A Response to Gareth Evans’ “The case for recognising Palestine”
Jun 16, 2023 | Jamie Hyams
Gareth Evans’ “The case for recognising Palestine” (published in The Conversation on June 15) might appear superficially plausible, but closer examination reveals many flaws, including the omission or misstating of fundamental facts.
- It is particularly striking that throughout his lengthy piece – which constantly implies that recognising Palestine and supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination are synonymous – Evans never mentions the Israeli offers of statehood to the Palestinians in 2000, 2001 and 2008. The Palestinian leadership summarily rejected these, without even making a counter-offer, despite all these offers meeting the internationally accepted parameters for a two-state peace. Nor does he mention Israel’s subsequent attempts at confidence-building measures, such as a freeze in Israeli settlement building or the releases of Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands. He also ignores the 2014 talks when, according to US envoy Martin Indyk, Benjamin Netanyahu was “sweating bullets” to make a deal, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas walked away.
- Evans no doubt makes these omissions because they are very damaging to his argument that Israel is the reason there is no two-state peace, and therefore it is necessary to recognise a Palestinian state in order to create the conditions for one to be established. The above history proves the opposite is the case. The reason there has never been a Palestinian state is that from 1948 (as Evans does acknowledge) onwards, Palestinian leaders have refused to make the necessary concessions, such as genuinely accepting Israel’s right to exist in peace as a Jewish state. As well as refusing generous offers of statehood, they continue to insist on a legally baseless right of return, not just of the refugees from the 1948 war, but of all their millions of descendants. This is unprecedented for any other refugee population and is completely incompatible with the formula of two states for two peoples, as it could mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Since 2014, the Palestinian leadership has rejected all final peace negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have pursued parallel strategies of subjecting Israel to terrorism – termed “resistance” – while consistently demonising it in all international fora. The aim is to achieve their state without having to accept Israel’s right to exist, which is a formula not for peace, but for continued conflict.
- This history shows that, contrary to Evans, if a respected democratic middle power such as Australia prematurely recognises a Palestinian state, that would be extremely counterproductive to the cause of peace. It will only encourage the Palestinian leaders to continue with their destructive strategy, making peace ever harder to achieve. The way to contribute to peace is to demonstrate to the Palestinian leaders that their tactics will not bring them any closer to their goals, and that the only way to achieve statehood is to be genuinely prepared to make peace via negotiations that would entail agreeing to end their conflict with Israel.
- Evans also makes the claim that 138 out of the UN’s 193 members have recognised the state of Palestine, but this is misleading. Most of them did so in the context of the Cold War, where they were part of the Warsaw Pact or non-aligned caucuses, and at the time most of them recognised “Palestine” instead of Israel, rather than alongside it. Many of those countries, such as the former Warsaw Pact nations, India and numerous African nations, would almost certainly not extend such recognition to “Palestine” today, even if they have never formally renounced their past recognition. As Evans subsequently admits, Sweden is the only Western democracy to actually recognise “Palestine”. It is interesting that he suggests Australia’s model should be countries like Indonesia, not Western democracies – because Indonesia of course does not recognise Israel to this day, only “Palestine”.
- Under the heading, “The legal argument”, Evans acknowledges that Palestine doesn’t currently meet the definition of a state under the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. However, he argues, the fact that 138 UN member states have recognised Palestine is, in itself, a legal argument for others to do the same. However, even if this argument is valid – and it is at best questionable, as mentioned above – the circumstances under which this recognition was extended have now greatly changed.
- Evans claims the evidence is clear that the threat and reality of Palestinian violence diminishes rapidly when the Palestinians see a path towards a just settlement. In fact, history clearly shows the opposite is the case. Hamas carried out a campaign of bombings of buses inside Israel in the mid-90s, in the wake of the Oslo Accords, when the two sides were working towards a just settlement. The Second Intifada, in which Palestinian terrorists from various groups including Yasser Arafat’s Fatah murdered more than 1,000 Israelis and seriously injured thousands more, is another example. It commenced barely two months after the Camp David summit in July 2000, when Israel made to the Palestinians an offer of statehood the Saudi Ambassador to the US said they would be fools to reject. It continued and worsened after the Taba negotiations in early 2001, when the offer was improved.
Some additional comments on elements of Evans’ piece:
- He claims, under the heading “The moral argument”, that “the righting of a grievous wrong done to Jewish people does not justify a grievous wrong being done to Palestinian people.” However, the right of the Jews to self-determination in the Jewish homeland was recognised by the League of Nations two decades prior to the Holocaust, and it’s a strange argument that national liberation movements like the Palestinians deserve statehood in their homelands, but Jews do so only because of atrocities committed against them.
- Also, as demonstrated above, the only reason the Palestinians have no state is the actions of their own leaders, not because of any “grievous wrong” done to them. The UN’s partition plan allocated to the Jews the areas where Jews were in the majority, and to the Arabs areas where they were in the majority. There was nothing preventing the Palestinians from declaring statehood in 1948 in the areas allocated to them in the UN’s partition plan, just as the Jews did, but, as Evans admits, they launched a disastrous war instead. Even after that war, a Palestinian state could still have been established consisting of the West Bank and Gaza at any time between 1949 and 1967. Israel did nothing which would have prevented such a Palestinian state from being formed.
- Evans accuses Israel of Apartheid in the West Bank, and marginally less so in Israel itself. The Apartheid allegation is simply defamation of Israel. Apartheid is a policy of separation based on a doctrine of racial superiority. All of Israel’s citizens have equal rights, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background. This disproves the allegation that Israel practises or believes such a doctrine. Different laws do apply to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, but this is a requirement of international law. Israel is required to apply the laws in place at the time it took control of the West Bank to those in the area who aren’t Israeli citizens. To apply Israeli law to them would be equivalent to annexation.
- Israel does also apply various restrictions to the movements of the West Bank Palestinians, but that is purely to prevent terrorism, not due to any doctrine of racial superiority. It is notable that the Evans article contains no mention of this terrorism. Most checkpoints and other restrictions are a direct result of the Second Intifada, which went from 2000 to 2005 and resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 Israelis and severe injuries to thousands more, mostly as a result of West Bank Palestinians entering Israel and carrying out suicide bombings. The Intifada was only halted by the same restrictions, such as the security barrier and checkpoints, now cynically condemned as Apartheid. There were no such restrictions in place prior to the Intifada.
- He claims that UN resolutions support a two-state solution based on Israel withdrawing to its pre-1967 borders, but UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which he cites subsequently, require Israel to withdraw “from territories occupied”, not “all the territories” or even “the territories”. This was intentional, as the lead drafter of 242, British UN Ambassador Lord Caradon, subsequently stated. The borders were regarded as unsatisfactory, and the intention was that the “secure and recognised borders” envisaged by the resolution were to be negotiated as part of a peace agreement. As noted above, Israel has made repeated good-faith efforts to negotiate such an agreement.
- Evans says the attempts to implement such a solution have “run into the sand” – but this is primarily because of Palestinian intransigence in the face of repeated Israeli peace offers.
- As part of his “moral argument”, Evans attempts to rebut the argument that Palestinians forfeited their moral claim by refusing to accept the partition plan and their violent resistance to Israel’s creation by stating Israel’s moral claims were tarnished by its own violent extremism. However, the acts he refers to were committed in a defensive struggle for survival, and do not compare to the thousands of Palestinian terrorist acts over the past seven-and-a-half decades targeting civilians.
- Evans specifically mentions the bombing of the King David Hotel and the “massacre” at Deir Yassin. The King David Hotel was targeted because it was the British military headquarters, and prior to the bombing, the Irgun telephoned through a warning which was tragically ignored. Deir Yassin was a heated battle for a town from which raids had been launched against crucial but exposed Israeli supply lines. While there may have been war crimes committed by Jewish forces in the heat of that battle (and sadly almost all wars see illegal and indefensible acts – as recent revelations about Australian troops in Afghanistan highlight), it is today very clear those acts were subsequently spun into greatly exaggerated accounts turning that battle into an Israeli massacre of innocents.
- Under his “political argument”, Evans claims that if a two-state solution is dead, it is the “Israeli settlement program that has killed it” (ignoring any Palestinian culpability). However, as admitted by former long-time Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat in 2011, the settlements only occupied approximately 1.1% of the area of the West Bank. They have hardly grown since in terms of the area they occupy, and their existence didn’t prevent Israel’s then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from offering the Palestinians a state on land equivalent in area to the entire West Bank and Gaza in 2008 – an offer PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently stated he rejected “out of hand”. There is absolutely no reason to believe a similar offer is not possible today, despite the growth in the population, but not land area, of settlements since then.
- Evans claims recognition of Palestine is necessary because no peace negotiation has the prospect of succeeding if the parties are mismatched. Yet the Israelis made their three generous offers of statehood when the parties were mismatched, and it was the Palestinian leaders who rejected them. It can only be assumed that the Palestinians would be even more intransigent if they felt stronger, and had less to gain by accepting a two-state peace deal.
- Under the heading “Domestic politics”, Evans claims that what he calls Israel support organisations “characterise even the most cautiously expressed critiques of Israel as savouring of unconscionable antisemitism.” This is completely untrue. Jewish organisations repeatedly and continually reaffirm that criticism of Israel similar to that which could be made of any other country is not antisemitism. There are, however, criticisms of and attacks on Israel that do cross the line into antisemitism, where Israel is attacked as a collective of the Jewish people. Those who cross that line do often make the false allegation favoured here by Evans – that Jews falsely label any criticism of Israel as antisemitism. This claim – always made without offering any bone fide examples – is used by them to try to justify genuine Israel-related antisemitism, and to imply that everyone would agree with their extremist anti-Israel views if only Jewish groups did not supposedly use antisemitism accusations to prevent the truth coming out.
- What Evans also does not mention is that the Jewish community organisations in Australia overwhelmingly and very publicly favour an eventual two-state peace, even if they don’t believe now is the time, because there is no partner able and willing to deliver on the Palestinian side. In other words, the same “Israel support organisations” he demonises as preventing support for Palestinian self-determination by nefarious means actually want the same two-state outcome Evans claims to want – even if they do not support the means he advocates.
- Evans concludes his article by arguing that recognising a Palestinian state would put at risk traditional sources of party funding, but it is more important to do what is right. This claim, sadly, is reminiscent of the classic antisemitic trope accusing Jews of using their money and power to have governments act in ways that are immoral and against their own interests. Evans appears to be arguing that everyone would agree with him as to what is “right” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict if it were not for the power and leverage of monetary donations from largely Jewish supporters of Israel. That he included this argument is a concerning indication of how low Evans is prepared to sink to push his cause.