Palestine: Words Matter – But Their Meaning Matters More

March 25, 2015 by David Singer
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“Words matter” – White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters this week…writes David Singer.

Regrettably Earnest was being less than earnest in failing to point out that words can also have several meanings – which can result in people failing to actually communicate with each other because each has a different understanding of the words he is using.

As a lawyer with extensive experience in drafting agreements – I have found the most critical part in any agreement is the definition of terms used in those agreements – so that the parties are in no doubt at all as to the meaning of the words they are using.

The so –called “two State solution” has gone nowhere in the last 20 years for precisely this reason.

The parties to the negotiations – including America on its own and as part of the Quartet – have been talking at cross purposes without first agreeing on the meaning of the terms they are using.

Take the following terms – and their suggested possible definitions:

  1. “Palestine” – means “the territory known today as Israel, West Bank, Gaza and Jordan being the territory covered by the Mandate for Palestine dated 24 July 1922.”
  2. “Palestinians” – means
  • “those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or stayed there.
  • Anyone born after 1947 of a father qualifying as a Palestinian under paragraph (i) – whether inside Palestine or outside it”
  1. “West Bank” – means “the term used since 1950 to refer to the territory known as “Judea and Samaria” since biblical times and comprising the territory that came under Israeli military government control in 1967”
  2. Oslo Accords 1 –  means Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or short Declaration of Principles(DOP) dated 13 September 1993
  3. “Oslo Accords II –  means Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Stripcommonly known as Oslo II or Oslo 2 dated 25 September 1995
  4. “Oslo Accords” means “Oslo Accords I” and “Oslo Accords II”
  5. “Bush Roadmap” means – “the two-state solution”
  6. “two-State solution” – means “the Performance Based Roadmap To A Permanent Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June 2003, and welcomed by the EU, Russia and the UN in the 16 July 2003 and 17 September 2003 Quartet Ministerial statements.”
  7. “Quartet” means “America, European Union (EU), Russia and the United Nations(UN)”
  8. “Jerusalem” means “all of the area that is described in the appendix of the proclamation expanding the borders of municipal Jerusalem beginning the 20th of Sivan 5727 (June 28, 1967), as was given according to the Cities’ Ordinance.”
  9. “Palestinian Authority” means “The Palestinian National Authority established in 1994 following Oslo Accords 1 and disbanded on 3 January 2013”.

To the legally uninitiated this may sound like a lot of detailed, unnecessary and technical drafting – but its purpose is quite clear – to ensure when the parties to this dispute use any of the above terms – their meaning is unmistakeably clear.

The proof is in the pudding.

Do President Obama and his Press Secretary – Josh Earnest – agree with the above definitions when they utter these commonly used terms almost daily?

Do Israel’s Prime Minister – Benjamin Netanyahu – and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agree with these definitions?

Do the media? Do you?

If indeed there is any disagreement – then the parties need to first reach agreement on their meaning – before they can even think of talking to each other.

Unless everyone is singing from the same hymn book – the music will sound frightfully discordant.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network





22 Responses to “Palestine: Words Matter – But Their Meaning Matters More”
  1. Alan Baden says:

    David, are you indicating this communication confusion was not intentional? Is it the case that these intelligent negotiators and statesmen simply overlooked these fundemental definitional issues? – i think not.

    Its a game. The perception of genuine intent for peace is the outcome sought, not peace itself. The US is expert at the perception game. It clearly works well on the public and satisfies the UN aswell.

    • david singer says:


      You are correct – “constructive ambiguity” is a feature in many documents. But it is a facade to cover the inability of the parties to reach agreement.

      It lulls people into a false sense of security.

      Chamberlain and his “peace for our time” speech – waving agreements signed with Hitler is a great example.

      “The following is the wording of a printed statement that Neville Chamberlain waved as he stepped off the plane on 30 September, 1938 after the Munich Conference had ended the day before:

      “We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe.

      We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.”

      Chamberlain read the above statement in front of 10 Downing St. and said:

      “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour.
      I believe it is peace for our time…
      Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

      That nice quiet sleep turned into a six year nightmare.

      Getting rid of constructive ambiguity is essential if agreements are to have any meaning.

  2. Erica Edelman says:

    Bush’s words and the sincerity behind the meaning of the words – highly commendable. However lets look at each line. The solution will only be achieved through an end to violence and terrorism. Terrorism today means ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Nusra and perhaps 10 more major groups/threats. Two-state solution? What hope does the Palestinian man in the street have? No democratic voting system and nepotism rife in every community and city. (11th year of a 4 year term??) Obama is in a state of inertia. He is just as scared of these terrorists – the ones running the West Bank and Gaza. Imagine upsetting them. They are not interested in democracy. And Obama knows it.

    • david singer says:


      Another great comment.

      Perhaps we also need to define what is meant by “violence” and “terrorism”.

      The UN has been trying to define “terrorism” for years but has been unable to come up with an agreed meaning.

      Maybe we also have to define “democracy” as well.

      You are only confirming that using these terms without everyone first agreeing on what they mean is just an absolute waste of time.

      20 years of worthless babblespeak prove that without a doubt.

  3. Yankel Koncepolski says:

    David, I hope you will forgive me when I say that you have left out the most important term that requires definition. It is the term ‘Occupied territories’.

    This term has been purposely and constantly misused by the PLO and PA since 1967, when the USSR assisted them with this shrewdly made up expression.

    Occupied territories was the siamese twin term used by Arafat alongside the term Palestinian, an never existent Arab people. Together these 2 false terms became the oft repeated lie that became accepted as the truth.

    Successive Israeli Prime Ministers ( other than the astute and far sighted Menachem Begin) failed to correct journalists when the term Occupied territories was used. The result was that the world utilised this false expression to pressure Israel to create a new Arab country in Yehudo and Shomrom (‘Palestinian State’ )

    Sadly many Jews all over the world have been fooled by this false expression, such that most Jews think we are occupiers of a non existent Palestinian people.

    These so called Palestinians were nomadic Arabs that came from other Muslim regions when Jews started clearing the swamps in the Yishuv.

    From a secular legal position, Yehudo and Shomron unequivocally belongs to the Jewish homeland by League of Nations statute of 24th July 1922 and continues to be a legally binding part of Israel under article 80 of the UN, and no less than Rechov Dizengoff in Tel Aviv !

    In 1948, the Jordanians illegally took Yehudo and Shomron from Israel in an agressive war, and was thus an illegal possession.

    In 1967, Israel liberated these territories from their wrongful occupiers, the Jordanians.

    So the correct legal definition of ‘Occupied Territories’ is Liberated territories.

    • david singer says:


      Great observation. I should have dealt with the term “Occupied Territories” and its definition

      However your definition of “Occupied Territories” as meaning “Liberated Territories” means you then have to also define “Liberated Territories.”

      So my definition of “Occupied Territories” would be:
      “Judea and Samaria being part of the territory of former Palestine in which the Jewish National Home is to be reconstituted pursuant to Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter”

      Any proposed amendments to this definition are most welcome.

      Wouldn’t it be great if Joshua Earnest – the White House press Secretary – joined in and let us know whether President Obama agreed.

      • Brian Levitan says:

        There are NO occupied territories in Isarel. There is no such thing. You cannot occupy territory over which you have valid legal claims in international law, sovereignty, and which were acquired in self defense in response to aggression. We should all sop using bad language, they could be referred to as ‘administered territories,disputed territories but NOT occupied territories. The West Bank is also a misnomer, Jordan has renounced claims to Judea and Samaria. The west bank is in Paris. Occupied Territories, are Crimea, Falklands, Gibraltar, and Tibet.

        • david singer says:


          The term “Occupied Territories” is used by Obama and the media every day. That is why it needs to be defined.

          If agreement cannot be reached on its definition there is a great communication problem.

          I thought my definition covered precisely the aspects you raised.

          If you do not think so – then please post your suggested definition.

          I have set out my definition of “West Bank” in my article. Again if you want to suggest any changes please feel free to do so.

