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Confusing Times

GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
May 29, 2005

This has been a most interesting and yet for me confusing week. The PA leader, Mr. Abbas, had a series of meetings with President Bush. Notice the following AP story lead in that appeared across the USA:

WASHINGTON (AP) May 27, 2005 - Palestinian leaders came to the U.S. capital seeking political and economic support. After meeting with President Bush, they got it.

The news story continued by indicating that the Bush Administration would give $50 million in direct aid to the PA for housing and infrastructure projects designed to improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip once Israel withdraws this summer. No mention that over 8000 Israelis would be uprooted from their homes and would be engaged in a relocation process; nor was any mention given to a dollar amount to ease the lives of these same Israelis.

Furthermore, President Bush expressed "support for Palestinian political and territorial demands, called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian towns, take steps to improve the daily lives of Palestinians and halt Jewish settlement construction on Palestinian land." Now I, for one, am confused. Palestinian land? According to the oft-reported UN 242 and UN 338 resolutions serving as the basis for territorial claims to this land as well as the "West Bank" these remain to this day disputed territories. Thus, how can one say these are Palestinian lands? There is a linguistic disconnect between statements that this is Palestinian land and what the precise language states within these two UN resolutions. They do NOT state that these are anything but disputed territories-note the word territories. Nor is there any language ever mentioning Palestine or Palestinian within these two resolutions. If one took the time to read these carefully, one would realize that this disputed area must be resolved via negotiations-some 38 years later no resolution has occurred. UN resolution 242 states (1):

Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict: Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

If given this precise language directly from 242, combined with the following statements:

"The British UN Ambassador at the time (Nov. 22,1967), Lord Caradon, who introduced the resolution to the Council, has stated that:

It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places where the soldiers of each side happened to be on the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That's why we didn't demand that the Israelis return to them. (2)

The United States' UN Ambassador at the time, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, has stated that:

The notable omissions - which were not accidental - in regard to withdrawal are the words "the" or "all" and the "June 5, 1967 lines" ... the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal. [This would encompass] less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel's prior frontiers had proved to be notably Insecure."(2)
Then please help me understand the following: President Bush, the leadership of the PA and the world media state that this geographic area is anything but disputed land. Yet, it seems as though our administration has readily accepted that Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land and therefore not entitled to any of it. In turn have we not changed our policy with respect to an international legally defined dispute? The very next day, May 28, 2005 Washington felt a need to once again clarify its position: "The U.S. National Security Council Spokesman said on Friday that the president had not changed his position on the Middle East peace process and that in his meeting he reiterated to the chairman major points from his letter of understanding to Sharon from April 2004 and in other official statements" (3) Words have meaning and can be used as powerful weapons that transform thoughts into "on the ground" actions. Palestinian leaders have used words and language much more effectively than Israel for many years. They understand the importance of media exposure, being first with certain messages that in turn make the 6 pm news- casts. Clarity of thought or historical accuracy is not crucial to the message; getting the words out first to the public is however of paramount importance.

So, with the world stage looking on, the Palestinian leader took the opportunity to once again lay claim to all the land the Arabs (not Palestinians) lost to Israel in the 1967 6-day war, including east Jerusalem. Abbas said, " It is time our people, after many decades of suffering and dispossessions, to enjoy living in freedom on their own land. The boundaries of a future Palestinian state should be those that existed before the 1967 war." This of course means east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Of course as I have previously pointed out, this is contrary to established international law. Did President Bush use this as an opportunity to clarify the truth? No, rather he said, "Israel needed Palestinian consent to retain land the Arabs lost 38 years ago." Mr. Bush further exacerbated this discussion of territorial integrity by with holding previous support he gave PM Sharon. Let us remember that last year President Bush indicated to a visiting Ariel Sharon that Israel could retain large settlements on the West Bank near Jerusalem.

Understandably Israeli officials became alarmed with what was being said in Washington D.C. on May 27; not to worry, a senior administration official (who refused to be identified) said that President Bush stood by past statements supporting claims to the settlements. Am I the only one confused at this point?

Finally, the confusion reaches an all time high when the discussion of borders is provided. Mr. Bush said explicitly that "any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 armistice lines must be mutually agreed to." This statement was aimed at assuaging Palestinian concern over his letter to Sharon last year, in which he stated that "in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." So Mr. President what is it? You have now publicly introduced the notion of the 1949 armistice lines as the bargaining point of departure. This comment is now "on the table". I guarantee that the PA will use this statement as the basis for negotiation. Mind you, Mr. Bush did not clarify the difference between armistice lines and borders. Nor did he offer historical context, as did Lord Caradon with respect to the artificial nature of these lines. Nor did Mr. Bush say that consistent with the agreed upon international legal UN 242, all of these lands are subject to negotiation and both parties, Israel and the PA have rights to these disputed territories. This is the truth.

I predict that we will see, in the media, yet another distortion. It will read something like this: "President Bush says that Israel must now retreat back to the 1949 borders and thus evacuate all of the West Bank." Note the use of one word, "borders". Although Mr. Bush did not actually use the word border, remember he used boundaries, nonetheless, the PA spokes people will make a one-word change that gives tacit approval for future discussions. The new mantra will be, "The 1949 border or nothing at all."

Yes, words do have meaning and unless we are clear, unless we hold people accountable to their proper use, the lives of millions of people are at stake. President Bush, have you so soon forgotten the impact of the Newsweek story?


1. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "UN Security Council Resolution 242," IMFA website.

2. "What was UN 242," reported on Palestine Facts website.

3. Eldar,Akiva et al "US: Our Position towards Israel is unchanged," Haaretz, May 28, 2005.

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