07 December, 2012

Is Palestine Really a Country?

(Keep up with changes to Palestine's situation: view all Palestine updates.)

Palestine is now recognized as a country by both the U.N. and a majority of its members, but many  have questioned whether this new-found status reflects the truth on the ground. Is Palestine really an independent country, or is this a political fantasy concocted by supporters in the U.N.?

The Olso Accords divided the Palestinian territories into three areas of control (see article for explanation). Map by Evan Centanni. Sources: Natural Earth, B'Tselem, U.N. OCHA oPt.
What is a "sovereign state"?
By the most common definition, a "state" has to have:
  1. A government
  2. A defined territory
  3. A permanent population
  4. The ability to conduct foreign relations with other states
This definition is called the "declarative theory of statehood", and was formalized in the Montevideo Convention of 1933. To be a "sovereign" state (i.e. an independent country), it's also important that the government answers to no other country, and that the territory and population are actually under the government's control.

A prospective country that fits these criteria is described by geographers as a de facto sovereign state, even if it's not recognized by the international community (de facto is Latin for "in actual fact").

Palestine: Sovereign State or Not?
Can Palestine be considered a real, de facto sovereign state based on the declarative theory of statehood? Let's look at the criteria one by one:

A government that answers to no one
Palestine is represented abroad by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and governed within its administrative area by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), an elected government established by the PLO under the Oslo Accords. Though it faces frequent pressure and demands from Israel, the Palestinian government does not take orders from any country.

Defined territory under its control
The State of Palestine claims two territories: the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The U.N. considers both of these regions to be occupied by Israel, but the Palestinians do control some parts of them since 1995. The Oslo II Accord temporarily designated three types of control within the West Bank (see map above):
  • Area A - Fully governed by the Palestinians, with no Israeli administration or Israeli military presence (currently 18%)
  • Area B - Shared control; Palestinian civil administration with joint Israeli-Palestinian military control (currently 21%)
  • Area C - Full Israeli control, with some exceptions for Palestinian residents (currently 61%)
Flag of Palestine Country Name:  
• Palestine (English)
Filasṭīn (Arabic)
Official Name:  
• State of Palestine (English)
• Dawlat Filasṭin (Arabic)
• Jerusalem (claimed)
Ramallah (administrative)
The Gaza Strip is a special case: Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005, leaving it effectively part of Area A. However, a brief Palestinian civil war in 2007 left Gaza in the hands of extremist group Hamas, which currently doesn't answer to the PLO (though it did support the campaign for U.N. observer state status).

Besides area C, Israel also controls all of the airspace and territorial waters associated with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Additionally, it has completely annexed (integrated as part of the country) two sections of Area C itself: East Jerusalem, which both sides claim for their capital, and a strip of "no man's land" which was located between Israel and the West Bank when the latter was still controlled by Jordan.

In other words, Israel controls most of Palestine's claimed territory, but not all of it. Since many countries don't control all of their claimed land and waters, that alone doesn't disqualify Palestine as a state.

A permanent population
There are almost four million Palestinians living within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, so this requirement is no problem. Even if we only count the West Bank's Area A, the Palestinian Authority has full control  over close to one million people. By comparison, there about 40 U.N. member states with populations of less than one million.

Ability to conduct foreign relations
This requirement is also clearly fulfilled. Not only is Palestine seated as an observer state in the U.N. General Assembly, but its representatives also maintain direct diplomatic relations with 142 countries (even more than the number who recognize its independence), plus the European Union. It's also a member or observer in various international organizations.

So what's the answer?
Palestine has its own government (the PLO/PNA), a defined and controlled territory (Area A in the West Bank), a permanent population (one to four million Palestinians), and the ability to maintain relations with other states. It would seem that this qualifies it as a de facto sovereign state based on the declarative theory of statehood. What do you think?


  1. Very factual and well argued. Clearly makes sense.

  2. ok nice & tho it may also be 2 half states or 2 entire states by the given criteria if anyone prefers nevertheless palestine so called does appear in no way inferior to the vatican city state lets say because the above data fairly invite such comparison plus i wonder how many other nonunited nations states also nominally their equals by these criteria alone

  3. Why there are no Golan Heights in the map?

  4. Good question! The Golan Heights aren't Palestinian. They're only disputed between Israel and Syria, and not claimed by Palestine or considered part of the Palestinian territories.

