t How can peace be achieved?
Israel has always been willing to compromise and all Israeli governments have been willing to make major sacrifices for the sake of peace. However, peacemaking requires concessions as well as confidence-building measures on both sides. Just as Israel is willing to address the rights and interests of the Palestinians, Israel has legitimate rights and interests that need to be addressed. Peace can only be achieved through negotiations to bridge gaps and resolve all outstanding issues.
Israel believes that it can make peace with a moderate Palestinian leadership that rejects terrorism. When in the past, Israel met Arab leaders, like President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who spoke the language of peace and were willing to take concrete steps for coexistence, Israel reached agreements with them and peace was achieved. Israel is willing to stand in peace with all the moderate states of the region.
For negotiations to be possible and for them to have a chance to succeed, Palestinian terrorism and incitement, supported by countries such as Iran and Syria, must be brought to an end. Extremist Palestinian elements, such as Hamas, are unwilling to recognize Israel's very right to exist, and continue to violently act against Israel, against the moderate Palestinian leadership and against the peace process. As such, they have no place at the negotiating table.
Dismantling the terrorist infrastructure is not only the first step in the Roadmap, it is also at the foundation of any peace process. Peacemaking requires the creation of a positive atmosphere, one that is free of terrorism and incitement, and one that promotes efforts to achieve mutual understanding. Israel has on many occasions taken steps to help improve Palestinian living conditions and the rehabilitation of the Palestinian economy. Israel has made - and is willing to make in the future - goodwill gestures towards the moderate Palestinian camp - such as easing movement by removing road barriers, transferring tax revenues and releasing prisoners. Israel is ready to take many such steps provided that Israeli security is not harmed and that the Palestinians do not respond with terrorism.
Attempts by the Palestinians and the Arab countries to compel Israel to accept unreasonable Palestinian demands will not bring the parties any closer to peace. It is very important that the Arab states do not support hard-line Palestinian positions, making it ever more difficult for the Palestinians themselves to make the necessary compromises.
Positive steps taken by the Arab countries would help generate a constructive atmosphere, as would re-energizing the multilateral contacts which seek to promote regional cooperation. Forward movement and cooperation on issues that affect the lives of all who live in the region would contribute psychologically to tackling the difficult political issues that need to be addressed and resolved.
UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which all parties in the region have accepted, provide an important outline for conducting negotiations on a permanent settlement. Israel has also supported implementation of the measures of the Roadmap. But the Roadmap will work only if the Palestinians fulfill their obligations, something they have not truly begun to do, especially when it comes to dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and ending incitement, as required in the first phase of the Roadmap.
Finally, peace must mean the resolution of all claims and the end of the conflict. Once a peace agreement is reached, a new leaf must be turned and the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel's relationship with all its neighbors must be put on a new footing, one characterized by dialogue and cooperation, rather than by antagonism and confrontation.
t What is Israel's position on a Palestinian state?
Time after time, Israel has stated its desire to see two states - the State of Israel and a Palestinian state - living side by side in peace and security (as expressed in US President Bush's vision of 24 June 2002). Israel believes that a true resolution of the conflict will see two national states, a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people and a Jewish state for the Jewish people. Israel has no desire to rule over the Palestinians, and believes that a truly democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel has no qualms regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state, per se. The only issue is what kind of Palestinian state should be established. Will it be a democratic state of law and order, which eschews terrorism, violence and incitement and therefore be a state with which Israel can live in peace? Or will it be an anarchic state that is continuing on the path of violence and terrorism, which will not only endanger Israel but the stability of the region as a whole?
Israel cannot abide the establishment of a terrorist state along its borders. Efforts towards establishing a Palestinian state must take Israel's rights and vital interests into account, especially on matters of security, so that there can be peace and stability in the region.
Israel's goal of being a democratic Jewish state, living in harmony with its neighbors, led it to embrace the vision of two states for two peoples as resolved by the United Nations' partition plan in 1947. Israel realized that the peoples of the Middle East are neighbors whose futures are inevitably linked. No peace will last that fails to take this into account.
It has taken nearly 60 years, and far too many wars, for this vision to be recognized by Israel's immediate neighbors, the Palestinians. Events following the Hamas takeover of Gaza suggest that the time has never been more appropriate to finally realize this vision.
The establishment of Israel answered the historic national aspirations of the Jewish people - whether those living in the Holy Land, fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust or expelled from Arab lands. The future Palestinian state must fill a similar purpose for Palestinians. It must be the embodiment of the national claims of all the Palestinian people - of those in the West Bank and Gaza, of those refugee camps in neighboring Arab states and of those living throughout the rest of the world.
Israel has a vested interest, shared by moderates throughout the region, in the creation of a stable, prosperous, and peaceful Palestinian state. As demonstrated by its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel is ready to take painful steps to advance this goal. However, it must know that its partners are ready also for historic compromise that will bring lasting peace.
t How does Israel view the Roadmap?
The Roadmap is a performance-based plan that was formulated by the members of the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN. On May 25, 2003 the Government of Israel accepted the steps set out in the Roadmap in the hopes that this initiative could help achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. However, the Palestinians did not live up to their obligations under the first phase of the Roadmap, primarily the "unconditional cessation of violence."
Israel attaches importance to President Bush's June 24, 2002 vision for achieving peace, as expressed also in the Roadmap. In that speech, President Bush emphasized that achieving the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace requires, as a critical first stage, Palestinian reform and an end to Palestinian terrorism.
Israel's acceptance of the steps of the Roadmap is yet another expression of Israel's willingness to extend its hand toward peace. Indeed the Government's decision reflects a readiness to make profound compromises in order to end the conflict, provided these compromises did not endanger Israel's security in any manner. Furthermore, subject to security conditions, Israel wants to contribute to the improvement of Palestinian life and the rehabilitation of the Palestinian economy.
However, the Roadmap itself and Israel's willingness to move forward require that the Palestinians also live up to their obligations at each and every phase. Of critical significance is the requirement in the first phase of the Roadmap that the Palestinians undertake an "unconditional cessation of violence" by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, confiscating weapons, and arresting and disrupting those involved in conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere. The Palestinians also have to end incitement.
By its own acceptance of the Roadmap, the Palestinian Authority undertook an obligation to end terrorism and incitement in the manner required by the Roadmap.
However, Israel chose not to wait for the conclusion of the first phase of the Roadmap to begin a dialogue with the moderate Palestinian leadership. Still, the execution of any agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians depends on implementation of the Roadmap.
t What are the three circles of the peace process?
In the political process, it is possible to recognize three distinct circles of actors, each one of which is designed to support the other. The first innermost circle contains the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; the second consists of the Arab world; while the third, the most external one, is that of the international community.
In the innermost circle of the Israeli and the Palestinians, which is the core of the conflict, the main obstacle to peace is the extremist elements that refuse to abandon the path of violence and commit to a peaceful resolution. On the other side stand the moderates, with whom it may be possible to reach an agreement if they are willing to compromise, but who also face a questionable ability to implement any agreement.
Israel's strategy is one of differentiation, i.e. dealing differently with Hamas-controlled Gaza than with the more moderate Palestinian Authority headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The new PA government has seemingly accepted the three conditions of the international community - the renunciation of violence, respect for previous agreements and acceptance of Israel's rights to exist - making it a potential partner for peace. Therefore, Israel is searching for tools for bolstering the moderate elements, which include financial assistance, security matters, the easing of living conditions and the creation of a "political horizon," a vision of what the Palestinians can achieve if they renounce violence and terrorism.
In the middle circle stands the Arab world, which now must take sides on this issue. However, it is no longer a matter of choosing between Israel and the Palestinians, rather the choice is between the side of the moderate Palestinian Authority and the side of extremist terrorist elements. The Arab world should support the pragmatic elements in the new Palestinian government and reject the extremist Hamas organization. If it does so, then the Arab world can play a significant role in the peace process.
In the past, there was a lack of involvement of constructive regional actors to assist in Israel-Palestinian peace-making. The Arab League proposal represents an opportunity for positive regional engagement.
The third circle - that of the international community - has already begun to play a positive role when the Quartet (the US, UN, Russia and the EU) adopted its three conditions for recognition: renunciation of violence, respect for previous agreements and acceptance of Israel's right to exist (Israel believes this should include Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state). It further showed its commitment by supporting the Annapolis meeting. The international community should choose to stay on the right side of the conflict between extremists and moderates, by maintaining the illegitimacy of Hamas, promoting relations with the new government formed by Mahmoud Abbas and also by giving the Palestinians an economic horizon, in addition to the political horizon that Israel can provide.
t How has the Hamas takeover of Gaza affected the chances for a Palestinian State?
Israel left Gaza in the summer of 2005 in order to create an opportunity for peace. It removed its armed forces, dismantled civilian settlements, yet left greenhouses for the Palestinian farmers in the hope this could be the beginning of a peaceful Palestinian state. But, instead of a flourishing peace, Israel received a hostile territory on its border: Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza are the targets of almost daily Kassam rocket attacks, terror attacks are frequently attempted and the terrorist infrastructure is growing at an alarming pace.
