very unfortunate. The US vote against the Palestinian non-member observer status at the UN hints towards this unequivocally.
The Palestinians are victims of the Sophists view of justice; that justice is the interest of the stronger. They have lost their ancient homeland to Israel because the powerful nations helped to establish the state of Israel. Even in their truncated “homeland”, they have turned into refugees, deprived of the rights enshrined in the UN statutes. It does not look like that Palestinians will see their homeland as an independent state as long as the US and other powerful states continue to back Israel against their legitimate rights. The Palestinian state is going to be a virtual one for quite some time yet.
There are of course developments that neither Israel nor USA is reckoning. The Arab Spring is ushering democracy in the region where the United States and its allies will not find the surrogates they had in the likes of Hosne Mubarak that will strengthen the demand of the Palestinians for their just claim to statehood. More dangerous is the demographic graph shaping in Israel where Jews will soon become minority in their own country. The only option for Israel then would to disenfranchise the majority to stop them from dominating the country politically (!). That would surpass all past violations by Israel of rights of the Palestinians; international law; UN resolutions and civilized organization of states. It is time for Israel’s “true friends to tell it so.” Till these developments hit Israel on the face, the Sophists’ view of justice is all that the Palestinians can expect; small carrots against their just aspirations.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador