A Solution for an Unsolvable Problem? Recognition of the State of Palestine – by Israel, now!

By Walter Schwimmer, Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Chairman of the International Coordinating Committee of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”

The new Swedish government officially recognized on October 30, 2014 the State of Palestine (1). British Parliament voted two weeks earlier on a resolution in favour of backing the recognition of the Palestinian State (2). And even the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini spoke during her first official visit to Israel and Palestine in November 2014 in favour of the recognition of the Palestinian State (3).

Already on November 29, 2012 United Nations General Assembly, voting by an overwhelming majority, accorded Palestine “Non-Member-State” observer status in the UN. Did these important acts change anything on the ground? Certainly not. The only recognition which would count would be the one expressed by the State of Israel – in its own interest. Officially the government of Israel is in favour of the so-called two-states-resolution. So, what has been going wrong, why the world is waiting since the Oslo and Washington Peace Accord for the decisive step?

As a matter of fact the Oslo and Washington Peace Accord was too vague for the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the right to exist in recognized and secure borders for Israel, and the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by the Israelis in 1967. 

While the PLO “recognized the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security” and “accepted United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338” , Israel “in response, decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process” (5).

In a retrospective view for the PLO the recognition of Israel was obviously connected with the withdrawal from all occupied territories according to UNSC Res.242 und 338. (4) Careful reading of Chairman Arafat’s letter does not allow another interpretation of, while for Israel the recognition of the PLO did not mean the same, neither the total withdrawal from occupied territories, in particular not from in the meantime annexed areas like East Jerusalem or from the settlements, nor in any way a recognition of a sovereign Palestinian state. To some extent this is also the continuity of different interpretations in the past, in particular of UNSC Resolution 242. While Israel reads from the formulation “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” (6), that this does not request the withdrawal from “the” territories and therefore not from all occupied areas, the Arab and in particular the Palestinian side has a complete different view, based on the preamble of 242:  “Emphasising the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war…” (7).

So the future failure of the peace process was built in from the very beginning.

In the Israeli view not only the negotiations of the most difficult questions in the relations between Israel and the Palestinians were postponed but the solutions were in no way anticipated, for the Palestinians the solution was already fixed by the implementation of Resolutions 242 and 338 and only the implementation was postponed and subject to further negotiations.

This may explain also some (past) patience of the Palestinian side with delays regarding timetables for Israeli withdrawals from territories, because one day they would have withdrawn from the whole West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem and would have given up the settlements. Taking into account how difficult it was for them to accept even 242 and the principle right of Israel to exist and the opposition to this recognition by radical forces in the own camp, it seems that Arafat for a long time thought that the Israeli also need to overcome a strong opposition on their side to the recognition of a Palestinian state on the whole of the occupied territories, but at the end he expected the compromise, that would combine the Arab and the Israeli reading of 242, namely full withdrawal of Israel behind the borders of 67 (Arab view) and recognition of the State of Israel within these borders (Israeli view). Why would that mean already a compromise in the Arab view? Because first of all they never accepted the creation of the state of Israel by the UN in 48, and secondly, the borders Israel before 67 were only cease fire lines and include also a large area dedicated by the UN in 48 to the Arab state in Palestine.

Indeed there has been strong opposition on both sides against the implementation of the Oslo accord, even to the particular interpretation of the “own” side. Gush Emunim (the religious settlers movement) and the parties of the far right have fought against the abandonment of the occupied territories and even a broad majority of the moderate Israelis has been against compromises on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the total abandonment of all settlements (of the latter because of the rejection of the claim that any territory should be “judenrein” (8). Hamas, because of religious arguments, and other radical groups because of their political opposition to Arafat and Al Fatah insisted on the right to establish the own state on the whole territory of Palestine, that includes all of Israel. Despite a series of incidents, including the shooting in the Mosque of Hebron and the assassination of Rabin and continuous attacks in Israel by Hamas and Jihad, Israel and the Palestinian side stuck for a long time to the Oslo process.

It seems that the crucial point was reached in Camp David (9), although this may look paradoxically.  Not only in the Israeli view Barak offered to Arafat a maximum, “more than the majority of Israelis would agree, much more than Arafat could reach in the future”. But it was also a conditional offer – it must be the final solution. Arafat would have had to give up any more claims. No real share of Jerusalem, to accept an archipelago of Israeli settlements, or to say it in a more drastic language, more than 200 stings in the flesh of a Palestinian state, divided by countless Israeli corridors to the settlements. This “offer” was the offence to Arafat, not the visit of Sharon to the Al Aksa, which was of course helpful to mobilize the Palestinian public.

Arafat came to the conclusion that further negotiations are senseless (and that was exactly the message he got from Barak –“You will never get more…”). The consequence was the 2nd Intifada, to which Israel reacted in a way, which strengthened day by day the radical Palestinians. In particular Israelis demands of periods of total non-violence before resuming talks with the Palestinian side made Hamas, Jihad and the Al Aksa Brigades the masters of the game. Being totally opposed to the resumption of talks it was easy for them to achieve their immediate goal. Arafat, afraid of loosing his leadership, at least had to tolerate, and within his own Al Fatah camp may be even to authorize or to facilitate some actions.

Israel reacted not only with a definite refusal of talks with Arafat, but in the end with the well-known military action including the siege and humiliation of Arafat. Although stressing that the IDF does not want to stay in the Autonomous Area and he will find “somebody” to negotiate, it seems obvious that Sharon did not have any exit strategy nor do his successors.

The situation far away from peace culminated once again in more and more sophisticated missile attacks of Gaza based Hamas on Israel and the well-known Israeli retaliation on Gaza in 2014. Both sides did not care about heavy criticism from many sides.  

Indeed, a solution cannot be imposed from outside. The parties of the conflict must find it.  While Fatah has shown in the past flexibility (certainly not always for the better, but still), Hamas does not or cannot because of its fundamentalist ideology. Sharon although not of the calibre of Begin, who made peace with Egypt, and his successors showed at the end some flexibility. It is obvious that Israel as a democracy cannot remain forever or even survive as an occupying force. One the one hand this was recognized by the withdrawal from Gaza, on the other hand the Israeli forces are still in the West Bank and claim to return to Gaza whenever they want. Hamas seems not to be ready to recognize Israel under what conditions ever and not to accept the agreements of PLO with Israel. So for the moment the crisis seems to be unsolvable. Is there any solution?

The solution would have to start at that point, where the Oslo Agreement was too vague and gave space to quite different interpretations.

What Israel needs most desperately, is the right to exist in peace and security within the borders of 1967. Everything else should be subject to future negotiations, although it would be clear that there are some emotional issues like the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, which go beyond. But it would be an illusion that all open questions could be solved by the peace agreement. For the moment both sides are not able to accept the (necessary) compromise in a long list of sensitive questions as there are e.g. not only Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, but the settlements (and here in particular those in the area of Jerusalem), the return and/or compensation of refugees, the exact borders, future share of resources (water!) etc..

What the Palestinian side needs most desperately is the recognition of an independent, sovereign state with the opportunity to exist in peace and security, but also in dignity. As Israel should be recognized at least within the borders of 1967 that means the recognition of a Palestinian state on the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, occupied by Israel in 1967 (except the Golan Heights) (10). Again, everything else should be subject to future negotiations (between the two states!), including the exact borders. The agreed principle, however, should be, that this Palestinian state will include the vast majority of these territories and sovereign rights in the Arab part of Jerusalem, which will be the capital (not automatically the seat of all authorities). If the Palestinian side can reach this, it would certainly also strengthen Fatah and force Hamas to accept the reality.

Therefore any new agreement should start with:

A mutual recognition of the State of Israel and the Palestinian State, for both with the right to exist in peace, security and dignity; i.e. for Israel within the borders before 1967, for the Palestinian State on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 (except the Golan Heights) and sovereign rights of this state in (East) Jerusalem, which will be also recognized as its official capital. (11)

Israeli territorial claims beyond and the exact borders of the Palestinian State, with the understanding that it will contain in any way the vast majority of the territories in question, as well as the details of sovereign rights in (the Arab part of) Jerusalem will be subject to negotiations between the two states.

Not depending on these negotiations free access to the believers of all religions concerned to there sanctuaries (list should be established by the parties) will be granted and guaranteed by both states. Real estate property of religious institutions and communities will be respected by both states.