    They're off the edge of the map to the north.

    1. True enough, but remember that the section Israel conquered in 1967 after being attacked by Syrian artillery batteries located there since 1948 has been annexed to Israel. Even though Israel has toyed over the years with the idea to give it back against peace, the Assads preferred to maintain a state of war rather than get their territory back and recognize Israel in exchange. So now the point is moot. With Assad embroiled in a civil war and the Israeli-annexed Golan having now been under Israeli ownership longer than it ever was under Syrian ownership, the debate is over. The Golan Heights belong to Israel, period.

    2. This is indeed an important (and interesting) issue. It's just not directly related to the sovereignty of Palestine, since the State of Palestine does not claim any of the Golan Heights (Syria does) and as far as I know the local people in the Golan also do not consider themselves to be Palestinians (unlike almost everyone in the West Bank and Gaza other than the Settlers).

    3. You are correct. The majority of the population of the Golan is made of Druzes. Besides their interesting belief in reincarnation, the Druzes also believe that no matter where they are is the country to whom they swear allegiance. This explains that the Druzes in the Golan still consider themselves Syrians, while their relatives in Israel consider themselves Israelis (the latter have always served with distinction and courage in the Israel Defense Forces). Lately, however, because of the civil war, there has been an increase in switching allegiance from Syria to Israel. None of that is conceivable with the Palestinians, whose belief system is very different (in a nutshell: they're entitled to everything and don't need to give anything in return).

  5. Since the Israeli government controls vital utilities & substantial Palestinian revenue as well as communication & transport between all pieces of the West Bank & Gaza, I would argue that it is a "quasi-state". I also understand that the Palestinians are not permitted to develop a true military with heavy weapons? If it is a sovereign state it certainly is the most domineered state in the world?

    1. Given the Palestinians' permanently bellicose and aggressive stance, it is perfectly logical and normal for the Israelis to demand that they not be allowed heavy weaponry. You second argument makes no sense: national sovereignty does not require heavy weaponry to be proven. Otherwise, the Vatican, Monaco, Andorra, and scores of tiny states around the world would have to be equipped. There is also something called responsible behavior, which the Palestinians keep proving time and again, to this day, that they completely lack. Israel cannot and will not take that kind of chances just to meet your definition of national sovereignty.

    2. This site doesn't take a stance on policy issues, but it seems a bit of an overgeneralization to claim that a whole ethnic group, or even just a decades-old statehood movement, "completely lacks responsible behavior." And this is certainly a claim being made regarding both sides of the conflict.

    3. When one refers to an entire group, by definition it is unfair to the many members of that group who are not responsible for the mess their leaders got them in. See the Germans and the Japanese. It is indeed an oversimplification, but it should be understood as designating the leadership that expresses (presumably) the will of the people themselves. The question then becomes how much say the very same people had in choosing or designating the leaders who speak or misbehave on their behalf. If it is the result of fair elections, the responsibility of the people in electing their leaders is much larger than if the leaders have seized power violently or through intimidation (which is incidentally exactly what Hamas did in 2007 when it staged a coup d'état, killed 350 Fatah members and expelled the rest from Gaza, imposing since an Islamic dictatorship there). Be that as it may, the leaders, elected or not, are the people representing their country in the eyes of the international community.

  6. Good argument, and I agree on the last part. There's probably no U.N. member state today that's as much a subject to the power and decisions of another state as Palestine is. However, there have been many times in recent history when a U.N. member state was similarly dominated by another state without its statehood being questioned in relationship to U.N. membership. This happens anytime a country invades, occupies, or blockades another state; and there is also the issue of "puppet states" which are completely manipulated by a stronger country yet aren't usually accused of not being states.

  7. "there have been many times in recent history when a U.N. member state was similarly dominated by another state without its statehood being questioned in relationship to U.N. membership." True, but that is a political decision not a legal one and this post is about the legal question.

    Just because no one wanted to challenge a particular country's membership status doesn't mean that it really is a country, or vice versa. Remember the Soviet Union had three votes as the U.S. (Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. What about Taiwan?

  8. Why is there one government and not two? Applying this same test, wouldn't the Gaza Strip be a separate state from the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank? Are they not operated independent of each other?

