What will change, when we recognise the State of Palestine?
138 of the UN’s 193 member states recognise the State of Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Whatever diplomatic outcome they envision, 138 states believe that a solution starts by recognising the parties involved. Recognition implies that, like powerful and powerless parties to a lawsuit, Israel and Palestine approach the court with equal rights.
Aotearoa-NZ is in the minority. We do not recognise Palestine. We let the power disparities stand. We do nothing to acknowledge Palestinians’ national voice, as if that mythical court case should somehow decide about them, without them.
Recognition of Palestine would re-frame the issue.
As an occupied people subsisting under a violent military regime, Palestinians have a right to our legal protection. As the State of Palestine, they have a land and they own its natural resources. Recognition unifies the State of Palestine, which the occupation seeks to divide by policy and force. The unified State of Palestine lives under a single occupation, although it is differently enacted within Israel, in the areas where Israel is the occupying power, and with respect to refugees elsewhere.
As citizens of a state in a world where states remain the defining political actors, Palestinians would have access to the institutions, agreements, interactions, enforcement and responsibilities that we all take for granted. They would have access to the websites that we use, to the banking transactions and passports and mail and myriad other systems that are enabled by state agreements. They would map their own geographies, rather than being administered by military documents that aim to chart the loss of their land and their autonomy. When settlers occupy, or when Israel openly vows to take, additional land from the State of Palestine; the illegality of those acts would be clear – none of this ‘annexation’ obfuscation.
These benefits are so normal that we really must re-phrase our question: why has Aotearoa-NZ withheld all this from Palestinians for so long? Why should a child be denied all that normalcy, by virtue of being born Palestinian?
Rights and law and diplomatic acts like recognition will not end the occupation. Rather, they describe the internationally agreed minimum standards by which we all live. When they are upheld, they restore Palestinian lives to those minimum standards. That sets the stage for two national groups to negotiate in a forum of international law. We will not be the negotiators, but it is our responsibility to establish fair conditions for that political project. We uphold the laws. We drag this occupation into a forum of law for a resolution based on justice, not brute power.
Why do Palestinians live so far beneath those minimum standards now? The law of occupation, the Geneva Conventions, all those UN resolutions – where are they? It’s mystifying, we agree. The tools are all waiting for us to pick them up and use them. We call on our Prime Minister to uphold the laws and conventions that NZ governments have signed in all of our names – and to bring the State of Palestine fully into the same systems by means of recognition.
We are impatient, because the passage of time is not neutral. It never was, and Covid has doubled the urgency. Palestinian living standards, their environment and life prospects are deteriorating sharply: doing nothing is not a cost-free alternative.
We call on our government to recognise Palestine now.
Withholding recognition is a willful refusal to see a nation of five million people, to insist on their equality and inclusion. The occupation is exclusive, denying Palestinianhood, downgrading and ultimately erasing it. Recognising Palestine is an inclusive act. Recognition affirms Palestinians’ full right to exist in a space that will need to be shared. We in NZ know that states may colonise blindly, but they must learn to see and listen and speak new languages. Recognition sees the indigenous people of Palestine. That is the right side of history for NZ to take.
Recognition will also help to correct a conversation that has become toxic.
Too often, protest is merely anti-occupation or merely anti-Zionist; a protest against Israel’s failure to observe law and uphold Palestinians’ rights. Recognition reframes the issue by centering Palestinians, and normalising their full, equal human and political rights. With that established as our baseline, we can protest the deficit, the rights withheld. Recognition will strengthen Palestinians’ platform to speak and act on their own aspirations.
Too often, this occupation has been about exceptionalism (Israeli and Trumpian). We spend too much time on the justifications of the powerful. Recognition rejects all that. It brings the occupation back into unexceptional focus: one state occupies the land of another. Occupation is a military act, governed and limited by law.
We should be working to invoke that law. As a first step, let us join the majority, the 138 members of the UN who recognise the State of Palestine.
Signed by these Alternative Jewish Voices and Friends,
Marilyn Garson Sarah Cole
Fred Albert Prue Hyman
Jeremy Rose Sue Berman
Denzelle Marcovicci Justine Sachs