In perhaps the most important decision ever reached at the United Nations, the General Assembly resolved on November 29, 1947, to divide Palestine into three parts. In the exact wording of the resolution passed: "Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem ... shall come into existence in Palestine."
As is well known, less than half a year later, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion stood before the Provisional State Council in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the State of Israel. Much less well known is that a few months after that, on October 1, 1948, Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem, stood before the Palestine National Council in Gaza and declared the existence of the All-Palestine Government (Hukumat 'Umum Filastin).
In theory, this "state" already ruled Gaza and would soon control all of Palestine. Accordingly, it was born to lofty proclamations of Palestine's free, democratic, and sovereign nature, and with a full complement of ministers. But the whole undertaking was a sham, for Gaza was run by the Egyptian government of King Faruq, the ministers had nothing to do, and the All-Palestine Government never expanded to all of Palestine. Instead, this state quickly withered into insignificance, and for the next two decades, the goal of a Palestinian state virtually disappeared. It was seriously revived only after the Six Day War of June 1967.
Almost exactly forty years after the first proclamation of a Palestinian state, a second one took place on November 15, 1988, again before a meeting of the Palestine National Council. This time, Yasir 'Arafat, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), declared the existence of a State of Palestine. In some ways, this exercise was even more futile than the first, for the new state was proclaimed in Algiers, almost 2,000 miles and four borders away from Palestine; this state controlled not an inch of the territory it claimed; and this one faced a powerful Israeli adversary.
In brief, the Israeli declaration created a state; the first Palestinian declaration fizzled; and the second one was, at best, one step in a complex diplomatic minuet. These fundamental dissimilarities should always be kept in mind in reading what follows below, namely the 1988 PLO Algiers proclamation and the 1948 Israeli document. Thereafter we compare the two, for such an analysis reveals much about the Jewish national movement and its Palestinian Doppelgänger.
PLO Proclamation of Independence
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.
Palestine, the land of the three monotheistic faiths, is where the Palestinian Arab people was born, on which it grew, developed and excelled. The Palestinian people was never separated from or diminished in its integral bonds with Palestine. Thus the Palestinian Arab people ensured for itself an everlasting union between itself, its land and its history.
Resolute throughout that history, the Palestinian Arab people forged its national identity, rising even to unimagined levels in its defence, as invasion, the design of others, and the appeal special to Palestine's ancient and luminous place on that eminence where powers and civilizations are joined. . . . All this intervened thereby to deprive the people of its political independence. Yet the undying connection between Palestine and its people secured for the land its character, and for the people its national genius.
Nourished by an unfolding series of civilizations and cultures, inspired by a heritage rich in variety and kind, the Palestinian Arab people added to its stature by consolidating a union between itself and its patrimonial Land. The call went out from Temple, Church, and Mosque that to praise the Creator, to celebrate compassion and peace was indeed the message of Palestine. And in generation after generation, the Palestinian Arab people gave of itself unsparingly in the valiant battle for liberation and homeland. For what has been the unbroken chain of our people's rebellions but the heroic embodiment of our will for national independence? And so the people was sustained in the struggle to stay and to prevail.
When in the course of modern times a new order of values was declared with norms and values fair for all, it was the Palestinian Arab people that had been excluded from the destiny of all other peoples by a hostile array of local and foreign powers. Yet again had unaided justice been revealed as insufficient to drive the world's history along its preferred course.
And it was the Palestinian people, already wounded in its body, that was submitted to yet another type of occupation over which floated the falsehood that "Palestine was a land without people". This notion was foisted upon some in the world, whereas in Article 22 of the Convenant of the League of Nations (1919) and in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), the community of nations had recognized that all the Arab territories, including Palestine, of the formerly Ottoman provinces were to have granted to them their freedom as provisionally independent nations.
Despite the historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arab people resulting in their dispersion and depriving them of their right to self-determination, following upon UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (1947), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish, yet it is this Resolution that still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty and national independence.
By stages, the occupation of Palestine and parts of other Arab territories by Israeli forces, the willed dispossession and expulsion from their ancestral homes of the majority of Palestine's civilian inhabitants was achieved by organized terror; those Palestinians who remained, as a vestige subjugated in its homeland, were persecuted and forced to endure the destruction of their national life.
Thus were principles of international legitimacy violated. Thus were the Charter of the United Nations and its Resolutions disfigured, for they had recognized the Palestinian Arab people's national rights, including the right of Return, the right to independence, the right to sovereignty over territory and homeland.
