Independence and Nakba are two sides of one coin. The 1948 war marks the event which the Israelis celebrate as the creation of their state, and which the Palestinians commemorate as the loss of their homeland, Palestine.
For centuries, Arabs and Jews lived in Palestine in peace and harmony as one people, until the establishment of the Zionist movement towards the end of the 19th century and the arrival of the first waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine. That was the beginning of the friction and confrontations between the two sides. The Palestinians saw in the Jewish immigration a threat to their existence and national aspirations for a state. No one had the right to expect the Palestinians to become Zionists and welcome the incoming waves of Jewish immigrants. Palestine was not "a land without a people for a people without a land."

Britain's role in creating the problem was clear. The Balfour Declaration in1917 switched on a red light. It aroused the fears, frustrations, and anger of the Palestinians who felt betrayed by the British and their allies, and led to an escalation of the confrontations between Arabs and Jews. The Partition Plan of United Nations Resolution 181, passed in November 1947, represented the first international recognition of the legitimacy of the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs, who until then had formed the majority of the population in Palestine, owning 93% of the land, could not accept that they should be made to pay for the Nazi crimes committed in Europe and share their country with newcomers from that continent. They rejected the Partition Plan, but later lost the war in 1948. The result was their dispossession and expulsion from their homeland; they became refugees in the four corners of the world.

Although 60 years have already elapsed since the Nakba, children in Palestinian refugee camps and the Diaspora still identify themselves with the villages, towns and cities from which their parents or grandfathers were driven out or which they were forced to leave as a result of the 1948 war. The sense of belonging to Palestine across the generations continues to deepen, and their willingness to struggle for the liberation of Palestine remains unabated - a struggle which started in January 1965, two years before the June 1967 War.

Over the years, and in a historic development within the Palestinian national movement, the Palestinians shifted from their claim to the liberation of all of Palestine to the pragmatism and realpolitik of a readiness to recognize Israel within the June 4, 1967 borders, and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the territories occupied in 1967. This moderation on the Palestinian side was met with a parallel radicalization on the Israeli side. The Israeli peace camp is shrinking, and the whole political map in Israel is shifting to the right. The growing power of the religious camp in Israel is inspiring its counterpart on the Palestinian side. And the lack of progress in the peace negotiations is playing into the hands of the extremists on both sides.

The year 2008 saw a surge of activities among the Palestinian Diaspora worldwide as well as among the Palestinians in the occupied territories to commemorate the Nakba. It expressed the reaffirmation of their will not to surrender or give up the claim for return. Criticism against the moderate leadership that is seeking a compromise with Israel is on the rise, simply because of its failure to end the Israeli occupation and, with it, the suffering of the Palestinian people.

Israel is not showing any sign of readiness for a historic compromise with the Palestinian people. On the contrary, it is expanding the Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and aborting the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital - the solution to the conflict on the basis of two states for two peoples.

If this situation continues, the future will prove very bleak for both sides. It will degenerate into an apartheid system that will not readily lead to a bi-national state, as some people tend to believe. The Israelis will not give up their Jewish state, and violence and bloodshed will become the norm. The two-state solution remains the most practical option accepted by the majorities of both peoples and supported by the international community. The road to this solution goes through the immediate cessation of all settlement activity, the evacuation of Jewish settlements from the Palestinian territories, the solution to the issue of Jerusalem on the basis of equal sharing, and the achievement of a just and fair solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees.

Is this a realistic expectation? And is it possible to implement? It is obvious that the lack of charismatic leadership on both sides, the growing power of the nationalist and religious right wing in Israel, and the Fateh-Hamas split within the Palestinian side are an impediment to any bilateral progress in the peace process. The only remaining hope is a U.S.-led international intervention. This seems unlikely under the current circumstances. The next year or two are very crucial. Either the window of opportunity for a settlement will be lost for decades to come - with all the possible implications and disastrous results - or a two-state solution will be imposed by the international community, guaranteeing the accomplishment of all the above-mentioned components.

This is the real challenge facing the international community as well as the parties to the conflict. Time is pressing and the challenge must be met for the sake of regional and global stability and security.
This will not be an easy task, but it is still much easier than going through the experience of an apartheid regime with all its implications, and an uncertain fate for the two peoples. The Jews achieved their independence and statehood 60 years ago, while the Palestinians are still struggling to reach the same goal.

The fulfillment of the Palestinians' aspirations to statehood, independence and justice is the key to peace, stability and prosperity for the peoples of Israel and Palestine.