  9. The most important question is the one not asked by this post -- Does recognizing the Palestinian Authority bring about peace?

    This post is strictly about the legal question and doe not ask the politica one, but the political one is the most important. Let us not be distracted by legal debates. Legal niceties have been sacrificed for peace before (see Taiwan) and should be sacrificed in this case.

  10. Hi Bruce,

    Thanks for your comments!

    My position is that the political precedents give guidance on how the legal principles are interpreted. If we don't take previous interpretations into account, there's room to argue in either direction. And the main reason people are asking whether Palestine is a de facto state is in order to determine whether it qualifies in principle for U.N. membership. Still, thanks for working to keep me honest on the political/legal distinction.

    I definitely would consider the West Banka and Gaza to be controlled by two different states. That's why I excluded Gaza from the State of Palestine's actual controlled territory. And, again because the context is U.N. eligibility, I chose to focus on the one state/goverment of the two that conducts formal international relations.

    You are almost certainly right that the question of this article is not the most important one. But the other issues you describe have been extensively discussed elsewhere, and are outside the scope of Political Geography Now. The focus of this site is on the geography of the politics, not the politics of the geography.

  11. I hope the recognition of Palestine would lead them to a better economy, more housing programs like some apartment in salcedo village, food programs and the like to bring back the nation that once had power in Christ's time.

  12. You ask is Palestine really a country??? Are you for real??? it always was until it was chosen just like that in a blink of an eye,only to be given to the jews so that some could get rid of them. Imagine you wake up one day while living in your country and someone tells you get out this is mine now, what would you do? Put your tail between your legs and leave head down??? I didn't think so, so why should the Palestinians???

    1. Actually, in the time before the creation of Israel, Palestine had not been an independent country for centuries (and even before that, it wasn't called "Palestine", nor was it Arab or Muslim). The region was mostly ruled by various empires (Greek, Roman, Persion, Arab, Turkish, etc.) since ancient times. It was controlled by the Ottoman Empire until World War I, then by the UK until the 1948 war that resulted in the establishment of Israel.

    2. It is not a conflict about land. People are not being forced out of the country and they aren't being maliciously attacked. Israel allows for freedom of religion and doesn't discriminate against people either. Their neighbors and the Muslims over there hate the Jews and would try to destroy any Jewish state regardless of where it is. Don't turn the conflict into a conflict about territory when it is clearly a conflict about religion. The Israelis even go out of their way to avoid bloody conflict all the time and the "Palestinians" can't think of anything BUT bloody conflict.

    3. Your claims are not only obviously prejudiced, but hopelessly out of date. The West Bank has been mostly free of conflict for about a decade, and the Palestinian Authority government is strongly in favor of finding a peaceful solution to the dispute.

      Religion is only a rallying point for hardliners on both sides, not the root cause of the conflict. Arab residents of the West Bank do not have Israeli citizenship, are restricted from entering Israel, and face extensive restrictions even when traveling within the West Bank. That's what the conflict is mainly about for them, at least these days. In any case, they certainly wouldn't care about Israel if it wasn't located on the same land where their ancestors lived. That doesn't necessarily make one side right and one side wrong, but your characterization of the conflict as a religious hatred of Jews by Muslims is blatantly inaccurate.

  13. how can the palestinians claim to have a territory and a government, when all that is de facto controlled by Israel?

    1. You don't need to have de facto control to claim a territory and organize a government. Governments in exile and separatist movements do that all the time. But more to the point, if you read the article you'll find that the Palestinian government does have de facto control over a number of areas.

  14. The Gaza strip is controlled by Hamas and not by the PLO, true? Moreover, it receives most of it's goods and services (electricity, water) from other nations, through Israel and Egypt. So basically, even if the west bank can be considered an independent sovereign state, can The Gaza Strip be included under that label?

    1. That's correct - as mentioned in the article, the Gaza Strip is not controlled by the PLO's government. I would argue that it can't be considered to be part of the PLO's de facto Palestinian state.

      It may qualify as a state of its own, depending on how we interpret the "foreign relations" criteria. It has a government, territory, and population just like the West Bank, but hasn't declared its own independence and isn't recognized as sovereign by any country.

      It may still qualify as some kind of "state", but probably not a "sovereign" (independent) one. It's situation is similar to that of the rebels in Syria, who control a territory and population, but don't claim to be independent because they're instead claiming to be the legitimate rulers of the whole country.

