by Nizar Sakhnini
Peaceful co-existence requires respect for and acceptance of the other as an equal human being with equal human rights. Zionism is based on ethnic superiority and complete denial of the other, which leaves no room for peace with Zionism in Palestine.
From the Zionist perspective, peace meant specifying borders for Israel and the return of Palestinian refugees to the homes and lands, which were stolen from them to provide accommodation for alien colonial settlers. This was the reason behind the failure of all peace initiatives and efforts made for over five decades. The Zionists wanted to buy time in order to expand their territorial boundaries and to avoid any return of the Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed from Palestine.
In a speech to the Israeli Knesset on 15 June 1948, Israeli Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett (Shertok), refused repatriation of the Palestinian refugees. He stated, “A wave of returning refugees might explode the state from inside.” (Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. New York: 1987, p. 223, citing Record of the Knesset, vol. 1, 1949, session 43)
In a cabinet meeting that was held on 16 June, David Ben-Gurion spoke out against a return of Arab refugees. Sharett agreed: “They will not return. This is our policy, they shall not return.” (Michael Palumbo, The Palestinian Catastrophe: The 1948 Expulsion of a People from their Homeland. London/Boston: 1987, p. 145)
Ben-Gurion recorded in his war diary, in 1949, that Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, “sees no need to run after peace. The armistice is sufficient for us; if we run after peace, the Arabs will demand a price of us – borders (that is, in terms of territory) or refugees (that is, repatriation) or both. Let us wait a few years.” (Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947 – 1949, p. 22, citing quotations in Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan, p. 465 and citing David Ben-Gurion, Yoman Hamilhama-Tashah (the war diary 1948-9), ed. Gershon Rivlin and Elhannan Orren, Tel Aviv, 1982, iii, p. 993)
In an effort to bring about a peaceful end to the war in 1948, Count Folke Bernadotte was appointed by the UN as a mediator between the Arabs and Israel. He submitted a ninety-page report to the UN Security Council on 16 September 1948. Bernadotte was assassinated in the Jewish part of Jerusalem on the following day in the Katamon quarter of Jerusalem. His final proposals to end the conflict were published on 20 September.
Following Bernadotte’s assassination, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution # 194 on 11 December 1948. The resolution expressed its “Deep appreciation of the progress achieved through the good offices of the late UN Mediator in promoting a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine, for which cause he sacrificed his life”. The resolution also established a Conciliation Commission consisting of the representatives of the U.S., France, and Turkey to assume the functions given to the UN Mediator on Palestine and to carry out any other functions and directives given to it by the General Assembly or by the Security Council.
Peace negotiations held under the patronage of the Palestine Conciliation Commission were opened in Lausanne, Switzerland on 26 April 1949.
During the PCC discussions in 1949, the Arabs were ready to make peace with Israel provided the refugees were allowed to return to their homes. Israel rejected the offer. The “return” and “rehabilitation” of the Palestinian refugees are inconsistent with the Zionist objective of building an exclusive Jewish State.
The PCC took two steps to try to break the logjam:
1. Set up a Technical Committee on Refugees to workout measures for implementation of the provisions of UN resolution # 194.
2. Called an international conference at Lausanne where, under PCC chairmanship, the parties could discuss the whole range of issues – refugees, Jerusalem, borders, recognition – and hammer out a comprehensive peace settlement. (Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949, Cambridge, 1987, p. 260)
The Lausanne protocol stated that the aim of the conference was to achieve “as quickly as possible the objectives of the General Assembly resolution #194 of December 11, 1948, regarding the refugees, respect for their rights, and the preservation of their property, as well as territorial and other questions”.
Under the threat that the US would prevent Israel’s admission to the UN, Israel finally agreed to attend the conference. The PCC conference was opened in Lausanne, Switzerland on 26 April 1949.
In his guidelines to the delegation in Lausanne with respect to negotiating peace, Sharett pointed out that “it behooves us to do so not with haste and trepidation but by revealing strength and the ability to exist even without official peace.” According to Sharett, since official peace was not a vital necessity, Israel had nothing to lose from procrastination. (Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. New York: 1987, p. 215, citing
ISA 120.02/2447/3 & ISA 93.03/2487/11)
The efforts of the PCC were unsuccessful. It called for a return of the refugees to their homes. Israel simply rejected that. Palestinian homes and lands were coveted to settle colonial settlers coming from all corners of the world. It also called for the assumption of the functions of mediation started with Count Bernadotte to arrive at a “final settlement of questions outstanding between the Governments and authorities concerned”. This meant final boundaries for Israel and peace with its neighbors, which would have limited its desire for expansion. (For a detailed account on the PCC conference and the myth of Israel’s extended hand for peace, see: Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. New York: 1987, pp. 201-232)
Failure of the PCC to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict was replicated with all other peace initiatives and efforts ever since.
Israeli PM Shamir declared that he wanted the negotiations in Washington, which followed the Middle East Peace Conference in Madrid on 30 October 1991, to continue for 10 years, if need be, so that he had enough time to keep on going with planned Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and leave nothing for the negotiations to talk about. (Mohammad Hassanein Haikal, Secret Negotiations between the Arabs and Israel, in Arabic, Cairo, 1996, Volume III, p. 254)
Benjamin Netanyahu was elected as Israel’s Prime Minister in May 1996. On 17 June 1996 Netanyahu’s office released a statement outlining his government’s guidelines with regard to the peace process. It said no to withdrawal from the OPT, no to a Palestinian State, no to an official Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, and no to the refugees’ right of return “to any part of the Land of Israel (sic) west of the Jordan River”. (Elia Zureik, The Palestinian Refugees: Background. Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, 1996. p. 127)
Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s senior adviser and one of the initiators of Sharon’s disengagement plan, was speaking in an interview with Ha’aretz. According to Weisglass, “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda”. (Ha’aretz, 6 October 2004)
In his speech at the 5th Herzliya Conference, Sharon put it in unequivocal words, “The understandings between the U.S. President and me protect Israel’s most essential interests: first and foremost, not demanding a return to the ’67 borders; allowing Israel to permanently keep large settlement blocs which have high Israeli populations; and the total refusal of allowing Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.”
After decades of bloodshed, we are still running within a vicious circle. Zionism and peace in Palestine are irreconcilable. The road for peace requires acknowledgement and correction of the wrong done in Palestine, abandonment of the Zionist myth and acceptance of Palestinian Arabs as equal human beings with equal human rights.