Dossier 25: The Role of the International Community in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Publication Author: 
Nadia Hijab
October 2003
Word Document84.65 KB
number of pages: 
23 April 2002

Thank you for inviting me here to give a Palestinian perspective on the Role of the International Community in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In fact, the perspective I will be speaking from is that of human rights. I consider myself to be a human being first, and my ideology is human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights incorporates many of the principles found in all world religions and philosophies. Thus, it serves as a common platform for us all, irrespective of our personal faith or origins. These principles underpin the body of international law evolved during the 20th Century.

The reason I emphasize this here today is not just because you are law students. It is because I believe that only rights and principles can help us to see clearly through the heavy veil of blood that envelops the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Without principles, our emotions will rule. We will be swayed by sympathy for whoever is dying today – the pulverized Palestinians in the Jenin refugee camp, who have yet to be found and buried, or the Israelis blown to bits in a Jerusalem supermarket. The fact is, no matter where our sympathies lie, they will not bring us to a just and lasting solution. Only rights and principles will do that.

Let us begin by recognizing that we are the international community, right here in this room. Our governments operate on the basis of interests. Only we can push for principles. But we need to see clearly, which we cannot do when we have blood in our eyes.

So, I believe that we, the international community, should do two things. First, we must get informed – and stay informed. I am telling you the truth – but don’t take my word for it! Nor should you take the Israeli mission’s word for it…. Obviously we are on opposite sides of this conflict.

Get the information for yourselves, and then check that information against universally agreed principles and rights. Just keep in mind that here in the United States you will not get enough information on what is happening from the mainstream media. And you certainly won’t get much about principles and human rights. You need to go to the European, Israeli, or Arab media for the news, and to see a much greater span of views than what is reported here. You can also go to the many alternative media sources that exist on the web.

I have brought a list of sources with me, which includes the websites of groups active for peace and justice between Palestinians and Israelis. Again, don’t take my word for it – check them out for yourselves – and run the information by the radar of universal rights and principles. The second thing we need to do is to act on the basis of information received. If we believe that crimes have been committed or injustice has taken place, we must do everything in our power to prevent crime and promote justice.

I want to turn now to what I think could be the principles and rights for a just and lasting peace of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is quite simple really – all we have to do is apply three international rulings to the conflict: UN General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194 and Security Council Resolution 242.

We need to begin right away with Resolution 242 and an end to Israeli occupation in order to prevent more deaths. Seven Palestinians were killed yesterday alone. The principle underpinning Security Council Resolution 242 is “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israeli forces should withdraw together with the settlers to the 1967 borders and then negotiations should begin to settle the rest.

In case this sounds like a pipe dream, please note that some mainstream Israelis are calling for the same thing, most recently the former attorney general Michael Ben Yair. So is the conference of American Jews for a Just Peace: Reclaiming our Community’s Principles which is meeting in Washington this Friday 26 April.

Then we need to address UN resolution 181. This partitions Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Israel came into being but Palestine did not. This was partly because the Palestinians and Arabs rejected the partition plan at the time. At the time they considered – and I believe they were right – that this plan was unjust.

To explain this position I need to talk for a minute about absolute justice versus achievable justice. For me, as a Palestinian, absolute justice would constitute going back to 1917, when Britain promised the Zionists it would help them establish a “national home in Palestine without prejudice to the existing population” – even before the British occupied Palestine and established their mandate. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, we had nothing to do with the pogroms of the Jews and Europe. Why should we pay the price?

But we know that turning the clock back 100 years to achieve absolute justice is impossible. And for me personally, it is impossible to advocate absolute justice because – even assuming that we could achieve it – simply shutting down Israel and evicting four million Israelis would create a grave new injustice today.

Israel may perhaps one day recognize how much it owes Yasser Arafat and the PLO. The reason that I and the majority of Palestinians are willing to accept a two-state solution with a state of Palestine on just 22% of mandated Palestine is because the PLO has been carefully talking us into it since 1974. In the early days, some PLO officials were shot by radical groups for even hinting at a two-state solution.

Yasser Arafat could not accept Ehud Barak’s so-called “generous offer” at Camp David in July 2000 because it did not provide for a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, as American negotiator Robert Malley revealed a year later.

Today, I believe that achievable justice impels the international community to implement the UN partition plan without delay. We should call for the immediate seating of Palestine at the United Nations. The third UN resolution I mentioned, Resolution 194, provides for the right of return of refugees to their homes or compensation. Here, again we need to look at what constitutes absolute justice and achievable justice.

Actually, something you may not know is that the State of Israel has accepted both 194 and 181, as well as 242. The preamble of the resolution admitting Israel to United Nations membership specifically refers to Israel’s undertakings to implement 181 and 194. Today, the question is not whether but how to finally implement these resolutions to achieve something that the majority of the people involved consider to be just. I think it can be done, by recognizing the principle that the Palestinians have the right, and by giving priority to those who most have the need to return, and that means Palestinians living in refugee camps, and compensation to the Palestinians who do not return, again giving priority to those most in need of compensation.

Any discussion of the Palestinian right of return should be accompanied by a discussion of the Israeli Law of Return. The Israeli Law of Return discriminates not just against the Israeli citizens of Israel who are Palestinian but also Palestinians wishing to exercise their right of return. Just think: all of you who happen to be Jewish could tomorrow troop into the Israeli consulate and exercise your “right of return” while Palestinians languish in refugee camps. Where’s the justice in that? There needs to be a point, very soon, when Israel and Palestine become the state of the citizens who live in them. I want to assume for a moment that not a single Palestinian refugee will return to Israel. As things stand today, the non-Jewish citizens of Israel – that means over a million Israeli Arabs – are, by definition, not full citizens of the Jewish state. The underdeveloped state of Arab towns and villages compared to Jewish ones testify to the success of these laws. Irrespective of the Palestinian right of return, the State of Israel will need to address discrimination by law and in fact against those citizens who happen not to be Jews.

There is also a need to debate how one can guarantee that a state can keep one group of citizens in a majority for all time. What if another half a million Israelis emigrate, and the existing Palestinians breed even more rapidly? What do you do then? Enforce a one family one child policy for Palestinians?

Let’s look at neighboring Lebanon, where Christian Maronites claimed they were in a majority at the founding of the state, and that therefore they should have the presidency of the republic, the only one in the Arab world. Bitter civil wars are the result of trying to hang on to a majority and the power and resources that go with it.

States must be states of all their citizens. For me, the United States is the model. It is certainly not a model that is perfectly implemented in practice, but it is better even than Europe. Secularism, the separation of religion and state, is what partly makes it possible for all citizens to be equal in the United States.

There are other ways to define a Jewish state. Israel has succeeded in coming into existence, and has created a home for many Jews and a bond with Jews worldwide. At some stage, the relationship of other Jews to Israel must become that of historic, religious and cultural ties, rather than seeing Israel as a haven of last resort for all Jews for all time.

But, for this to happen, we must all fight against anti-semitism, latent and blatant, which remains a threat to Jews wherever they are. We should also be aware that some anti-Jewish feeling today has no roots in traditional anti-semitism, but is fueled by the injustice of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

In fact, we must also be clear that there is now Arab-Jewish hatred that is more virulent than has ever existed in 100 years. We need to take steps to address this hatred. To address Arab hatred of Jews, we need to highlight the growing number of Jews and Israelis – including the brave reservists who refuse to serve in the army of occupation – I salute them – and all Jews who speak up and take action for the human rights of Palestinians. To address Jewish hatred of Arabs, we must speak up against all violence against civilians, including suicide bombings. We must make clear and repeat again and again the goals of the Palestinian struggle – two states, living in peace, side by side.

What is it in our power to do? There are any number of actions we can take. We must start where we are. We are here in the US, and this is a very important place to start. As the Israeli academic Avi Shlaim, who is currently a professor of International Relations at Oxford, puts it, “One of the most disturbing aspects of the current crisis is America’s complicity in the Israeli onslaught…. Although America is a signatory to the Oslo Accord, Bush has abandoned the Palestinian side.” [By the way, I think the Oslo Accords were terrible – they were not founded on any kind of principles and human rights. I would hate to see a return to Oslo].

Plus, of course, there is the $4 billion plus in US aid to Israel, much of which goes to buy military equipment, which in turn has been used to devastate Palestinian society and economy. The reports are just coming out of ministries, and civil society organizations, shops and homes where the deliberate destruction boggles the mind.

We must act. In Palestine and in Israel, as in our daily lives, and everywhere on this planet, only the rule of law will protect us.