  15. The question should probably read "Is X a sovereign state?"

    Some examples of non-sovereign entities, whose official names suggest otherwise:

    Scotland - "country"
    Brandenburg - "country" (German: "Land")
    Massachusetts - "commonwealth"
    Florida - "state"
    Sakha - "republic"

    Then there are a handful of de facto sovereign states, which are not widely recognized as such by other sovereign states or by the UN.

    1. You're right - these are all potential topics for future articles on Political Geography Now!

  16. Evan,
    I'm a little late to the conversation here, but I think it's important to point out that your comments about the Palestinian's meeting the standards on "Defined Territory Under its Control" is a definition predicated on the bilateral agreements that flowed from the Oslo accords -- and this part of the treaty was abrogated by the Palestinians when they sought UN acceptance, contrary to the Oslo agreements.

    Thus, since the Palestinians are no longer considered to be bound by the treaty (I think by both sides) the territorial definitions of "Areas A, B and C" are no longer valid. As a result one may infer that Israel, as occupier, still is in possession of all Palestinian territories at present and that "statehood" as per your definition hasn't been achieved. (Gaza may be an exception to this, but this would be contested by the Israelis, who withdrew but never gave Gaza its independence -- nor did the Gazans ever declare it.)

    1. Hi Mian,

      Thanks for the comment.

      You're talking about the de jure status of the territories, which is complicated (though I'm not aware of Israel having actually ceased to recognized Areas A, B, and C, or having withdrawn completely from the Oslo Accords).

      This article is about the de facto status - the reality on the ground. And that hasn't changed since the UN's acknowledgement of Palestinian statehood. Israel still doesn't administer or patrol the land which has been referred to as Area A, and the Palestinian Authority still does.

  17. What we have here is a shading of sovereignty. For example, the International Telecommunications Union has (without final approval) given Palestine the callsign prefix of E4. For some criteria (amateur radio, for example) that's enough to qualify it as a separate "entity". Though if fairness ham radio counts other criteria, such as distance from the parent body (i.e. Hawaii) in determining what is an "entity."

    Obviously Palestine/West Bank/Judea & Samaria is largely not part of the Israeli boundaries post-independence, but neither is it on the same level of sovereignty as, say, Jordan, though it was part of that country until 1967. It's more recognized than a native tribal area such as exist in the US, Canada and Australia, which have certain self-governening rights. Personally (and I have a doctorate in geography) I'd call it a separate occupied territory with limited internal sovereignty. In that sense it's a "limited country", more politically recognized that an externally controlled area such as the Falklands, but not fully independent. Other interpretations are certainly possible.

  18. It seems to me that Palestine should be the Gaza Strip.

    There is little of the West Bank that is actually under Palestinian control. Shared control is not really control at all. If we look back to the 13 British Colonies in North America we see that the colonists had civil administration but with a military composed of both sides but dominated by the British. The same situation as in Area B. I don't think anyone will argue that the United States wasn't a country until after they won the revolutionary war and pushed out the British Troops.
    So until Palestine takes control of all (or most) of the West Bank, it should be limited to the Gaza Strip.

    1. Hi Adam,

      I agree that Area B probably shouldn't count as sovereign territory of Palestine. However, the parts of Area A within the West Bank are a different story. They are fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority both militarily and civilly - minus airspace and occasional Israeli military incursions - which puts Palestinian control there on about the same level as in Gaza.

      The problem with choosing Gaza over the West Bank Area A is that Hamas, the faction which controls Gaza, is not the same group that maintains international relations on behalf of the State of Palestine. That would be the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is currently tied to the Fatah-dominated faction in charge of the West Bank territories.

  19. palestine being accepted as a member state in the UN is like being accepted to the porsche owners club without ever owning or even driving one.

    you are arguing semantics; you can claim yourself as king and no one would be able to prove otherwise.

    1. How would you define being a real state then? Statehood doesn't come with an official brand designation like a Porsche does (unless, of course, you count U.N. membership).

      India and Ukraine were admitted as U.N. member states before being independent countries. Was that semantics?

