Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Missing the Boat to Self-Determination: Palestine and Namibia in Retrospect

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Missing the Boat to Self-Determination: Palestine and Namibia in Retrospect

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Since September 1993, despite well-meaning third parties and concerned facilitators, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has taken place on a playing field which is not level and within a vacuum where no one else is allowed. In addition to this, crucial issues have begun to bear an unmistakable resemblance to the specter of linkage in regard to surrounding states, and it is quite clear that members of the international community perceive there is little they can do. But in the face of present turbulence and future uncertainties, with Palestinian self-determination yet without substance and Israel's tautological security rationale still maintained, it may be worthwhile to critically examine what roles, if any, might have been played by the international community in the past. Notwithstanding the legal principle of self-determination set forth in the United Nations Charter as well as the establishment of assorted U.N. agencies and passing of numerous resolutions in regard to the Palestinians since 1948, such collective initiatives have managed to play not much more than a spectator's role.(2) Here the twin principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of a state have been respected to the highest degree, but apparently with little return. The prolonged gray legal status(3) of any territory and any people have never been recipes for success, and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is no exception, particularly in a region so problematic and potentially volatile. While the present and future are only looking dim, perhaps a look at the past might shed some guiding light.

One period which may prove to be instructive begins in 1960 with the passing of the first U.N. resolution on decolonization, and ends with the changes wrought by the Six Day War. This was an important moment in time not only for the Palestinians, but also for the people of present-day Namibia,(4) both of whom did not fit into the UN's neat decolonization strategies but nevertheless aspired to self-rule. Comparing the disparate roles global institutions played in both these cases even prior to General Assembly Resolution 1514 in 1960 and until June 1967 may indicate possible paths to follow or avoid in contemporary circumstances, particularly since that period does share some similarities with the present. This similarity is not only true as far as missed opportunities are concerned, but also with the view that the 1960s are omen understood as the age of UN-supported decolonization and democratization, bearing some resemblance to the present era of the birth of new states, the perceived triumph of democracy, and celebrated assumptions linking democracy and peace. Also in the early 1960s, neither the Palestinians nor Namibians had yet resorted to violent activity, a circumstance which reflects the policy and practice of official Palestinian representation today. While acknowledging discrete differences in political environment between these two time periods, reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of past political decision making and some legal considerations might hold lessons which are adaptable to the current imperative of self-determination for a people with recognized legal personality. Such a backward glance might also serve to remind that although the admittedly sui generis character of the present struggle can be understood as a legitimate hindrance to a more fluid peace process or at least progress, this argument does not hold; the unique obstacles to Palestinian self-determination are hardly recent developments, and in fact have been apparent all along.

Upon the unanimous passing in 1960 of Resolution 1514, referred to as the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Territories and Peoples,(5) the map of the world as well as U.N. membership began to change dramatically.(6) Although the principle of self-determination had been included in the creation of the Charter fifteen years earlier, it was not until the results of this resolution actually manifested that the first substantive change in membership composition took place in the General Assembly: the addition of more than thirty-five new members. …

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