By Mr. Salomon Benzimra
[ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS] During the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Israel last June, his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bernard Kouchner, was interviewed by Guysen News International, a francophone online network based in Jerusalem. On the issue of the Middle East peace process, Mr. Kouchner's observations can be summarized as follows:
Everyone knows that a viable Palestinian state must be created side by side with Israel, and it must be done urgently. To this effect, Israel must put an end to the colonization, remove a few tens of thousands of settlers, compensate them to return to Israel and hand over their homes to the Palestinians, without destroying them, as was the case in Gaza. Of course, Hamas continues to fire rockets, but Israel must stop the confrontation that feeds extremism. Later, the return of the refugees and the issue of Jerusalem
This hodge-podge of worn out ideas, dogmatic pronouncements and mendacious terminology must first be confronted with factual truths.
First, the destruction of Jewish owned houses in Gaza was not only coordinated but encouraged at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority (PA). On May 5, 2005, Mr. Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, declared in an interview to Voice of Peace: "I will tell the Israelis to demolish all [the houses] and even take all the rubble with you, because this is our firm position - to demolish these houses because we do not want to live in them." This decision was later confirmed on May 26, 2005, by Mr. Mohamed Shtayyeh, the Palestinian Minister of Public Works: "If Israel does not destroy the settlers' homes, we will destroy them" (Note 2). Destruction was not limited to buildings and housing units. Most greenhouses, highly efficient productive centers, were vandalized by the Palestinians in spite of a $14 million private fund raised by James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank.
Second, Hamas is not the only group to fire rockets from the Gaza Strip. Ignoring the recent cease-fire agreement, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the latest round of rockets. Let us not forget that these Brigades are part of Fatah and under the authority of President Mahmoud Abbas with whom, according to Mr. Kouchner, negotiations are possible.
But beyond these "details"-, Mr. Kouchner's position must be challenged on more fundamental grounds. While everyone is entitled to his opinion on the "Palestinian cause"-, no one should be allowed to distort the facts. It is high time that this "urgent necessity to create a viable Palestinian state"- (in Judea & Samaria, of all places, and after uprooting all its Jewish communities) be assessed rationally.
Neither international law, nor historical facts, nor geo-strategic considerations could support the creation of a new Arab state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Even though Mr. Kouchner tells us that "everyone knows...," here is what everyone should really know.
On legal grounds: The 1922 Mandate for Palestine (Note 3) recognized the region known as "Palestine"- as the historic, national and exclusive heritage of the Jewish people. This key document of international law "" which has never been abrogated, and the spirit of which was entrenched in Article 80 of the Charter of the United Nations "" should be the basis of any resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. When this document was approved by the Council of the League of Nations in July 1922, Palestine had already been carved out of its eastern region (Transjordan), as shown in Article 25. This partition resulted in "postponing or withholding"- all Jewish settlements east of the Jordan River and, to this day, there are no Jews living in that area.
How many times must Palestine be partitioned? Was it not a violation of the provisions of the Mandate (Article 5) to envisage a further partition of Palestine, as recommended by the Peel Commission in 1937 (Note 4) or by UN Resolution 181 in 1947 (Note 5)? Even though Israeli jurists Meir Shamgar and Theodor Meron, in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967, wrongly advised their government to view Judea & Samaria (the "West Bank"-) as "territories regulated by the Geneva Conventions"-, the validity of the provisions of the Mandate remains intact. So, how many more transgressions of international law are Mr. Kouchner and his western colleagues prepared to suggest, even to support, in order to appease the real transgressors whose final objective is the destruction of Israel?
The Mandate is also very clear with regard to the establishment of Jewish communities in Palestine. Article 6 encourages the development of these communities in all the lands located west of the Jordan River, which makes their status perfectly legal. When Mr. Kouchner refers to these communities as colonies and urges Israel to put an end to the colonization "" a most derogatory term "" he shows his ignorance of the facts. Dismantling these Jewish communities would be tantamount to condoning the ethnic cleansing that Arabs have practiced in the region up to 1967.
On historical grounds: There is no doubt about which territories Israel should purportedly abandon in order to create a Palestinian state. They include mainly the "West Bank"- "" a misnomer widely used by all those who favor a new partition, to actually designate Judea and Samaria. It just happens that Judea and Samaria hold over 90% of the historic patrimony of the Jewish people. Withdrawing from these territories would not only be a national suicide but an invitation to any number of further territorial demands made by the Arabs (Galilee, coastal zone, etc.), where Jews could not possibly claim as strong historical links as in Judea & Samaria. And let us not even mention the partition of Jerusalem, and its supposed holiness to Islam, so recently touted!