    2. Why are you pulling India in between..?

  20. The problem is that even after the announcement of the state of Palestine independence .. Israel did not halt settlement on the land of Palestine did not come out of the ground troops .. yesterday Guetat four Palestinian civilians, Israel plans to displace the Palestinian villagers and the Judaization of Jerusalem with the UN know this. Israeli terrorism does not stop in Palestine .. Another thing the name of Palestine in Arabic (((falasteen))) not (filas in)

    1. "Filastin" is another way of spelling the Arabic pronunciation of the place name. There's a special mark under the "t" which may be causing it to display incorrectly on your computer.

    2. It appears that Emad didn't even bother to read the thread before spouting the usual anti-Israel nonsense. "Palestine"'s application as member state to the UN was rejected by the Security Council, which is the only authority that can admit it in the family of nations, for political as well as legal reasons. "Palestine" turning then to the UN General Assembly for a pseudo-recognition of a dysfunctional, two-headed entity, corrupt to the core and living off international charity does not give it the status of a fully functional sovereign State. No matter how much make up you put on it, a pig remains a pig. As for Jerusalem, drop the idea of dividing it. It's not going to happen. It was once divided, under the Jordanians for 19 years, and they prevented Jews from going there. Now reunited under Israeli control, it is open to all, including the Muslims who used to bar Jewish presence in the same place. Need I say more?

  21. I have seen 4 other criteria in addition to these 4 making it look totally like Cherry-picking to set your case for a country that truly does not yet exist. Should it exist? Yes. Does it? not yet.


    1. Nothing here is cherry-picked - the facts in this article are the same as in that one, just with slightly different conclusions. There are a few problems with the article you linked to. First, where did he get those eight criteria? He says they're "accepted by the international community," but doesn't explain any further or give any source. You'll notice that our article clearly states the basis of the four criteria in the Montevideo Convention, which established the declarative theory of statehood in international law.

      The author of the other article actually agrees that most of the criteria are "somewhat" fulfilled, which is not so different from what I argued here. The only one he says Palestine fails is international acceptance. This criterion is not part of the declarative theory of statehood, and is irrelevant for determining whether Palestine is a "de facto" state; the very definition of a de facto state is one that is a state in all ways EXCEPT international recognition.

      Even on that issue, he sets the cutoff unreasonably high. Being an observer state in the U.N. and having bilateral recognition from more than half of the world's countries should have warranted a "somewhat" on that criterion as well.

    2. Palestine was not recognized by the UN But was recognized by the Ottoman Empire which was divided after ww 1 but palestine did get a chace to put a leader yet but it was known as a land and the people were Known to.

    3. No, the Ottoman Empire did not "recognize" "Palestine" as a distinct country. That's an impossibility since it was part of the Ottoman Empire. It was merely one of its provinces, as were all the other territories included in the Ottoman Empire. It was the colonial powers, the Brisith and the French, who drew lines all over the area to create the half-dozen countries that we have today. British-mandated Palestine was set aside specifically for the Jews in 1917 and included what are today all of Israel and Jordan, but the British decided in 1922 to lop off 2/3 to create Jordan, along with Iraq, Syria, Lebanon.

  22. Anonymous quote:

    If the Arabs (Moslems) put down their weapons today there would be no more violence. If the Israelis put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel.
    Think about it...

    1. I Agree . . . %100

  23. Now I want to know something, who is really the aggressor, can I have somebody to really tell me how the state of Palestine came to being. From the Bible there has never been a state of Palestine but a promised land of Israel maybe it was established by God on Palestinian land which is which I need help?

    1. There was no"State of Palestine" or country of "Israel" for most of recorded history. The ancestors of both the Palestinian people and the Jewish people were already there millennia ago. And the Bible isn't a source of international law.

      If you want to know, the U.N. recommended dividing the region between a Jewish and an Arab state in 1947. Various unilateral actions on both sides led to a series of wars which left Israel eventually in control of the whole area, but not giving citizenship to people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (who are mostly Arabs). In 1988 the Palestinian Liberation Organization declared independence as the State of Palestine so they could have their own country in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    2. You call an all-out simultaneous attack by five Arab armies with the declared goal of wiping out the barely born state of Israel "various unilateral actions on both sides"? Talk of re-writing history! Yes, the UN recommended a division of the area between the two sides, but what really happened is that the Jews accepted while the Arabs entirely rejected that proposal! The version you peddle is the one pushed by the Palestinians, whose history starts in 1948 (their famous "nakhba", or "catastrophe") without mentioning the fact that had they accepted the UN partition proposal instead of attacking Israel, we would have two countries living (hopefully) in peace next to each other today, but they refuse to accept responsibility for their wars of aggression to this day. As for the PLO "declaring independence" in 1988, it had no effect whatsoever since the PLO was then still considered by the whole world as just a terrorist organization (with very good reasons) like Hamas still is today. It was only after the Oslo Accords were signed that the PLO lost its ugly tag as merely a terrorist organization and was elevated to the status of legitimate political entity (and negotiation partner, but it has so far failed miserably in that capacity as well).

