Aspects of Peacemaking

Dec 20, 2013

Update from AIJAC

Dec. 20, 2013
Number 12/13 #04

This Update contains insightful new articles dealing with three different important issues that will have to be resolved in any Israeli-Palestinian final peace agreement  –  or even a “framework agreement” of the sort that US Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to broker by April. Specifically, it deals with the subjects of recognition of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, borders and settlements in the West Bank, and Palestinian refugees. 

First up is noted Israeli academic strategic expert and recent AIJAC visitor to Australia Prof. Efraim Inbar. He argues that the recent Palestinian statement to Kerry stating recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland is a “red-line” they can never cross is not a minor matter but actually expresses the essence of the Arab-Israel conflict. He goes on to note that Palestinian public discourse, and what Palestinians learn in school and on television, utterly denies that Jews are anything other than foreign invaders while Israel recognised Palestinian national rights in 1978, and says it is this asymmetry which is at the heart of the ongoing impasse. For this important look at why the recognition issue matters so much, CLICK HERE.

Next up is an examination of an effort by a series of Israeli legal scholars to challenge the oft-heard claim that the West Bank is “occupied territory” and therefore all Israeli settlements on it are illegal.  The article, by Israeli journalist Nadav Shragai, discusses two new organisations which are seeking to go on the offensive and make the argument that as a factual matter of law, Israel is not “occupying” the West Bank in terms of international law. It includes interviews with two of the key International law experts involved – Alan Baker and Daniel Reisner – about what they hope their effort can achieve, including in relation to the Israeli Palestinian peace process. For the article in full, CLICK HERE.

Finally, American scholar Avi Jorisch reflects on the strange and unique plight of the Palestinian refugees. He puts the Palestinian refugees of 1948 into the context of other much larger refugee flows in the late 1940s in the Indian subcontinent and Europe, but notes the strange way that Palestinians have been kept in refugee limbo ever since, unlike all the other cases he cites. He makes the argument that, while of course the trauma suffered by Palestinian refugees must be acknowledged, the focus on the uniqueness of Palestinian suffering has only led to even greater pain and trauma for them and needs to be overcome to give them, and everyone concerned, a better future. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE. More information on what some recent studies reveal about the origins of the Palestinian refugee problem from Yoram Ettinger, plus former Israeli MK Einat Wilf argues that it is time for Israel and others who want peace to stop referring to the descendants of the refugees using the term “refugees.” Also, Israeli researcher Adi Schwartz discusses the barriers to peace being created by the special UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

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Palestinian Red Line

by Efraim Inbar

Israel Hayom, December 16, 2013

The media reported that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), rejected the peace proposals submitted by US Secretary of State John Kerry. The Palestinians leaked that Abbas sent a letter to Kerry reiterating his complete opposition to the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This was declared a “red line” that the Palestinians will not cross.

This “red line” is not just about semantics, but rather the essence of the conflict. The Palestinian position amounts to denying the Jews the right to establish their state in their homeland. It also indicates without any doubt that the Palestinians, despite the conventional wisdom, are not ready to reach a historic compromise with Zionism, the Jewish national revival movement. Therefore, a stable peace based on mutual recognition and ending all demands is not in the cards. The weak PA seems to accept partition of Mandatory Palestine into two states – perhaps in accordance with the PLO’s stages approach – but it still refrains from accepting the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.

This is in stark contrast to Israel, which recognized the “legitimate rights of the Palestinians” in the September 1978 Camp David Accords, and is ready for generous territorial concessions in order to implement a partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine. The bitter truth is that the asymmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not changed for over a century. In essence, this ethno-religious conflict is not about territory – although it obviously has a territorial dimension – but about securing the recognition of the other side to national rights in a given territory.

Despite the image of untrustworthiness in keeping written agreements, Palestinians actually give great importance to the language used in the documents they are asked to sign. Yasser Arafat, generally viewed by most Israelis as an accomplished liar, refused in 2000 to sign an agreement that included a clause about an end to all demands. For him the conflict could end only with Israel’s eventual demise. Similarly, Abbas cannot bring himself to put his signature to a document which says that the Jews have returned to their homeland. We know that the perception of Jews being foreign invaders of Palestine is a fundamental widespread Palestinian attitude, which is instilled in the younger generations in the PA-run schools.

The entrenchment of such attitudes is clear also by the lack of a debate among the Palestinians whether to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Discussing Jewish rights to the Land of Israel is not conceivable in the current intra-Palestinian deliberations. Not even the so-called Palestinian moderates are calling for a debate among the Palestinians on whether to recognize the right of self-determination of the Jews in their historic homeland. Palestinian polls do not ask whether Israel should be recognized as a Jewish state. Normative language mentioning rights and international norms in Palestinian discourse is reserved for Palestinian demands only, and is never applied to understand what Israelis want.

The efforts of the Palestinian media to negate the Jewish past and historic links to the Temple Mount, and even the Western Wall, indicate an ideological commitment to rewriting history. Palestinian archeology is similarly used to erase all traces of Jewish presence from the land. Even Koranic sources mentioning the links of the Jews to the Land of Israel are ignored. Such Palestinian behavior serves only to prolong the conflict because it does not teach the Palestinians that Jews are part of the history of this land. All these acts are intolerable and must stop before Israel considers signing a comprehensive peace agreement.

It was a mistake not to insist on recognition of Israel being a Jewish state in the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu understands very well the need for such recognition by the Palestinians to ensure a historic peace deal, and his insistence on getting it in the framework of a comprehensive settlement is right on the mark.

