Palestine is in the news, asking the United Nations to be admitted as a full member despite the fact that it is occupied by a foreign army and that its government exists only at the sufferance of neighboring Israel. This move causes great consternation, because it threatens to disrupt a 40-year old status quo with which most people (other than Palestinians) have grown comfortable. I happen to think it’s a terrible idea, for reasons other than the ones usually given by pundits. I suggest a Plan B, though, that might actually improve the situation for everyone other than God experts.
In 1948, the institution to which Palestine seeks to be admitted adopted a profound statement called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN’s founders had just concluded a bloody war, which the combatants had been promised was going to mean something – that victory would result not just in one gang of politicians replacing another, but a truly fairer, freer world. Two years of effort went into crafting the Declaration’s 1,800 words, and the final document was approved without a single dissenting vote.
Here are some relevant excerpts from the Universal Declaration:
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people …Either these words mean something, or they don’t. If they mean something, then isn’t there a problem with admitting to the club a new member state that has already announced that its first act, once it has the power to achieve it, will be the expulsion of all of the people within its borders who’ve committed the crime of being Jews?
Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status …
Article 7: All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination …
Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
That is precisely what the would-be Palestinian government promises to do. “After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated,” said Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador to the United States, at a press conference on September 13. “We are trying to preserve the concept of a two-state solution,” he added, “and to make the Israelis understand there will be consequences for their actions.”
Consequences indeed. When a firestorm erupted over the ambassador’s words, he issued a “clarification,” which only digs the hole deeper. Jews would still be allowed to visit independent Palestine, he insisted; all he meant was that Jews wouldn’t be allowed to live there. And, as is typical of both sides of this conflict, he defended himself by urging that the other side was even worse:
Jerusalem right now is restricted – Palestinian Muslims and Christians cannot visit it. Christians, Muslims and Jews must be able to visit their respective sites in both countries. This wasn’t even on my mind when we [sic] asked the question – I thought he was talking about settlers staying in Palestine.So the bad news is, half a million Jews would have to pick up and move once the Areikat team is in charge, including thousands who were born there. The good news is, they can come back and visit the folks who stole their homes.
This is hardly a novel idea. The first expulsion of Jews was effected by the Roman Empire, back in the 2nd century. After the second major rebellion in Palestine, which cost thousands of Roman lives and massive sums of Roman money to subdue, the frustrated Emperor Hadrian ordered the permanent removal of all Jews from Jerusalem, and even renamed the city.
A few centuries later, the early Muslim Caliph Umar expelled the Jews from western Arabia, quoting Muhammad as saying “Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs.” Looking at a map, I don’t think one would say that Palestine is on the “peninsula,” but maybe Areikat flunked geography.
In the 13th century, it was England’s turn. King Edward I, perpetually short of funds, extracted cash from his Jewish subjects by every means he could imagine, until they had very little left. They still owned property, though; Edward solved that problem by his 1290 “Edict of Expulsion,” removing every Jew from the country. This Edict was not repealed until 1656.
King Philip the Fair of France was only mildly impressed, because Edward’s inefficiency let a lot of money slip from his grasp. Philip thought that secrecy of preparation and suddenness of action were the keys. On July 22, 1306, every Jew in France was arrested. Within weeks, they were escorted to the borders and expelled – without any of their property, which Philip retained for himself. Just as importantly, all debts owing from the king to the removed Jews were cancelled.
There weren’t that many Jews in England and France to expel, but there were lots of them in Spain. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered them all either to convert to Christianity or leave. Many of them wound up in Ottoman Turkey, whose Sultan could not believe his good fortune: “Allah has struck the king of Spain with blindness, that he should impoverish his realm to enrich mine.”
In Germany, Jews were removed from Vienna and Linz in 1421, from Cologne in 1424, Augsburg in 1439, Bavaria in 1442 and again in 1450, and from cities in Moravia in 1454. Hitler spent his first eight years in power trying to expel Jews from Germany (after relieving them of their money), before getting frustrated and deciding to murder them instead.
It doesn’t take brilliant legal analysis to figure out that the Areikat plan is as contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as you can get. So the UN either ought to tear up the Declaration and say “Just kidding,” or it ought to refuse admission to Palestine.
The drawback to leaving things at that is that the Israeli government has routinely violated the same Declaration since the day it was founded, so acting against only one of the wrongdoers would be unfair. To pick only the most recent example from hundreds over the past 60 years, just last week, the Israeli government approved a plan to kick out 30,000 non-Jewish Bedouins living in “unrecognized villages” in the Negev, to make room for 10 new Jews-only towns. “Unrecognized villages?” Orwell must be smiling somewhere. How does this square with “entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law”? Not very well. Nor does the unrelenting Israeli campaign to evict non-Jews and not allow them back in that’s been going on since 1948, in both wartime and peacetime (if you can call it peace). Nor does the vast array of Israeli government benefits provided to Jews alone.
So here’s my Plan B. If you’re going to keep Palestine out of the UN, then kick Israel out at the same time. Tell both of them to call back when they’ve squeezed all the religion out of their governments, and started treating all humans the same regardless of what they do or don’t believe about the spirit world. Absolute freedom of worship for everyone; absolute exclusion of religious advantage or disadvantage for anyone, backed by meaningful international guarantees. When that happens, what will they have to argue about?
“Well,” you might be thinking, “if the UN kicked out every member nation that violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it could meet in a much smaller building – maybe a phone booth.” And you’d be right. What makes this case special is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most dangerous flashpoint in the world, that it has cost the rest of humanity trillions of dollars, and that it is by far the likeliest location for the next nuclear weapon detonation. If ever there were an occasion for an audacious experiment of actually sticking to principles by refusal to countenance “disregard and contempt for human rights,” as it says in the Declaration’s preamble, this is it.