Palestine – Time for Hard Questions and Even Harder Answers

January 19, 2011 by David Singer
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The international failure to accept the final breakdown of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was yet again highlighted in the communique issued in Sydney on 18 January 2011 at the conclusion of  the Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations between Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd and Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, and the United Kingdom’s First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague and Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox.

“The answers are getting harder and harder And there ain’t no way to bargain or to barter”

Blues Traveler

It seems as though both countries were living in a dream world of their own as they solemnly pronounced:

“Australia and the UK highlighted their strong support for a just and enduring peace in the Middle East based on a negotiated two-state solution where Israel and a future Palestinian state live side by side in peace and security. Both countries highlighted the urgent need for Israel and the Palestinians to return, as a matter of urgency, to direct talks on final status issues, and to refrain from actions which undermined confidence, such as settlement construction. Both countries reaffirmed their practical support for Palestinian institution-building in preparation for statehood.”

Surely the Ministers were engaging in wishful thinking with no possible hope of their wish-list ever coming to fruition.


  • direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority effectively ended,
  • an impotent Quartet comprising America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations unable to bring the parties together and
  • a raft of countries recognizing or threatening to recognize a non- existent , undefined and undeclared 22nd Arab State between Israel, Jordan and Egypt in flagrant violation of international law

– it surely is time to question whether there is any reasonable prospect of  ever achieving a negotiated two-state solution  between Jews and Arabs pursuant to the Oslo Accords formulated in 1993 and the Roadmap proposed by President Bush in 2002.

There are those countries such as Australia and Great Britain that apparently believe such a resolution is still possible.

Yet 17 years of negotiations have only seen

  • the division of the West Bank into three administrative districts and
  • the  unilateral decision taken by Israel to evacuate Gaza in 2005.

The evacuation of Gaza has proved a total disaster

  • ruining the lives of thousands of Jews forcibly removed from their homes,
  • splitting the area proposed for the new Arab state – the West Bank and Gaza – into two separate and separately administered entities with no prospects of reconciliation between the two governing political entities – the Palestinian Authority and Hamas
  • sparking the return of Israel’s army to Gaza in December 2009 to root out the threat posed to Israel’s civilian population by the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza
  • causing Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade to prevent the entry of terrorists, arms and war materiel into Gaza
  • Witnessing an ever increasing level of violence from Gaza and retaliation by Israel

Gaza and Hamas now appear to have been placed in the “too hard basket” by the international community.  Instead it has thrown its weight behind the Palestinian Authority in seeking to resolve the issue of sovereignty in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – a far cry from the two-state solution posited by Oslo and the Roadmap.

Administrative responsibility for 95% of the West Bank Arab population has been vested in the Palestinian Authority and has indeed begun to see a marked improvement in their daily lives.

However the continuing refusal of the Palestinian Authority to moderate its political claims to sovereignty in anything less than 100% of the entire territory of the West Bank remains a stumbling block that has precluded any progress at all in resolving the division of sovereignty in the West Bank between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

There are other impediments to the conflict that have defied resolution and increasingly make it certain that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are already dead and buried.

If countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom still believe otherwise – then they would do well to seek answers to the following questions from both Israel and the Palestinian Authority:

  1. Is the Palestinian Authority prepared to recognize Israel as the Jewish National Home reconstituted pursuant to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter?
  2. Does the Palestinian Authority intend to persist with its demand that every square centimeter of the West Bank be ceded to it by Israel or is it prepared to accept less in exchange for an equivalent land swap by Israel?
  3. Is Israel prepared to contemplate a land swap?
  4. Is the Palestinian Authority still committed to former Arab residents of what is now Israel or their descendants being given the right to return to live there, what would be the appropriate number the Palestinian Authority would demand be given this right and what number would Israel be prepared to accept?
  5. Is Israel prepared to allow the creation of a 22nd Arab State between Israel and Jordan in the West Bank with full and unfettered access and control over West Bank air space?
  6. Is the Palestinian Authority prepared to accept a State in the West Bank with restricted control over its air space?
  7. Is Israel prepared to evacuate and relocate all the Jewish residents of the West Bank?
  8. Is Israel prepared to cede its claims to sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem?

On any minimal understanding of the conflict  – one could not expect answers to these questions that would pose the slightest optimism in believing the negotiated two-state solution  has any chance of success.

The sooner alternative solutions are introduced to replace the failed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – the sooner the current dangerous impasse that threatens the resumption of hostilities can  be averted.


9 Responses to “Palestine – Time for Hard Questions and Even Harder Answers”
  1. david singer says:

    #Stewart Mills

    Your attempt to justify your claim that UN Security Council resolution 44 of 1 April 1948 rejected the Partition plan is spurious. The Resolution stands on its own and any debates – prior or subsequent – cannot affect the meaning of that resolution other than helping interpret the words used. Certainly there is nothing in the extracts quoted by you to alter the clear meaning of the wording of the resolution itself. Faced with the fact of Arab rejection of the Partition Plan the Security Council had no option but to send it back to the General Assembly for further discussion. The position of one delegation is not the decision of the Security Council. To infer otherwise is misleading.

