Thursday 14 July 2011

Palestinian unilateralism and '67 borders.

I was present at a remarkable session of the Israeli Knesset Forum in Jerusalem on July 13, 2011. many notable people expressed their views on the new Middle East, the striving for democracy, and the impending Palestinian strategy to establish a virtual form of statehood at the United Nations come September.
Here are the words of Dore Gold, who was once Israel's Ambassador to the United Nation. He subsequently wrote a book on that organization entitled "Tower of Babel." Here is what he told us at the Knesset;

"Frankly, we have no idea where the Middle East is heading. We hope that the revolution of freedom will grip the population, will affect the political system, and what will emerge will be a democratic peace. But we don’t know where we are today. Are we in 1945, are we in 1648, are we right after the last of the Crusades? Where are we? We have absolutely no idea. And because we have such uncertainty, when we are asked to take risks for peace, we have to approach this question with a wide variety of scenarios that could emerge. 
     General Amidror asked a rhetorical question. Can anybody guarantee that the regimes around us will be there in a few years? He wrote that in 2005. Can anyone guarantee who will be ruling Egypt? No. Do we know who will be ruling Syria next year? Absolutely not. And even our old partner for peace, Jordan, we can’t be certain who will be ruling that country in five or ten years. I will add one other element to this uncertainty. Iraq. We have been living with the reality where the American army has in one way or another has been inside Iraq, over Iraq, next to Iraq, basically since 1991, in one form or another. Iraq who is always viewed as the key element of Israel’s eastern front was removed from our equation for many years, but can anyone guarantee that Iraq as a democracy will succeed, and Iraq will become a beacon in the Arab world about how democracy works? Or, alternatively, will Iraq become a satellite of Iran? We don’t know. It is in that context, when we discuss the issue of Israel’s future borders, we have to take into account this range of possibilities.
    Israel actually has a legacy of several of our greatest leaders, I use the American analogy of the Mount Rushmore of Israel – Moshe Dayan, Itzchak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon – the architects of Israel’s national security doctrine, who left us with a very clear legacy, do not return to the 1967 lines. 
Rabin’s last speech in the Knesset, one month before he was assassinated, he told the members of the Knesset “We must preserve the Jordan Valley in the widest sense of the word.” Not the river bed, the eastern slopes of the West Bank hills. That was the legacy that we received. Many people like to throw off this legacy. So, what does that have to do with Palestinian unilateralism?  When you switch on the radio in the morning you hear that Abu Mazen is going to the U.N. to declare a state. It is as though states are declared at the United Nations. They are not. New states are declared in their capital. The recent new members of the international community, East Timor, Kosovo, South Sudan, were declared inside their countries, and then afterwards they are declared states by the UN. You don’t go to the UN to declare a state. There is a problem here of misinformation and ignorance.
    So what are the options for Mahmoud Abbas this coming September? Option 1 is to do like other states, which is to stand in Ramallah and go out on his balcony, or in his office, and declare a new Palestinian state. All indications today are that this is not what he wants to do. He wants to be passive and he wants to receive a Palestinian state on a silver platter. 
Which brings us to Option 2, for the Palestinians. This is to seek UN membership without declaring a state. This is sort of like driving a car without a driving license. That’s what he seems to be heading for. That’s what he wrote in the New York Times. That is what Saeb Erekat has said repeatedly in interviews. The serious problem, of course, because anyone who understand the UN Charter knows there is a procedure. You first have to go to the UN Security Council and, if it approved there, you take it to the General Assembly. But, in the Security Council, while we have had our differences with President Obama, he has been very clear that the Palestinian state will not be attained at the UN and we have every reason to believe that an effort to attain a Palestinian state through the Security Council, which is the normal order of events, will be vetoed by the United States. So if Abu Mazen doesn’t want to declare a state in Ramallah, if it’s known that a Palestinian state at the UN is not going to work, what’s his third option?
The third option is to go to the UN General Assembly and the UN General Assembly is the place where you the clarity of resolutions, the power of resolutions, but they are not binding on international law. They don’t change anything in the reality of the Middle East. So what is he going to gain by going to the UN General Assembly? There will be a resolution that says;

Clause 1. There should be a Palestinian state.
Clause 2. It should be recognized by the member states of the United Nations.
Clause 3. (This is the critical clause.). The borders of the Palestinian state should be the lines of June 4, 1967.

    If that is his goal, and that is what I suspect is his goal, and those that are intimately involved in his decision making have admitted to me, his goal will be to enshrine the 1967 lines at the UN General Assembly. In other words, just at a time when we look at the region as Israelis and we see complete uncertainty around us, where no one can guarantee whether we are heading, to democratic stability or greater chaos, Abu Mazen will try to determine where the future borders of Israel will be. He will put us exactly back to the lines that the fathers of our national security doctrine, Dayan, Rabin, Sharon, said we must never pull back to.  And that includes withdrawing from the Jordan Valley.
    Therefore, I see, when I look at the developments that are going on in the Middle East, when I look at the challenge of Palestinian unilateralism, and if I look at a Knesset anxious to take part in the struggle for Israel’s future, that the struggle we are going to face come September is the struggle for defensible borders. It is a struggle to make sure that we are not going to be pushed back to lines that our leaders have said are indefensible. There were diplomats 44 years ago at the UN who once supported not going back to them.

    I close with one final observation. Resolution 242 never called on Israel to fully withdraw from the territories that it captured in a war of self defense in 1967. To impose that on Israel is simply changing the goalposts and changing the rules of the game. We have a collective obligation together to defend Israel’s rights to borders that can be defended.

IRWIN COTLER, a member of the Canadian Parliament, and a former Minister of Justice, added an important rider to Dore Gold’s statement;  

"Dore spoke of UN resolution 242 and a non return to 1967 borders. I think it is important not only to address this matter on the principle of security which is clearly there. It should also be put on the principle of international law, especially when you make the representation to a President like Barack Obama in a language that he can understand. 
    Simply put, I will use this analogy. State A targets State B in a war of aggression, not once, not twice, but three times. If the target State B, and I’ll give it a name, if target State B – Israel – is then required to return all the territory to aggressor State A, this not only licenses him, but rewards acts of aggression. It means that states can wage war with impunity, with the full knowledge that they have no indemnification to make, or to be held accountable. 
     So, there is a principle under international law that says, and former Prime Minister Begin used it again and again, that no one can profit from the commission of an illegal act. And if Israel goes back to 1967 borders, it not only licenses, but rewards, acts of aggression. I think we should be using an international law that is applied, generally speaking, in international relations. 
It should also apply with respect to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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