Despite this ongoing Hamas terrorism, Israel will maintain an ongoing dialogue with Palestinian moderates, in order to send the message to the Palestinians that if the moderates are the representatives of their national aspirations, they can achieve a state of their own.
Israel's guiding principle is that of differentiating between the moderates and the extremists, between those who are willing and ready to advance the peace process and those whose ideology is based on extremism and religious fanaticism and who treat even their own people with the utmost brutality. Israel hopes that the former will prevail, yet ultimately, the choice must be made by the Palestinians themselves.
While Hamas terrorists continue to target Israelis, they have also brought tragedy to Palestinians. As events in Gaza have shown, while the terrorists may claim to be advancing Palestinian rights, they have succeeded only in undermining them.
It is self-evident that the future Palestinian state cannot be a terrorist state. For this reason, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood goes through acceptance of the Quartet principles, including the renunciation of terrorism, the implementation of the Roadmap obligations and recognition of Israel's right to exist. These are the foundational principles for lasting peace.
The role of the Arab world in this context is critical. In the past, the involvement of constructive regional actors in assisting the process of Israeli-Palestinian peace-making was lacking. The recent landmark Arab League peace initiative presents just such an opportunity for positive regional engagement.
Nevertheless, there should be no illusions. The enemies of coexistence, led by Iran and its sponsorship of Hizbullah and Hamas, are trying to do all in their power to sabotage any prospect for peace. The Teheran regime, in its declared intention to "wipe Israel off the map," has perverted Islam into a totalitarian political manifesto merely masquerading as a religion. It is determined to perpetuate a resolvable conflict into a future of despair. Syria, as well, is undermining Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, through its support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose operational headquarters are located in Damascus.
There is no insurmountable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, there is a common denominator in the desire for peace, supported by all moderate states in the region that understand that the real threat to peace comes from the extremist states that support terrorism.
There are moderates in the Palestinian Authority who could be Israel's partners for peace, who believe a future Palestinian state should be based on democracy and understanding - as opposed to the extremists, whose basic totalitarian idea is to deprive others of their rights.
While Israel will continue to defend its population against Hamas terrorism, it is ultimately the role of the moderates among the Palestinians to confront Hamas.
t Could a Hamas-Fatah unity government be a partner for peace?
When the Hamas government first came into power, Hamas' statements advocating violence, opposing a two-state solution, and denying Israel's right to exist, as well as its direct involvement in terrorism, served to prompt the international Quartet (comprised of the US, Europe, Russia and the UN) to set three conditions for any Palestinian government to attain international legitimacy and cooperation. These basic conditions are: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and violence, and accepting previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.
The international community has demanded that any Palestinian government must be committed to these three conditions and that "it should contain no member" who has not committed to them. Therefore, a unity government, which would include the extremists of Hamas, could not be a partner to peace.
The conditions set out by the Quartet, which Hamas continues to reject, are not obstacles to peace, but rather the basic tests by which the international community can determine whether a Palestinian government is capable of being a side to peace negotiations.
Were any government which refuses to meet these basic principles for peace to receive international legitimacy and support, this would be a grave setback for prospects of peace, and a betrayal of the genuine moderates, on both sides of the conflict, who truly believe in a two-state solution to the conflict and seek to make it a reality.
The goal of any peace process, i.e. 'two states living side by side in peace and security' can never come about if one side continues to advocate the use of terror. For this reason, the Quartet has repeatedly insisted that any Palestinian government renounce terrorism and violence.
t What should be the role of the Arab world?
Israel desires peace with all Arab countries. It does, however, differentiate between the moderate Arab states, which have the potential for peaceful relations with Israel and the extremist states, which have no interest in peace.
The moderate Arab states have the potential to make an important and positive contribution to the peace process as well as change the face of the region for the better.
Still, the policy of confrontation with Israel has to be replaced by a policy of dialogue. As progress is being made in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the need for this change is ever more apparent.
While there are no illusions that the Arab states will agree with Israel on the specific issues in dispute, they should agree that resolving those issues will involve compromises from both sides. Israel cannot be expected to accept ultimatums or "take-it-or-leave-it" propositions. Israel will not abide by ultimatums which state that peace can be achieved only if Israel were to accede to all Arab demands and conditions; Israel's rights and interests cannot be totally ignored, nor can the need for compromise to resolve outstanding issues be neglected.
On the other hand, the extremist states of the Middle East must stop supporting terrorist activities. They must cease incitement and antisemitic propaganda against Israel which do nothing but generate further hatred and provide a fertile ground for terrorism.
