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The Case for Palestine

The case for Palestine is very simple to make. To understand the Palestinian perspective you do not really need a book such as The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective, a counterpoint to Alan Dershowitz’ controversial and contested The Case for Israel.

The case for Israel is a case that needs to be made. Such a case involves the entire set of historical, cultural, religious, legalistic, political and, above all, strategic arguments needed to back the effective submission, removal and oppression of an indigenous population of a territory for political reasons.

There are three ways you can view the Middle-East conflict:

1) Israel Has No Legitimacy

Israel, as the invading entity, is the country in need of defense and justification. Palestinians are the indigenous population and, as such, the legal owners of the land. This is a view often held by staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause.

It is in conflict with both UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) and UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967). It is, however, also the way the issue looks in plain sight. You may say that it is the view of the Middle-East conflict from the perspective of natural law.

According to such a view Israel must be demolished and replaced by a Palestinian state encompassing the full breadth of the contested territory. This is the view held by Hamas, by the current administration of Tehran and by many radical anti-Zionists, whether from the Islamic world or the Christian: Israel has no legal right to the land.

Unfortunately, the most extreme view is also the most reality-adequate view. It is the plain historical truth, when all rhetoric and political complexity is cut out of the equasion.

2) Israel is Legitimized by UN

The second way to view the Middle-East conflict is that the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) and UN Security Council Resolution242 (1967) firmly establishes the legitimacy of Israel. This is also the view promoted by Zionist lobbyists and staunch supporters of Israel.

This view is contested by Palestinians in general and by their supporters, including legal experts.

The UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947) terminated the British Mandate issued by The League of Nations in the wake of the First World War and recommended the partition of the territory into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area being under special international protection, administered by the United Nations.

The title is UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. It is not a UN birth certificate and subsequently not a source of formal legitimacy for the Israeli Declaration of Independence. The UN Security Council Resolution242 calls for recognition of Israel’s right to exist under secure and recognized borders, and for Arab war against Israel to cease.

UN General Assembly resolutions are generally considered non-binding, while some consider UN Security Resolutions binding and others contest it, saying they cannot be binding.

In simple terms: There are no legally binding UN resolutions. This is, in essence, the meaning behind the first basic rule of international politics: The world order is anarchic. 

To argue that resolutions regarding Israel are legally binding is therefore absurd. Israel attempts to argue its legitimacy on other more rhetorical (irrational) aspects of its cultural history and accomplishments.

From a realistic perspective the strongest point in Israel's advocacy is derived from relative strategic importance as an ally, unfortunately in a potential geopolitical conflict Israel in itself is instrumental in producing.

3) Both Israel and Palestine are Legitimate

The third view is a compromise that both Israel and Palestine are legitimate. This view is a common view, the fundamental concept behind peace talks and a view backed by both aforementioned resolutions and the Balfour Declaration.

It is not necessarily the truth, and from an objective perspective it makes very little sense. It is a reflection of a global power structures that currently favor the Israeli side, but is morally compelled to balance the support for Israel with some acknowledgement of the Palestinian plight.

The Balfour Declaration is a formal statement of policy by the British government from 1917, supporting the establishment of a nation-state for the Jewish people, but one with due respect for the “non-Jewish communities” in Palestine.

His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The Balfour Declaration comes into play due to the statement that “it being clearly understood nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” cannot be said to be observed by Israel, neither legally nor politically, nor has it ever been.

The Balfour Declaration is not a legally binding document, but it expresses the political justification for the establishment of an Israeli nation-state, that it was to benefit both groups. It may be said to have been forged under pressure from Israeli terrorism and to be naïve in expressing hope for a balanced policy from the varying Israeli governments towards Palestinians.

The Balfour Declaration does, however, stress equality and moral equivalence. It is still philosophically valid and politically relevant, because it frames the spirit and the moral framework of the discussion.

The main issue with regards to discrimination against Palestinians is the Law of Return (1950), which secures that anyone of Jewish ancestry and their spouses have the right to migrate and to settle in Israel and gain citizenship.