    3. 1948 wasn't the end of history for Israel and the Palestinians. There were several more wars, and Israel chose to hold onto the West Bank and Gaza without annexing them. I was trying to represent it from a neutral point of view, but I guess I should know better. The history can't be summarized effectively in two sentences.

      Whether the PLO's declaration of independence had any effect is irrelevant to its eventual legal implications. And in any case, by the end of 1988 there were already 82 countries that had recognized the State of Palestine as independent, so it's not correct that the "whole world" considered it "just a terrorist organization". There was obviously a political effect (if not any effect on the ground).

    4. I never said 1948 was the end of history for Israel and the Palestinians. You can't pretend to be "neutral" when there is a clear aggressor and an aggressed party. What you're doing is to minimize the responsibility of the aggressor and elevate the aggressed one's to the same level, in effect putting them on the same footing, which is clearly manipulative and dishonest. Yes, you should have known better than trying to pulling that one off. It's too much of a classic to go unnoticed.
      And yes, there were "several more wars", another classic by the pro-Palestinians to hide the fact that all of these wars were initiated by Arabs who tried repeatedly to destroy Israel. Wars don't "happen" out of thin air. Since the beginning of times, wars happen when someone attacks someone else. Again, you're clearly trying to dilute the Arabs' responsibility for all of them (as well as the consequences they and the Palestinians suffered as a result).
      Israel chose not to annex the West Bank and Gaza because it believed for the longest time that it could be negotiated for peace. It hasn't happened because the Palestinians are not interested in peace. They're still clinging to the delusional belief that one day they will end up replacing Israel (i.e. take over) rather than live side by side to it. It annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, though, as it had every right to as the party victim of repeated Arab aggressions.
      Finally, in 1988, there was no state of Palestine to speak of, so the "recognition" you're alleging took place was merely a recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. That hardly qualifies as the recognition of a non-existent state.

    5. You're incorrect that the 1988 recognitions were "merely a recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people"; they were explicitly worded as recognitions of an independent state, even though that state was still imaginary at the time.

      It's extremely disingenuous to say that "the Palestinians" are still clinging to the idea of getting all of Israel. That is clearly not the case for many Palestinians and has not been the position of the PLO since at least the Oslo Accords. Hamas is a different story, of course.

      And we can all have our own opinions about moral rights, but international law doesn't automatically entitle a country to annex land taken from other countries that committed acts of aggression upon it. In the post-WWII world, only treaties can legally transfer sovereign territory. And it's not only Israel. The U.N. hasn't recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara or Turkish sovereignty over Northern Cyprus either.

  24. Or maybe very soon Palestinians will soon call them original Canaanites. If there are Canaanites in the world I think they can lay claim to the Land of Israel but they have to fight Israel's God.

    1. "Palestinian" and "Canaanite" actually mean almost the same thing. They originally both just referred to the people living in this same region, which had different names at different times in history. One genetic study found that most Palestinians are actually probably the descendents of the same Christians and Jews who lived there before the region became Muslim in the Middle Ages. When you go back that far in time, ethnic identities get really blurry.

    2. More re-writing of history to serve your political preferences... The Canaanites came and went, like so many other groups in history. They completely disappeared. No one has ever been able to establish a lineage between this long disappeared group of people and the Palestinians of today (who, by some Palestinians' own admission, are in their majority merely Syrians and Egyptians). The phony study you refer to was published by... a Palestinian (gee, surprise) and has since been debunked as sheer nonsense by real academics who know what they're talking about rather than make up data to fit political contemporary choices.

