In a world where we are enamored with quick fixes, we like to see everything as black and white. But when we are examining the nuances of the Israeli-Arab conflict, simplicity and quick fixes are difficult, if not impossible, to find. The article “The Simplicity of the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” published in the September issue of the Washington University Political Review, seemed to suggest that there is a single key issue, a single group to blame, and that a solution could be easily achieved and peace brought to a region living in perpetual tension. Unfortunately, the world is not so cut and dried.
Prior to the establishment of The State of Israel in 1948, the United Nations proposed the 1947 Partition Plan, which would divide the region into two sovereign states, one belonging to the Jews, and the second to the Palestinians. The Jewish Agency accepted this plan on behalf of the Jewish Community while the Palestinians as well as the entire Arab world refused. As a result, two states were never established, war broke out when Israel was attacked by the surrounding Arab nations, and in 1948 the State of Israel declared independence. Since then, Israel has continuously sought negotiations and has been willing to discuss the establishment of a Palestinian State, despite tactics of delay embodied by the “Yes-No” policy of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
In 1967, during the Six Day War, Israel was attacked by Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. When the fighting ended, Israel did gain territory, but this expansion did not constitute a violation of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the acquisition of territory through wars of aggression, but says nothing regarding wars of self-defense. Additionally, at the time of the war, the West Bank and Gaza, which were under the occupation of Jordan and Egypt respectively, were not considered the legal territories of any High Contracting Party. Neither country, Egypt nor Jordan, had internationally recognized by sovereignty over the territories, and therefore Israel had the right to the land after the war. Professor Stephen Schwebel, a former judge on the Hague’s International Court of Justice stated that when the prior holder of a territory gained control illegally, and other states take that territory in an exercise of self-defense, the second state has a better claim to the territory. Israel, therefore, has a legitimate and strong claim to the land.
The true ethnic cleansings that have occurred, in Cambodia and Rwanda, Armenia and the former Yugoslav Republic, are far beyond any actions ever taken by Israel. Darfur, a tragedy and a genocide still occurring today cannot, and should not, be compared to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The issue of refugees adds additional complexity to the conflict. Yes, there are cases of Jewish armies forcing Palestinians out of their homes. But during the fighting in 1947, many Palestinians fled their homes in anticipation of the fighting, some in response to the oncoming armies, and some were told to leave by Arab generals. As a result of these and other reasons, there were between 700,000-800,000 Palestinian refugees. To suggest however, that the plight of these refugees amounts to ethnic cleansing is patently false, and insults any peoples that have fallen victim to genocide or mass killings. The true ethnic cleansings that have occurred, in Cambodia and Rwanda, Armenia and the former Yugoslav Republic are far beyond any actions ever taken by Israel. Darfur, a tragedy and a genocide still occurring today cannot, and should not, be compared to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Furthermore, these were not the only refugees of 1948. As a result of the increased violence against Jews in Arab countries, between 800,000 and 1 million Jews were forced to flee their homelands. None of these Jewish refugees were ever compensated for their lost property, nor have they been afforded the right to return to their home countries. These Jewish refugees have been excluded from the conversation because for the most part, they were naturalized as citizens of Israel. The fact that Israel has treated the refugees that have arrived at its doors with respect and dignity, while the Arab nations which have harbored Palestinian refugees have held them in abhorrent, almost subhuman conditions for use as political pawns should not further obligate Israel to support them. In fact, the UN resolutions quoted in the previous article mainly reaffirm what are some common misconceptions regarding the famous UN Resolution 194, which states:
“The General Assembly, Having considered further the situation in Palestine … Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
There are three main points which should be addressed regarding this resolution: firstly, that neither UN Resolution 194 nor its progeny were passed as binding resolutions; secondly, that Palestinian refugees are the only refugees in the world whose refugee status is passed on from generation to generation; and thirdly, that, particularly as relates to Resolution 194, neither side is in the right (none of the Jewish refugees were ever compensated for the property lost to them, nor afforded the right to return to the Arab lands from which they fled, which is often omitted from the conversation despite the fact that Jewish refugees were quite possibly more numerous than Arab refugees).
The truth is that the continued strife in the region is the result of many complex interacting factors, all of which are impossible to address in one article. But none of these historical events should prevent the two sides from sitting together at the negotiating table to try and find a solution. Throughout the years, Israel has shown its willingness to negotiate. In the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt over the course of peace talks (contrary to the previous article published, which claimed Egypt “recaptured” Sinai). The Taba Talks in 2001 came within several weeks of an agreement, but the uncertain political status following the United States presidential election shook the confidence of both sides until the newly elected right-wing Likud party ended the negotiations. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 in an attempt to make peace. As recently as this summer, Israel released 104 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill before the peace negotiations even began. Israel’s actions have continuously demonstrated a desire to negotiate. Right now, Israel is sitting at the table; she is just waiting for someone else to sit down on the other side.
Meytal Chernoff is a guest contributor, writing on behalf of Washington University Students for Israel. She would like to thank CAMERA for providing fact-checking services.