Palestine, Israel: Back to the Basics

By John D. Welch

As the so-called proximity talks move back and forth between the Israeli negotiators, the Palestinian Authority negotiators and George Mitchell, the US special Middle East envoy, it occurs to me to ask "Why bother?" Why should more time and effort be expended in talks that historically have never been equally productive for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. In fact, given the historic positions of both sides, the talks may never be able to produce positive results. Albert Einstein once said something to the effect that problems can’t be resolved by using the same thought patterns that produced the problems in the first place. Just that is happening now in the Palestine/Israel proximity talks.

An article published on BBC News (2007/11/26) by Paul Reynolds outlines the major peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians since the 1967 occupation began. In summary, that article begins with the Security Council Resolution 242 which asked for the "withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied." The Israeli government replied to that with the argument that the resolution didn’t specify "all the territories," so that they could remain in occupation of those they chose. After the October 1973 war the UN Resolution 338 used the words "in all its parts." That clarification was ignored.

The BBC article goes on to say that the Camp David Accords brought some peace between Jordan, Egypt and Israel but did nothing to help the Palestinians. Other peace talks, like the Madrid Conference, have done nothing but further strengthen the position of Israel. The much vaulted Oslo Agreement of 1993 produced a very well publicized photograph of Arafat and Rabin shaking hands but nothing more. The Camp David talks in 2000 also were not able to produce any results. The Saudi Peace Plan of 2002 only restated the issues between the two sides that can’t be resolved.  George Bush’s Road Map in 2003 proposed that the Palestinians would police themselves and that "the Israelis would stop settlement activities and act with military restraint." The invasions of the Litani River area in south Lebanon, the invasion of Gaza, the vast settlements in the West Bank and the racial cleansing of East Jerusalem demonstrate the Israeli attitudes in those areas. The Palestinians always lose more territory as well as compromises to their basic human rights.

In order to come to new insights into the problems, the foundations of the problems must be examined by honest and clear thinking people. Those foundations to be examined are the processes that led up to the partition of Mandate Palestine and the formation of the Jewish homeland. Questions such as did the United Nations have the right to divide the land of the Palestinians? And, were they in possession of all the facts they needed to make that decision? And, were all the parties involved given adequate hearing of their positions and stances in regard to that division? And, did the parties involved live up to the requirements that those decisions imposed on them? As well as many other basic questions.

Beyond those questions, the more difficult issue is who should be asking them and who should be answering them. How are honest and clear thinking people to be found to raise these issues. The parties directly involved have proven themselves to be unable to negotiate openly and honestly. The years of failed peace processes have shown that. Moreover, the United States cannot act as an independent peace broker. Its years of blind support of Israeli actions, deleterious to producing peace, have shown that. Over the years Israel has been targeted by at some 65 UN resolutions and the United States has invoked its veto power in support of Israel at least 41 times. Because of these abuses of the veto power (the United States is certainly not alone on the Security Council’s members to so abuse this power) the UN Security Council is unable to bring about peace.  Perhaps some combination of actions, unbiased by so-called "facts on the ground," initiated by the United Nations General Assembly in concert with the World Court can create a binding and just peace for all concerned. There must also be some sort of agency to identify and deter countries who would seek to derail or subvert the processes. Maybe depriving them of the right to vote in the UN for some defined period of time would work. I am reminded of President Truman’s shenanigans to influence South American countries during the lead up to the vote to partition in the original UN vote.

The death, suffering and destruction in that part of the world have gone on far too long for civilized people to endure it any longer. Boycotts, protests and direct actions by peace organizations can help. But in the end, the people directly involved are going to have to make painful decisions and abide by the results of those decisions. In an article in Al-Aram Weekly (14-20/10/99), Edward Said described the at that time and now as well as anyone can:

“The alternatives are unpleasantly simple: either the war continues (along with the onerous cost of the current peace process) or a way out , based on peace and equality (as in South Africa after apartheid) is actively sought, despite the many obstacles. Once we grant that Palestinians and Israelis are there to stay, then the decent conclusion has to be the need for peaceful coexistence and genuine reconciliation. Real self-determination. Unfortunately, injustice and belligerence don’t diminish by themselves: they have to be attacked by all concerned.”

– John Welch and I am a retired college librarian. He co-hosts a radio show, The Peace and Justice Show, on WSLR 96.5 LPFM in Sarasota, Florida. He contributed this article to

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