Sunday, June 3, 2007

Very interesting if true: The Arab positions have changed

From Haaretz:
By Mati Steinberg

Two op-ed pieces by Prof. Shlomo Avineri in Haaretz - 'Until they accept responsibility,' May 10, and 'This isn't the initiative' (Haaretz Hebrew edition, May 21) - are substantially flawed with respect to the facts.

In the first article, which discusses the attitude of the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular to the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, on the matter of the partition of the Land of Israel, Avineri reiterates that 'there is not even an iota of introspection, self-criticism and readiness to deal with the Palestinians' own contribution to their catastrophe.' As if such a blanket statement were not enough, Avineri goes on to say: 'To this day no [Arab or Palestinian] book has raised the question of whether, perhaps, the Arabs erred in rejecting the compromise - painful as it may be - of the partition. That is, Avineri diagnoses the Palestinians' complete unwillingness 'to acknowledge that in 1948 they and their leaders made a terrible historic mistake.'

Here are three prominent instances of such an acknowledgment, none of which can be dismissed as esoteric. The first is the memoirs of prominent Fatah figure Abu Iyad (Salah Halaf) from 1978, which were published in Hebrew in the book 'Lelo moledet' ('With No Homeland'; Mifras Books, 1979). Abu Iyad relates that in a conversation with Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, at the beginning of 1974, he asked the former grand mufti of Jerusalem a sharp question: "The UN partition plan was indeed unacceptable in principle, but why didn't the Palestinian leaders agree, the way the Zionist leaders did, to a temporary solution, the main thrust of which would have been the establishment of a state in part of the national area, which was granted to them by the UN?" Abu Iyad notes that the excuses and self-justifications of the mufti's response seemed unconvincing to him. ...It is impossible to exaggerate Aby Iyad's importance in the history of Fatah or the Palestine Liberation Organization, beginning in 1968. His words had the effect of starting to prepare the ground for the PLO's adoption of the diplomatic route without waiting for prior readiness on the part of Israel or the international community led by the United States. For adopting the diplomatic route, Abu Iyad paid with his life in January 1991, when he was assassinated in Tunis by an agent sent by Abu Nidal's organization. ...

PLO "Declaration of Independence" of November 1988. In this document, the PLO formulated its willingness to adopt the principle of partition in the framework of two states for two peoples. This move was completed about one month later, with the organization's acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which the PLO had refused to accept from the time of its passage, in November 1967.

The Declaration of Independence is a formative document in the history of the PLO, with language and overall logic that are in absolute contradiction to the Palestinian national charter. This is exactly how it was understood by opponents both from within the organization and from without (such as Hamas).

The entire rationale of the Declaration of Independence is based on the acceptance of the principle of partition, whereas the entire logic of the national charter (in Section 19) is based on its denial and on the preservation of the wholeness of Palestine at all costs. In the declaration, it is stressed that, despite the oppression that is inherent in the partition resolution, which derives from the fact that it ignored the right of the Arab majority in Palestine to self-definition, "it is this resolution that still provides those conditions of international legitimacy that ensure the right of the Palestinian Arab people to sovereignty." ...

The facts presented in Avineri's second article, on the "Saudi initiative," are also not accurate. The Saudi proposal does not include a precondition that the Arab demands be accepted. The conditional word in Arabic for "if" - ayda - is entirely absent from the document. Instead, there appears indayd, which means "at the same time." That is, at the same time the Arab principles concerning "territories" are accepted, Israel's demands for "peace," "normalization" and "an end to the conflict" will be granted.

Right in the introduction to the initiative it is stressed that this is a "parallel" process. Moreover, the document speaks of a "solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon." "Agreed upon" means accepted by both sides: Israel and the Palestinians. How is it possible to agree on something without conducting negotiations? If there is any condition stipulated, it is in fact that the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem will be "agreed upon," thus effectively eliminating any possibility that the solution will include "the right of return" to Israeli territory.

The mention of the need for an "agreed-upon solution" creates a new tradition for Arab interpretation of Resolution 194: The choice between compensation and return that is mentioned in the resolution has been withdrawn from the individual refugee and subordinated to the diplomatic agreement with Israel. Thus was put to an end the possibility of realizing a return to Israeli territory....

I am not arguing that we in Israel should adopt the "Arab initiative" as though it were hewn in stone and sanctified, but we must see it as it is, and as such it embodies a significant change in the collective Arab position. It is impossible on the one hand to condemn the Arabs for having rejected the partition plan, and on the other to look for ways to negate their willingness to adopt it.

The writer teaches at the Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and is an advisor to the Shin Bet security service.

I previously quoted from the Shlomo Avineri article to which this piece responds, and consider Avineri among the best of the Israeli realist thinkers of the moderate/Zionist left. I'm not sure I find this response ultimately persuasive (see the link for its full argumentation), but it is an interesting "contrarian" Israeli perspective to consider in the mix.

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