In Palestine and on its perimeters, in exile distant and near, the Palestinian Arab people never faltered and never abandoned its conviction in its rights of Return and independence. Occupation, massacres and dispersion achieved no gain in the unabated Palestinian consciousness of self and political identity, as Palestinians went forward with their destiny, underterred and unbowed. And from out of the long years of trial in evermounting struggle, the Palestinian political identity emerged further consolidated and confirmed. And the collective Palestinian national will forged for itself a political embodiment, the Palestine Liberation Organization, its sole legitimate representative, recognized by the world community as a whole, as well as by related regional and international institutions. Standing on the very rock of conviction in the Palestinian people's inalienable rights, and on the ground of Arab national consensus, and of international legitimacy, the PLO led the campaigns of its great people, molded into unity and powerful resolve, one and indivisible in its triumphs, even as it suffered massacres and confinement within and without its home. And so Palestinian resistance was clarified and raised into the forefront of Arab and world awareness, as the struggle of the Palestinian Arab people achieved unique prominence among the world's liberation movements in the modern era.
The massive national uprising, the "Intifada", now intensifying in cumulative scope and power on occupied Palestinian territories, as well as the unflinching resistance of the refuges camps outside the homeland, have elevated consciousness of the Palestinian truth and right into still higher realms of comprehension and actuality. Now at last the curtain has been dropped around a whole epoch of prevarication and negation. The Intifada has set siege to the mind of official Israel, which has for too long relied exclusively upon myth and terror to deny Palestinian existence altogether. Because of the Intifada and its revolutionary irreversible impulse, the history of Palestine has therefore arrived at a decisive juncture.
Whereas the Palestinian people reaffirms most definitively its inalienable rights in the land of its patrimony:
Now by virtue of natural, and the exercise of those rights historical and legal right and the sacrifices of successive generations who gave of themselves in defense of the freedom and independence of their homeland;
In pursuance of Resolution adopted by Arab Summit Conference and relying on the authority bestowed by international legitimacy as embodied in the Resolutions of the United Nations Organization since 1947;
and in exercise by the Palestinian Arab people of its rights to self-determination, political independence, and sovereignty over its territory.
The Palestine National Council, in the name of God, and in the name of the Palestinian Arab people; hereby proclaims the establishment of the State of Palestine [Dawlat Filastin] on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem (Al-Quds Ash Sharif).
The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be. The state is for them to enjoy in it their collective national and cultural identity, theirs to pursue in it a complete equality of rights. In it will be safeguarded their political and religious convictions and their human dignity by means of a parliamentary democratic system of governance, itself based on freedom of expression and the freedom to form parties. The rights of minorities will duly be respected by the majority, as minorities must abide by decisions of the majority. Governance will be based on principles of social justice, equality and non-discrimination in public rights [for] men or women, on grounds of race, religion, color or sex under the aegis of a constitution which ensures the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Thus shall these principles allow no departure from Palestine's age-old spiritual and civilizational heritage of tolerance and religious co-existence.
The State of Palestine is an Arab state, an integral and indivisible part of the Arab nation, at one with that nation in heritage and civilization, with it also in its aspiration for liberation, progress, democracy and unity. The State of Palestine affirms its obligation to abide by the Charter of the League of Arab States, whereby the coordination of the Arab states with each other shall be strengthened. It calls upon Arab compatriots to consolidate and enhance the emergence in reality of our state, to mobilize potential, and to intensify efforts whose goal is to end Israeli occupation.
The State of Palestine proclaims its commitment to the principles and purposes of the United Nations, and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It proclaims its commitment as well to the principles and policies of the Non-Aligned Movement.
It further announces itself to be a peace-loving State, in adherence to the principles of peaceful co-existence. It will join with all states and peoples in order to assure a permanent peace based upon justice and the respect of rights so that humanity's potential for well-being may be assured, an earnest competition for excellence be maintained, and in which confidence in the future will eliminate fear for those who are just and for whom justice is the only recourse.
In the context of its struggle for peace in the land of Love and Peace, the State of Palestine calls upon the United Nations to bear special responsibility for the Palestinian Arab people and its homeland. It calls upon all peace- and freedom-loving peoples and states to assist it in the attainment of its objectives, to provide it with security, to alleviate the tragedy of its people, and to help it terminate Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The State of Palestine herewith declares that it believes in the settlement of regional and international disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with the U.N. Charter and resolutions. Without prejudice to its natural right to defend its territorial integrity and independence, it therefore rejects the threat or use of force, violence, and terrorism against its territorial integrity, or political, independence, as it also rejects their use against the territorial integrity of other states.
