It took many many years for an American administration to finally come up with an idea on how to deal with the Palestinian problem, and now one has taken credit for inventing even the concept of a Palestinian state. Putting aside the fact that Palestine has existed for thousands of years, and forgetting that such a state was already officially defined in 1947, when the UN (after an expedient British contribution to the division) generously gave a mostly foreign ethnic group half the land of an indigenous people, America now presents its sudden apparition by “affirming a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.” A nice try emulating the beautiful “I have a dream” mode, but with none of the sincerity, passion, or feasibility study.
Palestinians have gone through over half a century of dispossession; in response to their plight, the US has enticed the UN Security Council to welcome its indeterminate vision of a state. Considering how the supposedly crystal-clear Resolution 242 has been subject to ridiculous grammatical debates because of the convenient exclusion of the word “the,” one can only imagine the possibilities that a word like “vision” can bring about. For the Israelis, a vision of a Palestinian state could at best be a mirage, an optical illusion, a hallucination. Or even better, a hologram, making the vision of a Palestinian state a virtual one. When many years down the road, they will still be pressed to conform to Resolution 1397, Israelis will answer “but we DO have a vision of a Palestinian state.” One that encompasses a few square kilometers, perhaps. And preferably without too many Palestinians. And not actually in Palestine. Still a nightmare, rather than a dream.
Making light of this resolution in the face of so much hope may seem inconsiderate, but experience makes wary, to say the least. Instead of being an enlightening vision, this resolution is a serious disillusionment not only because of its content, but also because of its context. In spite of all the acclaim given to 1397 by various commentators and governments (including the Israeli one, which is enough to arouse caution for most Middle East observers), there is clearly much ado about nothing. Far from being a ground-breaking step in trying to resolve the Middle East impasse, this document seems to remove the Palestinians even further from their own vision of the life they knew before 1948, or even before 1967.
In fact, for Israeli UN Ambassador Yehuda Lancry to call it a “rare and remarkable balanced resolution,” something must be amiss. The Israelis were quick to show how they plan on interpreting it: When UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called their occupation of Arab lands captured in 1967 “illegal,” they had a few choice words to say about the matter, arguing vehemently that the new resolution does not refer to the illegality of the occupation. They admit the occupation, but not that it is illegal. Somehow, they have already managed to infer that what is not clearly dubbed illegal must therefore be legal. Thirty-five years after the 1967 invasion of Arab land, Israel continues to pretend it is acting in full legality because it has already given back “territories.” Apparently, no one asked them to give back “the territories,” which makes one wonder why they have engaged in land-for-peace talks since 1991.
Many have already pointed out that 1397 makes no reference to the fact that there is an occupier and an occupied. Although the short text does mention previous UN resolutions 242 and 338, that is not a reassurance in itself, since Israel has flaunted them both for decades, deliberately playing on the infamous omission of a definite article. It pays to know grammar.
But the give-away of this resolution is its amazing timing, and not because of the reasons most commentators have dwelled upon. Whereas many saw in this resolution an American attempt to appease the Arab world as the “war on terror” is being geared for a second phase, and while some even idealistically saw in it a rebirth of American conscience and a belated awakening to the immense toll of the Israeli occupation and the current intifada, I fail to see more than a ploy to minimize the effect that real initiatives could be having.
What a coincidence that an American-proposed resolution should surface so shortly after another major “peace proposal” (one that repeats 242’s points, but in a much weaker, friendlier and more flexible way) has been divulged. After practically scorning Crown Prince Abdullah’s proposed peace plan (which obviously offers nothing new, albeit the mention of all Arab states “normalizing” relations with Israel did have the desired -é apparently negative – jolting effect), after criticizing its alleged vagueness and pretending that it was not a very fundamental input to the conflict, the US (on behalf of its Israeli ally) has actually had the nerve to present a resolution based on a mere vision. It seems that the “vague” Saudi plan was taken very seriously indeed, after all.
What the hasty passing of Resolution 1397 shows is how fearful Israel really is of a full peace. Full peace means total withdrawal from all occupied territories, and Israel shows every day more how little intention it has of giving any land back. Since Sharon has been in power, 34 new settlements have been built on Palestinian land occupied in 1967.
Rather than being a genuine American gesture at easing the terrible situation of the Middle East, or trying to protect the lives of innocents on both sides of the conflict, the thought occurs that the American sponsorship of this resolution is nothing more than a panicked attempt to supersede the Saudi initiative (and its probable adoption at the impending Arab League summit), and to render it obsolete.
In fact, Prince Abdullah gets a mere mention in the credits, and one has to imagine the US would have wished it could have used small italic print when it said it welcomed “the contribution of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.” Then again, it serves Israel well to dismiss any upcoming Arab discussions of the Saudi contribution by saying it is already covered in 1397.
Most Arab leaders have so far politely welcomed Resolution 1397, perhaps not wishing to appear ungrateful for America’s newly-found role of visionary in a matter that concerns them greatly, or to give them time to consider their retorts. But when the fate of an entire people rests on a mere vision, an Israeli-inspired American vision no less, Arab leaders must choose reality over decorum and insist on rightfulness.
Never before has an Arab summit come at such an important time, when Palestinians continue to die by the dozens and Iraqis continue to suffer from inhuman sanctions, as both people receive renewed threats from their respective tormentors. There aren’t a hundred possible solutions to the problems of the Middle East, and every issue must be resolved. The viability of a “right of return” for one people cannot be contended while its concept is granted to another, and the supposed difficulty of removing illegal settlements cannot be a basis for negotiation. Either Palestinians are given their full rights, as Jews already have, or peace will remain a vision.
Thus, it is pointless to have more peace initiatives by various personalities and leaders, especially Arab ones. No matter how they are phrased or marketed, the fundamentals of justice must be applied before a just and comprehensive peace is achieved. A thesaurus and a grammar book only serve to prolong the suffering of innocents while the real problems are overlooked, willingly or not.
It does not really matter who takes the credit for peace initiatives as long as international laws and human decency are applied. This should not be a competition for leadership, but a battle for dear life. If Arab leaders can circumvent the vicious cycle of form over substance, the Beirut summit is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.