Democrats and socialists should support the Palestinian Authority's attempt to get United Nations recognition for a sovereign Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
Firstly, because the Palestinians have a right to a state of their own. Secondly, because the situation in which the Palestinians are now locked is one in which they cannot hope to win.
The declaration of a Palestinian state focuses the fundamental question — two states as the only possible solution.
It is a logical and necessary development of the process initiated by the Oslo agreement of 1993. Despite the continued Israeli occupation and the secession of Gaza, the rudiments of a Palestinian state do exist in the West Bank. This is widely recognised — for instance by the IMF and the West Bank.
It is in essentials a restatement of the 1947 UN partition decision under which Israel came into being. (The territory then allotted to a Palestinian state was taken in 1948-9 by Jordan, by Egypt, and, a small bit of it, by Israel). UN Resolution 242, from 1967, already calls on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. The settlements are illegal in terms of UN resolutions.
The declaration fulfills in an unexpected — and of course a grossly inadequate, no more than symbolic — way a variant of the commitment from 2003 of the Quartet (UN, European Union, Russia, USA) to a sovereign Palestinian state by 2011.
Progress to a Palestinian state by agreement with Israel would be far better? It would. But all such talk by the Israeli government is sheer hypocrisy. It wants no settlement involving an independent Palestinian state.
Agreed progress towards peace is chiefly blocked by obdurate Israeli rejection of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel.
And it is not only a matter of deadlock. The position of the Palestinians is relentlessly eroded.
It is the intention of the Netanyahu government, as of previous Israeli governments, systematically to eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian state. At best they would settle for a “Palestinian state” comprising separate pockets of Palestinian territory, under Israeli control.
The declaration of a sovereign Palestinian state will not of itself change any of that. Immediately it may aggravate the situation.
But it is a symbol, and symbols are powerful things. Israel’s “facts on the ground” — the settlements — point one way. Symbols can point to, prefigure, facts-to-be, and map out the ground
The Arab Spring has radically changed the situation Israel faces. The old autocracy in Egypt had, since the 1970s and after wars the last of which was the Yom Kippur war of 1973, reached an accommodation with Israel. Now the Israeli embassy in Cairo is burned down.
Arab regimes more open to mass pressures will be a great deal most hostile to to Israel than the old regimes. We can see a shift too in Islamic Turkey, long an ally of Israel.
The Palestinians can never hope to win unless Israel is compelled by international pressure to settle with them, with something like an acceptance of Palestinian rights.
Progress towards an agreed Israeli/Palestinian settlement faces two giant roadblocks. On the Israeli side, progress to a just settlement is blocked by Israeli colonisation in Arab land since 1967. There are now half a million settlers on the West Bank.
On the Palestinian side, the roadblock is the demand for the “right of return” of the five million descendants of the 750,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israeli territory in 1948.
In practice that is a demand for the abolition of the Hebrew state. It is in flat contradiction with the 1988 Palestine Liberation Organisation recognition of Israel, and its proposal of a two-state solution to the conflict.
But the unilateral declaration of a state implicitly jettisons the linkage of a Palestinian state with the demand for the “return” of five million people to what is now Israel. It disentangles the issues in a way that might prove impossible in negotiations.
Henceforth the Palestinian standpoint will be for recognition of the state that they have declared, and its territory, with practical negotiations about the settlements — maybe the dismantlement of some, and the swapping of land for the Palestinian territory occupied by the others. (It has been claimed that the Palestinian move for UN recognition preempts discussion on adjustments to the 1967 borders. No, it doesn't. It only strengthens and clarifies the Palestinian position).
By uncoupling the question of a Palestinian state from the “right of return”, the declaration abandons, or anyway sidelines, the historic revenge-seeking, moralistic, irredentist drive of the Palestinians and the Palestinian-descended diaspora to destroy Israel.
In any case, the two roadblocks to agreement, Palestinian and Israeli, are not equivalents.
“Return” is simply a demand, which some at least of those who talk about it must inwardly accept to be unachievable. The Israeli settlement policy is a fact, and a growing, expanding, burgeoning fact.
Israel accepts no limits to expansion of the settlements. The settlers, and the Israeli road and defence systems that go with them, undermine and in time will destroy the very possibility of a Palestinian state.
From the point of view of Israeli national interests, the declaration, by notionally, prefiguratively separating out two distinct territorially-based people, the Palestinian Arab nation and the Hebrew nation, will help secure Israel and those claims of Israeli nationalism that are politically and morally viable.
If the option of a Palestinian state is finally scuttled by the expansion of Israeli settlements, then the only alternative will be for the Palestinians and their supporters to fight for full integration of Jews and Palestinian Arabs in a common state.
Those who believe in a Jewish state cannot, unless they are straightforward chauvinists, want it to have control over such a large and alienated non-Jewish minority. One of the objections to Netanyahu and the Israeli right is that even as Jewish nationalists they are stupid — stupefied by power and the misuse of power against the Palestinians — blind Samsons, pulling down the pillars of the Israeli entity.
A declaration of independence will provoke far more violence than there has been for some years. It may spark a new intifada, only now in the context of the “Arab Spring” and a part of it. It may lead some of the settlers to go to war against their Palestinian neighbours. A simmering war may flare up into something far worse. That will happen only if the Israeli government allows it to. The declaration may also lead to Israeli economic sanctions, or even US sanctions, against the Palestinian Authority.
There may be all sorts of unpleasant side-consequences. If we sat in the councils of the Palestinians, those might make us hesitate to vote for the unilateral declaration of a sovereign Palestinian state. But the choice of the elected leaders of the Palestinians is what matters here.
If they go ahead, they are entitled to the support of socialists and democrats everywhere.