As we come down the stretch to the possible convening of a Middle East peace conference (or “meeting”) in Annapolis later this year, it is worth recalling the words of the late, great, Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi, who led the Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid Conference on 21 October 1991: “Ladies and gentlemen, in the Middle East there is no superfluous people outside time and place, but rather a state sorely missed by time and place – the state of Palestine. Our homeland has never ceased to exist in our minds and hearts, but it has to exist as a state on all the territories occupied by Israel in the war of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, in the context of that city’s special status and its non-exclusive character. This state, in a condition of emergence, has already been a subject of anticipation for too long. It should take place today, rather than tomorrow…“.
The Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference had to be officially part of the Jordanian delegation, because at that time Israel refused to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, and the Palestinian team insisted they owed their alliegance to the PLO.
Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi’s speech, nonetheless, can be found on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here.
The Associated Press reported drily from Jerusalem today that “The Palestinians are pushing for a detailed agreement, while Israel wants a more vague document that would give it flexibility. The Palestinians also want a deadline for establishing a Palestinian state, even though earlier deadlines have been set and ignored”. AP’s report from Jerusalem is here.
A Palestinian State has been an unrealized legal possibility for more than 85 years. On at least four occasions during that lapse of time, Palestinians have prepared to declare a Palestinian State in Palestine: in 1948, in 1988, in 1999, and in 2000.
Each attempt was blocked.
In 1948, neighboring Arab states had conflicting interests. Palestinians still watch closely the positions of their Arab neighbors.
Subsequently, Israel and the United States were powerful opponents. The PLO agreed on a Declaration of Independence in Tunis in 1988, during the first Palestinian Intifada (uprising) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (singular). At that time, the PLO made plans to ask for a seat – even though they were willing to leave it symbolically empty – in the United Nations, for the State of Palestine that they had proclaimed, on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), that called for the creation of two states in Palestine : one Jewish and one Arab. This plan was dropped, after international diplomatic consultations.
The Madrid Peace Conference convened in 1991 stalled. Secret contacts between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), facilitated by Norway, resulted in an exchange of mutual recognition in September 1993, which led to subsequent direct negotiation of a series of interim agreements between Israel and the PLO known as the Oslo Accords. On 13 September, the two parties signed a Declaration of Principles (DOP), and shook hands in a ceremony that was the epitome of a photo-op, on the White House lawn in Washington, D.C. The U.S. and the Russian Federation also signed the DOP, and the diplomatic corps accredited to the U.S. was invited to witness the ceremony, which was televised as a Live Event.
The Oslo Accords – a series of agreements on interim arrangements intended to build mutual confidence before final status negotiations – defined the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as: “as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period”. For this reason, the United Nations refers to these areas in the singular, as Occupied Palestinian Territory. (This terminology was then adopted by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 Advisory Opinion on The Wall.)
The Oslo Accords were concluded, according to their preambles, “within the framework of the Middle East peace process initiated at Madrid in October 1991”.
U.S. President Bill Clinton convened a meeting of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in Camp David in the second half of July 2000. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak made what were called “historic concessions”. The idea may have been to rush through a final status agreement before significant opposition could be mobilized. In any case, the U.S. and Israel blamed PLO leader Yasser Arafat for the failure of these talks. From what is now known of these Camp David II talks, the two main stumbling blocks were identified as the questions of the Palestinian refugees, and of East Jerusalem.
A second and much more violent Intifada erupted in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in September 2000, and as the Israeli military repression increased, there was an increase in Palestinian suicide bombings in cities in Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces reoccupied Palestinian cities in the West Bank in 2002.
The military force used by Israel in the Second Intifada in effect brought West Beirut, which was besieged in 1982 by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on the orders of then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, to the West Bank and Gaza. The population there had experienced years of occupation, and thought that they had it bad, but they had never been exposed to a full Israeli military onslaught of the kind experienced by the PLO in Lebanon.
The Oslo Accords had allowed Palestinian fighters to return from exile in camps in remote locations in the Arab world to serve in the Palestinian Authority’s security forces; new members could also be recruited – but Israel required a list of their names. The Palestinian [National] Authority’s security forces were armed, but as per the Oslo accords, they were only police forces. When they fired at the IDF in the Second Intifada, Israel re-defined the situation as one of “armed conflict”, and of “war”.
Then, in 2002 (in the build-up toward the invasion of Iraq), U.S. President George Bush changed the discourse and called for a two-state solution.
The Road Map, drafted by the U.S. and adopted by the Quartet (U.S., Russian Federation, European Union, and the United Nations Secretary General) envisaged the creation of a Palestinian State at the end of Phase II — which was supposed to end in 2005.
The Roadmap was endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1515 of 19 November 2003, which called on the parties “to fulfil their obligations under the Roadmap in cooperation with the Quartet and to achieve the vision of two States living side by side in peace and security”.
On 19 May 2004, the UN Security Council expressed grave concern after the large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes in Rafah, and insisted on Israel’s «obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that [international humanitarian] law”; the Security Council also called on Israel and the Palestinians “ to immediately implement their obligations under the Road Map in Resolution 1544”.
Dr. Azmi Bishara, who was until recently an Israeli-Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, wrote at the end of 2004, the creation of a Palestinian State is becoming an “Israeli demand” — as new Israeli fears that a future “demographic” imbalance would engulf them, and demands grew for separation as a solution. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan for Gaza “Disengagement”. was presented in this light — it would reduce the number of Palestinians that Israel had any “responsibility” for. It has also since been explained as a kind of test to see if the Palestinians were ready for a state of their own. The answer, Israelis say now, is No — and there is open talk that Gaza should be given back to Egypt, which occupied it in May 1948, just after the Proclamation of the Establishment of the State of Israel.
On her last trip to the region in late October this year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said in Ramallah, in what the Associated Press is describing as one of her most forceful statements yet, that ” ‘Frankly, it’s time for the establishment of a Palestinian state … I wanted to say in my own voice to be able to say to as many people as possible that the United States sees the establishment of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution as absolutely essential for the future, not just of Palestinians and Israelis but also for the Middle East and indeed to American interests’, she said”. See “Rice is Up Against The Wall” in UN-Truth.com here.
To put this all in perspective, here is an excerpt from a book review written by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz, about a then-newly-published biography of Shimon Peres “Ke’of hakhol, Shimon Peres, habiografia” (“Phoenix: Shimon Peres, a Political Biography”) by Michael Bar Zohar. Eldar recounts that “Yitzhak Rabin died in November 1995 without accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state. Peres continued to amuse himself with ‘creative’ solutions that skirted the issue of Palestinian sovereignty. Former absorption minister Yair Tsaban relates that a few days after the Rabin assassination he and his Meretz colleagues asked Peres to incorporate the Palestinian right of self-definition as a basic component of government policy. Peres glared at the delegation of leftists and asked: ‘You realize what that means, don’t you?’ ‘Yes, of course’, his visitors replied, ‘It means establishing a Palestinian state’. Peres’ response left them openmouthed. ‘And who told you I support a Palestinian state?’ the new prime minister shot back. ‘I’m in favor of a functional solution’.”
[Akiva Eldar’s book review, “Long Distance Runner” published in Haaretz on 10 February 2006, can be found here.]