The cease fire agreement ending hostilities in the Fifty Day War between Israel and Hamas marks yet another milestone attesting to the failure of Jews and Arabs peacefully to resolve their claims to sovereignty and self-determination in the territory once called “Palestine”.
Amazingly, the continuing inability of the parties – and the international community – to reach consensus on identifying when this long running conflict actually commenced, ensures it will continue to remain unresolved.
Emeritus Professor Richard Falk – formerly United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the West Bank – still claims in his latest article that the conflict started in 1947.
“Israel was born in 1948. Resolution 181 of the United Nations General Assembly [dated 29 November 1947 – Ed] is widely regarded as the most convincing legal basis for founding the State of Israel.”
Falk gave the following reasons for his viewpoint on 1 August 2012:
“I regard the Balfour Declaration and the mandatory system as classic colonial moves that have lost whatever legitimacy that they possessed at the time of their utterance, and prefer to view the competing claims to land and rights on the basis either of the 1948 partition proposal or the 1967 boundaries, although if there was diplomatic parity, I would respect whatever accommodation the parties reached, but without such parity, it seems necessary to invoke the allocation of rights as per settled international law.”
Falk’s opinion mirrors Article 20 of the Palestine Liberation Organization Charter:
“The Balfour Declaration , the Mandate for Palestine , and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void.”
Falk’s opinion is not shared by Matti Friedman – who in his latest article identifies the starting date as being much earlier than 1947:
“The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps “Israel-Muslim” would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term “Palestinian” was in use.
The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.”
Adopting Friedman’s viewpoint over Falk’s, one can confidently nominate the 1920 San Remo Conference as the legal basis for founding the State of Israel – when England, France, Italy, and Japan agreed to divide the areas of the 400 years old Ottoman Empire conquered by them in World War 1 into three mandates: Mesopotamia (now Iraq), Syria/Lebanon and Palestine.
This carve-up was intended to see Arab self-determination eventually achieved in 99.99 per cent of the conquered Ottoman territory and Jewish self-determination in the remaining 0.01 per cent.
These proposals were unanimously endorsed by all 51 member States of the League of Nations in 1922.
But they proved to be temporary only in relation to Palestine – because three months later the provisions of Article 25 of the Mandate for Palestine enabled Great Britain to restrict the reconstitution of the Jewish National Home to within 23 per cent of the tiny area of land originally set aside to achieve that objective at San Remo – with the remaining 77 per cent of Mandatory Palestine eventually becoming an independent Palestinian Arab state in 1946 – that is today called Jordan.
The period 1920-1947 without doubt covers a host of critically important legal and historical signposts that cannot be forgotten or buried.
Whilst the two-state solution ultimately created between 1946-1948 as a result of the San Remo Conference is ignored – attempts to resolve sovereignty in today’s highly volatile West Bank and Gaza – are destined to certain failure and renewed conflict.
The two-state solution posited by the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap creating a 22nd independent sovereign Arab State in the West Bank and Gaza between Jordan and Israel for the first time ever in recorded history has failed to materialize – despite twenty years of intensive political and diplomatic efforts by the international community.
The PLO (founded in 1964) and Hamas (founded in 1987) both seek to unravel the decisions made at San Remo in 1920.
They need to be replaced as Israel’s Arab negotiating partners by the two successor States to the Mandate for Palestine – Jordan and Israel – and possibly Egypt – to determine and allocate sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza between their respective States.
Unearthing the past still remains the key to peacefully resolving the future.
David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network.