Therefore, on this day unlike all others, November 15, 1988, as we stand at the threshold of a new dawn, in all honor and modesty we humbly bow to the sacred spirits of our fallen ones, Palestinian and Arab, by the purity of whose sacrifice for the homeland our sky has been illuminated and our Land given life. Our hearts are lifted up, and irradiated by the light emanating from the much blessed intifada, from those who have endured and have fought the fight of the camps, of dispersion, of exile, from those who have borne the standard of freedom, our children, our aged, our youth, our prisoners, detainees and wounded, all those whose ties to our sacred soil are confirmed in camp, village and town. We render special tribute to that brave Palestinian woman, guardian of sustenance and life, keeper of our people's perennial flame. To the souls of our sainted martyrs, to the whole of our Palestinian Arab people, to all free and honorable peoples everywhere, we pledge that our struggle shall be continued until the occupation ends, and the foundation of our sovereignty and independence shall be fortified accordingly.
Therefore, we call upon our great people to rally to the banner of Palestine, to cherish and defend it, so that it may forever be the symbol of our freedom and dignity in that homeland, which is a homeland for the free, now and always.
In the name of God, the compassionate, the Merciful.
Say: "O God, Master of the Kingdom,
Thou givest the Kingdom to whom Thou wilt,
and seizest the Kingdom from whom Thou wilt,
Thou exaltest whom Thou wilt, and Thou
abesest whom Thou wilt; in Thy hand
is the good. Thou art powerful
- Sadaqa Allahu Al-'Azim.
Israeli Proclamation of Independence
The Israeli Declaration of Independence.
The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world.
Exiled from the Land of Israel the Jewish people remained faithful to it in all the countries of their dispersion, never ceasing to pray and hope for their return and the restoration of their national freedom.
Impelled by this historic association, Jews strove throughout the centuries to go back to the land of their fathers and regain their statehood. In recent decades they returned in their masses. They reclaimed the wilderness, revived their language, built cities and villages, and established a vigorous and ever-growing community, with its own economic and cultural life. They sought peace, yet were prepared to defend themselves. They brought the blessings of progress to all inhabitants of the country and looked forward to sovereign independence.
In the year 1897 the First Zionist Congress, inspired by Theodor Herzl's vision of the Jewish State, proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to national revival in their own country.
This right was acknowledged by the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, and re-affirmed by the Mandate of the League of Nations, which gave explicit international recognition to the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home.
The recent holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the need to solve the problem of the homelessness and lack of independence of the Jewish people by means of the re-establishment of the Jewish State, which would open the gates to all Jews and endow the Jewish people with equality of status among the family of nations.
The survivors of the disastrous slaughter in Europe, and also Jews from other lands, have not desisted from their efforts to reach Eretz-Yisrael, in face of difficulties, obstacles and perils; and have not ceased to urge their right to a life of dignity, freedom and honest toil in their ancestral land.
In the second World War the Jewish people in Palestine made their full contribution to the struggle of the freedom-loving nations against the Nazi evil. The sacrifices of their soldiers and their war effort gained them the right to rank with the nations which founded the United Nations.
On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a Resolution requiring the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. The General Assembly called upon the inhabitants of the country to take all the necessary steps on their part to put the plan into effect. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their independent State is unassailable.
It is the natural right of the Jewish people to lead, as do all other nations, an independent existence in its sovereign State.
Accordingly we, the members of the National Council, representing the Jewish people in Palestine and the World Zionist Movement, are met together in solemn assembly today, the day of termination of the British Mandate for Palestine; and by virtue of the natural and historic right of the Jewish people and of the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Medinath Yisrael (The State of Israel).
We hereby declare that, as from the termination of the Mandate at midnight, the 14th-15th May, 1948, and pending the setting up of the duly elected bodies of the State in accordance with a Constitution, to be drawn up by the Constituent Assembly not later than the 1st October, 1948, the National Council shall act as the Provisional State Council, and that the National Administration shall constitute the Provisional Government of the Jewish State, which shall be known as Israel.
The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the principles of liberty, justice and peace as conceived by the Prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or sex; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture; will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and will loyally uphold the principles of the United Nations Charter.
The State of Israel will be ready to co-operate with the organs and representatives of the United Nations in the implementation of the Resolution of the Assembly of November 29, 1947, and will take steps to bring about the Economic Union over the whole of Palestine.
