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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Just peace


With the "peace process" between Israelis and Palestinians so hopelessly stalled out, it is refreshing to see any positive development and to hear any voice for peace. In the Beirut Daily Star, Ziad Asali of American Task Force for Palestine surveyed the political changes in the Arab arena in the forty years since the Six Day War. The views he presents are a giant step forward on the road to peace.

Asali wrote:

The war of 1948 marked a definitive end to Palestinian and Arab hopes that the Zionist movement would fail to establish a Jewish state in Palestine...

While most observers see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as divided principally along nationalist lines, the more significant division is between those on both sides who understand and accept the finality of the outcome of the 1948 war and those who do not. Those who recognize 1948 as a decisive historical moment understand that it established insurmountable limitations on both Palestinian and Israeli nationalism...

The 1967 war was crucial for demonstrating this to many Arabs, although certainly it took time to translate these obvious realities into political positions. The years since 1967 should by now have had a similar effect on most Israelis, none of whom can any longer fail to understand that Palestinians are not going anywhere, they will not disappear, and they will not agree to live as non-citizens of a non-state in their own country.

The realization that there are two peoples here, and that we both have rights, is the only guarantee of a reasonable future for Arabs and Jews in the land, whether they call themselves Palestinians or Israelis.

For anyone who wishes for peace, this article is like a breath of fresh air rising sweeping away the miasma of hate and twisted logic that has usually befuddled the conflict. However, Asali spoiled his message a bit, by the text that was in the ellipses. Here is the full quote of that sentence:

Those who recognize 1948 as a decisive historical moment understand that it established insurmountable limitations on both Palestinian and Israeli nationalism and that the armistice lines of 1949 have come to constitute the only serious basis upon which the conflict can be resolved.

The second part of the sentence is grafted on to the first thought as a foreign body. It is as though someone said "I agree that the earth is round and that the borders of the 30 years war are the only borders that constitute a just settlement in Europe."

The recognition of national rights is not bounded by borders, and does not depend on borders, and there is nothing holy about the lines of 1949 or the lines of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 or the lines of June 10, 1967 versus the lines of June 4, 1967. Let's take Asali's logic to its conclusion. One week separates the two sets of borders. So Asali is telling us that on one side there are those (Greater Israel people) who believe that the cease fire lines of June 10 are holy and given by God, and with them, those (Hamas) who want to obliterate Israel entirely, and on the other side, there are those who want the borders of six days earlier. The Bible tells us that the universe was created in six days, but usually six days are not so significant. My difference with the Greater Israel people, and Asali's difference with the Hamas and the Fatah Al-Aqsa brigades and the Islamic Jihad, are not differences of six days in June 1967 or a few kilometers on a map.

The real battle between Zionism and its Arab neighbors was never over these six days. The 1949 borders were never accepted by anyone until after 1967 as de jure borders of Israel. The Arab states and the Arab Palestinians did not accept them as de facto borders either. The UN never accepted the Israeli presence in West Jerusalem, and protested against military demonstrations there even before the Six Day War, though it never seemed to mind the Jordanian annexation of East Jerusalem, which was equally "illegal."

These borders, a matter of convenience reflecting military position and horse trading at the conclusion of the Israeli War of Independence, lasted for 19 years, and nobody in the Arab world accepted them when they existed. The borders that exist now lasted for 40 years, and nobody in the Arab world accepted them either. What is the difference? In the 18 years that the West Bank and Gaza were not ruled by Israel, nobody in the Arab world or the international community made any attempt to set up a Palestinian Arab state. The lands of the Palestinians were just as "occupied" before 1967 as they were after 1967. From the point of view of sovereignty and the law of nations, nothing at all changed for the Palestinians in those six days. They traded Arab speaking occupiers for Hebrew speaking occupiers. Moreover, everyone understands that without close cooperation between the Zionists and the Arab Palestinians, it is very unlikely that a Palestinian Arab state in the borders of June 4, 1967 would be economically viable.

More than that, the borders of mandate Palestine lasted only from about 1922 to 1947, and even then, "Palestine" was first cut up and 78% of it, what Jimmy Carter described in his book as a a remote desert part of the mandate, was arbitrarily assigned to Jordan. And more than that, the Arabs of Majdal and Beisan and Birsaba and their ancestors had lived here for centuries, and likewise the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem and Hebron had lived here for centuries. No logical or just decision can be based only on the drawing of lines on maps, and no solution that depends only on the drawing of lines on maps can succeed.

From whence comes this sudden fondness of Ziad Asali for the armistice lines in force until the morning of June 5, 1967? The suspicion arises that it is related to the current and ephemeral political stand of Fatah / PLO, and the Palestinian unity government, which insist on those borders. And since when did the Fatah and the PLO become great advocates of these borders? Didn't this enthusiasm for the pre-1967 borders begin when Yasser Arafat rejected the Clinton bridging proposal in 2001?

Consider the following sentence:

Those who recognize 1948 as a decisive historical moment understand that it established insurmountable limitations on both Palestinian and Israeli nationalism and that the security fence border has come to constitute the only serious basis upon which the conflict can be resolved.

It is immediately recognizable as nonsense. In 1968 the Fatah had a different idea about "peace" - a "secular democratic state" that would be creating by expelling all the Jews who had arrived in Palestine after 1917. At the time, the Israel Labor party favored the Alon plan, which had other borders. We cannot base peace on the platform of some political party, adopted because it suits their convenience within their own society at a particular time. There is nothing holy about those borders. Different borders were "accepted" by politicians as negotiation devices at different times. Yasser Arafat himself proposed the border of the UN Partition plan as a basis for negotiations more than once. After 40 years, the borders of June 4, 1967 are not much more relevant than the original borders of the British Mandate. If those borders, accepted by the League of Nations, could not be honored after less than twenty years, then the borders of 1949 have no greater claim to "international legitimacy."

Acceptance of the other has to be a genuine and deep psychological change, not a negotiation ploy based on the political stand and maps that are favored by the Fatah or the Israel Labor party or the Kadima party. These stands are adopted by one side, precisely because they are certain that the other side can never accept them. From the political point of view, the perfect negotiations stance for each side is one that on the one hand, satisfies the Americans and the EU and demonstrates that you are for peace, and on the other hand is known to be totally unacceptable to the other side and completely impossible to implement. The borders of the security fence on the one hand, and the borders of June 4, 1967 on the other, are two such contributions by each side. They are part of the "peace offensive" - the attempt to delegetimize the other side through the use of peace rhetoric. The Palestinian Arab opposition to Israel did not begin when the armistice was concluded in 1949, and didn't depend on acceptance or recognition of a particular set of borders.

Those quibbles aside, every decent person in the middle east must unite behind these sentiments of Asali:

We must all recognize that there will be no peace until the national aspirations and dignity of both peoples are respected. The only formula that can fulfill these conditions is the creation of a state of Palestine to live alongside Israel.

It is up to all friends of Israel and Palestine to cross the national religious, racial and ethnic fault lines that divide us and form a national and international alliance for two states. The "realities on the ground" that have prevented an ending of the conflict must be overcome by this vision, and by the political forces that we bring to bear on it.

Young men and women in the Middle East, struggling with their sense of injured pride and violated justice, coping with fear, vengeance, poverty and greed, can only be spared the fate of earlier generations by a wise and courageous leadership on all sides, relentless in its pursuit of a historic compromise.

During the negotiations that took place in 2000 there was an absurd obsession with percentages of land, recounted without irony by Denis Ross in his book. 94% of the land (the land conquered by Israel in 1967) would not be enough, whereas 95% might be enough for the Americans, and the Palestinians insisted on 97%, and the Israelis agreed. Ross was unhappy that the Palestinians and Israelis agreed about something without consulting him, another absurdity.

Never mind if the land has water or is just sand and rocks in the Negev, or even some area of the Dead Sea. This preposterous logic was taken seriously by all sides. In reality, by European standards there is not enough land in the 26,000 square kilometers from the river to the sea. About half the land is desert. Each side should get 200% or 400% of the land. By American standards the whole land area is a joke not worth fighting over. But the history of Zionist settlement showed that the land is what you make of it. The experts insisted that we could not bring another million people to live here when the population was less than a million. Now there are seven million people in Israel. Syria has a land area of 185,000 square kilometers, and that does not suffice to provide a satisfactory standard of living to its 15 million people, and Egypt has a million square kilometers, from which they cannot provide for their 80 million people the standard of living of the poorest Israeli, Jew or Arab. There will never be enough land to satisfy those who are interested in making an issue of it and an obstacle to peace. There is always enough land to satisfy those who want to live in peace and make a better life for themselves and their families.

The real change that has to occur is the acceptance by each side of the other, as Asali implied in the first part of his sentence. When that occurs, without ifs, ands or buts, we can have peace. This acceptance must be genuine, without bogus issues of "right of return" of Jewish Palestinians to Hebron or Arab Palestinians to Haifa or Hirieh, and without arbitrary imposition of questions of cease fire lines of one date or a different date. It must be an acceptance based on mutual recognition of the right of self determination, which is Jus Cogens taking precedence over all other laws. When it is accepted, and it is the will of both peoples, it will be much easier to draw up borders that do not require mass movements of people who want to live in their own nation state, and which take into account the real needs of both peoples.

What is lacking unfortunately, is the courageous leadership on both sides who will take up the flag of peace: peace "netto" (Hebrew slang meaning net, clean, pure and simple). without slogans of "justice" or gimmicks of security fences or 1949 borders or 1922 borders or Ottoman Turkish borders or "right of return." We can only succeed if peace is really the first priority. We can't have "a just peace." We must have "just peace."

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

I must disagree. Usually when Israelis say that the 67 borders are not sacred, it means they want to offer the Palestinians less than the 67 borders: 80%, 90%, 95%. Sometimes less. Aside from the problem of the viability of a potential Palestinian state, the idea that Israel can keep parts of the West Bank is indicative of a problematic state of mind on the part of Israelis, as if they can shape things as they please. It is an occcupation state of mind.

It is also true that the Arabs have their own psychological hang ups: if they must be 'flexible' and tolerate Israel's presence (But not accept it's existence), they feel they must not be flexible about the 67 borders and treat every grain of sand beyond the pre 67 borders as if it was sacred. Now, this is a problem, since some changes must be made in those borders, especially in Jerusalem, even if you don't come from the arrogant Israeli attitude that we are doing them a favor by even offering part of the territories. But considering all the other psychological hang ups that Arabs bring to the table and which we cannot accept, and the fact that even the tiny minority who are truely committed to peace, and are flexible, like Sari Nusseyba and Ziad Asali have this hang-up, this is probably better to for Israelis to be more understanding and accomdoating about the borders, since we must be very firm of the right of return and Jerusalem.

By the way, I think the best solution for Jerusalem is dividing the new city as much as possible, and turn the old city + other nearby religious sites into a kind of UN controled Vatican. This is the one time when the UN might be of use.

Posted by Micha @ 05/10/2007 04:09 PM CST

A return to the Green Line was never considered by the drafters of UNSCR 242 as a viable option. To simply return to the position prior to May 1967 would do little more than create a situation where the Palestinians could almost pretend that the past 40 years had been erased and effectively reward them and their allies for their failure and violence. As Lord Cadogan pointed out the Green Line merely represented the position that the two sides held at the point of ceasefire and not viable national boundaries.
A forced or induced return to the pre-May 67 position would be fundamentally humilating to Israel and, unless the Israeli electorate voted for it overwhelmingly, it would be the end of goodwill towards the nascent Palestinian state.
The proposed international guardianship of Jerusalem under the aegis of the UN is also far from being something which any side should welcome. The UN has not shown itself to be effective in managing complex civilian entities anymore than it has shown itself capable of neutrality. One only has to look at the the relationship between UNIFIL and Israel over the decades. It would be far better to allow the residents of Jerusalem to vote for the administrative structure they desire following a full and open debate. What neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis could possibily countenance until peace was fully established would be open borders with Jerusalem. If there were universally open borders Jerusalem would rapidly become a transit point for criminal activities of all kinds. Effective border controls between Israel, Palestine and the UN controlled Jerusalem would choke off investment in Jerusalem.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 05/11/2007 10:43 AM CST

Concerning the 67 borders. I certainly don't support perfect return to the 67 borders and support changes when they are necessary. But There are three possible approaches to opening the 67 borders to negotiations:
1) Changes that will turn occupied land into Israeli land and thus reduce the territory of the potential Palestinian state and gain land for Israel.

This idea is very appealing to Israelis, while the Arabs are very hostile toward the idea of Israel gaining extra land. I doubt there is any chance to get them to accept peace on these terms, and I don't think it is worth insisting on that since there are other very important issues we have to insist upon. I also think that the assumption that Israel can gain land this way is arrogant and ultimately harmful to Israel. And there is also the problem of how to maintain a viable Paletinian state in such a small area.

"To simply return to the position prior to May 1967 would do little more than create a situation where the Palestinians could almost pretend that the past 40 years had been erased and effectively reward them and their allies for their failure and violence."

It is a waste of time to try to educate the Palestinians and to try to stop them from pretending things. They change -- if at all -- at their own time. But we can't get them to 'learn lessons.' Israel's focus should be how to get the best conditions for itself when dealing with the Palestinians the way they are. If there will be peace with the Palestinians it will be based on (a) removing as many points of friction as possible (b) making it clear that Israel is ready for war and will react very aggresively if hostilities return (c) actually being ready for war if it returns (we weren't sufficiently ready in Lebanon).

"A forced or induced return to the pre-May 67 position would be fundamentally humilating to Israel and, unless the Israeli electorate voted for it overwhelmingly, it would be the end of goodwill towards the nascent Palestinian state."

The Arabs want peace to be a process of Israel being condemned and making penance for some of its sins, while they generously accept that insufficient penance. That's inevitable. But Israelis are forward looking people and will not be deterred by this if its own interests are secured. Its good or badwill toward the Palestiian state will be determined by its future behavior, which I expect to be disappointing (as with Egypt), but hopefully not to the point of necessitating war again.

The two other options are:
2) Opening the 67 borders and negotiating a new border which wil grant he Palestinian state more land out of what is now Israel.

Obviously not very appealing for us.

3) Reshaping the border based on the assumption that at the end the Palestinian territory wil be equivalent to 100% of the occupied territory.

(It is a waste of time to hope the Egyptians or Jordanians will donate any of their land for free).

About Jerusalem. I have little regard for the UN, and I assume that the relationship in Jerusalem will be based on mutual distrust. Under these circumstances the best option is a clear division of Jerusalem with borders while reducing the level of interaction to the bare minimum. Unfortunatly, there are some places where this option does not exist, especially in the Old City.

There are several options:

1) That Israel maintain sovereignity and security control of the old city (with its religious sites) and Palestinians will enter it as guests.

That will never be accepted.

2) That the Palestinians maintain sovereignity and security control of the old city (including the Kotel), and the Israelis wil come as guests.

This is both unacceptable on principle, and iladvised because the Palestinians are not trustworthy enough.

3) A form of shared control and sovereignity, or internaly divided into quarters. This seems good, but would you really want to visit an area in which Israeli and Palestinian soldiers guard together or close next to each other? Can there be enough trust to manage this kind of shared control without constant problems?

4) In this case the UN can actually be of use. Letting it do the policing, to decide to refuse entry to Israeli zealots or stop the Palestinians fro, erasing Jewish history is the best we can hope for. It could avoid the nationalistic problems by offering as a substitute the symbolism of the UN, while drawing the UN to act more responsibly in Jerusalem by using the symbolism of that holy city. Idealy, different international organizations, academics, clerics and functionaries will fill this tiny area. The UN wil have a real stake to maintain peace. Turning that area into a tax free zone could help its economy.

This is not perfect. But it semms to me better than any alternative, and its good because it uses Jerusalem's symbolism for good for a change -- and also to trick the different sides.

Posted by Micha @ 05/12/2007 03:52 AM CST

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