        • Yankel Koncepolski says:

          Brian, you state “We should all sop (sic) using bad language, they could be referred to as ‘administered territories, disputed territories but NOT occupied territories”

          Yehuda and Shomron, where 385,000 of our fellow Jews live, should NOT be called Administered or Disputed territories, as you suggested, because they are legally a part of Israel.

          If we agree to call them Administered or Disputed, these words also imply that we as Jews agree, that there is some acknowledgment that Yehudo and Shomron are not necessarily part of the Jewish National home..
          Because many Sydney Jews are keen to advocate on behalf of Israel, I will therefore expand on my previous post so that the origin of Israel’s real borders are clear to all.

          I will only deal with the secular legal claim and not the Biblical claim (which is the true claim)

          On 24th July 1922, the 51 countries of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN, unanimously declared the Mandate for Palestine, in which the national Jewish homeland would be reconstituted. This was the practical follow up to the Balfour Declaration.
          Palestine was defined by the Mandate to include everyone inch of land WEST of the Jordan River, which includes Yehuda and Shomron ( the western parts of which are between 9km – 15km from the Mediterranean Sea).
          Not once, are Arabs as a people mentioned in the Mandate for Palestine. Nowhere in the document is there any granting of political rights to Arabs.

          Article 5 of the Mandate clearly states that “The Mandatory [Great Britain] shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign power.” The territory of Palestine was exclusively assigned for the Jewish National Home.

          The validity of the Jewish National Home legal status, which includes Yehuda and Shomron, is protected under Article 80 of the UN charter. Article 80 effectively ensures that Articles of the League of Nations, were re-acknowledged by the UN, when it took over from the League of Nations.

          Thus, when the Jordanians went to war in 1948, they illegally captured areas of the Jewish National home, including Yehuda and Shomron.
          In 1967, Israel as legal owners, simply retook Yehuda and Shomron.
          Based on the UN charter, there can no credible legal dispute about this, and thus Yehuda and Shomron should NOT be called disputed or administered.

          Therefore explaning why the expressions Disputed or administered territories are similarly bad language is not a nuance, it goes to the essence of of why so much international pressure has fallen on us.

          Menachem Begin had the foresight in 1977 to make sure that Werstern journalists do not use these bad expressions in interviews with him.

          You may then ask where did the term Occupied territories gain world recognition. The answer is that this is another Arab word game.
          UN Resolution 242 called for the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”(1967). The distinguished lawyers involved in the wording of this resolution, are on record as saying that they specifically used the term territories occupied, as opposed to occupied territories, so that this resolution would not contradict Article 80 of the UN Charter, which certified Israel’s right to every area west of the Jordan River, including Yehuda and Shomron.

          To make it clear then, territories that Israel would have to withdraw from, as far as Resolution 242 is concerned, would be defined as areas occupied by Israel in 1967,that were not included by the Mandate as being part of the Jewish National Home. Occupied territory then, would include any part of the country Jordan, but NOT Yehuda and Shomron.

          • Eleonora Mostert says:

            It’s Groundhog Day all over again. Can we just agree that the Land of Israel is that what is referred to in Scriptures. I’m sure God gave a detailed map of what He considered to belong to His chosen people. And if I’m not mistaken that it should NOT BE DIVIDED.

            • david singer says:


              We are not talking about the definition of the meaning of the term “Israel”.

              We are seeking here to define the term “Occupied Territories”.

              Defining the meaning of “Israel” is an entirely different undertaking.

              See how people can end up talking at cross purposes?

          • david singer says:


            Still not clear on what your definition of “Occupied Territories” is.

            That is the term used almost every day in the media and by politicians and the UN.

            It needs to be defined.

            How about this as an amendment to my earlier definition:

            “Occupied Territories ” means “Judea and Samaria – also called the West Bank- being part of the territory of former Palestine in which the Jewish National Home is to be reconstituted pursuant to Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter”

            • Yankel Koncepolski says:

              Hi David

              My second post has not altered the definition of ‘Occupied’ territories

              The second post was only sent to to explain why a) Judea and Samaria should not be called Disputed or Administered territories and
              b) that the Arabs living there are NOT a distinct people called Paletinians, but disparate nomadic people who wandered there from various outlying MEast areas when it suited their financial interests.

