New lan­guage for the Mid­dle East peace

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - John V. Whit­beck

The re­cent pas­sage by Is­rael's Knes­set of a law re­quir­ing ei­ther a two-thirds Knes­set ma­jor­ity or ap­proval by an un­prece­dented na­tional ref­er­en­dum be­fore Is­rael can "cede" any land in ex­panded East Jerusalem to a Pales­tinian state or any land in the Golan Heights to Syria has been widely recog­nised as mak­ing any "two-state so­lu­tion", as well as any Is­raeli-Syr­ian peace, even more in­con­ceiv­able than was pre­vi­ously the case. It also high­lights the need for a con­certed ef­fort by politi­cians, ne­go­tia­tors and com­men­ta­tors to adopt a new "lan­guage of peace". The words which peo­ple use, of­ten un­con­sciously, can have a crit­i­cal im­pact upon the thoughts and at­ti­tudes of those who speak and write, as well as those who lis­ten and read. Dan­ger­ously mis­lead­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy re­mains a ma­jor ob­sta­cle to Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace.

It is nor­mal prac­tice for par­ties to a dis­pute to use ter­mi­nol­ogy which favours them. In this re­gard, Is­rael has been spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful in im­pos­ing its ter­mi­nol­ogy not sim­ply on Is­raeli con­scious­ness and Amer­i­can us­age but even on many Arab par­ties and com­men­ta­tors. It has done so not sim­ply in ob­vi­ous ways like use of the terms "ter­ror­ism", "se­cu­rity", "Eretz Is­rael" or "Judea and Sa­maria" but also in more sub­tle ways which have had and con­tinue to have a pro­found neg­a­tive im­pact on per­cep­tions of le­gal re­al­i­ties and other mat­ters of sub­stance.

Com­men­ta­tors on all sides speak of Is­rael's "ced­ing" ter­ri­tory oc­cu­pied in 1967 to the Pales­tini­ans. The word sug­gests a trans­fer of land by its le­git­i­mate owner. Un­less there are re­cip­ro­cal ex­changes of ter­ri­tory in a fi­nal peace agree­ment, the is­sue of Is­rael's "ced­ing" ter­ri­tory to Pales­tine does not arise.

Is­rael can with­draw from oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory or hand over ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol of such ter­ri­tory, but to "cede" prop­erty one must first pos­sess le­gal ti­tle to it. Is­rael can no more cede ti­tle to oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian lands than a squat­ter can cede ti­tle to an apart­ment, which he has il­le­gally oc­cu­pied. In re­al­ity, it is Is­rael, which con­tin­ues to in­sist that Pales­tine cede to Is­rael in­dis­putably Pales­tinian lands form­ing part of the mea­ger 22 per cent rem­nant of his­tor­i­cal Pales­tine which Is­rael did not con­quer un­til 1967.

There is also much talk of "con­ces­sions" - "painful", "far­reach­ing" or oth­er­wise - be­ing de­manded from Is­rael. The word sug­gests the sur­ren­der of some le­git­i­mate right or po­si­tion. In fact, while Is­rael de­mands nu­mer­ous con­ces­sions from Pales­tine, Pales­tine is not seek­ing any con­ces­sions from Is­rael. What it has long in­sisted upon is "com­pli­ance" - com­pli­ance with agree­ments al­ready signed, com­pli­ance with in­ter­na­tional law and com­pli­ance with rel­e­vant United Na­tions res­o­lu­tions - noth­ing more and noth­ing less. Com­pli­ance is not a con­ces­sion. It is an obli­ga­tion, both legally and morally, and it is es­sen­tial if peace is ever to be achieved.

It is not only the Western-em­braced Fatah, which in­sists on noth­ing more and noth­ing less than com­pli­ance. The Western-shunned Ha­mas, win­ners of the most re­cent Pales­tinian elec­tions, now pub­licly proclaims the same po­si­tion. At a De­cem­ber 1 press con­fer­ence, Is­mael Haniyeh stated: "We ac­cept a Pales­tinian state on the bor­ders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal, the re­lease of Pales­tinian pris­on­ers and the res­o­lu­tion of the is­sue of refugees."

The Pales­tinian territories con­quered by Is­rael in 1967 are fre­quently re­ferred to as "dis­puted". They are not. They are "oc­cu­pied" - and il­le­gally so, since the sta­tus of "per­pet­ual bel­liger­ent oc­cu­pa­tion" which Is­rael has been seek­ing to im­pose over the past 43 years does not ex­ist in in­ter­na­tional law. While sovereignty over ex­panded East Jerusalem, which Is­rael has for­mally an­nexed, is ex­plic­itly con­tested, none of the world's other 194 sov­er­eign states has recog­nised Is­rael's sovereignty claim and Pales­tinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank is, in both lit­eral and le­gal senses, un­con­tested (even if not yet uni­ver­sally "recog­nised").

Mis­lead­ing lan­guage has been par­tic­u­larly de­struc­tive with re­spect to Jerusalem. For years, Is­raeli politi­cians have re­peated like a mantra that "Jerusalem must re­main united un­der Is­raeli sovereignty." Un­der­stand­ably, Is­raelis have come to be­lieve that Is­rael cur­rently pos­sesses sovereignty over Jerusalem. It does not. It pos­sesses only ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol. While a coun­try can ac­quire ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol by force of arms, it can ac­quire sovereignty (the state-level equiv­a­lent of ti­tle or own­er­ship) only with the con­sent of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The po­si­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity re­gard­ing Jerusalem, which the 1947 UN par­ti­tion plan en­vi­sioned as an in­ter­na­tion­ally ad­min­is­tered city legally sep­a­rate from the two con­tem­plated states, is clear and cat­e­gor­i­cal: Is­rael is in bel­liger­ent oc­cu­pa­tion of East Jerusalem and has only de facto author­ity over West Jerusalem. The re­fusal of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity (even in­clud­ing the United States) to recog­nise West Jerusalem as Is­rael's cap­i­tal, sup­ported by the main­te­nance of all em­bassies ac­cred­ited to Is­rael in Tel Aviv, vividly demon­strates the re­fusal of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, pend­ing an agreed so­lu­tion to the sta­tus of Jerusalem, to con­cede that any part of the city is Is­rael's sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory.

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