By Jim Miles
The Weekly Standard, a weekly very conservative web magazine, has recently posted on its blog a short video with Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon explaining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“The Truth About the West Bank“). The general substance of the video is that because there never has been a Palestinian state, and the Palestinians cannot claim any land for their state as it has never existed in any form. By twisting the evidence of history, accepting the Balfour Declaration as an implied legal document, ignoring the UN partition plan which did provide recognition to a possible Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state of Israel, and by claiming that the aggressive Arab attacks of 1967 concerned land – the West Bank – that was under Jordanian control, the existence of “Palestine” is denied.
The video is presented as a lecture, with a back drop that has line drawings very similar to those in the video “The Story of Stuff”. The overall simplification of the presentation, for those lacking any background knowledge helps the dissimulation of the argument that there is no occupation because there is no such thing as Palestine or a Palestinian people to be occupied.
This is an interesting twist for Israeli presentations. Knowing that they are losing the “war” of words with the citizens of the world concerning their violent warrior actions under international law, the Israeli approach here is to deny the applicability of the rules of international law, not because they are invalid, but because the concept of Palestine itself is null and void.
The worst fear for Israel is not terror or suicide bombers, but that in spite of all their rhetoric, aided and abetted by the U.S., there is a partner for peace. The very existence of a people who call themselves Palestinians, who are recognized by the majority of the world – at least at the street level if not the elite political level – is the biggest threat to the state of Israel, the non-violent everyday existence of a people struggling to survive under occupation and oppression.
It is an interesting video but obviously with some serious problems. First, Israel started the 1967 war with pre-emptive strikes against Egyptian and Syrian air forces. Yes, Egypt had sent troops to the Israeli border, but accepted now by historians neither as a provocation or sufficient to attack Israel (i.e. there was no “Necessity of self-defence” that was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.”). Israel was at that time recognized as having the fully dominant military firepower necessary to defeat any Arab attack. As it was, the attack was an act of aggression, against international law, the occupation of the Sinai, Gaza and West Bank are illegal and while yes they are “disputed”, they were at the time also occupied. Gaza remains de facto occupied as Israel still controls it as an open air prison. The West Bank is truly occupied, with the simple evidence being the every day presence of the IDF. If it were only disputed, there are international courts of law where the “dispute” could be argued. As the 1967 war was an act of unilateral aggression, the territories that were considered to be Palestinian by the majority of the world, were occupied by Israel. Therefore international law of occupation applies to the West Bank and to Gaza. As that is Ayalon’s basis for all of his succeeding arguments, their basis in fact is non existent.
Which goes back to the Balfour declaration. While the author argues that the UN Partition Plan has no legality, it is implied that the Balfour Declaration does have legality, when in reality it was a promissory note to the Jewish members of government. The establishment of the Palestinian Mandate goes against the Treaty of Versailles and the founding ideals of the League of Nations (vis a vis Woodrow Wilson, noting that the U.S. never joined the league) wherein all nationalities were to have their own sovereignty. As the Palestinian people were in Palestine at the time, and while there may never have been a country known as Palestine (just as there was never a ‘country’ known as Israel) the region is Palestinian by nationality. It was the League of Nations which partitioned the Palestinian Mandate into two parts, the Hashemite Jordanian kingdom and the land available for Jewish settlement. This does not support the idea that Israel made a great concession in the first place – of the current land known as Jordan – the idea was never about Jordanian territory from the outset.
The author tries to be clever by saying, hey, we’re not going back to the bible to read our history, only as far as the Balfour declaration. Unfortunate, as the Bible indicates that there was a Palestinian people within the region. So, yes, there may have never been a Palestinian state, just as there has never been a Jewish state. “States” did not become states until the Europeans, fed up with all their wars, signed the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) in which the participants first recognized the idea of sovereign states.
Again, beginning with a false premise that the Arabs started the 1967 war, the argument is thus rendered unsubstantiated as it stands on that premise. And yes, destroying countries is illegal under international law, which raises the question of why Israel has tried to destroy Lebanon (most recently in 2006), why the U.S., as Israel’s thug in the Middle East effectively destroyed Iraq as a sovereign nation, and they both are calling for attacks on Iran – threats of such kind also being illegal under international law.
Ayalon argues that the proper names for West Bank, Judea and Samaria – were changes of commonly accepted names. From a western Judeo-Christian perspective (that in itself being an odd couple construction) the occupied territories – and it could be argued that the whole of Israel is occupied and disputed – has seen hundreds of names changed or obliterated from towns and villages that the IDF destroyed before and during the war that came with their declaration of independence in 1948. The settlements, and the biblical names attached to them whether they originated there or not, are simply one of many strategies that Israel has used to continue the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, an idea recognized and practiced by many hard core Zionists from Theodor Herzl, Vladimir Jabotinsky, through to David ben Gurion, Sharon, Lieberman and Netanyahu.
Is it “disputed” territory? Is it occupied territory? Yes, on both accounts.
As stated above, the idea that there is a partner for peace, and that the Palestinians have valid support under international law is the real reason Israel maintains military pressure on the population, hoping for and occasionally receiving a violent response in return. Then the Israelis can cry wolf to its partners in crime about the “Arab threat” to their existence, an existence that will not be denied given they have the fourth largest military in the world, a strong nuclear weapons force, and the protection of the largest imperial hegemon, the U.S.
International law does apply to the Palestinian territories as recognized by the majority of the world. There are partners for peace. Peace is their greatest fear.
The Weekly Standard video can be viewed here.
– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.