    Dealing with the other issues of history raised by you does not advance any resolution of the conflict other than to say I disagree strongly with your claims.

    For example the White Paper of 1922 was the fig leaf that Britain provided to deny the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute the Jewish National Home “in Palestine”.

    “In Palestine” did not mean “all of Palestine” according to Churchill’s belated interpretation of the Treaty of Sevres as explained in the White Paper. The Jews were most unhappy with this interpretation but the majority view was to reluctantly accept it.

    This sleight of hand enabled Britain to accommodate Abdullah and stop his progress to Syria to help his embattled brother Feisal whose removal was being sought by France.

    It provided the justification for Britain hiving off 77% of the Mandate territory in accordance with article 25 of the Mandate to eventually create what is today called Jordan and deny Jews any rights in that territory under the Mandate. However this right was never terminated in respect of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – what is today called Israel,Gaza and the West Bank.

    Jews have legal claims in the West Bank and Gaza that need to be negotiated and resolved. Negotiating over Gaza seems out of the question for now. Negotiating over the West Bank now seems to only be possible with Jordan.

  2. Just to clarify response no. 3. is about our discussion on 1967; and should read:

    3. The status quo position for 1967 would include defacto and dejure state parties. This would include a Palestinian voice within the negotiations.

    Similarly response no. 4 – relates to our discussion on 1967 and what should happen as a result of those events.

  3. 1. The Rejection of a Jewish State by the British (1922, 1939) [Support of a homeland is not support for a state]

    David, don’t forget to add the 1922 White Paper rejected Jewish statehood. A similar rejection of partition was made in the 1939 White Paper – which rejected the 1937 Peel Commission partition plan.

    UK White Paper 1922

    “The tension which has prevailed from time to time in Palestine is mainly due to apprehensions, which are entertained both by sections of the Arab and by sections of the Jewish population. These apprehensions, so far as the Arabs are concerned are partly based upon exaggerated interpretations of the meaning of the [Balfour] Declaration favouring the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, made on behalf of His Majesty’s Government on 2nd November, 1917 …
    “…Unauthorized statements have been made to the effect that the purpose in view is to create a wholly Jewish Palestine. Phrases have been used such as that Palestine is to become “as Jewish as England is English.”

    HMG regard any such expectation as impracticable and have no such aim in view. Nor have they at any time contemplated, as appears to be feared by the Arab Delegation, the disappearance or the subordination of the Arabic population, language or culture in Palestine. They would draw attention to the fact that the terms of the Declaration referred to do not contemplate that Palestine as a whole should be converted into a Jewish National Home, but that such a Home should be founded in Palestine.

    In this connection it has been observed with satisfaction that at the meeting of the Zionist Congress, the supreme governing body of the Zionist Organization, held at Carlsbad in September, 1921, a resolution was passed expressing as the official statement of Zionist aims “the determination of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community, the upbuilding of which may assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development.”

    2. The rejection of 181 by the UN Security Council in March 1948

    David, there is no UN Security Council resolution that rejects GA Res 181. Like all politics, the devil is in the detail. This claim is based on three pieces of evidence.

    1. US statements made within the UN Security Council meeting records.
    2. US statements outside of the UN Security Council in March 1948.
    3. The Jewish Agency response to the UN Trusteeshp proposal.
    4. The recalling of a special session of the General Assembly.
    5. The ensuing debate that occurred within the special session of the General Assembly in April-May 1948.

    The US rep to the SC, Warren Austin, called it a “temporary trusteeship”

    The USSR rep to the SC, Mr Gromyko, synical of US motives called it an “abandonment of the already adopted partition plan and its replacement by the establishment of a United Nations trusteeship over Palestine…The United States has changed its attitude towards its decision adopted with its active participation. Not only has it refused to support this decision, but it has raised the question of its revocation and introduced entirely new proposals to that effect. (p. 249)……Now it has become apparent that all these arguments were aimed at preparing the ground to bury the partition plan and to justify the United States proposal on Palestine (p. 250).
    [To add to the complexity – it is important to remember the cold war politics at play in decisions made in the UN at this time]

    Rabbi Silver (Jewish Agency for Palestine): (p. 168)
    “The proposal of the United States Government to suspend all efforts to implement the partition plan approved by the United Nations General Assembly last November, under the leadership of the United States, and to establish a temporary trusteeship for Palestine, is a shocking reversal of its position…We are at an utter loss to understand the reason for this amazing reversal…”

    3. The status quo position would include defacto and dejure state parties. This would include a Palestinian voice within the negotiations.

