Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, August 20, 2011

APN: Those in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones

As a past major donor to Americans for Peace Now, I regularly receive solicitations from them. I sympathize with the Israeli Peace Now/Shalom Akshav and think that it does very valuable work particularly when it comes to settlement monitoring, a task that is desperately needed. I also am a big fan of Yossi Alpher's weekly column "Hard Questions, Tough Answers." This week I received in the mail from APN solicitation and two pamphlets. One of these was entitled Indefensible: Misrepresenting the borders issue to undermine Israeli-Palestinian Peace. While I agree with the general tenure of the pamphlet and its conclusions I have a major problem with one statement in it. "They are also trying to eras the fact that Israel long ago agreed with the U.S. an the entire world that the 1967 lines are the basis of negotiations, when it accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (of 1967), which requires Israel to withdraw from 'territories occupied in the recent conflict.'"  This is a gross misrepresentation of Israel's position at the time and of the historical record.

The resolution was authored by the then British ambassador to the UN in consultation with American, Israeli, and Arab ambassadors. As Henry Kissinger makes clear in the first volume of his memoirs, The White House Years, 242 had something for everyone. It called for the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force" in the preamble--which was the key clause for the Arabs, The Israelis have traditionally ignored this claiming that it is not part of the operational text of the resolution. For Israel it spoke of "secure and recognized borders," which the 1949 armistice lines never were in the Middle East. And for both sides it calls for withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent conflict." Note that it does not call for withdrawal from "all of the territories occupied in the recent conflict" or even "the territories occupied in the recent conflict." This choice of words was very deliberate, although it was muddied by the mistranslation in French that does include the definite article. But the English translation has always been the authoritative one.

Israel could literally claim in 1974 that it had fulfilled this requirement by withdrawing from the east bank of the Suez Canal (not to mention the west bank occupied in October 1973) as part of the January 1974 Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement and in June 1974 from Quneitra and surrounding villages on the Golan Heights as part of the Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement. It had withdrawn from territories occupied in June 1967. Since then it has gone on to withdraw from all of the Sinai--by far the largest territory captured in June 1967 as well as from Gaza and from major portions of the West Bank.

The Israeli interpretation under the Labor government stated very clearly at the time was that this meant some withdrawal on all fronts. Later the Likud modified this to mean withdrawal on some fronts. The American interpretation was withdrawal with minor mutually-agreed border modifications on all fronts. The Arab interpretation was that Israel should withdraw and the Arabs were not required to do anything to make the borders secure and recognized. It was this latter attitude that was responsible for facilitating Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan. Only because President Sadat of Egypt modified his attitude did Israeli withdrawals take place from Sinai and from the Golan.

Those who do not believe me can take a look at the maps on the inside covers of Michael Breecher's The Foreign Policy System of Israel where he illustrates the territorial plans or ambitions of the Alignment (Labor), Mapam, and the Likud. It was partially because different borders were envisaged by different factions within the Labor Party (Ahdut Ha'Avoda and Rafi were much more hawkish than Mapai), not to mention other parties that the resolution was so vague. In fact the Resolution was authored several months before Ahdut Ha'Avoda, Mapai and Rafi merged to form the Labor Party in the summer of 1968.

While I agree that Israel should withdraw from the vast majority of the West Bank (95% plus) and all of Gaza, I do not think that APN should be in the business of distorting the historical record. Resolution 242 was deliberately worded so that it would partially appeal to all sides, while remaining ambiguous and cloudy in its overall interpretation. This is what allowed Henry Kissinger to use it as the basis of his shuttle diplomacy following the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War.

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