29 September 2011

Nigeria: The Quest for Palestinian Statehood


Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas last Friday submitted a formal application for full United Nations membership as an independent state to the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, defying pressure from US President Barack Obama not to take the historic step. Predictably, the statehood bid by the Palestinians has been attracting varied reactions globally. The arguments of hardliners on both sides of the divide tend to be mutually exclusive. It is either "Death to Israel", or "No Palestinian autonomy". Most of the world is lined up behind one or the other in this battle for space between the two descendants of Abraham.

History reveals that the region is a melting pot for religion, culture, commerce, and politics. Through the centuries, the area has been controlled by different peoples: the Canaanites (Bronze Age), the New Kingdom of Egypt; the Philistines, who joined the local population before the United Kingdom of Israel, was established in 1020 BC (that kingdom was later split into Kingdom of Israel in the north and Kingdom of Judah in the south). Around the year 740 BC, the area became part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire succeeded by the Neo-Babylonian Empire around 627 BC.

The same see-saw continued through succeeding centuries with the Sassanids and Byzantines taking their turn. In 636 AD, after the Battle of Yarmouk, Palestine joined the Islamic Empire. In 661 CE, Muawiyah I became the uncontested Caliph of the Islamic World after being crowned in Jerusalem. From 878, Palestine was ruled from Egypt by semi-autonomous rulers for almost one century, beginning with Ahmad ibn Tulun and ending the Ikhshidid rulers who were both buried in Jerusalem. The Fatimids, the Mongol Empire and the Ottomans also took their turn.

The state of Israel was founded in 1948 amid protests from Palestinians and the Arab World. Since then, several wars have been fought in that tiny part of the Middle East. Yet, the resort to violence has not solved the problems on ground.

What is the way out? For one, the Palestinian decision to formally seek statehood at the United Nations should be seen as a positive window which could serve as a catalyst for genuine Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The truth is that the Palestinians deserve to have an independent state they can call home, but Israel cannot be wished away in the process. Any proposal that does not take the issues of border, territory and the status of Jerusalem into consideration will only make the region vulnerable to future violence.

Both sides have to bury their Mosaic eye-for-eye war of attrition in order to be able to live side-by-side as sovereign states. It won't be easy but it can be done. The UN, the Arab League, the EU and the US can aid this process by encouraging both sides to adopt a give-and-take approach. As the Igbo would put it, "Let the eagle perch, let the hawk perch; he that says no to the other, let its wing break."

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