By George S. Hishmeh, Washington, D.C.
Dear Secretary Clinton,
My apologies for this open letter but I have been worrying that your briefing papers are not providing you with much-needed background for some of your decisions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, now in its sixty-second year, or that you do not have the time to read all the significant information that may be in your files.
To start with, I must confess that I have been dismayed and disappointed since I read in the newspapers that you have offered several deplorable “incentives” to the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, during your nearly eight-hour meeting in New York last week in return for a measly 90-day moratorium on Israeli colonial expansion in the occupied West Bank but not Arab East Jerusalem. Why not the Arab sector of the Holy City and why only 90 days?!
We all know that under international law an occupier cannot move his/her people to settle in occupied territories as Israel has been doing for more than 40 years. And since Israel claims it is willing to have peace with the Arabs countries including the Palestinians, it makes sense that any settlement in the occupied areas should stop immediately and the two parties begin constructive negotiations soon after.
And while Israel is claiming that these lands, especially Jerusalem, belong to Israel, this allegation is hotly disputed by all learned people. Here are some of the highlights of a keynote presentation at the United Nations more than a year ago by an Oxford University-educated Palestinian-American historian, Dr. Walid Khalidi, who now serves as general secretary of Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies.
“Except for the 100-year Crusader interlude in the 12th century, and until its capture by Britain from the Ottomans in 1917, Jerusalem remained under (Arab) Muslim sovereign rule for some 1,200 years,” he stated. “It is longer than Jerusalem was under Jewish sovereign rule in biblical times.”
He then emphasized that “historically, there never was a conflict between Islam and Judaism over Jerusalem,” adding that “on the contrary, under the protection of Islam, Jews returned to Jerusalem after having been expelled from it, first by the Byzantine Christians and later by the Latin Crusaders. The Byzantine Christians had turned the Herodian Jewish Temple into a garbage dump.”
In recent times, the emergence of political Zionism brought about the conflict between the two monotheistic religions. This was a mostly Russian Jewish nationalist movement, Dr. Khalidi explained, which aimed long before the Holocaust to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, “95 percent of whose population was then Arab, both Muslim and Christian.”
In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly resolved to partition Palestine into a Jewish and Arab states but the Arabs rejected this decision because it “gave the Jewish minority of 30 percent, a 57 percent of the country when this minority owned less than seven percent of the land.” Dr. Khalidi went on to point out that because of Israel’s control of West Jerusalem following its “military conquest of 1947-48, in defiance of the UN partition resolution,” the international community has not accorded formal recognition of Israel’s sovereignty in Jerusalem to this day.
After the Arab-Israeli war in June 1967, Israel was in control of all of Palestinian and additional Arab territories from the neighboring Arab countries. One of Israel’s first actions within weeks of its conquest, it unilaterally extended the borders of municipal East Jerusalem from six square kilometers to 73 square kilometers of occupied West Bank territory. Dr. Khalidi noted that before 1948, Israeli land ownership within this area was less than one percent — an "annexation’ (that) was in deliberate and calculated violation of the Geneva Convention."
This may surprise you, Secretary Clinton, but all this has been, according to Dr. Khalidi, “meticulously documented by your Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as well as by the representatives in the Occupied Territories of the European Union and many NGOs.”
“Annexed East Jerusalem mushroomed into annexed Greater Jerusalem which mushroomed into Metropolitan Jerusalem. Metropolitan Jerusalem now includes 634 sq kms, or more than 10 percent of the West Bank. In 1967, the Jewish population in East Jerusalem was zero. Today (November 2009) there are about 300,000 Jews on the West Bank soil within Metropolitan Jerusalem.”
He continued, sarcastically, “if this is natural growth, Israeli geneticists have discovered a remarkable drug.”
In the opinion of Dr. Khalidi, Israel’s aim “above all … (is) the preemption of a viable two-state solution and the crippling of any newborn Palestinian state.” And, as far as the U.S. is concerned, it is not “an umpire or referee … a broker or passive observer (but) a major part of the problem and the major actor in the solution.”
Interestingly, Haaretz, the Israeli daily, took Netanyahu to task over his visit last week to the U.S. for “apparently try(ing) to show that the Republicans’ victory in the congressional elections, rendered him immune to the administration’s pressure and that he had the upper hand in the controversy over the settlements.
“This is a shortsighted approach that endangers Israel’s interests. Israel needs a steadfast friendship with the United States.” If so, Mrs. Clinton, it is time for the Obama administration to crack the whip and force Israel to take the right decisions in confirmation of international law.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.