Palestine: Regaining the Initiative

By Vijaya Rajiva

In early September, 2008,  a group of Palestinian  intellectuals, businesspeople, and academics called The Palestine Study Group presented a Report of their long deliberations entitled Palestinian Strategic Options to End Israeli Occupation.(1).

This is a 56 page document, quite thorough and comprehensive in the theoretical and practical aspects of the options that Palestinians can adopt to end the Occupation. While it is theoretical in its analysis it is also a modest attempt at being a ‘how to do it’ manual. It expects to engage in dialogue and discussion with fellow Palestinians mainly and also with interested individuals and groups.

The following is an attempt to engage with the Report.

The main exhilarating point that comes across is one that cannot be overemphasized. This is a Palestinian discourse, which for too long has been looking at the mirror of international opinion, both friendly and hostile. The second point is that while seeking to negotiate with Israel in a peaceable manner, the main aim is not a dubious or fraudulent peace that leaves the Occupation intact or at best a Palestinian state that is composed of isolated Bantustans:

“The appropriate discourse uses the language, not of peacemaking or state building, but of national self-determination, of liberation, of emancipation from occupation, of individual and collective rights, of international law. . .( p.17  Report )         

“…Perhaps the most appropriate comparable discourse here is the discourse of decolonisation. This needs to be clearly understood by the international community. For example, before 1947 Gandhi’s primary discourse in India was not making peace with Britain but struggling to end British occupation. And it was not a state building discourse because there was not yet an Indian state. His primary discourse was one of emancipation and national struggle.” ( p.17  Report ).

There are interesting analyses concerning political power, the need for national unity, the requirements of strategic thinking, strategic objectives, the implementation of strategy and tactics. The Report reads well and is dense with some kinds of detail. Being comprehensive it does not aim to provide details of implementation. This presumably, is as stated, because the authors of the Report expect informed criticism and dialogue which could change the minutiae or overall thinking of strategy and tactics when that happens.

The Report clearly favours the two state solution as a preferred alternative, although the one state can be presented to Israel as a possible alternative should negotiations for the two state do not emerge as Palestinians want it. The two state solution must be implemented now, and not as a distant promise while Israel continues to build settlements, and continues the Occupation. It is here that it might be useful to point out  two of the limitations of the  two state solution as the Report presents it.

The Report speaks of the 1967 borders as the acceptable border between Israel and the future state of Palestine. It is clearly a repetition of the Saudi Initiative. However, the Report invokes the 1967 border as an integral part of the PLO Declaration of Independence of 1988, which, it claims, accepted the 1967 borders. This is repeated several times in the Report. This is an historical error, because the Declaration invokes not only UN Resolutions 242 and 338 (the basis of the Saudi demand) but also UN Resolution 181, the Partition Resolution of 1947.

“Despite the historical injustice inflicted on the Palestinian Arab people resulting in their dispersion and depriving them of their right to self determination following upon General Assembly Resolution 181(1947), which partitioned Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish, yet it is this Resolution that still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty and national independence.” (2)

Readers will recall that Dr. Haidar Abdul Shaffi, head of the Palestinian delegation to Oslo, did not sign the Agreement, precisely because Resolutions 242 and 338 gave only 22% land to Palestine as opposed to the 44% assigned by Resolution 181 in 1947.  Readers will also recall the heated debates around 242, and the interpretation of the wording of the text. Arthur Lall, the head of the Indian delegation to the UN in 1967 called for Israel’s withdrawal from ALL occupied territory, not merely that captured in the 1967 war. France, and the Arab countries agreed with India’s call. Israel must withdraw not to the 1949 Armistice Line, but to the international border demarcated in 1947 by Resolution 181.

Further, a careful reading of the text of Resolution 242 will show that since the Security Council is not empowered to create borders, the language of Resolution 242 is deliberately vague and one can rightly assume that this is because it deferred to Resolution 181 which is the mother of all the resolutions on the border between Israel and Palestine. I shall return to this point later.

