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Learning to Forget


          The U.S. Secretary of State is reported to be studying the history of Middle East ‘peace-making’ in anticipation of the Annapolis Conference. According to Reuters (Oct 26, 2007), Rice has consulted former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, as well as former Secretaries of State Baker, Kissinger and Albright, among others.

 

          Here are some relevant pages that may not be part of her dossier.

 

          Written nearly thirty years ago in 1978 by Lord Caradon, they constitute a commentary on the fate of UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in November 1967. The historic resolution addressed Israel’s occupation of territory acquired by force in the Six-Day War of 1967. Accepted by the U.S. and by Israel at the time, it remains in force insofar as U.S. policy is concerned, in principle.

 

          Caradon’s commentary appeared as an editorial in The Nation magazine on March 18, 1978. It was published under the title "Lord Caradon on his Resolution," a reference to his role as British Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and UN Representative, in which capacity he proposed the resolution to the Security Council that was adopted on Nov. 22, 1967 and that specified the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," among other principles.

 

          Ten years later, the British Lord opened his editorial with the reminder that "for many years the Israelis have stated that what was at issue in the Middle East conflict was ‘security,’ not ‘territory.’" (p. 292) Over the intervening decade, Caradon reminded readers, "Jerusalem held to this position by its public acceptance of the 1967 U.N. Resolution 242. Now, Prime Minister Menahem Begin has interpreted the resolution specifically to exclude withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza." It was the "settlements issue" that Caradon underscored as dividing the Israeli cabinet and leading to a break, albeit a temporary break, in the ongoing negotiations with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

 

          Then, turning to the U.S. in the same period, Caradon observed that "242 requires some withdrawal on all three fronts — the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights." (p. 293) Recognizing criticisms of the resolution, including those by Israeli right wing supporters of the Prime Minister, Caradon insisted that "if the resolution is read as a whole its purposes are perfectly clear." Those purposes find expression in what Caradon described as "the basic principle, set out in the resolution’s preamble, ‘the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war,’" which he conceded was rarely cited, though he viewed it as "fundamental. It rules out claims to retain territory on the ground that it was conquered."

 

          Caradon repeatedly returned to the centrality of the "’inadmissibility’ principle." In his 1978 editorial he took the position that final boundaries would be determined by a "Boundary Commission [that] has studied the position on the ground and heard both sides and then made impartial recommendations, bearing in mind, of course, the ‘inadmissibility’ principle." Further, Caradon explained that in 1967 he assumed that "the occupied territories would be restored to Jordan," a position altered by the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

 

          In his 1978 editorial Caradon identified what he believed to be "the more serious criticism" of Resolution 242, namely, that "while calling for a solution of the problem of the refugees, [242] did not speak of Palestinian self-determination."

 

          Reviewing the situation as of 1978, Caradon recommended "a new resolution bringing the ten-year-old resolution up to date and providing:

 

(1)   For self-determination for the Palestinians in their own restored homeland.

 

(2)   A two-year UN trusteeship of the occupied territories of the West Bank to allow time for Palestinians to take their own decisions, to decide on their constitution and to hold their own elections.

 

(3)   Meanwhile agreement on cessation of all violence and all settlements in occupied territories.

 

(4)   Creation of a Boundary Commission to make proposals to the Security Council for a permanent ‘secure and recognized’ frontier.

 

(5)   Provision for international guarantees to preserve the right of every state in the area to live in peace ‘free from threats or acts of force.’"

 

          Several months before Caradon’s editorial was published, an interview with the Israeli Minister of Agriculture and head of the joint Government-Jewish Agency Committee on Settlement. appeared in The Jerusalem Post (Sept. 9, 1977) under the title "A Vision of Israel at Century’s End." The Minister was Ariel Sharon, the "architect" of Begin’s settlement policies. Sharon was addressing an Israeli audience, eager to distance himself from the previous Labor government’s policies, claiming that they "did not recognize the right of all Jews to settle in all parts of Eretz Yisrael. This government does. We will not allow the situation to go on  under which Arabs were permitted to reside anywhere in our land, but Jews were not." As for international pressure, Sharon disposed of U.S. presidents in the same way that the Begin government viewed the Geneva Convention, namely, the former would pass and the latter did not apply.

