By Paul Michaels
Doug Saundersâ€™ column “A Palestinian state is Israel’s best path to security” (Globe and Mail, September 24) is one of those strange amalgams of fact, partial fact, and non-fact topped off by skewed interpretation that leaves one’s mind reeling about how to sort it all out and set the record straight.
Saunders argues that the recent Palestinian effort to declare statehood at the UN (without negotiating an agreement with Israel) had a precedent over 60 years ago when Israel declared statehood following the General Assembly’s 1947 Partition Resolution. He implies that if it was good enough for the Jews in the establishment of Israel, why shouldn’t it be good enough for the Palestinians in the creation of their own state?
Saunders believes the two cases to be parallel (“strikingly similar circumstances” as he put it). This is his first major mistake. They are not parallel. In November 1947, following years of episodic Arab riots against Jewish immigration and rejection of previous British plans to divide Palestine west of the Jordan River, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 calling for the creation of “independent” “Jewish” and “Arab” states. Â According to Saunders, however, since 181 also called for a (partial) economic union following partition, Saunders terms the intended result “one multiethnic nation with two internal states.” This language appears nowhere in the Partition Resolution, but might well appeal to those advocating for a “bi-national” solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
Saunders writes that 181 “ended up producing more than 60 years of trouble” but doesn’t clearly explain why. True, he says that “Arab nationalists launched a war on the embryonic Israel.” Yet he immediately “balances” that fact out by the far less accurate, unqualified claim that “radical Jewish nationalists pushed Arabs out of their homes and into the dwindling bits of Arab-designated territory.”
What he doesn’t properly explain, however, is why the Arabs launched the war in the first place. While the Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan, the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states vehemently rejected it, and in particular the creation of a distinct “Jewish” state. The Palestinians could have had their state at the time, but because they refused to compromise they passed up that historic opportunity.
To this very day, the Jews’ willingness to accept the historical compromise of a “Jewish” and an “Arab” state (now meaning a “Palestinian” state) has not been reciprocated by the Palestinians and the broader Arab world. Indeed, they continue to reject the idea of a “Jewish” state â€“ the reason that “60 years of trouble” continues to plague the region.
In 1988, when the Palestinians (represented by the PLO) first declared unilateral statehood, they claimed to finally accept Resolution 181. However, they insisted that it was a historic injustice and demonized Israel. They declared that 181 provided them with the “legal” basis for their own state, but refused to extend that also to the “Jewish” state. In short, the Palestinians contradicted themselves by pretending to accept the partition plan, but only half of it. (The Partition plan cannot be partitioned this way!)
Five years later, the overt anti-Israel vehemence of the Algiers declaration changed when, in his letter to Yitzhak Rabin (a letter that launched the Olso process), Yasir Arafat committed himself to recognizing the state of Israel. But he did not recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. After all, he later insisted that the Palestinian refugees and their descendants have a “right of return” to Israel, which would eventually make Israel another Arab country.
It was Arafat’s refusal (as well as Abbas’) to accept Israel’s Jewish character and relinquish the “right of return” that caused the collapse of Camp David, and later kept Abbas from replying to Ehud Olmert’s offer of Palestinian statehood in 2008. Yet Saunders blames “Israeli domestic politics” instead for causing the negotiating process to break down.
To put this in straightforward terms, Doug Saunders does not grasp the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.