    3. I'm not an expert on the science here. But I do know that many of the world's populations can largely be traced back genetically to the same people who were living there thousands of years before, even if they spoke a different language and belonged to a different ethnic group. Ethnic groups are malleable and constructed over time by people. So it seems unlikely that the lineages of actual Canaanite people "completely disappeared".

    4. Well, of course. By that reasoning the ancient Egyptians, Romans, Mayas, Aztecs, etc... never completely disappeared and must be alive and well in someone's blood somewhere. But then if you're willing to admit the obvious, why state that "Palestinian and Canaanite actually mean almost the same thing" if not to support even the entirely imaginary view that somehow today's Palestinians have the same historical claims to the Holy Land that the Jews have when in fact it is the latter's historical roots and lineage that can be proven and demonstrated? Another lame attempt at putting the two sides on the same footing. Attempts at creating out of thin air a false equivalence are just that: false.

    5. Mayans are alive and well as a culture (look it up), and modern-day Egyptians, Italians, and Mexicans certainly do think of themselves (probably correctly) as descendents of the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Aztecs. In fact, the Aztec language is still spoken in Mexico, and Latin is still spoken in divergent forms (the Romance Languages) across southern Europe. It's the political systems that changed, not the populations.

      "Palestine" is the historical name for the region that Israel is now in. That's what I mean by saying "Palestinian" and "Canaanite" mean the same thing. This is true regardless of whether the people currently calling themselves "Palestinians" are justified or accurate in doing so.

  25. Evan

    You state:

    "Palestine has its own government (the PLO/PNA), a defined and controlled territory (Area A in the West Bank), a permanent population (one to four million Palestinians), and the ability to maintain relations with other states. It would seem that this qualifies it as a de facto sovereign state based on the declarative theory of statehood."

    Why then do the Palestinian Arabs claim to lack a state?

    Is President Obama talking nonsense when he stated just this week:

    "Peace is also, undeniably, just. Just as the Israeli people have the right to live in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination."

    Your conclusions make it clear that they do indeed exercise the right to self-determination.

    Why is everyone then still talking about the need for the two-state solution as an imperative for peace - if indeed there are already two states that exist as you have argued?

  26. Hi David,

    Interesting question. The PLO/PNA certainly DOES claim to have a state. They are not claiming to lack one. It was they who declared independence as the "State of Palestine", and they who successfully sought their UN reclassification as an "observer state" (emphasis on "state").

    My interpretation is that Palestine is a de facto state, but that doesn't mean it has successfully attained all the privileges a de jure state would have - and that's what the Palestinian leadership is asking for. Much of their claimed territory is controlled by Israel, which also controls the airspace and seas which would normally belong to a Palestinian state under international law. They also seek further recognition by the international community, and especially UN membership.

    The U.S., Europe, and Israel don't recognize the Palestinians as having a state, so for them "two-state solution" means creating one. But for the Palestinian leadership, I presume that "two-state solution" is understood to be shorthand for receiving full diplomatic recognition and (ideally) control over most or all of their claimed territories. They evidently don't see the semantic contradiction as a deal-breaker.

    1. Evan

      Your claim that the PLO/PNA certainly DOES claim to have a state is not supported by the following statement made by Abbas just a few days ago:

      "As the president of the Palestinian people I am totally committed to the vision of a two-state solution, normalization and peace with our neighbor—Israel,”

      You presume such a claim to be shorthand for:
      1. receiving full diplomatic recognition - but this is not a necessary requirement for creating a state de facto under the Montevideo Convention or even de jure
      2. (ideally) control over most or all of their claimed territories - which they now have in the areas you have designated namely area A in the West Bank

      It makes a huge difference to the political debate if there is indeed an existing de facto Palestinian Arab State (as you claim) that wants to negotiate the issues of sovereignty over its air space, maritime jurisdiction and even increasing the area of land it currently controls.

      This is not what is being presented at the UN or anywhere else to my knowledge.

      Having a state and consequently the right to self determination is one thing - claiming to be stateless and therefore lacking self-determination is an entirely different thing.

      Would that the UN and the Palestinian Arabs accepted your viewpoint. Regrettably they do not appear to do so.

    2. Abbas's statement fits perfectly into my interpretation. He's using the term "two-state solution" because it's the terminology accepted by both sides. Asking for "normalization and peace with our neighbor" even sort of implies that he already considers Palestine a state.