 

          In the period when Lord Caradon was reflecting on the ill-fated outcome of Security Council Res. 242, U.S. policymakers were neither blind to Sharon’s policies nor unaware of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and Golan. As U.S. Senator James Abourezk declared at the Oct. 17, 1977 opening session of Hearings before the Senate Subcommittee on the Judiciary that considered "The Question of West Bank Settlements and the Treatment of Arabs in the Israeli-Occupied Territories," the creation of ‘new facts’ on the ground was in violation of international law and the UN Charter. That position was endorsed by U.S. representatives and the UN and their respective administrations in 1969, under Pres. Ford in 1976, and had the understanding of the incoming Carter administration as well. According to Alfred L. Atherton, Jr., who was Assistant Secretary of State For the Near East and South Asia in 1977, “the U.S. position on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories has been consistent since this subject first became an issue in 1968…. we have viewed those settlements as an obstacle to peace because their establishment could be perceived as prejudging the outcome of negotiations dealing with the territorial aspects of final peace treaties.”

 

          Ariel Sharon’s Jerusalem Post article was included in the U.S. Senate Hearings. Abourezk turned to the question of Palestinian refugees as well as Israeli settlements, inviting testimony from a number of witnesses. Among them was Yehuda Blum, Prof. of International Law at Hebrew University, who argued that the 1949 Geneva Convention was inapplicable; that Israeli settlements entailed no expulsions of local populations; and that the illegal interloper was the Jordanian Government. But also testifying was Prof. Israel Shahak, Prof. of Chemistry, Hebrew University, internationally recognized Chair of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, who, assuming the validity of the 1949 Geneva Convention to the occupied territories, focused on issues of justice and its systemic violation in Israel’s practice of land confiscation and the "creation of a regime of inequality and racist discrimination."

 

          There were others, including W.T. Mallison, Prof. of Law and Director of the International and Comparative Law Center Program at George Washington University; and there were Palestinian academics, poets and engineers — Salim Tamari, Ibrahim Dakkak, and Fawzi al-Asmar — who spoke of the experience of living under Israeli rule.

 

          Without reviewing subsequent UN resolutions, and multilateral, bilateral, and unilateral accords, initiatives, conferences, promises and proclamations, including those proposed at Taba (2001) and Geneva (2003) with their detailed references to settlements and settlers, it may be useful to recall that in the Spring of 2004, Pres. George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon, then Prime Minister of Israel, exchanged letters in which the U.S. President reaffirmed Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, while making it clear that the "’inadmissibility’ principle" had in his view become inadmissible. As the President continued: "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of the final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two–state solution have reached the same conclusion."

 

          In short, it was realistic to affirm UN Res. 242 by undermining it "in the light of new realities on the ground" that bear a sharp resemblance to the Israeli landscape that the former Israeli Minister of Agriculture envisioned. According to B’tselem, the Israeli Human Rights organization, since 1967 "Israel has established in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip 152 settlements that have been recognized by the Interior Ministry, a figure that omits outposts of varying sizes excluded from official tallies. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics’ estimate of the "Israeli Settler Population, 1972-2006," the Israeli settler population in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights, had by 2005 reached 460,838.

 

          On August 16, 2006, Henry Siegman, formerly senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (1994-2006) and head of the American Jewish Congress (1978-1994), wrote an article, "The Middle East Peace Process Scam," in the London Review of Books. Citing the maps of the West Bank and Gaza produced by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Siegman stated that "Israeli civilian and military infrastructure has rendered 40 per cent of the territory off limits to Palestinians. The rest of the territory, including major population centres such as Nablus and Jericho, is split into enclaves; movement between them is restricted by 450 roadblocks and 70 manned checkpoints."

 

          Numbers alone do not convey the significance of the settler movement, the scope of its support in the civilian, military and state sectors of Israel. Nor do they convey the nature of its control over occupied territories where Israel maintains a separate legal regime, and transport and communication systems of "forbidden roads," where checkpoints, outposts, and the separation wall are designed to distance, punish and diminish the Palestinian population. And in Gaza, the ‘disengagement agreement’ has resulted in the transformation of the area into a prison without exit.

 

          Would that the Lord who had commented on what he clearly viewed as a deteriorating situation in 1978 could give us his assessment of the situation that followed, including of the proposed agreements at Taba (2001) and Geneva (2003).

 

          As for the Secretary of State, it may be that in her search for a history review in anticipation of the Annapolis conference and its as yet to be invited guests, the U.S. Secretary has added other items to her list of must do’s, such as securing an up-to–date DDT, a "Dictionary of Deceptive Terminology" reserved for political use.

 

 

Irene Gendzier teaches at Boston University, is one of the co-editors with Richard Falk and Robert J Lifton, of Crimes of War: Iraq, published by The Nation Books in 2006; and is currently at work on a history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East titled, "Dying to Forget."

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