The Core Fallacies / Emmanuel Navon

Most diplomats and journalists repeat at will that Israel and the Palestinians need to address the “core issues” such as borders and refugees in order to make peace. Yet on both issues, historical and legal fallacies have become the conventional wisdom.

On borders, the conventional wisdom is that Israel must “return to the 1967 borders.” Indeed, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is asking the world to recognize a Palestinian state “within the 1967 borders.” But such “borders” never existed. The 1949 Rhodes Agreements established an armistice line between Israel and Jordan, a line that was defined as “temporary” upon Jordan’s insistence, and that had no political or legal significance so as not to prejudice future negotiations on final borders. The armistice demarcation line represented nothing more than the lines of deployment of the forces involved in the conflict on the day a ceasefire was declared. The line was demarcated on the map attached to the Rhodes Agreements with a green marker pen and hence received the name "Green Line."

UN Security Council Resolution 62 (November 16, 1948) stressed the temporary nature of the armistice lines that were to be maintained “during the transition to permanent peace in Palestine.” This meant, and still means, that future permanent borders would be negotiated in the framework of a peace agreement, and that those borders would be different from the temporary armistice lines. As Judge Steven Schwebel (former President of the International Court of Justice) explained: "The armistice agreements of 1949 expressly preserved the territorial claims of all parties and did not purport to establish definitive boundaries between them." This is why UN Security Council Resolution 242 (November 22, 1967) calls for Israel’s withdrawal “from territories” to agreed-upon and defensible boundaries –not to the temporary and indefensible armistice lines of 1949.

On refugees, the conventional wisdom is that the Palestinians’ claim is legally and historically justified but that its actual implementation would turn the two-state solution on its head. But the Palestinians’ claim on refugees is baseless both legally and historically.

The Palestinians claim that Palestinian refugees are entitled to "return" to Israel according to UN resolutions. This is untrue. The often-quoted UN General Assembly resolution 194 (December 11, 1948), like all General Assembly resolutions, is not binding in international law. General Assembly resolutions are mere recommendations. Resolution 194 states among other things that "the refugees wishing to return to their houses and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so." How would such "refugees" possibly live at peace with their neighbors today, more than sixty years after their parents and grandparents left? As Abba Eban said, "hundreds of thousands of people would be introduced into a state whose existence they oppose and whose destruction they are resolved to seek."

The Palestinians’ claim on refugees is not only legally baseless. It is also historically absurd. The 1948 Arab aggression against Israel created a double refugee problem. About 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries, while about 600,000 Arabs fled the British Mandate. For tragic as they were, these two refugee problems only represented about 3% of the world’s refugee population at the time. And while the world’s refugees were all treated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it is only for the Palestinians that a special UN agency was created (UNWRA). UNHCR defines a refugee is a person outside the country of his or her nationality as a result of expulsion, but UNRWA extends this definition to the refugees' descendants. Which is why the number of refugees worldwide has decreased from about 60 million in 1948 to about 17 million today, while the number of Palestinian "refugees" has increased from about 600,000 in 1948 to about seven million today.

If the UN were to abandon this double-standard, the "Palestinian refugee problem" would be easily solved. Of the 600,000 refugees from 1948, about 100,000 are still alive, and most of them are old. Israel would have no problem integrating them. Alternatively, if UNRWA's definition of a refugee was to be applied to the 25 million refugees from the partition of India in 1947, to the 15 million German refugees who fled Eastern Europe in 1945, or to the 1.5 million refugees of the 1922 conflict between Turkey and Greece, then dozens of millions of German "refugees" would have to "return" to Poland, and hundreds of millions of "refugees" would have to re-cross the border between India and Pakistan.

The Palestinians want to invade Israel with the descendants (or alleged descendants) of the 1948 Arab refugees, but they won't accept a single Jewish refugee into the Palestinian state that they want to establish. Jews have lived peacefully and uninterruptedly in Hebron for generations. The Arab pogrom of 1929 emptied Hebron of its Jews for the first time in History. But the Arabs deny the rights of the Jews whose parents were murdered in 1929 to return to their homes, while they demand that the descendants of the Arab refugees who fled because of the Arab war of aggression in 1948 return to what is Israel today. This is as absurd as it is immoral.

Which also raises the question of minorities in the framework of the "two state solution." Why should there be an Arab minority in the Jewish state and no Jewish minority in the Arab state? There are Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India. About 20% of Israel's citizens are Arabs, but the Palestinians will not tolerate a Jewish minority. Indeed, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared to journalists in Ramallah on December 25, 2010, that there will be no room for Israelis in a Palestinian state.

Western diplomats and journalists must ask themselves why they tolerate this Arab intolerance. They must also be taken to task for laundering Palestinian propaganda. For none of the “core issues” will be solved as long as they are based on historical and legal falsifications.

Emmanuel Navon

Post new comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters (without spaces) shown in the image.