By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
On September 9, 1993, Yasser Arafat, the PLO chief, signed a letter addressed to Yitzhak Rabin accepting UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and recognizing the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. It promised to assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance with Oslo agreement, prevent violations and discipline violators and declared inoperative all the articles in the Palestinian Covenant which denied Israel’s right to exist. UN Council resolution 242 that was drafted by the British ambassador to the UN was intended to have the Arab states recognize Israel and had nothing to do with the Palestinians. It ignored the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947 to divide Palestine and Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948 that called for the return of the refugees to their homes in what is now Israel. The Palestinians expected the return of all the land taken in the 1967 war but Israel insists that the wording of the U.N. 242 resolution urged it to surrender only some of the land.
Rabin gave a letter in exchange to Arafat, also dated September 9, stating that Israel had decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, and commence negotiations with the PLO within a vague “Middle East peace process”. Rabin’s recognition of the PLO was conditional upon the commitments made by Arafat’s letter. Arafat letter to Rabin on behalf of the Palestinians was recognition of Israel’s legitimacy from its victims, something Israel had been seeking for half a century; but Rabin’s letter to Arafat has nothing tangible for the Palestinians. Rabin did not accept Israel’s responsibility for the Nakba that befell the Palestinians, and unfortunately Arafat’s letter did not have any reference to the refugees’ right of return or the Palestinians right of self determination.
The Israelis believed that once the Palestinians recognize Israel they (the Palestinians) would be less insistent on rectifying the injustices that had been perpetrated on them in 1947-48 and after 1967. The 1948 war was a phase of the Zionists’ project that was designed and executed by the Zionists to force the removal of the Palestinians from Palestine and create an exclusively Jewish state with no presence for the indigenous Arabs. Hundreds of Palestinian villages, West Jerusalem and five of the eleven Palestinian cities under Israeli control, Beer-Saba’, Majdal, Safad, Tiberia, Beesan were completely depopulated.
The Zionists’ discourse does not recognize the magnitude of the suffering of the Palestinians who had been uprooted from their homeland and the massacres that were committed against them in the process. As part of the policy to delegitimize the history and culture of the Palestinians, the Israelis claim the Palestinians narrative as propaganda; they contend that the Palestinians fled their homes in 1948. Most maps published by Israel today renamed or do not show pre-1948 Palestinian major landmarks and villages. Once they recognized Israel, the PLO leaders found it too difficult to demand rectifying the injustices that have been perpetrated on their people.
New Jewish historians tried to suggest alternative memories on “the War of Independence” and re-educate the Israelis on the immorality of colonizing the occupied lands. But majority of Israeli intellectuals and large section of the Israeli public reacted with anger against these historians’ narrative. Ilan Pappe, one of the new historians, writes that “in 1948 there was no actual war but rather wide scale operations of ethnic cleansing.” The Jewish Philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz predicted in the 1990s that the Israelis, motivated by the arrogance of power and no regard for the indigenous Palestinians’ human rights, “would soon be setting concentration camps for the Palestinians.” His predictions turned out to be true. Israel converted Gaza Strip into the biggest concentration camp in the world only because it has the power to do it. Recognizing Israel by the PLO was sought to legitimize the Zionists’ project and validate their narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Today, The Israelis are asking the Palestinian leaders to revise their recognition of Israel to include “the right of the Jewish people to have a Jewish state in Palestine” as a condition for extending a largely fictitious moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank for a mere 60 days. There should be no surprise! Creating a state exclusively for the Jews was the basic premise on which Israel was founded. Since the Israelis are demanding the change in the language and substance of the previous PLO recognition of Israel, it is time for the Palestinian people in occupied land, in the refugee camps and the Diaspora, to repeal the PLO recognition of Israel all together. Denying the recognition may not be the most effective form of resistance against the Israeli culture of conquest, but it is a reminder that Israel settled lands which had been inhabited and owned by another people.
Hamas frightens Israel because it does not recognize it, not because of its primitive rockets fired into southern Israel that rarely go beyond 3 miles. Hamas did not fire rockets at Israel when it won the legislative council elections in 2006 by a landslide, but Hamas caused fear and panic among the Israelis and their supporters because it did not recognize Israel. Israel trampled on the right of the democratically elected government of the Palestinians to govern because it does not recognize it. Very few rockets have been fired by Hamas this year from Gaza, but Israel continues to lay a tight siege on the Strip since mid-June 2007, starving the 1.5 million Palestinians and carrying out daily aerial, navy and tank attacks on civilian targets.
The Israelis consider the native Palestinians who survived the ethnic cleansing as fifth column because they cannot recognize the state that has subjected them to laws and regulations which deprived them of their lands and relegated them to second class citizens. When some Israeli Palestinians protested Ariel Sharon visit to al-Haram al-Sharif Mosque in October 2000, the Israeli police treated them as enemies, fired live ammunition to quell their unarmed demonstrators killing twelve.
The Palestinian Islamic leader, Sheikh Raed Salah served five months behind bars for “insulting an Israeli soldier” while demonstrating against restoration work that may endanger the structure of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Arab East Jerusalem, an accusation he denies. Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset was accused of treason and espionage for sympathizing with the Lebanese victims of the Israeli 2006 war on Lebanon. Nadim Rouhana, the director of the Arab Centre for Applied Social Research in Haifa, argues that need for recognition explains why peaceful demonstrations by the Palestinian citizens of Israel for any grievances raise fear among the Jewish Israelis that the Palestinian citizens “do not accept the legitimacy of the state and they must be met with lethal police violence.”
The Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has finally realized what everybody knows that the US government would not use its influence on Israel to abide by the international laws; and that the Israelis are very clear about their negotiating positions. Israel would not accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian state consisting of disconnected Bantustans, no return to the 1967 borders, no removal of settlements and no to the refugees’ right of return.
It is time to consider the call made by many well-respected Palestinians for the PA to “dissolve itself”, and I add: rescind the PLO’s recognition of Israel and return the keys to the UN. The Palestinians shouldn’t recognize Israel if Israel does not recognize their right for self-determination, something they have been fighting and dying for since 1917 when they constituted 95% of Palestine’s population.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.