    4. The question of time [Nothing like getting facts on the ground to prejudice future negotiations]

    David what is remarkable is the assertion that 43 years is to vast a spanse in time to return things to the status quo. Can you not see how ridiculous it must be to try and return things back to events more than 2000 years ago. See the King-Krane Commission’s position:

    King-Krane Commission 1919

    “it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine-nearly nine-tenths of the whole emphatically against the entire Zionist programme….The Peace Conference should not shut its eyes to the fact that the anti-Zionist feeling in Palestine and Syria is intense and not lightly to be flouted. No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist programme could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the programme. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist programme, on the part of the non-Jewish populations of Palestine and Syria. Decisions requiring armies to carry out are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of serious injustices. For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a “right” to Palestine based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.”

    I say this not to undermine Israel’s place in the community of nations today. I say this to encourage those who minimize (or delegitimise) the Palestinian plight for survival. I can totally empathise with the Jewish community’s sense of trauma and betrayal by the international community – pogroms, Holocaust/Shoah, wars post 1948. I can totally acknowledge the legitimate fears that a significant proportion of Jews in Israel may feel. What is always saddening for me is those who fail to empathise with the other. Until steps are taken to empathise the plight of Palestinians (and vice-versa) we will not find peace.

  4. david singer says:

    # Stewart Mills

    I strongly disagree with your interpretation of the historical events. Trawling through all the discrepancies will hardly advance what can happen now.

    However I refer to just two of your comments:

    1. “My problem with this perspective is it fails to consider the legitimate rights of the dominant population ie Palestinian Arabs.”

    The Palestinian Arabs were given no political rights under the Mandate – only religious and civil rights. Arab self-determination was to take place in 99.999% of the conquered Ottoman Empire and Jewish self-determination was to take place in the remaining 0.001% being the area of the Mandate for Palestine. The Arabs never accepted this division and till today claim it to be invalid and illegal. Doing so has caused them a great deal of pain and suffering as it has also for the Jews. Until the Arabs come to terms with this decision endorsed by the League of Nations any prospects of peace are doomed to fail.

    2. “The UN General Assembly Partition Plan was rejected by the Security Council in March 1948 and it was sent back to a Special Session of the General Assembly to pursue placing the region under a UN Trusteeship.”

    I take it you are referring to Security Council Resolution 44 of 1 April 1948 which stated:

    “The Security Council,

    Having received, on 9 December 1947, General Assembly resolution 181 (II) concerning Palestine dated 29 November 1947,

    Having taken note of the United Nations Palestine Commission’s first and second monthly progress reports and first special report on the problem of security,

    Having called, on 5 March 1948, on the permanent members of the Council to consult,

    Having taken note of the reports made concerning those consultations,

    Requests the Secretary-General, in accordance with Article 20 of the United Nations Charter, to convoke a special session of the General Assembly to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine. ”

    How you can construe this resolution to amount to a rejection of the Partition Plan by the Security Council and a request to pursue placing the region under a UN Trusteeship escapes me.

    On a more positive note you do state:

    “I am in agreement that the most practical approach is to try and return to the status quo 5 June 1967 [I hope you mean before the attack began not after territory gains were made]. The one bit of disagreement would relate to 1948 refugees.”

    That will mean negotiations between Jordan and Israel and Egypt and the abandonment of the two state solution proposed by the Bush Road Map. The Palestinian Authority will have no part in those negotiations. Any expectation that Jordan and Egypt would be handed back 100% of the captured territories is unrealistic given the population changes that have occurred during the past 43 years. There certainly would be difficulties in relation to resolving the issue of the 1948 refugees but it would be placed on the agenda just as the issue of the 1948 Jewish refugees who left Arab countries would need to resolved.

    The fiction of trying to create a new state between Israel,Jordan and Egypt where none has ever existed before has been a major reason for the failure of the two-state solution.

  5. Sorry David that should have read:
    “However, this was let go in the interest of securing at least something for the Palestinian people ie 22% of what was historic Palestine..”

  6. David, I left it at 1993 as this was the year Israel formally accepted a two state solution. The various permutations of what this might mean was not my point. My point was to emphasize the significant passing of time since the two state solution was proposed.

    I understand you will go back to ’48 and say the Jewish Agency (begrudgingly) accepted a two state solution back in 1948 and ‘the Arabs’ rejected it and were invaded by 5 countries…yadayada [as the the typical mantra goes].

    My problem with this perspective is it fails to consider the legitimate rights of the dominant population ie Palestinian Arabs. The British in order to defeat the Ottomans made three separate and conflicting promises to the British Jewish community, the Hejazi family and the French. In 1922 Churchill’s White Paper rejected the concept of homeland as a state given the violence this would require to subdue opposition from the ethnic majority. The Peel Commission in 1937 again toyed with the idea of separate states, but this was rejected by the British White Paper in 1939 (which favoured a binational state [like Gandhi favoured]).