Significantly, after the expiry of the interim Oslo Agreement in 1998, many senior PLO officials, as well as President Arafat, returned to a demand for the 181 border. The following are the senior officials: (3)

1. Zakariya Al–Agha, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, cited 181 as the source of authority for any future settlement.
2. Tayser Khaled, member of the PLO Executive Committee, pointed out that the PLO Declaration of Independence “derived from UN Resolution 181”..
3. Marwan Barghouti specified that the source of authority for the Final Settlement should be enacted in the new Palestinian Charter.
4. The 19th Plenum of the Revolutionary Council (FRC) declared that all UN
Resolutions should be adhered to.
5. Late President Arafat, in a speech to the Parliament of New South Wales, Australia, on the tenth anniversary of the Declaration invoked 181.
6. Fatah, invoked 181, 242 and 338 in their publication “Our Position”.

Commenting on the above list of PLO officials who spoke for the 181 border Yotam Feldner says:

“The principle of partitioned sovereignty and the demarcation of borders both appear in Article A3 of the first section in Partition Resolution 181.Therefore, they are interdependent.” (4)

Feldner, of course , is sounding an alarm bell  for Israel. Early this year, 2008, Yasser Abed Rabbo of the PLO Executive Council raised once again the question of the 181 border. Hence, the Report’s citation of the PLO Declaration as the basis of their own demand for the 1967 border is not accurate.

In addition, the question must be asked: what is the raison d’etre of asking for the 1967 border when the only legally authorized border between Israel and Palestine is that demarcated by Resolution 181? The continuing and overriding authority of Resolution 181 derives from its being an inheritor of Mandatory Trust Law. This is explained by International Law expert, Anthony D’Amato in his article ‘Israel’s Borders Under International Law.’ (5) Resolution 181 is not transitory or merely a recommendation. It is still in the books and will be extinguished only when both states are created: a Jewish one and a Palestinian state.

Dr. Haidar Shafi was explicit in demanding the 44% of land given by the UN in Resolution 181. The logic was obvious. The Partition Line gave Palestinians 44% land. One imagines that the further consideration would be that the Palestinians who were driven from their homes, towns and villages, could return, not as a favour from Israel, and not only because of Resolution 194 (the right of refugees to return) but because that designated area of land belonged to them, not only by ancestral right, but because it was so designated by the authority of the UN.

Dr. D’Amato comes to the question of the legality and continued validity of Resolution 181 from the standpoint of Mandatory Trust Law, and his central arguments are summarized in my article ‘Resolution 181: What’s In It for Palestinians  (Palestine Chronicle, Dec. 2, 2007). He concludes his article with the following observation:

“Thus afterall the Middle East wars, the bloodshed, aggressions, acts of terror, reprisals, and attendant UN resolutions, nothing has changed the legal situation as it existed after Resolution 181 was passed in 1947. The legal boundaries of Israel and Palestine remain today exactly as they were delimited in Resolution 181.” (6)

The Report of the Palestine Study Group does not indicate why they chose the 1967 border as the border between Israel and Palestine. There are references both to the Saudi Initiative and the Prisoners Document of 2006. But that Document was rejected both by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, after some initial agreement. Hamas had called for the 1948 borders (before Israel’s 1948 war of expansion) and rightly so. And Israel rejected the Document under the fraudulent claim that it did not represent the international community’s will, since it called for Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank! And since it called for the right of return of refugees.

In such a context, it is not all clear why the Report continues to adhere to the 1967 line. The spirited quality of its call for a bold initiative in discussing the issues of Liberation, national self determination, national rights etc. is somehow lessened by the watering down of those national rights. Why should Palestinians settle for 22% land when the United Nations itself gave 44% land to them? This Report does not even attempt to answer that question. It is hoped that it will undertake that task.

– Dr. Vijaya Rajiva taught Political Philosophy at university. She contributed this article to


1. This document, which I refer to as the Report, is introduced by Sam Bahour, one of the organizers and participants of the Palestine Study Group. This Introduction is published in Palestine Chronicle, September 4, 2005 as ‘Co existence with Occupation Not an Option. It also gives the link for the entire document.

2.  The entire text of the Declaration of Independence 1988 is given in Dr. Francis Boyle’s book Palestine, Palestinians and International  Law, 43-46. The above quotation is on p.44.

3. Cited in Yotam Feldner, MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis, No.7,Nov.30,1998.

4. Ibid.

5. Anthony D’Amato, ‘Israel’s Borders Under International Law’  pdf
6. Ibid, page 13.

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