A political bombshell was unloaded on Israel and the U.S. on November 15, 1988 by the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s legislative body. That “bombshell” has now been resurrected by the Hamas Government. It was the famous Palestinian historic compromise embodied in the Palestinian Declaration of Independence announced publicly on that November day in Algiers.
What was that historic compromise? Its two main features were:
1) acceptance of the post-1967 war UNSC Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967 which inherently included recognition of Israel but made no mention of a Palestinian state. In fact, 242 was purposefully left without reference to extant UN resolutions regarding Palestinian statehood and refugee right of return; and
2) it rooted the Declaration in the November 29, 1947 UNGA Resolution 181 which recommended partition of Palestine into Arab (Palestinian) and Jewish States.
The latter action was intended to thwart the deficiency of 242 regarding Palestinian statehood. However, the PNC/PLO explicitly accepted the 1967 Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (22% of pre-1948 Palestine) as the territorial limit of the state instead of the 45% allocated under the 1947 partition plan. These two features: recognition of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine and acceptance of the territories for Palestinian statehood constituted the essence of the historic compromise.
Although the PNC/PLO never gave up the Palestinian refugee right of return after the 1988 Declaration and throughout the Madrid/Oslo process (1991- 1993), they downplayed that right. Therefore, from 1988 on, and specifically during the Madrid and Oslo negotiations, Israel had a golden opportunity to resolve its conflict with the Palestinians by a two-state solution on terms favorable to itself. The 1949 cease fire lines drawn after the 1948 war which encompassed the Israeli conquered 78% of Palestine would have basically become Israel’s borders; and the 1967 Israeli occupied Palestinian territories would have become a Palestinian state. It became clear after the 1967 war that Israel had no intention of surrendering the occupied territories. This was made evident by the internal Israeli debate which ensued after the war. The Whole Land of Israel Movement representing the left/right spectrum of Israeli political views insisted on keeping the territories as part of Eretz Israel. Others toyed with keeping strategic areas while working out an arrangement with their sometime collaborator, Jordan. The immediate transformation and unification of East Jerusalem with Israeli West Jerusalem boded ill for any withdrawal. Thereafter, Israeli colonization of Palestinian territories commenced. Israeli settlers now number more than 400,000 in East Jerusalem (annexed earlier) and the West Bank.
How was Israel able to ignore international law, the Geneva conventions, and U.N. Resolutions on Palestinian rights? In large part it was both U.S. tacit support and the way in which Israel interpreted the post-1967 war UNSC Resolution 242. The resolution was written in such a way as to ignore and provide the basis for ultimately expunging the extant 1947 partition plan. UNSC 242 became the only “legal” framework for negotiations. In effect, 242 offered Israel the opportunity to expand territorially and institutionalize itself in the region in spite of its colonial/occupier character without having to address Palestinian national and refugee rights. The resolution called for
“Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State (emphasis added) in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries (emphasis added) .”.
Palestine was/is not a state. When asked about its intent to abolish the partition plan that called for two states and to give leeway to Israeli goals, the author of 242, Lord Carradon, struggled with a non-convincing disclaimer although admitting 242 was intended to allow Israel to extend its 1967 “borders” into the occupied territories to establish “secure boundaries”. Since then, U.S. and Israeli diplomats have tried repeatedly to cancel U.N. resolutions regarding Palestine except for 242.
Although 242 provided great leeway for Israeli interests, it did affirm “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. It also called for “Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories [not ‘the’ territories] occupied in the recent conflict.” UNSC 242 was written under Chapter VI (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) of the U.N. Charter and was therefore without formal means of any withdrawal implementation. Only Chapter VII (Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression) includes mechanisms of implementation. In any case, Israel did not view the Palestinian territories as occupied since they were never recognized as a state before the 1967 war. Jordan had absorbed East Jerusalem and the West Bank into the Hashemite Kingdom after the 1948 war, but Jordan’s action was not recognized internationally. Egypt administered Gaza but did not absorb it. Hence, if the Palestinian territories were not part of any state, Israel claimed that it was occupying no one’s territory. As such, Israel maintained that it was not required to withdraw except by choice and voluntary agreements. The argument collapses on the obvious illegality of Israeli annexation (1981) of the occupied and colonized Syrian Golan Heights.
During the Oslo process, Arafat conceded much to Israel, allowing it to set terms regarding areas it would withdraw from and the “powers” it would allow the Palestinian Authority. Arafat thought that in the end he would get the historic compromise with minor adjustments. He was mistaken; his concessions eroded the terms of the compromise. He kept conceding land and power until July 2000 at Camp David when he realized he was set up to close out all legal files–including the right of return of Palestinian refugees – on Palestine and accept a truncated and fragmented state. Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) succeeded Arafat and has been basically ignored by the Israelis. There are and have been no “peace” negotiations since July 2000, only Israeli unilateral actions admitted as means to safeguard Jewish demographic majority in an enlarged Israel. In the meantime, the Palestinians in the territories are being walled in and economically and socially suffocated.
What is the Israeli gripe with Hamas? It is not terrorism. Israel knows, as did white South Africans, French Algerians, British Kenyans, that terror tactics are part of anti-colonial, anti-occupation resistance. When there is a will to resolve the conflict, terrorism–resistance and state–are eventually abandoned. What bothers Israel about Hamas is that Hamas wants to turn the clock back to the 1988 historic compromise. For more than fifteen years of the “peace process”, Israel has succeeded in preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state based on the compromise. Hamas has brought the focus back to the compromise–a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories free of settlements and military occupation. It is also affirming the never abandoned legal and inalienable right of the refugees to return to their original homes in historic Palestine.
By demonizing Hamas and starving Palestinians, Israel hopes to destroy Hamas as the elected party representative of the Palestinian will. Israel is again ignoring the opportunity to have a viable two-state solution and is de facto laying the groundwork for greater chaos and violence. Trying to prop up Mahmoud Abbas who has little or no credibility among his people to oppose Hamas will fail. Israel will then have to take responsibility for the Palestinian population which ultimately, far down the line, will lead to one state in Israel and the 1967 occupied Palestinian territories based on equal citizenship for both peoples. Too bad that can’t happen now.
ELAINE C. HAGOPIAN is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Simmons College.