“We Palestinians believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a grave political error, one which has done grievous harm to the interests of all concerned […]. But it was not merely an error, it was also a crime. A crime perpetrated against the natural, fundamental and inalienable rights of the Palestinians.” (A Palestinian Strategy for Peaceful Coexistence: On the Future of Palestine, Said Hammami as quoted in Israel: Apartheid State, Uri Davis, 1975). The Palestinian collective memory is blistered by the fact that Palestine was violated, raped if you will, with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. To this living collective memory, the latest sixteen months of bloodshed is only yet another chapter in a far worse ‘catastrophe’ for the Palestinian people that began with the creation of Israel, or even before, in 1896, when the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, published a pamphlet titled, The Jewish State.
In this stunning pamphlet that served as the ideological basis for the foundation of the modern state of Israel, Herzl proposed a Jewish nation be established in either Palestine or Argentine [Argentina] (and later added Uganda to the target list). Herzl’s point of departure in envisioning the Jewish state was exemplified when he bluntly wrote, “We shall take what is given us…”.
Unfortunately, for the Palestinians that were uprooted to make room for the state of Israel, the United Nations “gave” the Jewish people part of Palestine in a General Assembly resolution, namely resolution 181 of November 29, 1947. Resolution 181 clearly defines that two states, one Jewish and one Arab, would be created in British Mandate Palestine. Interestingly, this was a non-binding General Assembly resolution, similar to the one taken almost unanimously last week calling for Israel to withdraw its forces.
When Israel was accepted as a member of the UN in 1949, it explicitly agreed to a pre-condition placed upon it by the UN, to implement resolution 181. Furthermore, a second UN resolution, 194 of December 11, 1948, was also explicitly stipulated, and accepted by Israel, as a condition to its membership approval. Resolution 194 calls for the return and compensation of Palestinians made refugees when Israel was created.
History has progressed and the United Nations’ conflict resolution bearings seem to drift with every passing year. The reference point for the Oslo peace talks was the legally binding, United Nations Security Council resolution 242 of November 22, 1967. Resolution 181 was swiftly brushed aside, its partial implementation ignored by the world community. In its place, Resolution 242, which demands the “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”, namely the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, become the new line in the sand. To date, Israel continues its refusal to implement UN resolutions 181, 194, 242 and countless others, including the latest one last week calling for an immediate reversal of all measures taken on the ground since the latest wave of violence began on September 28, 2000.
Why Israel, blindly supported by the United States, was permitted to move the original 181 and 194 goal posts and ignore its original UN membership requirements will haunt this issue forever.
Similarly, now that the fallout of Oslo has resulted in the third human “catastrophe” for Palestinians (1948, 1967, 2000), their acceptance of this new goal post, called 242, as the foundation for a final solution, may have permanently stained a chapter in the Palestinian struggle for their inalienable rights.
As the world apathetically watches the Middle East head toward self- destruction, I am reminded of the words of Said Hammami, the PLO representative in London before being assassinated in 1978. Mr. Hammami said it best in 1975 when he was speaking about the need for peaceful coexistence and the need to find a political solution to the issue. He wrote:
All of this will take time and must depend on the maintenance of effective security for the infant Palestinian state. This is a real problem. We have heard so much in the past of Israel’s need for security, but to us Palestinians and to other Arabs living in the countries adjacent to Israel this seems like putting the boot on the wrong foot. We believe on the basis of our experience over the past twenty-seven [now 54] years, that we are more in need of protection against Israel than Israel is of protection against Arabs. I know that Western opinion has difficulty in believing this, but the truth is […] it has suited the book of Israel’s leaders in the past to have conditions of instability prevailing on her borders so that these could be exploited from time to time to provide pretexts for renewed war and renewed opportunities of expansion. If a limited settlement is to survive and gain time for the two peoples to learn to live together at peace and in mutual tolerance, the first necessity is to provide the most cast-iron safeguards possible against a Ben- Gurion or a Moshe Dyan or an Arik [Ariel] Sharon contriving in [the] future to manufacture a new crisis and a new conflict to upset the settlement if peace seems to be working to the disadvantage of Zionism in Israel. That will be the real risk once a settlement is reached.
Many believe that history repeats itself. In this case, it has not moved an inch. Israel can end its agony, and ours, by unilaterally and unconditionally ending its illegal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as well as assuming its original obligations as a member in the community of nations.
The year 2002, an appropriate number, may be the last chance for a lasting peace between two peoples, in two states, to live side by side in harmony.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.