Palestine's national tragedy finally has an end in sight

On the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erakat says that this year the national tragedy finally has an end in sight.

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May 15th is a sombre day for Palestinians all over the world, as we commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe in Arabic) and the loss of our homeland. The Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish writes about our condition as akin to a train that has "fallen off the map."

That train represents our national aspirations, our memories of the days when we had a country, and the days we were all together and not dispersed around the globe like grains of wheat thrown to the wind.

What the Palestinian people have been deprived of for over six decades is the most basic of human rights, and one of the highest principles in contemporary international law: self-determination. The pride of having a country, a passport, a border to cross, and the idea that you can travel back to your own country and not be deemed an infiltrator or a terrorist, are things most people take for granted.

The Nakba represents a catastrophic interruption in the development of a people who were on the fast train towards independence. When the Nakba happened, Palestine had several newspapers, magazines, colleges, literary clubs, political parties and civil society organisations. Palestine even entered trials for the World Cup of 1930 and its Jaffa oranges were sold all over the world. It was a state in the making before the British government, frustrated at trying to prepare Palestine for independence while also supporting the colonisation of the country by those fleeing persecution in Europe, asked the UN to relieve it of its duties as administrator and intervene.

In 1947, that newly-created international body derailed our dreams by recommending in UN Resolution 181 the partition of our country. The result was the creation of the State of Israel. However, the State of Palestine was a promise left unfulfilled until now.

Thus, in 1948, Palestine fell off the map: 418 villages were depopulated and destroyed, and 30 documented massacres helped to cleanse the land of the over 700,000 Palestinian Christians and Muslims - 75 per cent of the population of historic Palestine.

Commemorating the 63rd year of the loss of our homeland while still stateless only keeps the wounds of our nation open indefinitely. Our people already have made a major concession for the cause of peace when we recognised Israel on the 1967 border, leaving us with less than a quarter of our original homeland. We agreed to take our struggle to the negotiating table but Israel did not engage with us in good faith. Instead, it expanded its colonisation activities by doubling the number of settlers in the West Bank during the peace process. Neither political pressure nor promises of rewards by the US have stopped Israel's actions, which are not only meant to prejudice the outcome of negotiations, but which also constitute a war crime.

Still, we have reason to look forward this year with hope as we take our case for statehood back to the UN General Assembly. In line with our obligations under the Quartet road map of 2002, and thanks in large part to the support of our own people and donor countries, Palestine is about to complete its state-building project in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

We have already been recognised as a sovereign state on the 1967 border by 112 countries - including Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. This will pave the way for Palestine's admission as a full member of the UN. As a recognised state, we will be in a better position to pursue claims on behalf of our people and defend their rights in international venues such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

Nakba is our day of mourning, but we are emerging from that dark tunnel in Palestinian history towards the light of a new day - a day when our children can live in freedom and dignity instead of in the humiliation of camps. The Nakba is also a reminder to the international community that it must make good on the promises made to us in Resolution 181 so many years ago. Condemnation of Israel's actions is good but not enough; donor funded projects for the Palestinian National Authority help, but this is not a sustainable situation. Just as the World Bank reported last month, our economy cannot progress and our institutions cannot be fully developed until the Israeli occupation ends.

We want to start referring to Palestine as "hurra" (free) rather than remember it as the Nakba. It has been a long journey towards our destination to statehood initiated from the tents of refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to our State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Our plans for a state are now on track and we hope soon to put the State of Palestine back on the world map.

Dr Saeb Erakat is a member of the PLO Executive Committee