It’s about the land

In this edition of bitterlemons the authors discuss to what extent the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is about land, conflicting historical narratives or a mixture of the two. "History versus Geography" is the catchphrase. Of course, it is almost always safe to say it is a mixture of the two, without having to specify the proportions.

So that there be no misunderstanding of what follows, let me state here near the beginning that I accept the State of Israel if the State of Israel accepts the State of Palestine and that I accept the Israeli state within the lines of June 4, 1967 if this state accepts a Palestinian state on the same borders, with all that such an acceptance entails. I also realize that a solution cannot be just and therefore lasting, unless it deals with the problem of Palestinian refugees on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194.

Having said this, I have two problems with the question as posed. First, I have a problem accepting the definition of what started in Palestine around a century ago as a "conflict". The word "conflict" could connote disagreement, dispute or simply being at odds. It could also connote a fight. From my own perspective, what we have here cannot be adequately described by any of these terms. This is not a conflict but a struggle against our displacement as a people and our extinction as a nation.

Second, I have little liking of catchphrases and even less liking of any attempt to squeeze our suffering into an appealing catchphrase like the title of this edition. "Too much history in too small a geography," it has been said. As far as I am concerned, the history of the "conflict" that is making my life so difficult is only a century or so old. The events of the last hundred years are alive in the minds of many octogenarians still among us, and are thus very much part of our life and memory. That is the "history" in which I am interested and that is not much history. Going beyond that is ideology.

I know that there are some–not a few–on each side of the divide, who deny the other totally, who have conflicting ideologies or conflicting narratives that underlie their ideologies. If the present situation is only about them, then it is hopeless and we have a conflict that defies resolution. However, I do not believe the situation is hopeless, and this is because I believe it should be possible to put "history" aside and work on a solution that is possible. This is possible if we concentrate on the geography, invoking at the same time international law and UN resolutions.

Snapshots of the map of mandatory Palestine taken at different intervals over the last century show that the area under Israeli control has been expanding and that under Palestinian "control" has been shrinking. The graph of area of land under Israel as plotted against time has been rising and never had a downturn, even though it might have leveled off over short periods. Looking at a snapshot taken at a time near the beginning, one will see that what has been going on since is a struggle by the Palestinians to retain territory to which identity is integrally linked. The Israeli drive has been to conquer territory and erase identity. This is the equation. It is territorial and it is about geography. If there is to be a compromise, it has to be on the geography, not on the history. The most troubling aspect of the occupation is also about geography, namely Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory. Nothing undermined the process and impeded progress t! oward a settlement of the "conflict" more than this.

The official Palestinian position, as I understand it, on how to end the conflict is simple: end the occupation of the Palestinian territory that was grabbed by Israel in the wake of the war of June 1967 and let us see how to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees on the basis of 194. This way it will be possible to have two independent sovereign states living side by side in peace and enjoying good neighborly relations. Unless Israel shows real signs of willingness to give back the conquered territory and start a process to that end, there will be no end to the "conflict". It is about territory. It is about a place under the sun–on the land where we have been living all along, just to add a little history, not that it makes a difference to the outcome.