We appeal to the United Nations to assist the Jewish people in the building of its State and to admit Israel into the family of nations.
In the midst of wanton aggression, we yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its bodies and institutions-provisional and permanent.
We extend our hand in peace and neighbourliness to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to co-operate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is prepared to make its contribution to the progress of the Middle East as a whole.
Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side in the task of immigration and development, and to stand by us in the great struggle for the fulfillment of the dream of generations for the redemption of Israel.
With trust in the Rock of Israel, we set our hand to this Declaration, at this Session of the Provisional State Council, on the soil of the Homeland, in the city of Tel-Aviv, on this Sabbath eve, the fifth of Iyar, 5708, the fourteenth of May, 1948.
Differences in approach between the two declarations are readily apparent. The Israeli document wholeheartedly accepts General Assembly Resolution 181. In contrast, the PLO document hedges, blaming it for Palestinian dispersion and loss of national rights, only grudgingly allowing that it "still provides" the best basis for a Palestinian state. In brief, PLO leaders continue not to endorse Resolution 181 as a whole; they accept only the legitimacy it affords their movement.
Whereas the Israeli charter proffers friendship to the local Arabs, calling upon them "to preserve the ways of peace," the PLO one exudes hostility to the "organized terror" of the Israeli forces. Similarly, the Israelis offer good will to the neighboring states, but the PLO says not a word about this (not surprisingly, given its historic ambitions vis-à-vis both Israel and Jordan).
The Israeli declaration, which does not once mention the divinity, is purely secular in spirit; the PLO declaration refer to God six times and closes with a verse from the Qur'an.
The documents also differ in tone. The Israeli resolution is restrained, its language cool, the tone uplifting - all of which suggest calm pride and sober optimism. In contrast, the PLO resolution reverberates with the memory of injustices rendered and grievances recalled. Long, impassioned sentences mix the language of pain ("willed dispossession and expulsion") with assertions of romantic nationalism ("long years of trial in evermounting struggle," "one and indivisible in its triumphs"). Note, too, how very differently the two documents draw to a close:
With trust in the Rock of Israel, we set our hand to this Declaration.
Therefore, on this day unlike all others, November 15, 1988, as we stand at the threshold of a new dawn, in all honor and modesty we humbly bow to the sacred spirits of our fallen ones, Palestinian and Arab, by the purity of whose sacrifice for the homeland our sky has been illuminated and our land given life. Our hearts are lifted up, and irradiated by the light emanating from the much blessed intifada, from those who have endured and have fought the fight of the camps, of dispersion, of exile, from those who have borne the standard of freedom, our children, our aged, our youth, our prisoners, detainees and wounded, all those whose ties to our sacred soil are confirmed in camp, village and town. We render special tribute to that brave Palestinian woman, guardian of sustenance and life, keeper of our people's perennial flame.
This contrast in styles caused one Palestinian, the novelist Anton Shammas, to judge the Algiers text inadequate. Whoever wrote the PLO declaration, Shammas suggested,
should have relied more on the Ben-Gurion text; some of its genuine, lean grandeur might have come through his version; and some of its concinnity, its concise linguistic approach, might have shortened his version by a (redundant) third, or 500 words. Too little butter spread on too large a pita.
Fawaz Turki, an independent-minded Palestinian intellectual, expressed the same thought yet more bitterly: to the extent the Palestinian Declaration of Independence had any emotive and poetic elements, he wrote, "it was thanks to the Israeli Declaration of Independence, from which relevant sections were plagiarized by brazen PLO scribes."
The Israeli declaration served as the basis for the legitimate establishment of a sovereign state; in contrast, the PLO document was deemed legally inadequate. Rita Hauser, the New York lawyer working as an unofficial U.S. liaison with the PLO, dismissed it as "not a legally drafted document. It was repetitive, inconsistent and incoherent."
What explains these many contrasts in the texts? Circumstances. Israelis were acutely aware of two facts: the historic import of creating the first Jewish state in two millennia; and the invasion of Arab armies set to begin within a few hours. Under these conditions, their text aimed less at raising emotions than at making a declaration for the record. In contrast, the PLO proclamation served as a diplomatic ploy. It neither marked much of a historical event (especially when contrasted to the Israeli precedent) nor was it a major turning point in the drive for a state. The Israeli authorities responded to the PLO declaration by imposing a strict curfew on the West Bank and Gaza. The next steps were an unsuccessful effort to procure a visa for Yasir 'Arafat to give a speech in New York City, a speech delivered in Geneva, a news conference the next day, and an opening of dialogue with the U.S. government. Given the PLO's predicament, it made obvious good sense to ride the emotional high road.
