Wednesday, November 20, 2013


There are two possible steps that could be taken to help resolve the Israel-Palestine problem (note I don't say "solve" I don't believe in neat solutions). First, redefining the title of "refugee" for the Palestinians to conform to the norms of international law and the UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR) and second, going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague to test the legality of the settlements on the West Bank.

To take each of these in turn. It has been mentioned before that the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that was established in 1949 to take care of the short term needs of the Palestinian refugees, has expanded into a multi-generational pro-Palestinian body that perpetuates the conflict. By defining "refugee" to include the descendents of former refugees until the nth generation, the so-called "Palestinian refugee problem" keeps increasing. If there were ca. 750,000 original Palestinian refugees, now UNRWA calculates that there are 5 million! This is ridiculous, since all other refugees in the world are considerd to be only those who actually leave or are forced out of their country or place of residence and NOT their descendents, and their numbers decrease with time. If the UNRWA definition of "refugee" is struck down, as it could be, then the number of actual refugees left decreases to several tens of thousands, and that is manageable. Israel could easily agree to the repatriation of these original refugees, those who want to return, and possibly their immediate family members (one generation) as part of a negotiated settlement. This should then satisfy the needs of the Palestinians.

You may have noted that the US has switched the term used to describe Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) from "illegal" to "illegitimate." This has been used both by Secty. Kerry and the White House spokesman. What does this mean? It means that the US has decided that the settlements aren't strictly speaking "illegal" but by using the less definite term "illegitimate," they imply that this is a political judgement. In other words the settlements impede the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian State, and hence the two-state solution, but "illegitimate" is not the same as illegal.

The usual legal argument against Israel is that under the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to war, a victor is not allowed to settle its own nationals in an "occupied" territory. In order to be termed "occupied" the territory must first have been under the sovereignty of the defeated state, but this is not the case with the West Bank. It was never Palestinian sovereign territory, nor even Jordanian, since the Jordanian occupation (1948-67) was never recognized under international law. Its previous sovereign was the Turkish Empire. Certainly Israel has a strong claim to this territory because of the San Remo Treaty of 1922 and the Mandate given by the League of Nations to be administered by Great Britain in order the establish a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine, which never discriminated between any part of "Palestine."

Taking an issue to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, a UN body, would be very risky for Israel. There is the general antagonism to Israel in the UN, for example recently the General Assembly passed 9 resolutions all criticizing Israel, and a translator who left her microphone on was heard to say in effect, "isn't that enough already." But, more specifically when Israel was criticized for construction of the security "wall" (that is mostly a fence) around the West Bank to stop terrorism, in 2004 the ICJ found against Israel and one Egyptian judge ensured a majority against. In other words, Israel cannot expect to get a "fair trial" in the ICJ. Nevertheless, the issue of the Israeli settlements is a legal question that could in principle be decided in a netural court.

Now I realize that the UN and the Arabs would fight tooth and nail against redefining the nature of Palestinian refugees, and there is little chance for Israel to get a fair hearing in the ICJ or elsewhere. But, if they ever want a resolution of this eternal problem, then the Arabs and the supporters of the Palestinians are going to have to recognize reality. Israel is here to stay, Israel is strong and for an "end of conflict" agreement, the Palestinians will have to give up their illusory "right of return" for millions of fake "refugees" and to accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. If they don't the population of Jews on the West Bank will continue to increase, and in the end the only solution would be to exchange these Jews for the Arabs living in Israel, and no one would countenance such a forced exchange.


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