Moreover, Palestinians are different than the Egyptians or Jordanians, who were not required to accept Israel as a Jewish state. They have no claims to Palestine, while it is the Palestinians and the Israelis that fight for the same piece of land.

The Israelis recognized Palestinian legitimate rights 35 years ago. It is high time for the Palestinians to learn about the “other” they are in conflict with, and reciprocate if they are serious about making peace.

Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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The legal case for Judea and Samaria

Nadav Shragai

For years, the world has regarded Judea and Samaria as Palestinian territory illegally occupied by Israel • But now a group of hundreds of jurists from Israel and abroad is fighting back in the battle for the historical and legal truth.

Israel Hayom, December 13, 2013

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The Unique Tragedy of the Palestinian Refugees

by Avi Jorisch

Al-Arabiya, December 19, 2013

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees. The films, pictures, slides and prints the organization has collected on the refugees’ plight will now be displayed in Jerusalem’s Old City in an exhibit entitled “The Long Journey,” which will then tour Europe and North America. The images, available online, are heartbreakingly powerful and emotive.

Like all refugee stories, Palestinian stories of displacement and loss needs to be told. The question is what lessons one takes out of it. For Israel, as many prominent Israeli intellectuals, historians and politicians have argued for decades, the Palestinian plight is one that must be confronted and acknowledged with honesty.

What about the rest of the world, and particularly Muslims, Arabs and the Palestinians themselves?

The Palestinian refugees have an emotional hold in the Muslim world unlike any other refugee group. No other Muslim refugee problem, including those of conflicts in Sudan, Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan, generates such indignation. Why is that? What makes the Palestinians unique?

Remarkably, Palestinians refugees in the Levant are the only refugee group to have a special UN agency dedicated to them. All others across the world are handled by one agency, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). According to the UN, the special treatment of the Palestinians is justified by “the scale and uniqueness of the Palestinian refugee problem.”

Yet by any measure, the scale of the Palestinian refugee problem is dwarfed by numerous refugee events of the 20th Century. In 1948, credible estimates recorded approximately 700,000 refugees, and in 1967 approximately 300,000.

To put these numbers in perspective, the displacement of the Palestinians occurred within the context of the largest population transfers in history, in the aftermath of World War II. In 1947, around the same time that the British mandate of Palestine was being portioned into one state for Jews and one for Arabs, India was partitioned to create a state for Muslims – Pakistan. This resulted in the largest movement of refugees in history, with over 14 million people displaced and the death of over 1 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

Meanwhile, at least 12 million ethnic Germans fled or were expelled from Eastern and Central Europe (where they had lived for centuries) from 1944–1950, in the largest population transfer in modern European history.

In 1923, Greece and Turkey engaged in a forcible population exchange that turned 2 million people into refugees. And since the 1950s, numerous African nations have fought civil wars that led to massive refugee flight. The UNHCR estimates that in 1992, there were over 6.5 million refugees across Africa, with that number remaining high in 2004 at over 2.7 million.

How many people have studied these events or were even aware of them? Most were forgotten because after one generation, or two at most, the refugees were integrated into other countries.

And that points to one aspect of the Palestinian problem that is in fact unique: unlike most others, it has lasted for generations. The original estimated 700,000-1 million refugees now number approximately 6.5 million. That is not just a problem, it is a tragedy. Imagine if the Palestinians had been allowed to integrate into neighboring Arab countries – often less than 20 miles away from their original homes? Germany took in ethnic Germans expelled from Eastern and Central Europe, though they had not lived in Germany for centuries. India accepted Hindu refugees from the newly created state of Pakistan. Israel absorbed an estimated 800,000–1 million Jewish refugees who were expelled or fled from Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s.

The Arab League has instructed Arab states to deny citizenship to Palestinian refugees and their descendants “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland.” The result is that six decades later, Palestinians languish in camps throughout Lebanon, Jordan and Syria – instead of becoming productive citizens, as they have in other countries where they have emigrated. While the Arab world urges Israel to face its responsibility, it should not be an excuse to ignore its own.

Painting the Palestinian problem as the most serious issue facing Muslims today minimizes the plight of refugees everywhere. Even through the narrower lens of the Muslim world, the Palestinian experience is not exceptional. Pakistan is far from the only case. In Darfur, an estimated 2.5 million people have become refugees since 2003 because of the Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese army. In Afghanistan, from the Soviet invasion in 1979 until the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, 6 million refugees fled to Pakistan and Iran (5 million of whom have been repatriated since). Today an estimated 2 million Syrians have left their country to escape the civil war that began in 2011. Other refugees in the Muslim world include 1.6 million Iraqis fleeing civil war in the past decade and several hundred thousand Feyli Kurds forcibly expelled by Saddam Hussein starting in the 1970s.

Displacement as a result of war is not distinctive. History is replete with refugee suffering, and it would be difficult to argue that Palestinians have suffered infinitely more than others in recent times.

It is hard to see what good can come from this false sense of uniqueness. Arguable, it causes even greater pain and trauma. It also makes it harder for Palestinians to envisage peacemaking rather than revenge, and strengthens extremists who feed on hatred and oppose any prospect for peace.

Is it possible to have a more nuanced understanding of the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict that does not absolve Israel of all wrongdoing, but doesn’t demonize it either? Similarly, is it feasible to recognize the pain individual Palestinians underwent but concedes that this tragedy is similar to that experienced by millions of others? Answers to both questions may ultimately help bring an end to this sad Middle Eastern chapter.

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