[Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University] Chaim Gans: Palestinians were made to pay an unfair price

Palestinians were made to pay an unfair price
By Chaim Gans
Haaretz, 23/6/09

One of the favorite tacks taken by Israeli spokesmen, in attempting to justify the price that the Palestinians paid for the realization of Zionism, is to place full responsibility for that price on the Palestinians themselves. Their refusal to accept the Partition Plan of 1947 is the main anchor for this argument. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not, of course, resist reiterating it in his Bar-Ilan address.

But repeating this claim cannot promote peace, as it expresses a complete unwillingness by Israelis to recognize the heavy price paid by the Palestinians for the realization of Zionism. In his Cairo speech United States President Barack Obama cogently expressed the need to recognize that price.

I am speaking about the price paid by the Palestinians not only for the patently unjust elements of Zionism (the expulsion of 1948, the inequality between Jews and Arabs in Israel and the ongoing torment of Palestinians in the form of the settlements); I am speaking about the price paid for its just elements: the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

The Zionist movement based its justification of the aspiration to establish such a state on the right of every nation to self-determination, on the Jews' historical connection to the land of Israel and, as the tipping point, the persecution of the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is clear from the components of this justification that it was not the Palestinians who should have paid the full price for the realization of this aspiration.

Since the justification speaks of the right of the Jews, like all other nations, to self-determination, then all nations and not only the Palestinians should have shared the cost for realizing that right. And since we are speaking of a right that is justified in being realized in the Land of Israel because of the persecution of the Jews in Europe, then the relevant European nations should have incurred the lion's share of its price. The United Nations Partition Plan did not give expression to this. Therefore, while the Partition Plan was just in principle, the Palestinians, who were the only ones being asked to pay the price of the creation of the Jewish state, had justification for opposing it.

In other words, the Palestinians were morally justified in objecting to the partition resolution despite its justice, not because of its injustice. And we were justified in accepting the partition resolution despite the justice of the Palestinians' opposition, not because of its injustice.

The constant reiteration of the fact of the Palestinians' refusal to accept the Partition Plan, in an effort to make them responsible for the completely unfair costs we extract from them for the conflict, is to close our eyes to the great injustices that we are carrying out. Instead of understanding Zionism in a manner that includes recognition for the justice of the Palestinians' opposition, even to its just elements, we deny the right of this opposition so as to create many unjust elements for Zionism.

In my opinion, only an understanding of the justice of Zionism that includes a recognition of the right of the Palestinian objection, and only Palestinian recognition of the justice of their opposition to Zionism that also includes a recognition of its justified elements, can lead to a stable resolution of the conflict.

An insistence by either party on only its own right, out of a total unwillingless to also see the justice of the other side, will perpetuate the conflict or cause its resolution to be an imposed and unstable one.

There is an impression that Obama expressed an understanding of this in his Cairo speech. Netanyahu did just the opposite.

Chaim Gans' book "A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State," was published last year by Oxford University Press.

Tel Aviv University