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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

February 12, 2003

Creating facts on the ground

Time waits for no man

The myth of the state and the reality of the annexation is the title of an article in Ha'aretz written by Amira Hass.

She postulates that a state for the Palestinians was the "talk" whereas annexation was the "walk". This viewpoint is what the arguments and policies of the Left are based on. It is not the purpose of my comments to challenge her thesis, not that great arguments can't be made, but to argue "So what?"

She writes,
It is easy to say that the enormous, painful expropriations of Palestinian land for the separation wall - and the fences around all the settlements - are only for security reasons. It's much more difficult to see the truth - which has perhaps been the intention since 1994: to use the cover of the myth, the negotiations, and the security talk, to reduce to a minimum, the necessary areas that remain for independent Palestinian development, and with Israeli military force, make the Palestinians accept a "state" that more or less resembles Avigdor Lieberman's cantons plan.
Let us assume that that is the reality. Amira considers it to be wrong or immoral because she concedes all land east of the green line to the Arabs as their right. To her these lands are not disputed territories but Palestinian lands that must be held on trust for them. Labour concedes this and thus wants unilateral withdrawal from what is rightfully Arab lands.

The Right on the other hand says the land is disputed territory and maintains in its words and deeds that area "C" under the Oslo Accords is up for grabs. The extreme Right say it is all up for grabs and argue for transfer.

From a legal point of view, from the Balfour Declaration to the UN, Act of Partition in '47, it was all land designated for the Jews. After Partition, the State of Israel was declared on lands designated for them but the Arabs rejected the Partition Act and invaded. Thus armistice lines were established which remained until '67. Israel in a defensive war once again expanded its borders (to the green line). The rest of the land was occupied by Israel until the Oslo Accords designated a path to give autonomy to the Arabs over parts of these lands until a final border was negotiated in a final settlement. These Accords enshrined Res 242 which was based on territories for peace but certainly not all the territories. The guiding principal was to create "secure and recognized " borders. Another guiding principal was that Israel could remain in occupation until a peace agreement was signed. No one envisaged that such an agreement would not be worked out within a short period of time.

The Arabs meeting in Khartoum agreed on the policy of no negotiation, no recognition and no peace. They always believed that time was on their side and that over the years they would create facts on the ground by virtue of their much higher birth rate. They also made the decision to keep the refugees in camps so as to not accept the reality of defeat and to be used as an ever existing problem and reminder, to themselves and the world, that the situation was unresolved.

Although the Arabs finally accepted Res 242 as the basis for an agreement, many still argue for the '47 borders and some even want to annul the Act of Partition and reclaim all of the Palestinian Mandate, including Israel, as their own. Equally there are those in Israel that claim all the territories as their own.

Israel began pursuing the settlement policy in earnest after the Oslo Accords in part because of pressures to absorb the Russian immigration and in part with a view to creating facts on the ground. These settlements are entirely legal although many try to characterize them as illegal. One of the effects of such a policy, if not its intent, was to demonstrate to the Arabs that time was not on their side and they had better make an agreement as soon as they could, in order to forestall the new facts being created. The Arabs reacted to this creeping annexation with the intifadah and argued that the settlements were an impediment to peace.

It was extremely important to Israel to make time work for them and not the Arabs. Everyone understands that possession is nine tenths of the law and that over time one acquires a possessory title. The land that Israel is settling is not Arab land. The Arabs don't own the land nor have they ever had sovereignty over the land. Their only claim to having it included in a state to be created was that it was designated as their land for their state over fifty years ago (which by the way they never capitalized on) or by virtue of Res 242 which envisaged that the neighbouring states would get the land to the east of a border to be agreed upon. The right to create a state on these lands cannot remain for fifty years and was effectively ended by the '48 and '67 wars. That leaves only 242. Only the land which will be on the east side of the final borders will be "Arab land" once barders are agreed upon. Until then, all the territories are disputed lands.

The Arab contention that the Oslo Accords implied that no settlement activity would be carried out until final settlement or that the territories were being held in trust for them until a settlement cannot be maintained in law. The Arabs tried to have commitments to this effect included in the Accords but when Israel categorically refused, the Arabs accepted the Accords without such commitments. That being the case, Israel has every right to settle the land.

The Left rejects these arguments and even comes to the conclusion that Barak's offer of 97% wasn't generous at all because it attempted to capitalize on some of these facts on the ground. So as you can see, the settlements are at the heart of the dispute. Either we had every right to settle the land and thus can keep it or we didn't and must give it up. Either we bend to the power of the Arabs and their allies or the Arabs bend to the power of Israel. If both sides can't compromise to find common ground, its a fight to the finish.