Lasting peace can't be based on untruths

The Congress blog headlined “Palestinians should not renounce their history” (March 16) by Tareq Baconi and Zachariah Sammour dealt not with history but rather falsifications. Among them:

* The claim of forced expulsion of Arabs who lived in what became Israel in 1948. The vast majority of the estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Arab refugees were not expelled by Jewish forces. They fled to escape the war started when five Arab countries and Palestinian Arab “irregulars”—in violation of the U.N.’s partition plan—invaded the new Jewish state.

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The authors refer specifically to “Palestinian refugees who were expelled from Jerusalem and Haifa in 1948.” The refugees expelled from Jerusalem were Jews, forced out by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Both British Maj. Gen. Hugh Stockwell and Haifa Mayor Shabtai Levy pleaded futilely with Arabs in that city—10 percent of all the Arab refugees—to stay. 

* Baconi and Sammour assert a “right of return [that] is both a collective aspiration of the Palestinian people and an individual right of every refugee and their descendants.” None of the four U.N. General Assembly resolutions now pointed to by Palestinian spokesmen (194, 1948; 393, 1950; 395, 1950; and 513, 1952) established any right of return to Israel by Arab refugees. That’s one reason all the Arab states voted against resolution 194. 

The resolutions recommended establishment of a reconciliation commission, return “when practicable” of those refugees who wished to live in peace, or compensation and resettlement. They applied equally to Jewish refugees from Arab lands, more than 800,000, of whom nearly 600,000 settled in Israel, and who had been forced to abandon property worth several times that of the Arab refugees.

* The authors say international law “forbids the settlement of occupied territories by civilians of the occupying power” and allege “Israel’s colonialism” in the West Bank. The international law apparently alluded to applies to territory of sovereign nations. The West Bank has not held that status since the British conquest in World War I and subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Rather, with the Gaza Strip it is the still unallocated, disputed remnant of the original San Remo Treaty/League of Nations Palestine Mandate lands in which the Jewish national home was to be reconstituted.

Baconi and Sammour imply that Israel, the West Bank and Gaza comprise “historic Palestine.” In fact, the West Bank and Gaza Strip account for six percent of “historic Palestine.” Except for the League of Nations post-World War I Palestine Mandate, there was no “historic Palestine.” Israel (17 percent) and Jordan (77 percent) are successor countries to mandatory Palestine. The Palestinian Authority committed itself, in the Oslo accords and related agreements, to negotiate the final status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Israel. Meanwhile, as the authors of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) made clear, both Jews and Arabs have claims in the disputed territories.

* The authors repeat a threadbare propaganda charge that “over 50 Israeli laws” discriminate against Israeli Arabs. There are no such laws. Israeli Arabs enjoy the same individual and civil rights as Israeli Jews, serve in Israel’s parliament, on its courts, in the diplomatic corps and military. They are freer than the Arab citizens of most Arab states.

* Baconi and Sammour distort beyond recognition the Israeli demand that in a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement the Arab side recognize Israel as a Jewish state. That demand is not a stalking horse for discrimination against Israeli Arabs. Instead, Israel seeks it as confirmation by the Palestinian side of an end to the conflict, acceptance, at long last, of the U.N.’s 1947 recommendation for a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state” west of the Jordan River.

* The writers assert that a two-state solution with a “Jewish state” of Israel and an Arab state of “Palestine" “threatens the core of Palestinian identity.” The Jewish people’s roots in the land of Israel, of which the state of Israel is only a part, go back more than 3,000 years. The Palestinian Arab national identity goes back to 1920, “the year the Arabs discovered Palestine,” as Daniel Pipes has written.

The First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations in Jerusalem in 1919, called to choose delegates to the Paris Peace Conference, declared “ we consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic, and geographic bonds.” The record includes numerous such statements, many of them more recent, by Arab spokesmen.

Baconi and Sammour’s commentary is not about reaching a two-state solution, not about a factual discussion of Israeli-Palestinian disagreement, and most definitely not about “Palestinian history.”

Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.