TODAY'S world, as few would deny, is a sorely troubled one, not least by the constant threat of terrorism from which literally no one can be considered safe. One of the main causes for the trouble and • the terrorism is the presence in so many countries of disaffected minorities.
In some countries, the disaffected sections of the population are not necessarily a minority. But even if they vastly out-number the portion of the country who hold actual power, they remain obstinately deprived of even the most basic human rights. A prime example of this, of course, is the case of South Africa.
Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this whole question is that so many of the world's downtrodden or unhappy minorities remain forgotten and their sad plight ignored. The absence of an obvious or immediate solution is usually the reason why such people are kept so far in the back of the mind of the world's statesmen and policy-makers.
One small but important part of this troubled world comes to mind at this particular time. For it happens to be just 40 years since the Palestine Division Plan was drawn up by the United Nations.
A UN Special Committee on Palestine, composed of statesmen and jurists from eleven member states, came together. It recommended the partitioning of Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states, linked in an economic union, with Jerusalem under international control.
The resulting resolution was approved by the required two-thirds majority, including both the United States and Soviet Russia. One of the results of the Palestine Division Plan was the shape of the Gaza Strip. But, both geographically and politically, it was an artificially shaped entity. Together with the West Bank of the Jordan, the Gaza Strip was meant to become part of the new Palestinian state.
The United Nations decision was accepted by the Jewish Agency but rejected by the Arab Governments and by Palestinian Arab leaders. Since then, little but tragedy has afflicted this whole area and almost certainly the most neglected and forgotten sufferers are the population of the Gaza Strip.
The Gaza Strip is, as it were, a "finger" which points toward Tel Aviv. It extends from the northeastern tip of the Sinai for about 30 miles along the Mediterranean coast. It is a little over four miles wide. When it had been a small part of the old Palestine, it contained about 80,000 inhabitants. They lived in relative prosperity.
Unfortunately, however, the Arab refusal to accept the United Nations Division Plan precipitated a civil war between the Arab and Jewish communities of the area to be divided. This led to what has become known in Israeli history as the War of Independence. It lasted from 1947 to 1949, and in the latter year Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip which contained many Palestinian refugees. Though the war was started by the Arabs, it was they who suffered most from its ultimate consequences.
The war continued even after the setting up of the State of Israel in May of 1948, and the Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip lasted until it was invaded by Israel in the six-day war of 1967.
The Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip today is about 650,000, nearly four times the amount of those who fled there during the War of Independence. Though administered by Israel, the inhabitants, most of whom live in great distress and poverty, are almost wholly inimical to the State of Israel and supporters of the PLO.
They have become perhaps the most neglected and forgotten disaffected minority of any country in the world. For while the Jordanian West Bank figures prominently in every attempted solution to the apparently insoluble Middle East problem, the Gaza Strip is often not mentioned. But the terrible situation there cannot be allowed to continue.
What, if anything, is the solution to this problem, which, in human terms, is so deeply disturbing?
In theory it seems, to some, to be easily obtainable. In its simplest form it is expressed by the Reagan Plan which was announced as long ago as September 1982, namely "selfgovernment by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan."
In other words, the West Bank cannot be separated from Gaza when considering any overall solution to the problem. But a Palestinian State is expected — by both its advocates and its opponents — to be under some form of control of the PLO. And the latter claims to be "the sole representative of the Palestine people."
But, as Conor Cruise O'Brien points out in his book The Siege, "almost all Israelis regard such a State as an immediate threat to their security of, their own State, and a longer-term threat to its existence."
Thus the only ultimate solution to so grave a problem is an international conference involving Israel, the Palestinians and all the neighbouring Arab states from which would emerge a cast-iron guarantee that the establishment of a Palestinian state would definitely not pose a threat to the security and existence of Israel. All attempts to bring about such a conference have so far failed. The cruel necessity of rigorous policing in the Gaza Strip thus goes on. In general, moreover, the people of Gaza have refused the offer of free land on which to build houses outside the area of their camps. They feel that by so doing they would lose their permanent status as refugees and exiles.
And while it is true that life in Gaza now is better than in the Egyptian days, this is not to say much. There is still too much suffering and the onus lies, ironically, not on Israel, but on the Palestinians to agree to a conference from which would emerge the solid agreement of a Palestinian state to exist alongside the State of Israel. Until the PLO and its even more extreme allies give up their intention of destroying Israel altogether, there seems little realistic hope for any such conference.
King Hussein of Jordan is perhaps the key to the tantalising conundrum. He has the prestige and skill to initiate such a true meeting of well-intentioned men and women. If an accord was possible between Egypt and Isreal, there is no reason why, given goodwill on all sides, a more comprehensive accord could not be brought about in the Middle East.
It must, however, involve a genuine willingness by Israel to concede territory in return for a peace and an equally genuine willingness by the Palestinians to allow Israel to continue to exist — as a friendly neighbour rather than a fanatically hated enemy. One can only pray and fervently hope that, for the sake of the suffering minorities, such a solution will not for ever be put off.