              Definition of ‘Occupied’ territories ( note that the word Occupied MUST have inverted commas around it ) should be Liberated territories, and then Liberated territory would be defined as you suggested in your second post.

              Last week, Lindsey Graham the excellent Republican senator took Obama to task, in a 13 minute Senate speech, for instructing his chief of staff McDonnaugh to tell a J street audience that Israel must “cease its 50 year occupation of the territories “. But even the righteous Graham in his rebuke, did not seem to know that Judea and Samaria are NOT occupied territories.

              From this speech, we can see how far this 48 year old lie has influenced the debate. J street, the so called Jewish organisation, is now very actively aiding Obama to push this lie against the Jewish people’s survival.

              We should not underestimate the cancerous efforts of J Street and its devious Jewish backers such as Daniel Sokatch of CEO New Israel Fund, to destroy Israel from within.

              The idea that a new Arab state exist 9km from Tel Aviv is the best proof of how successful this lie has become, and how dangerous it is for Jews all over to allow other Jews to peddle this lie to ‘squeeze’ Israel out of existence.

              Thank you David for opening this issue up !


              p.s I apologise to Eleonora Mostert for somewhat confusing the legal position by referring to “Israel’s” borders, when I really should have used the expression ” Jewish National Home ” border, the expression used in the Mandate document, which is protected under the UN article 80. The Land of Israel is a biblical term whereas the expression Jewish National Home is a League of Nations term.
              In the legal argument we cannot use the word Land Of Israel, we must use the Term Jewish National Home.

              This is David’s point. We must have an agreed definition of terms, that at the very least all Jews understand.

              • david singer says:

                Seems like a neat solution at first glance Yankel.

                However I cannot see President Obama or any of the media adopting the meaning of “Occupied Territories” as being “Liberated Territories”.

                Perhaps this definition would be more acceptable:

                “Occupied territories” means “the territory that came under Israeli military government control in 1967 – being part of the territory of former Palestine in which the Jewish National Home was to be reconstituted pursuant to Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the United Nations Charter”

                Your approach to get Jews to first agree on the meaning of “Occupied Territories” is a good idea.

                So for starters – are you and I agreed on this definition?

                Are there any Jews who disagree with this definition?

                • Yankel Koncepolski says:

                  David, it depends what the intention is here.

                  My intentions are related to the achievable and realistic aim of ensuring that we Jews understand the con job that was done on us by the PLO since 1967 and the dangerous acquiescence by us when we allowed the words Occupied territories, West bank and settlements to be used without correction.

                  I had no aspiration whatsoever to present the true definition of Occupied territories to Obama or anybody like him.

                  I am unsure what you intended with these definitions.

                  1. I would like Jews around the world to realise that even according to the UN charter and the League of Nations mandate before it, Yehudo and Shomron are NO different than any other part of Israel ( as has been explained earlier in detail)
                  This would be a big revelation to 95% of American Jews.

                  2. All Jews who want to help Israel fight Obama and the Arabs should start using the words Yehuda and Shomron

                  3. That Jews stop using the word West Bank. West Bank is a support expression for Occupied territories

                  4. That we stop using the word Settlements. Settlements imply that we are building on someone else’s land. These places are simply regular towns like any other Israeli town.

                  I would like Jews to be proud and call towns such as Shilo, Eli, Bet El, Efrat, Towns in Yehudo and Shomron, just like there are towns in the Galil or towns in the Negev.

                  I would rather stick to the definition of Liberated territories and then define Liberated, since the realistic aim here is to educate Jews to be knowledgeable and sure of what belongs to us, EVEN according to the gentile rules of the UN.
                  We Jews have too long been cowering to falsehoods meant to squeeze us out of the Land.

                  J street Jews are now working hand in hand with Obama to convince ill formed American Jews and gentile Democrats, that we have been occupiers for 50 years !

                  Lets all get involved to help ISRAEL

                  • david singer says:


                    My intention was to attempt to find agreed definitions for terms commonly used in the media and by politicians.

                    Unless their meaning is agreed – we are all wasting each other’s time talking to one another.