    The UN General Assembly Partition Plan was rejected by the Security Council in March 1948 and it was sent back to a Special Session of the General Assembly to pursue placing the region under a UN Trusteeship. The Jewish Agency rejected this and unilaterally declared a state (not before conquering key cities like Jaffa and Haifa before the Declaration of Independence was made).

    It is in this context that the war of ’48 occurred. What did the Jewish Agency expect would happen with the conquering of Jaffa? Even if a conservative approach had been followed Jaffa was within the UN GA plan so should have been off limits. By taking Jaffa, by massacring the citizens of Deir Yassin and capturing Haifa (and Acre within days of Declaration) it signaled to the Arab neighbours that the Jewish Agency was not playing by the rules [especially given the UN was presently meeting to discuss trusteeship].

    The ensuing years 1948-1967 when Gaza was under Egyptian [UAR] rule and the West Bank was under Jordanian rule cannot said to be a fertile period for Palestinian independence. There were enough people alive who had lost their homes and family from within what only a decade or two before had been Palestine [Bilad el-Sham etc.]. So there was hope that there could be a return to what had been.

    It was only in 1988 that the Palestine National Council realised that there was no going back to what had been. It was at this time that the PNC formally recognised Israel’s legitimacy as a state and equally asked for Israel to recognise the legitimacy of the people of Palestine (who were living under occupation since 1967). This act was a huge concession – given to many of the PLO faithful occupation had started from 1948. However, this was let go in the interest of securing at least something for the Palestinian people ie 27% of what was historic Palestine [as opposed to Jordan – which was added to the British mandate of Palestine as opposed to ‘partitioned’ as I know you are fond of saying – see the cabinet documents from 1918 posted on my site].

    In terms of your last statement – I am in agreement that the most practical approach is to try and return to the status quo 5 June 1967 [I hope you mean before the attack began not after territory gains were made]. The one bit of disagreement would relate to 1948 refugees. This is obviously a sticking point, however, serious consideration needs to be given to the possibility of allowing the right of return for 1948 Palestinians within some workable arrangement that respects the dignity and humanity of the dispossessed that shows respect to present circumstances in Israel and legitimate claims of 1948 Palestinians. The issue of Arab Jews fleeing Iraq, Egypt etc will be raised. The wrongs of this cannot prejudice the wrongs committed against Palestinians. If this question of Arab Jewish refugees is truly sought for resolution then it will obviously require a multinational conference. ie this means that peace will not be found purely by Israel and Palestinian negotiations – but a broader multilateral approach. A multilateral conference seems a scary thought in the present climate, but it is required to truly provide dignity, compensation or acknowledgement for all refugees from which ever side of the fence.

  7. david singer says:

    #Stewart Mills

    You fail to mention the two-state solutions proposed in 2000/2001 and 2008 which would have given the Palestinian Arabs a state in
    (i) more than 90% of the West Bank and Gaza in 2000/2001 and
    (ii) reportedly 93.5% of the West Bank with land swaps for the remaining 6.5% in 2008.

    The Palestinian Arabs demand 100% and not one square meter less. This outcome will never be achieved in negotiations.

    You also fail to mention that the Palestinians could have had their State in this entire territory at any time between 1948-1967 when not one Jew lived in Gaza or the West Bank. That period of 19 years and the period between 1967-1993 could have possibly seen this state come to fruition.

    Time waits for no man including the Palestinian Arabs.

    What might have been possible even in 2008 has probably flown out the window. The refusal of Abbas to negotiate with Israel has seen the two-state solution sink into oblivion.

    It is time to look for other solutions and the best one is to restore as far as possible the status quo that existed at 5 June 1967.

  8. David, the best solution is one that advances the best interests of human rights. For the past 43 years Palestinians have been denied their basic right of self-determination and subject to military occupation and control. From a human rights perspective the best solution is a binational state – that recognises the rich historical, cultural and spiritual heritage of all people to the land Palestinian and Jewish alike. Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, Gandhi and our own Sir Isaac Isaac’s championed this approach.

    However, the binational state idea has been effectively rejected; which has led to the 2 state solution concept – whether the 1947 view or the 1967, 1988 or 1993 view. The dangerous alternative, which is the present government approach is to keep the status quo ie Palestinians in the West Bank under lock and key with settlers continuing to expand at will.

    The hard question that need to be asked is for how long will people of conscience ignore the cries of help coming from Palestine as articulated by Rabbi Arik Asherman, Uri Avnery, Joseph Dana and the like?

  9. Lynne Newington says:

    No doubt the Vatican will weigh into the arguement waving an olive branch.
    Beware of who bearing gifts? Iv’e forgotten.

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