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, contemporary history never ceases to remind us of a reality that the world persists to ignore. For reasons that escape reason, the armistice line of 1949 (the "Green Line"-) has acquired the status of an "internationally recognized boundary."- Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who seldom misses an opportunity to distort the reality of the Middle East, repeats this nonsense in an article published in USA Today in May, 2006 (Note 6). In 1967, the Green Line vanished but the error persists. It is useful to recall the parallel between the War of Independence of 1948 and the Six- Day War of 1967. In both events,
must also be discussed. (Note 1)
One may then wonder why the outcomes of these two wars should be treated differently. On the one hand, no one questions the legality of the acquisition of territories by Israel in 1948-49 and, on the other hand, diplomats around the world consider that the "West Bank"- and "East-Jerusalem"- are occupied territories. Actually, these territories are as "occupied"- as Western Galilee, Beersheba and Ashdod, which were all part of the Arab state proposed by the Partition Plan of Palestine in 1947 (UN Resolution 181 which, let us not forget, violated the provisions of the Mandate). The notion of "occupied Palestinian territories"- is a monumental sham, all the more so when one compares the original version of the PLO Charter of 1964 "" where there is no mention of a "Palestinian people"- and where the "West Bank"- is excluded from the lands to be "librated"- "" to its second version of 1968, in which the "Palestinian people"- suddenly appears to "liberate Palestine ... in all the territory of the British Mandate"- (Note 7).
How is it that the whole world could be duped by this Arab-forged Palestinian mythology, while Colonel Qaddafi of Libya, in an unusual outburst of common sense, exposed it openly to his mesmerized colleagues of the Arab League? (Note 8).
Nevertheless, Israel has pursued the so-called "peace process"-, by withdrawing from several territories. Following the Oslo Accords, Palestinian terrorism increased dramatically. The disengagement from the Gaza Strip was rewarded by thousands of Qassam rockets targeting towns in the western Negev. And after the withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, a month long war was triggered by Hizbullah's aggression six years later, in spite of UN guarantees. In view of these empirical correlations, perhaps Mr. Kouchner could explain how a further withdrawal would put an end to Arab violence.
On geo-strategic grounds: It is hard to imagine a viable Palestinian state contained in the 6,000 square kilometres of Judea & Samaria, especially when allowing for the "right of return"- of some 4 million "refugees."- It is inconceivable to contemplate uprooting a quarter million Israeli Jews who live there, in order to meet the grievances of the Palestinian Arabs who, ironically, condemn the "Israeli apartheid."- Therefore, if Israel were to keep a significant portion of those territories "" where most Jewish urban centers are located "" the putative Palestinian state would be even less viable. Why, then, holding on to this fantasy of "viability"-, as Mr. Kouchner insists? Moreover, if the Gaza Strip, "liberated"- since 2005, were to be linked to the "West Bank"- by a safe passage corridor, would there be anyone concerned with the viability of Israel? Why this obstinate effort in obfuscating reality?
Given that the "peace process"- has been around for the past 15 years, there is only one word that comes to mind: madness. Or, to put it more mildly, an assault on reason under diplomatic cover.
Since 1967, all military strategists, Israelis as well as American, have been adamantly opposed to any Israeli withdrawal from the heights of Judea and Samaria. No country would expose its most densely populated area to the constant threats of a potential enemy, by reducing its width to 15 km. The Lod airport "" the only international airport in Israel "" would be even more exposed. These strategic issues were dramatically brought to the fore during the missile attack by Hizbullah in 2006.
What is urgent is neither the creation of a Palestinian state, nor the pursuit of a mindless pacifism where justice and truth are often ignored. What is really urgent is to have the courage to face reality. And a good place to start is in semantics.
As long as misnomers such as "colonization"-, "illegal occupation"-, "Palestinian territories"-, "right of return of refugees"-, will be endlessly repeated, peace will remain out of reach, as Albert Camus aptly observed: "Misnaming things compounds the troubles of the world."-
As long as cause (extremism) and effect (confrontation) are inverted, ? la Kouchner, the conflict will not be understood and surely not resolved. A cursory reading of the founding documents of the PLO, Fatah and Hamas would quickly dispel many long held misconceptions (Notes 7, 9, 10).
As long as the international community stubbornly seeks to resolve a complex problem without sorting out its various components, the process will lead to failure. Deal first with the legal aspect of territorial sovereignty, before addressing the status of the resident population.
Insofar as diplomacy and rational thought are not entirely divorced, it is apparent that one cannot be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian (in the usual acceptation of this term). It behooves all of us to take a stand and to cast aside the many fantasies that perpetuate the conflict.
1. Interview (in French) of Mr. Bernard Kouchner by Ms. Caroll Azoulay, Guysen News International, June 26, 2008: