Falling in Love With Dusty Treaties

Israel Hardliners: Old Pacts Bolster Claims to Occupied Land

Balfour’s Back: Lord Arthur Balfour showed visitors the sights in Jerusalem in 1925. The declaration that bears the British diplomat’s name backed a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine, but not in all of Palestine.
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Balfour’s Back: Lord Arthur Balfour showed visitors the sights in Jerusalem in 1925. The declaration that bears the British diplomat’s name backed a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine, but not in all of Palestine.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 20, 2012, issue of January 27, 2012.
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The U.N. voted that fall of 1967, in Resolution 242, to demand that the sides negotiate peace and that Israel withdraw “from territories” it had just captured. The Arab states wanted withdrawal “from the territories,” meaning all of them, but they lost.

International law had evolved again: Now the lines that held before the ’67 war were the starting point for future discussion, rather than the 1947 partition borders. The U.N. vote effectively recognized Israel’s right to the extra land it won in the 1948 war, beyond the partition borders, but not to the land it captured in 1967.

The Arab states refused to negotiate. But things didn’t end there. In 1982 the Arab League designated the Palestine Liberation Organization as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people.” In 1988, meeting in Algiers, the PLO finally voted to embrace the original partition plan: two states, one Jewish, one Arab. Finally there was a negotiating partner.

In 1993 Israel and the PLO signed an agreement, the Oslo Accords, to work together toward an unspecified resolution of their differences. Most of the blanks were filled in a decade later, in President Bush’s Road Map, which the two sides signed in 2002. It aimed to “end the occupation that began in 1967” and create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. As a signed agreement, co-signed by the United States, the U.N. and others, it has the force of law.

Law isn’t static. It evolves. In America, the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, requiring the return of runaway slaves, was voided in 1868 by the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal rights to all. That was narrowed in 1896 by Plessy v. Ferguson, the “separate but equal,” ruling, which was in turn replaced in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing segregation.

International law in the Middle East evolves in much the same way: 1922 gives way to 1947, then to 1967, which leads to 1993 and then 2002. The players evolve, too. Yesterday’s military foe becomes today’s negotiating partner and tomorrow’s neighbor.

It’s hard to see the evolution when you’re living through it. It’s even harder to believe in it after you’ve waited through decades of dashed hopes. That’s why some of us scoff at repeated PLO votes recognizing Israel, but seize on some obscure imam’s war cries as the Palestinians’ true face. It’s why others of us dismiss Netanyahu’s vows to make peace, pointing to a rogue minister or outlaw settler as the real Israel. We’d rather cling to our pessimism than get our hopes too high. It feels dangerous to be too optimistic.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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