A mutual recognition that due to the history and demography there is no space for “ethnically clean” states; therefore there is in principle the right of Arabs to live with equal rights in the State of Israel as well as the right of Jews to live with equal rights in the Palestinian State. The same applies to all ethnic and religious minorities in both states. The right to return for refugees will be subject to negotiations due to principles to be already agreed.

The State of Israel and the Palestinian State will establish a close co-operation in many fields, in particular in

•    the protection of ethnic and religious minorities (12)
•    the protection of and to access to religious sanctuaries (including cemeteries)
•    the economic area with a view to a free trade area and a customs union
•    the use of natural resources, in particular water
•    border and air space control
•    internal security, in particular prevention of and fight against terrorism
•    general for the implementation of all current and future agreements

The State of Israel and the Palestinian State will negotiate as equal partners in the spirit of good neighbourhood the following subjects:

•    the concrete co-operation in the fields mentioned above
•    the exact borders of both states on the basis of the mutual recognition
•    a time-table for the hand-over of areas within those borders and for the time being still occupied by Israeli armed forces
•    the establishment of joint security check points between Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas
•    the sovereign rights of the Palestinian State in the Arab part of the City of Jerusalem and the status of that as the official capital; from the very beginning Israel will recognize e.g. the “Orient House” as a place where only the Palestinian State will exercise sovereign rights;
•    the use of a corridor between the two parts of the Palestinian State (West Bank and Gaza Strip)
•    military defence and military assistance
•    the future of Israeli settlements with various options
•    the compensation for lost property of Palestinian refugees and the right to return for certain groups of refugees
•    the right of residents of both states to opt for the citizenship of the other state
•    the setting-up of joint bodies or authorities, in particular for common administration of natural resources, air control, border control, combat terrorism
•    creation of a joint parliamentary delegation or assembly
•    common human rights standards, probably based on the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (13)
•    joint co-operation with neighbouring countries, in particular in economic matters (14)
•    …..

Such an agreement should be guaranteed by the UN, USA, the EU and Russia and recognized by the Council of Europe, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. (15)

Furthermore it should be accompanied by financial assistance from the USA and the EU and others (e.g. Norway or Switzerland) in the areas of

•    a fund for compensation of lost property of Palestinian refugees
•    a Palestinian Recovery Programme (PRP)
•    establishing common authorities
•    institution building of the Palestinian State

Other organisations (in particular the Council of Europe) could assist in various areas, like review of history textbooks, human rights education, education for democratic citizenship, institution building, training of young leaders, youth exchange, protection of ethnic and religious minorities, multicultural and inter-religious dialogue etc..

The founding father of Israel, Theodor Herzl, told his fellow Jews “If you will it, it is not a dream”. If both sides will peace, it will not be a dream. But they have to will it now!

(1) www.government.se/sb/d/19375/a/249204
(2) 67th UN General Assembly, 44th meeting
(3)  Jerusalem Post, November 10, 2014
(4)  Chairman Arafat’s letter to Prime Minister Rabin from September 9, 1993
(5) Prime Minister Rabin’s letter to Chairman Arafat from September 9, 1993
(6)  UN Security Council Resolution 242(1967) par.1 (i)
(7)  UN Security Council Resolution 242(1967) 2nd paragraph of the preamble
(8)  « cleansed of Jews », Nazi terminology for areas where all Jews have been either deported or murdered.
(9)  2000 Camp David Summit in July 2000, with US President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat
(10)  The Golan Heights have been annexed by Israel and are a question between Israel and Syria, now overshadowed also by the civil war in Syria.
(11)  The late famous mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek had already the vision that the city could be shared as their capital by the two states.
(12)  e.g. Armenians, Bahaï, Bedouins, Druse, Samaritarians, etc.
(13)  A possible European contribution could be to accept both states as observer states or even as associated members to the Council of Europe with a view to open the ECHR to them.
(14)  Several personalities such as former Jordan Crown Prince Hassan, Chairman Arafat and others and institutions such as the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs saw the Benelux as a model for regional cooperation of Israel, Jordan and Palestine.
(15)  Taking into account the large number of Arab citizens of Israel the Arab League could consider a special relation with Israel, e.g. observer status for certain areas

Source: http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=436:a-solution-for-an-unsolvable-problem-recognition-of-the-state-of-palestine-by-israel-now&Itemid=566