|Jaffa, 19th century, print by A. Kohl., via National Maritime Museum, Haifa.|
Philo, I think international law is on the side of decolonization everywhere it can be practiced, with the principles of self-determination and peaceful resolution (1919 and 1928) applying retroactively from the UN's Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples of 1960. So it took a long time between 1945 and 1960 to get there, especially for the French in North Africa and Indochina and the Dutch in Indonesia, but everybody would ultimately recognize that it followed from the 1928 agreement that decolonization would ultimately have to take place.
Moral right to me is obviously on Ten Bears' side, especially in cases like North America and Australia where the colonization was really genocidal, but I think the argument against literal decolonization for these cases is just that it can't be done, it's been too late for decades or centuries. Throw the Normans out of Britain, oh wait the Saxons conquered it before that. I do believe, though, that in the US, for example, we will never be whole until serious restitution/reparations have been paid and forgiveness asked. I really mean that, TB, for what it's worth, though I don't have a clue how to make it happen.
Israel is a kind of weird case even if you try hard to not be emotional about it (which I really appreciate you doing, Philo), if only because the original Jewish settlers—especially before the Ottoman Empire collapsed—had no reason to think they were doing anything wrong, for one thing.
There's no point in discussing the biblical right of Jews to any of the territory (I love to point out that under Greek or Christian rule Jews were always barred from Jerusalem, and whenever Arabs or Muslims took over Jews were welcomed). In Polynesian mythology, ancestors are often seen as coming from a paradise known as "Savaiki" or "Hawai'i", and it seems really likely that the future Marquesans, Tongans, Hawai'ians, and Māori would have passed through Savaiki in the Samoan archipelago on their way out 3000 years ago, but I don't think that means the New Zealand Māori should sail north or the US Hawaiians southwest to retake Samoa. In modern Russia it is well understood that the origins of Russia as an idea, as the Orthodox Christian Rus', are in Kiyiv, but that doesn't mean the Russian people have an inalienable right to live in Ukraine (the Russians can argue that the Tatar homeland of Crimea was only in Ukraine because Khrushschev thought that would be fun in 1954; to me that doesn't justify the annexation, Crimea really should be independent of Russia and Ukraine alike, but at least they have a legalistic argument).
But in the mostly secular and socialist Zionist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, which clearly had little interest in biblical claims, I think they were paying fair price for land, and that kind of thing, and before Woodrow Wilson and Versailles and the creation of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia and so on, this idea of ethnic nations didn't really exist officially (when Golda Meir said there was never any such thing as the Palestinian people she was forgetting that around a century ago there wasn't any such thing as the Ukrainian people either, or Slovak people, or even Norwegian (before 1905) and Finnish people, or all kinds of people that came into recognition as "nationalities" at that time, let alone what we have now with Bosniaks and Catalans etc. etc.).
In this way it was possible in 1917 for the framers of the Balfour Declaration to propose a "national home for the Jewish people" that wouldn't amount to a country, without saying whether it would have a territory or not, and not straining themselves too much over the ambiguity. I think there was always a mostly unexpressed idea for a "binational state" of the kind proposed by the International Jewish Labor Bund in 1948 "that would guarantee equal national rights for Jews and Arabs and would be under the control of superpowers and the UN." But in 1919-20 it was really hard for those in authority after the Versailles conference to read it that way. Thus Wilson, Churchill, and Teddy Roosevelt all spoke at the time of the establishment of a Jewish state.
But whatever the Powers may have meant by the Balfour Declaration, we can now understand that it wasn't any of their fucking business. It wasn't Balfour's land to offer, even if he had solid legal reasons for thinking it was at a time when the sun never set on Britain's territory. The legal principle now is that it's up to the people there to work out what country they want to live in, and they need to do it by peaceful means, period.
Then there's the whole shameful question of the treatment of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and after World War II, which has some analogies with the way refugees from Syria are treated today. There's no reason why Arabs should have to pay for that, and indeed the British authorities in Palestine were determined that Jewish refugees shouldn't go there, but they did anyway, as we know. We could wish they had all gone to Alaska instead, as in Michael Chabon's wonderful novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, where they do, and the Jewish state ends up speaking Yiddish instead of Hebrew and being far sadder and more beautiful than the one we have, but they didn't.
It's at this point in the history, with the founding of the state in 1948, that I start asking myself if I even care. Everybody has been very naughty, why should I have to agree with anybody that one side or the other is to blame?
In fact it's for very Jewish reasons that I tend to prefer the Palestinians, because of the endlessly repeated command of the Tanakh to love and care for the stranger and the thunderous demands for justice from the prophets (Jewish law doesn't say you can't cheat people if they're nice, it just says you can't cheat them), because it calls for dialectical logic like Karl Marx and a sense of the absurd like Groucho, because the Israelis have all the power, with their money, their special police riot gear and helmets, and their endless argumentation.