      In any case, I'm not sure how you can deny over 25 years of the PLO claiming a "State of Palestine" and seeking international recognition for it, including at the UN in 2012, when Abbas initially tried for full membership, and later pushed for the status of "observer state" when membership failed. The UN's official name for the Palestinian Territories has even been changed to "State of Palestine".

      You're right that the issue makes a huge difference to the political debate, and indeed it's one of the main sticking points between the two sides. The Palestinian leadership's pursuit of recognition as a state has been opposed by the U.S. on Israel on the basis that they consider the Palestinians to be stateless (and therefore less immediately entitled to recognition and territorial control).

      The idea that the Palestinian leadership begs statelessness is a myth leftover from an earlier period in history, before the PLO declared independence. It's the U.S., Israel, and perhaps Europe that holds this view, not the PLO. I can't speak for individual Palestinians, of course.

    3. Evan

      In declaring the "State of Palestine" as recently as 3 January 2013 - Abbas has clearly chosen to repudiate the two-state solution envisaged to be created in negotiations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the Bush Roadmap.
      That has clearly displeased Israel and the US but that option was always open to either party.

      Abbas however bears the consequences for making his unilateral decision to do so. Kerry's attempt to renew those negotiations - agreed to by Israel - was magnanimous to say the least.

      Palestine is also a member state of UNESCO - and the US and Israel have signalled their displeasure by not making their financial levies to UNESCO and having their membership terminated as a result.

      If the idea that the Palestinian leadership begs statelessness is a myth leftover why is the Dheishe refugee camp outside Bethlehem still open and being run by UNWRA rather than its residents being relocated and resettled within the State of Palestine?

      Why isn't the State of Palestine calling for the closure of other refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon and for the repatriation of these refugees to the State of Palestine?

      Seems to me they are playing ducks and drakes with the international community.

      They want to have their cake and eat it too. They seem to be doing quite well fooling the world.

      There is a state or there is not a state.

      They need to make their position clear.

    4. The State of Palestine was declared independent in 1988, not 2013. And Dheishe is already located within its territory. And I believe the refugees there came from places that are now in Israel, and not claimed by the State of Palestine.

      Nowhere else in the world does just having a state mean refugees are sent back. Refugees return to a place once they feel the conditions have become right for them to live there. In the case of Palestinian refugees, many came from what's now Israel, and probably can never go back. Whether they see a new State of Palestine as a suitable place to move to will depend on more than just whether it exists.

      You're correct in noting that Abbas has tried more than one different strategy, but it seems unlikely to me that he's trying to fool anyone. He's been very clear about pursuing international recognition as a plan B for the peace process that he asserts is being blocked by Israel.

    5. Evan

      The 1988 Declaration was a lot of hot air. Arafat didn't have any territory then - not even Area A.

      The unilateral declaration in 2013 was far more significant since Area A and Gaza were territories not under Israel's control.


      If the Palestinian Arabs have their own State then there should be no need for refugee camps - especially when they are located in Area A as Dheishe is.

      As you well know Abbas does not need international recognition. He only needs to comply with the Montevideo Convention as you have made clear in your article.

    6. My article doesn't say anything about what Abbas "needs". In geopolitics international recognition is much more useful than Montevideo-compliant de facto statehood. I only argued that Palestine is indeed a de facto state, not that there's nothing more it needs or could want politically.

      The article you linked to says the Palestinian Authority is being absorbed by the State of Palestine as declared in 1988, not that the state is being newly declared. And I understand your logic about the lack of a need for refugee camps, but this is a subjective opinion and obviously not everyone agrees.

    7. Evan

      What the author of the article said is his interpretation of the Decree is not what
      the Decree actually says:

      Article 1 of the Decree states:

      “Official documents, seals, signs and letterheads of the Palestinian National Authority official and national institutions shall be amended by replacing the name ‘Palestinian National Authority’ whenever it appears by the name ‘State of Palestine’ and by adopting the emblem of the State of Palestine.”

      There is no mention of the "State of Palestine as declared in 1988"

      What do you say are the reasons that people would give for retaining - rather than closing - the Palestinian Arab refugee camps in the State of Palestine?

      Are you aware of anyone who has expressed that opinion?

  27. sorry I'm new in middle east history..so, why did Israel proclaim independence in 1948?Is Israel territory colonized or what??

    1. I recommend starting here: