Aug 1, 2011 | Pinhas Inbari
For the most part, the international community is tired of the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prospect of the United Nations “ending” it in September by recognising Palestinian statehood is appealing to many. Moreover, many in the international community consider a solution based on the 1967 borders to be fair.
Hence, the PLO’s declared policy of seeking UN recognition in September has gathered international support and encouragement and challenged Israeli diplomacy as never before. A key point that makes the Palestinian position so attractive is the simple notion that the future Palestinian state will suffice with the 1967 borders and immediately engage in peace negotiations to end the conflict. The tired world is happy to hear that finally a Palestinian state will come into being and, as a “peace-loving state” – as required for state membership in the United Nations – will engage in peace and not in war or conflict.
If that was really the case, and the application for statehood was aimed at completing peace negotiations on a “state-to-state” footing, this would have been a reasonable course of action deserving all possible support. However, if one studies the details of what the Palestinians really envisage after September, serious doubts arise. What they are actually planning is the opposite: to exploit a UN endorsement of statehood in order to legitimise an escalation of the conflict while destabilising the entire Middle East during a critical period when the region is already agitated.
The Palestinians do not want to declare a state, but, rather, to leave the conflict open. After having the 1967 lines recognised so as to negate the results of the Six-Day War, they plan to seek recognition of the 1947 partition lines and thereby end the refugee problem – while attempting to inflict economic losses on Israel by suing it for “occupation damages,” suing IDF officers on war crimes charges, causing civil war in Israel over settler evacuation, and creating strife between Israel and the United States to the extent of ending their historical special relationship, if possible.
That is what the Palestinians are planning. Can they carry it out? Probably not; the plans are too large and presumptuous. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be aware of this far-reaching scheme.
The 1947 Borders
The most striking phenomenon in the internal Palestinian discourse is the revival of the 1947 UN partition plan. With the PLO declaring that the September move involves enshrining the 1967 lines, why is so much attention being given to the 1947 lines?
The answer can be found in PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas’ recent New York Times op-ed (16 May). Abbas ignited the anger of the Israeli government in what it called a distortion of history. His description of the 1947 events ran counter to recorded history as Israel knew it: whereas Abbas claimed that only Israel received its share of the partition plan, then attacked the Palestinians and expelled them, Israel recalled the fact that the Palestinians and the Arabs rejected the plan and attacked Israel, and Palestinians fled the country as a result of a war their side had initiated.
Abbas, however, is no historian, and he did not write the article as a historical thesis but as a statesman who has a claim. His claim is that, with the United Nations having given Israel its share of the Partition Plan, it is now the Palestinians’ turn to get their share. Thus, even before the United Nations has recognised the 1967 lines as borders, the PLO is raising the claim for the 1947 borders.
Does it make sense? Yes. The Palestinians’ answer to the Israeli demand to be recognised as a Jewish state is that the UN Partition Plan already recognised a Jewish state along the borders of 1947.
Normally, the leaders of new states declare their independence from their home territory, and only go to the UN in order to obtain UN membership. Strikingly, Abbas does not want to declare a state in Ramallah, but wants statehood granted or acknowledged by the UN General Assembly. One clear reason for his reluctance to declare a state by himself is so that he does not commit himself to the 1967 lines, but rather leaves the conflict open, so that the Palestinian national movement can seek more territories in the future, starting with the 1947 lines.
The revival of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 and the 1947 borders is not a new Palestinian strategy. In May 1999, when the PLO argued that the Oslo Accords were about to expire, Nabil Sha’ath, who was the Palestinian Minister of International Cooperation, proposed reviving Palestinian claims to the 1947 lines.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has used the argument that the Palestinians do not need at present to declare a state since Yasser Arafat already made such a declaration on November 15, 1988, in Algiers. The basis of Arafat’s declaration was Resolution 181. Therefore, from the Palestinian perspective the borders of 1947 are still a point of reference for future Palestinian claims.
The Third Intifada
Abbas is well known for strictly rejecting the use of force, and in that regard he has contributed to the peaceful atmosphere since the Second Intifada, which was characterised by cruel terror activity within Israel. However, there are signs that this long period of quiet, for which Abbas deserves credit, is going to end after September or just before it, and that his Fatah organisation is already preparing for the “Third Intifada.”
This intifada is not planned to be a terrorist one as the Palestinians – including Hamas – have well learned the lessons from the terror they practiced in the Second Intifada. Instead it is planned to be an “intifada by peaceful means” of the kind that became very popular in the Arab Spring. Although the methods will not be terroristic, the aims of this “Third Intifada” posit the destruction of Israel as the final goal.
Although this Third Intifada that is planned for September appears to be a kind of “spontaneous Facebook event,” careful tracking of the leaders of the initiative reveals that they are mostly Hamas activists. Other promoters of the endeavour are radical leftist activists in the West Bank. The Fatah movement, which supposedly should dissent from this campaign as ostensible supporters of a compromise involving the 1967 lines, not only does not object to it but also is posting the link to the Third Intifada’s Facebook page on some of its home pages, thereby expressing endorsement of the ominous contents.
Thus, the Third Intifada is a joint project of all parties in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the diaspora: Hamas, radical leftists, Fatah, and even the PA government in Ramallah. The only difference appears to be that, whereas the actors outside the framework of government responsibility are outspoken, the governmental circles are more cautious.One cannot discern any sort of dispute within the Palestinian political body, but, rather, a consensus.
How do the Palestinians define the aims of the Third Intifada? A leading figure among the Facebook activists is Ahmad Abu Ruteima, a Hamas activist in Gaza. As he describes the objective of the Third Intifada: “The struggle is about the very existence of Israel and not about the 1967 borders. The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, confirmed that the [Israeli] army is incapable of confronting a human influx from all directions.” The Hamas activist is confident that the Israeli public (“settlers” as he defines them) “cannot withstand an attrition war” of this kind, and that “the persistence of these marches [will send a message] that the owners of the land are standing at the borders, ready to enter at any moment, and Israeli society will be constantly concerned and the settlers [Israeli public] will face difficult dilemmas, accompanied by nervous tensions, regarding whether to stay in a region encircled by enemies or return to live in the places they came from.”
Senior Fatah figure in Lebanon Munir Maqdah said: “Raising the Palestinian flag on the borders in the Naqba events is a declaration of all the Palestinians that the Palestinian state is from the sea to the river…the third generation [of refugees] is the generation of liberation…and return.”
Mazin Qumsiya, a member of the radical left in the West Bank, explains what the term “justice” means with respect to solving the refugee problem:
Palestinian refugees will have the right to return to their homes and lands and to receive reparation for their suffering as supported by UNGA resolution 194. Return and self-determination are key pillars of peace based on justice…all people who live in historic Palestine as well as Palestinians who will realise their inalienable right of return will have an effective equality of citizenship and will enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Qumsiya is a veteran activist in the field of delegitimising Israel and recruiting European leftists to the anti-Israeli campaign in the West Bank and across Europe and the Americas. He sees Israel on the western side of the Green Line as an “apartheid state,” and the territory on the eastern side as “occupied territories.” Hence, the aim of the “refugee marches” is not to have a Palestinian state established on the 1967 lines but to create a single state on both sides of those lines.
It is true that the three above-quoted figures represent the extremes of the Palestinian political spectrum. The problem is that no one in the mainstream has contradicted them; Fatah websites sanction those views by posting the link to the Third Intifada Facebook page. Furthermore, the Hamas activist, Abu Ruteima, has even justified the non-aggressive approach practiced in Ramallah as “more effective.” Hence, Hamas’ readiness to adopt this modus operandi points to a new species which can be called “nonviolent terrorism.”
One might have expected that PLO leader Abbas, who is leading the campaign for the 1967-borders state, would express reservations or even lead the argument for a compromise based on those borders; but he has not. Instead he praised the Naqba Day marchers, mourning the dead “whose spilled blood will not be wasted” as “the right is stronger than time that has passed, and the will of the people remains and is stronger than the might of the despotic power [Israel] and occupation.” Along the same lines, the PA’s Waqf minister, Mahmoud al-Habash, said in the Muqata’a mosque in Ramallah: “The occupation even 63 years since the Naqba was not able to uproot us from the land, and we are stronger [in our right] to this holy land…because we are owners of this land.”
Many believe Abbas is sincere in his quest for peace, and that may indeed be the case. The Naqba events, however, were a test for his leadership, and he did not dispute the open, radical calls for Israel’s destruction including from the midst of his own Fatah power base.
For example, Abbas’ main rival in Fatah, the hardliner Farouk Qaddumi, confirmed that “the right of return is many times more important than a Palestinian state.” Abbas and Qaddumi have already argued in the past about leadership and policy; Abbas led the Oslo process while Qaddumi rejected it. But at this juncture, Abbas kept his silence.
A newly published book in Israel, The Abyss, by the former head of the Israeli delegation to Qatar, Eli Avidar, may provide an answer to this enigma. The former diplomat recounts that in a meeting between former Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and the Emir of Qatar, Ben-Ami told the Emir that Israel had offered to absorb as many as 200,000 refugees within Israel and had even considered accepting double this number under the rubric of “family reunions” – but the Palestinians had rejected the offer. One explanation is that the return of a large number of refugees is not the aim in itself. The aim is not family reunions, but to shrink Israel to the 1947 borders on the clear basis of the right of return, thereby undoing the results of the 1948 war – after the United Nations undoes the results of the 1967 war in September.
According to a report published in al-Quds al-Arabi about the internal crisis in Fatah, the Fatah Revolutionary Council has endorsed the “Facebook intifada”; that means the Fatah sites’ posting of the Third Intifada link is an official act of the movement. A senior member of the Revolutionary Council, Hatem Abd al-Qader of east Jerusalem, is quoted as saying that in case Israel obstructs the political plans, Abbas will step down, general elections will not take place, the PA will dissolve itself, and nothing will prevent the Palestinians from returning to the struggle. And even if elections are held, the new president will come from the younger generation, abolish the Oslo agreements, and lead the Palestinians back to the struggle. Either way, then, the post-September scenarios discussed in the upper Fatah echelons involve a return to the struggle.
Thus, in no way will UN recognition of the 1967 borders mark the path to a historic compromise. The Palestinians will not exploit this opportunity to declare a state, but, instead, will use it for international legitimacy to jumpstart the campaign for the 1947 Partition Plan.
There has also been talk in Palestinian circles of reviving the UN Special Commission on Palestine (UNSCOP), the committee whose recommendations served as the foundation for the 1947 Partition Plan. Although one might assume that at least a revived UNSCOP would adjust the 1947 partition borders to reflect the new demographic reality in Israel, that is not necessarily so.
The issue of the 1947 borders has triggered discussions and symposia in the Palestinian academic community. In one of the symposia a leading Palestinian scholar in Israel, Prof. Adel Manna, raised the argument that the 1947 borders did not reflect the demographic reality at the time, allocating to the Jews much more than their actual share.
Prosecuting Israel in International Tribunals
There is another side to the same coin. Abbas has expressed on several occasions his firm insistence that not a single Jew or Israeli will remain in the future Palestinian state, triggering angry Israeli accusations of racism. Again, one may wonder why?
The answer takes us to another aspect of what the Palestinians are preparing for after September: causing Israel the greatest possible hardships, including igniting internal conflicts, inflicting economic disaster, and dragging IDF officers to international war crimes tribunals.
In his New York Times article, Abbas was straightforward: “Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalisation of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”
Actually the PLO has been preparing to pursue such claims for a long time, well before the current crisis and even during the “serious” negotiations with the Kadima government. The PLO’s Palestinian Monitoring Group of its Negotiations Affairs Department used to publish almost regularly a “Daily Situation Report” in which it meticulously recorded all sorts of damage inflicted by Israel and the settlers on the Palestinians in a variety of ways: direct damage by soldiers or settlers, checkpoints, the “wall,” and so on. This steady accumulation of data has only one logical function: to be forwarded in due time to international tribunals in order to sue Israel in a multibillion-dollar damage claim.
The Maan news agency reported that in the application documents prepared by the PLO for September, there is also an annex for a Palestinian application for a seat on the international legal tribunals at The Hague after being recognised as a state.
Indeed, the PLO needs statehood recognition in order to overcome what has so far been the major impediment to its outreach to the international tribunals: not having the status of a state, since only states can appeal to these courts. Hence, the PLO has needed someone else to plead its case. Before the Arab Spring, the Arab governments refused to do so; now, in the midst of it, they are too busy with domestic troubles. The statehood status that the United Nations will be asked to grant the PLO in September is about meeting this need, not about establishing a state. What the Palestinians plan to do then is not to exercise statehood but to declare themselves a “state under occupation” in order to legitimise the escalation of the struggle.
A senior Fatah official, Muhammad Shtiyya, went even further. He told the Maan news agency in an interview that if Palestine is not accepted by the UN, the Palestinians will replace the Israeli shekel with the US dollar as the formal currency in the PA and enlarge the scope of the Palestinian boycott from settlement products to all Israeli products.
Suing Israel is, in fact, a separate phenomenon from seeking a statehood endorsement in September, and the Palestinians will keep doing so with or without a UN resolution. This can be learned from the recent meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Indonesia at which the Palestinians finally found someone to file suit for them in case either the United Nations rejects their application or they decide not to take that step.
The PA sent to the OIC meeting a high-ranking delegation led by Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Malki, as well as Prisoners Minister Issa Qaraqe’ and UN envoy Dr. Riyadh Mansur. With the support of the new Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil al-Arabi, they succeeded to obtain the OIC’s agreement to file suit for the PA in UN tribunals. The OIC delegate said: “We support going as far as international law permits in prosecuting Israel for its breaches.”
Pinhas Inbari is a senior policy analyst at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs. He is also a veteran Palestinian affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently reports for several foreign media outlets. He is the author of a number of books on the Palestinians including The Palestinians: Between Terrorism and Statehood.