By Henry Siegman
The international community may finally be beginning to register the utter futility of decades-long expectations that an Israeli government would agree to a fair and workable peace agreement, one that would end the four-decade subjugation and denial of the Palestinian people’s national and individual rights.
One hopes that is the significance of the proposal by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who suggested that the UN Security Council assume responsibility for establishing a Palestinian state by a certain deadline if the parties have not reached an agreement. The Security Council would then set the borders of Israel and a new Palestinian state, and formulate parameters to resolve the other permanent status issues – Jerusalem, refugees and security.
Of course, this cannot happen without U.S. assent and leadership, which is unlikely if such a proposal is incorrectly seen as punishment for non-performance, rather than understood as the original intent of resolutions 242 and 338, which called for Israel’s return to the 1967 borders.
As I have written previously, the Security Council’s responsibility for resolving the consequences of the Six-Day War if the parties were unable to do so was implicit in the resolutions’ language, which stressed the inadmissibility of acquiring territory through war. Israel’s occupation policy and its vast settlement enterprise have been based on the contrary assumption – if no peace agreement is reached with the Palestinians, the resolutions’ “default” is the indefinite continuation of the occupation of Palestinian lands and people.
If this reading were correct, the Security Council resolutions would have served as an irresistible invitation to Israel – and to all other occupiers – to avoid peace talks in order to preserve the status quo, which of course is exactly what Israel has been doing, in clear violation of Resolution 242’s declaration that territory cannot be acquired by war.
Israel’s contention has long been that since no Palestinian state existed before the 1967 war, there is no recognized border to withdraw to, because the pre-1967 border was merely an armistice line. Moreover, since Resolution 242 calls for a “just and lasting peace” that will allow “every state in the area [to] live in security,” Israel holds that it must be allowed to change the armistice line, either bilaterally or unilaterally, to make it secure before it ends the occupation.
These are specious arguments for many reasons, but principally because UN General Assembly Partition Resolution 181 of 1947, which established the Jewish state’s international legitimacy, also recognized the remaining Palestinian territory outside the Jewish state’s borders as – at the very least – the equally legitimate patrimony of Palestine’s Arab population, on which they were entitled to establish their own state, and it precisely mapped the borders of that territory. Resolution 181’s affirmation of the right of Palestine’s Arab population to national self-determination was based on normative law and the democratic principle that grants statehood to the majority population. (At the time, Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population in Palestine.) This right does not evaporate because of delays in implementation.
I have argued in my writings over the years that the international community has failed to reject Israel’s notion that the occupation and the creation of “facts on the ground” can go on indefinitely, so long as there is no agreement acceptable to Israel. This failure has defeated all previous peace initiatives and peace envoys. Current efforts will meet the same fate if this fundamental issue is not finally addressed. The U.S. and the international community must finally act on the resolutions’ plain logic that the default is a return to the status quo ante, the pre-1967 border – without territorial and other changes that negotiations and a peace agreement might have produced.
What is required, as proposed by Solana, is a Security Council resolution affirming that changes to the pre-1967 situation can be made only by agreement between the parties, and that unilateral measures will not receive international recognition; the default of Resolution 242 is a return of Israel’s occupying forces to the pre-1967 border; and that if the parties do not reach an agreement within a defined period, the default setting of the 1967 and 1973 resolutions will be invoked by the Security Council. The Security Council will then adopt its own terms for an end to the conflict, and will arrange for an international force to enter the occupied territories to help establish the rule of law, assist Palestinians in building their institutions, assure Israel’s security by preventing cross-border violence, and oversee the implementation of its terms for an end to the conflict.
President Obama has indicated he intends to present Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a framework for a permanent status agreement. His aim of Middle East peace before the two-state solution disappears would be best served if such a framework were to become the basis of a Security Council resolution establishing a Palestinian state.
The writer is the director of the U.S./Middle East Project, and a former national director of the American Jewish Congress. He also serves as a visiting associate professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.