The law gives the right of return to those born Jews, those with Jewish ancestry and converts to Judaism. Effectively, this could lead to at the very least a doubling of the Jewish population with a maximum of 13,296,100, should all remaining Jews in exile decide to apply for citizenship.

Equivalence and the Law of Return

The Balfour Declaration is one that stresses equal terms between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. The Law of Return is clearly discriminating against Palestinians.

If the Law of Return in a moderated form that did not include those who convert to Judaism was to extent to Palestinians, about 10 million Palestinians in Diaspora would have the right to return, along with spouses and off-spring.

If the Law of Return in its current form was to extent to Palestinians, any Muslim would have the right to settle in Palestine and achieve citizenship and associated benefits.

As long as The Law of Return is in effect, Israel is per definition a Zionist state. Under the circumstances it does not make sense to distinguish between pro-Israeli attitudes and Zionism.

If the Law of Return was to be abolished Israel would still have a problem with moral equivalence, since the current Jewish citizens have been “imported” at the expense of Palestinians and with the fact that 10 million people identifying as Palestinians are exiled by the historical course of events.

Right of Return has therefore become a major issue in the Palestinian campaign against Zionist Israel.


Strictly speaking the modern state of Israel is an artificial political construct benefited by a global power structure that favors the West and Western-leaning regimes such as Israel. It represents an extention of European colonialist policies and imperialistic attitudes, favored by American neo-imperialism under the Cold War dynamics.

Israel has no claim to the territories whatsoever, and the Balfour Declaration and following UN resolutions merely reflect political interests, not de facto ownership.

The indigenous Palestinian population must be seen as legitimate owners of the land, and even a partitioning of the land into a Jewish nation-state and a Palestinian nation-state will effectively mean a vast reduction of the rightful ownership of Palestinians.

From a pragmatic view such a partition with all the difficulties it entails may be the only realistic solution. It may be an acceptable compromise, for as much as Israel can offer Palestine compensation for 63 years of discrimination, oppression including murder and torture, and displacement, plus compensation for reduction of Palestinian territory, minus perhaps costs and injuries from Palestinian actions that cannot be said to be legitimate forms of resistance, such as suicide bombings and missile attacks carried out against Israeli civilians.

Such compensation could be delivered in the form of grants for construction of infrastructure pointing towards full Palestinian independence.

The solution would benefit from the division of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem area under special international protection, administered by the United Nations, along the lines of the UN Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947.

The alternatives would be:

Utter disregard for the rights of Palestinians, complete Israeli appropriation of the Occupied Territories and settlements, removal of Palestinians and their absolute submission to any Israeli policies in a Jewish super-state. This would be a great historical crime and one that, unlike the displacement and effective eradication of the Native-American population would be widely remembered among 1.5 billion Muslims in the world.

This is a very likely outcome under the current geopolitical power structure, but it would form the basis of a massive and lasting Pan-Arabic animosity against Israel with the potential to throw the world into a global conflict.

The other option is: Demolition of the state of Israel as an unsustainable project, with the exiling of all current Israeli citizens or their subjection to a Palestinian state.

This is not a realistic scenario under the current geopolitical power structure, but could take place later in the 21st century as a result of waning American power as projected over the next two decades, or a major economic or environmental crisis crippling Washington, or a severing of economic and military and political ties between USA and Israel for other reasons.

Additional notes:

The future existence of Israel is, if a lasting peace agreement accepted by both sides is not worked out, very much in question.

In ancient times Israel has several times been under foreign administration, whether Babylonian or Persian or Roman, with scores of Jews displaced.

Historically, the ownership of the land has been contested and the centre of battles for ownership between European and Middle Eastern medieval warlords.

Establishing a nation on the basis of ownership derived from previous ownership after nearly 2000 years is historically unique and a dangerous precedent for territorial disputes.

Effectively, Israel – a country with a country smaller than New Jersey, could become a primary motive for the West to keep the entire North Africa and Middle East (MENA) in oppression in order to avoid a high-scale conflict. This is a huge and overlooked factor in the Euro-American ambivalence with regards to the current Arab Revolutions.

You may also be interested in Why Does USA Support Israel? 

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