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Unearthing past remains key to resolving Palestinian future

By David Singer - posted Tuesday, 2 September 2014


The cease fire agreement ending hostilities in the Fifty Day War between Israel and Hamas marks yet another milestone attesting to the failure of Jews and Arabs to peacefully resolve their claims to sovereignty and self-determination in the territory once called "Palestine".

Amazingly - the continuing inability of the parties - and the international community – to reach consensus on identifying when this long running conflict actually commenced – ensures it will continue to remain unresolved.

Emeritus Professor Richard Falk, formerly United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights in the West Bank, still claims in his latest article that the conflict started in 1947.

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"Israel was born in 1948. Resolution 181 of the United Nations General Assembly [dated 29 November 1947 – Ed]is widely regarded as the most convincing legal basis for founding the State of Israel."

Falk gave the following reasons for his viewpoint on 1 August 2012:

I regard the Balfour Declaration and the mandatory system as classic colonial moves that have lost whatever legitimacy that they possessed at the time of their utterance, and prefer to view the competing claims to land and rights on the basis either of the 1948 partition proposal or the 1967 boundaries, although if there was diplomatic parity, I would respect whatever accommodation the parties reached, but without such parity, it seems necessary to invoke the allocation of rights as per settled international law.

Falk's opinion mirrors article 20 of the Palestine Liberation Organization Charter:

The Balfour Declaration [1917], the Mandate for Palestine [1922], and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.

Falk's opinion is not shared by Matti Friedman – who in his latest article identifies the starting date as being much earlier than 1947:

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The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s-the quest for a "two-state solution." It is accepted that the conflict is "Israeli-Palestinian," meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls-0.2 percent of the Arab world-in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as "Israel-Arab," or "Jewish-Arab"-that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps "Israel-Muslim" would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term "Palestinian" was in use.

The "Israeli-Palestinian" framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel's part, to be described not as what it is-one more destructive symptom of the conflict-but rather as its cause."

Adopting Friedman's viewpoint over Falk's, one can confidently nominate the 1920 San Remo Conference as the legal basis for founding the State of Israel, when England, France, Italy, and Japan agreed to divide the areas of the 400 years old Ottoman Empire conquered by them in World War 1 into three mandates – Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Syria/Lebanon and Palestine.

This carve up was intended to see Arab self-determination eventually achieved in 99.99% of the conquered Ottoman territory and Jewish self-determination in the remaining 0.01%.

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About the Author

David Singer is an Australian Lawyer, a Foundation Member of the International Analyst Network and Convenor of Jordan is Palestine International - an organisation calling for sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza to be allocated between Israel and Jordan as the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine. Previous articles written by him can be found at www.jordanispalestine.blogspot.com.

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All articles by David Singer

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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