  4. Geoff Seidner says:

    Obama, Josh Ernest and the socially inclined everywhere live by the Lewis Carroll / Humpty Dumpty idea about words meaning what he /they want them to mean.

    How about the phrase economic rationalism: the left in Australia have inverted the meaning: it has been a mealy – mouthed insult to them for 20 years.

    And worse is that they debauch even their perpetual peace – conference infatuation: it is a nether – world leftist abomination.
    There have been scores of peace conferences: from Annapolis to Zanzibar.
    OK – no Zanzibar but I was tempted to try the phrase for elegance. All were time wasters.

    All plainly wrecked by the oh – so – obvious refusal of the so – called Palestinians to be peace partners.

    USA administrations keep repeating the classical definition of
    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Anyone recall anywhere near the 40 or so classical nomenclatures of nonsense?

    Why even Wikipedia cannot come up with a complete list.

    The worst aspect is that history shows Israel constantly makes consessions.
    Obama and Josh Ernest have no idea of mutual obligation!

    Here are a few:
    Lausanne Conference 1949
    Camp David Accords 1978
    Madrid Conference 1991
    Oslo Accords 1993 / 95
    Hebron Protocol 1997
    Wye River Memorandum 1998
    Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum 1999
    Camp David Summit (parameters)
    Taba Summit 2001
    Road Map 2003
    Agreement on Movement and Access 2005
    Annapolis Conference 2007
    Mitchell-led talks 2010–11
    Kerry-led talks 2013–14

  5. Eion Isaac Israel says:

    A humannitarian Islamic Federation in half of Judea and Samaria and in Parts of Islamic Israel within the 1949 Armistance Lines is Possible .The Genocide of the Jews in Europe Justifies Compenstion in their Ancient Homeland with Undeniable Defence and Undeniable Deterrant Capacity.

    • david singer says:


      At the moment there is only one “two state solution” on the negotiating table – that is the one contained in the Bush Roadmap.

      Coming up with another idea as you propose needs the consent of both Israel and the PLO before it can even be discussed.

      A humanitarian Islamic Federation is not a democratic State for starters – so any hope that Israel might accept your two-state solution seems doomed to failure.

  6. Leon Poddebsky says:

    Absolutely, David.

    And would you agree that it is an egregious fallacy to call an hypothetical two-state idea, proposal, experiment, a “two-state solution?”
    How can anybody call a plan a solution before it has been tested to see if it actually works?
    The “two-state solution” of Gaza hasn’t worked.

    These words matter, too, because if we are lulled into using the absurd term, “solution,” we give the enemy as well as the naive and uninformed the ammunition which they can use to argue that the only reason for absence of peace is Israel’s alleged rejection of this obvious “solution.”
    “If only Israel were to capitulate to Arab demands and contract to indefensible boundaries, presto…there would be peace!”

    • david singer says:


      Great comment.

      It is necessary to define the two-state solution as the one proposed in the Bush Roadmap – and no other substitute or variant – unless Israel and the PLO agree.

      The Bush proposal stated:

      “A two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be achieved
      through an end to violence and terrorism, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel’s readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described below.”

      Obama and Abbas seem to be trying to create a two-state solution which has nothing to do with democracy.

      I have not heard Obama demanding that the West Bank and Gazan Arabs must be allowed to vote on a new Government first – if the democratic “two-state” solution has any hope of being achieved.

      How Obama can sit back and allow Abbas to strut the international scene as President in the 11th year of his four year term is beyond me.

      How Obama can tolerate no elections having been held since 2006 is even more bizarre.

      Maybe Obama should get V15 into the West Bank and Gaza to spread the message of democracy and elections now – if the “two-state solution” is ever to have any hope of emerging.

      Words matter – but their meaning matters more.

      • Lynne Newington says:

        Would you believe, apart from calling on Obama to punish Israel, some are calling on San Salvadorian martyr Oscar Romero to intervene for a solution between Israel and Palestine and the unreasonable expectations of the former to attain it.
        For those not familiar with him, a man of justice he was assassinated for standing up against a regime who routinely kidnapped, tortured and murdered his people and was shumnned for a time by JP2 for being “disobedient” now being white washed like much else.

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