More striking, however, are the points of affinity. These are so numerous, they seem to confirm the rumor that Mahmud Darwish, brought in to polish the PLO document, kept the Israeli declaration at hand while at work. Similarities can be seen in subject matter, organization, and even in specific phrasing.
The PLO document repeatedly imitates its Israeli precursor almost to the word. Note three points in particular: both appeal to their hinterlands, promulgate a law of return, and proclaim equal rights for all.
Our call goes out to the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side.
The State of Palestine ... calls upon Arab compatriots to consolidate and enhance the emergence and reality of our state.
The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion.
The State of Palestine is the state of Palestinians wherever they may be.
[The state] will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of religion, race, or sex.
Governance will be based on principles of social justice, equality and non-discrimination ... on grounds of race, religion, color, or sex.
Even where wording differs, the subject matter remains similar. Here are five more themes common to the two documents:
Suffering. David Ben-Gurion devotes three paragraphs to the effects of the holocaust suffered by the Jews in World War II; Yasir 'Arafat laces his entire statement with references to "occupation, massacres, and dispersion,"causing the Palestinian people to be "wounded in its body."
A nation. Each document claims the sovereignty that nationalist ideology promises each people: the Zionists see this as a "natural right" of the Jewish people; the PLO refers to the "national rights" of the Palestinians.
Connection to the land. Both emphasize connections to that piece of territory alternately called the Land of Israel or Palestine. Predictably, the Israeli document focuses on two eras, biblical antiquity and recent decades, while the PLO document stresses that Palestinians were "never separated" from the land.
International recognition. The Israeli proclamation claims "explicit international recognition to the historic connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home." Similarly, the PLO holds that "the community of nations" recognized Palestine as a "provisionally independent" nation.
In support of these assertions, each declaration refers to two documents dating from the First World War era. The Israelis note the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 and the League of Nations' July 1922 appointment of Great Britain as the mandatory power in Palestine. The first of these called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people," while the second verbatim endorsed this formulation. As though in direct answer, the PLO resolution refers to two parallel documents-the League of Nations Covenant of June 1919 and the Lausanne Treaty of July 1923. The trouble, from a Palestinian point of view, is that neither of these documents specifically mention Palestine or the Palestinians by name, nor do they even implicitly refer to them.!
The United Nations. The Israelis promise co-operation with the "organs and representatives of the United Nations,"while the PLO declares its "commitment to the principles and purposes of the United Nations." (Ironically, promises in the two charters should have been exchanged. As a UN pariah, the Israeli government does not often co-operate with the UN; while the PLO has not infrequently transgressed the world body's principles.)
Beyond these similarities, the two documents also resemble each other in what they leave out. Neither makes any mention of borders. Nor does either refer to the well-being of its citizens (in striking contrast to phrasing in the American Declaration of Independence about "the pursuit of happiness"). As Shammas gloomily observes, "People in the Middle East would settle for a plot of land; happiness for them remains yet another distant dream."
Close Palestinian imitation of its Israeli model should come as no surprise, for the Palestinian nationalist movement has long shadowed Zionism in ways small and large. The PLO emulates the World Zionist Organization as the umbrella under which all factions cooperate and which includes such affiliated institutions as labor unions, health organizations, and vocational training. Specific agencies (such as the National Association of Arab-Americans and the Holy Land Fund) exactly parallel their Zionist precursors (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish National Fund); some even mimic the Jewish names (for example, the Arab Anti-Defamation League). Yasir 'Arafat followed Chaim Weizmann's example as the ever-traveling interlocutor with the outside world and the factions of his own movement. Too, the PLO document reveals with special clarity just how directly the Palestinian nationalist movement draws on its Israeli model.
In the end, the many parallels between the two declarations confirm the old truth that history produces documents more than documents produce history.
Sep. 21, 1994 update: I put the "Palestinian imitation of its Israeli model" into context in "Mirror Image: How the PLO Mimics Zionism."
Sep. 16, 2016 update: From the papers of an obscure Tel Aviv-based lawyer named Mordechai Beham, "It turns out that early drafts of the Jewish state's founding document borrowed liberally from the American Declaration of Independence. ... He also cribbed from the Bible's Book of Deuteronomy, the English Bill of Rights and the United Nations' partition plan for Palestine."