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Opinion: Scottish Independence and Israeli Intransigence | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) during the 7th Annual International Conference at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 28, 2014, in Tel-Aviv, Israel. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

In 1280 King Edward I of England was seeking to extend his influence over Scotland. This is a period that is known for England’s ruthless authoritarian rule, including the now-infamous right of prima nocta—or first night—which afforded an English noble the right to deflower a Scottish maiden on her wedding day. William Wallace, a young Scottish rebel, witnessed some of these tragedies as a young boy and later led a popular uprising against the rule of Edward and his soldiers.

This was a long time ago. While it is true that Scotland has been a key and active part of the United Kingdom for centuries, the passion for independence continues to burn in the hearts of millions of Scottish people. Despite this, the Scots played an integral part in helping to build and sustain the British Empire—the empire on which the sun never sets.

Seven hundred and thirty-four years later, the Scots are set to decide whether or not Scotland should become an independent country in a public referendum scheduled for September 14, 2014.

There are more than four million registered voters in Scotland who are preparing for this historic referendum. The people of Scotland range from those who are fiercely pro-independence, to those who oppose this with similar fervor. Each of the two camps are seeking to gain as many votes as possible. If the Scots vote against independence—backing British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public calls for union—will this finally and conclusively close the chapter on the Scottish Independence debate?

I think the answer is both yes and no. On the one hand, this could turn a new page on the issue of independence, relegating it to oblivion for some years. However, the pro-independence impulse will never be stifled so long as some of the Scottish population continues to fan the flames, taking up any and every opportunity to remind the world of their desires, even at football matches.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from this Scottish saga it is that national aspirations for independence are difficult to deny, even when a nation is not under occupation as is the case with Scotland. Is it so difficult to understand why it is impossible to quench the flames of pro-independence?

When it comes to the Palestinians’ burning desire to have an independent state of their own, it is clear that some Israelis arrogantly profess to find this difficult to understand. Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir infamously said: “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people. It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”

At the time, many Arabs voiced anger and condemnation towards this Israeli prime minister who was part of the founding generation of the state of Israel. In fact, it would have been more appropriate to ridicule her for her self-deception.

That age is supposedly over and has given way to the world of Google, Facebook and Twitter. Still, how is it possible that some Israelis today continue to deceive themselves in this manner?

This impression was confirmed by some of the comments on my op-ed last week [Why Palestinian’s don’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state]. In that article I called on the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, particularly as Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand in this regard was solely meant to impede US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace efforts and prevent US President Barack Obama’s administration from securing any settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Presuming that the Palestinians are fools, the Israelis have jumped to the conclusion that they oppose peace because they reject the very existence of Israel. In this case, what difference does it make to recognize the “Jewish” nature of this unrecognized state? Some Israelis have gone even further, claiming that the real roots of the problem lie with the religion of Islam.

The Israelis are either acting out of willful ignorance, or are simply professing untruths, which are clearly exposed by the facts on the ground. Nobody can deny that the majority of Palestinians have declared their support for peace since Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi led the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991. On the other hand, it was the Israeli side that resorted to political ploys and maneuvering on the slightest pretext. For instance, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once threatened to walk out of the Madrid Conference’s opening session in protest against Saeb Erekat wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh. The Israelis today are continuing to provide justifications for their political intransigence, as are the extremists on both sides who aim to undermine any possibility for peace.

Risking his legacy as a Palestine national leader, Yasser Arafat under the “peace of the brave” slogan ventured to recognize the state of Israel based on the June 5, 1967 borders. He then held negotiations with Israel on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242 providing that Israel should retreat to these borders. However, Israeli leaders have since failed to appreciate Arafat’s risks, missing a true opportunity for peace simply because they prefer the status quo in which they hold the upper hand. If they truly appreciated the opportunity that they were facing today for peace, Kerry would not have found his hands tied with regards to the negotiations, as the 21st anniversary of the Oslo Accords fast approaches. At the same time, it is the Scottish people who find themselves approaching a date with destiny in which they will finally decide whether they are for or against Scottish independence.

When will the extremists on both sides, who want this conflict to continue forever, realize that Israel will not magically disappear, nor will the Palestinians suddenly accept their current lot? There must be a solution.