Palestinian and other terrorist organizations in the Middle East receive support, including funds and arms, from the extremist Arab countries. Some Arab states, among them Syria and Iran, back the most violent and dangerous terrorist organizations, such as Hizbullah. Syria hosts the headquarters and training bases of several Palestinian terror organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This support must stop so that terrorism can be brought to an end. Only then will peace efforts have the chance to succeed.
In recent years, the most extreme forms of anti-Israel incitement have been allowed to flourish in Arab countries, recalling earlier periods of the Arab-Israel conflict. There has been a proliferation of antisemitic propaganda in mosques and in schools, in the state media and in academia. This racist material, similar to that used in ages past against the Jewish people - such as blood-libels and the so-called "Elders of Zion" - generates further hatred and provides a fertile ground for terrorism.
International forums, like the United Nations, should not be misused, as they are year-after-year by the Arab countries who press for adoption of the same one-sided anti-Israel resolutions, instead of looking for a fresh and constructive manner to resolve differences.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan showed real leadership in making peace with Israel. The moderate countries of the Middle East, can contribute by leading the way to peace through cooperative relations with Israel.
t Does Israel have partners for making peace in the Arab world?
The Middle East is the scene of a struggle between extremists and more moderate elements. The continuous rise of extremist factions is having both a negative and a positive impact on the peace process.
On the one hand, the extremists (who often represent religion-based viewpoints), are a major source of destabilization in the Middle East as a whole, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. Iran, which supports terrorist organizations, is not only a threat to Israel, but to world peace. Groups such as Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad continue on the path of violence and reject all efforts towards resolving the conflict.
On the other hand, this rising extremist menace has caused more moderate Middle Eastern states to recognize the common threat the extremists, and especially Iran, pose. This has led to the creation of partnerships that would have been inconceivable only a few years ago and to the rejuvenation of the political process between Israel and much of the rest of the Middle East.
Israel is ready and able to work towards peace with the other moderate elements in the Middle East, in the hope that together we can keep the extremists in check and the political process on track.
t How does incitement harm peace?
There is a direct connection between anti-Israeli or antisemitic incitement and terrorism. The extreme anti-Israeli indoctrination that is so pervasive in Palestinian society nurtures a culture of hatred that, in turn, leads to terrorism.
The Palestinian education system, media, literature, songs, theater and cinema have been mobilized for extreme anti-Israeli indoctrination, which at times degenerates into blatant antisemitism. This incitement to hatred and violence is pervasive in Palestinian society, particularly in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It exists in nursery schools and kindergartens, youth movements, schools, universities, mosque sermons, and street demonstrations. Incitement creates a culture of hatred and violence, which in turn provides fertile ground for terrorism and murder.
Incitement against Israel has many faces. It begins by totally ignoring the very existence of the State of Israel. Maps in schools and universities do not bear even the name of Israel, nor a large number of its cities and towns. Beyond that, inciters extol the names and deeds of the suicide bombers, name football teams after them, and hold the terrorists up as models to be emulated. Incitement includes antisemitic cartoons that use the same kind of motifs and imagery that were used against the Jews during the Nazi era.
This phenomenon bodes ill for the next generation, educated to worship symbols of death and destruction. Children, such as those in Hamas-controlled Gaza, who have been taught from the earliest age to hate, kill and destroy are a tragedy for their own people and a potential danger for others.
The question that must be asked is what kind of future does the industry of incitement offer the next generation, which is growing up learning to hate. Will that young generation be capable of thinking in terms of peace, of good neighborliness, of tolerance and compromise? Can Palestinian society create the new state of mind that is needed for peace, which is much more than just signing a peace treaty?
The many attempts to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict are known, not coincidentally, as the peace process. The transition from a state of war to a state of peace is not the result of just a one-time diplomatic act of signing an agreement. Rather it is a process that continues over time, a process that demands mutual efforts to change positions, values, and the perception of the former enemy. It requires a transition to a new paradigm, the creation of a new state of mind.
One cannot ignore the intensity of the emotions that exist on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East. Feelings of deep anger and frustration exist on Israel's side as well. But there is a huge difference between feeling anger and frustration, on the one hand, and promoting a culture of hatred, on the other.
Unlike a large part of Palestinian society, Israeli society sees peace as the noblest of goals, its highest of aspirations on both the individual and national level. The desire for peace, for calm and for the normalization of day-to-day life is at the very center of Israel's being and culture. The many thousands of songs, books, artistic works, and articles that have been written about peace in Israel, since the very establishment of the state, are too numerous to mention. Peace is an important core value, the greatest dream of every mother and father, the embodiment of the Zionist idea which envisages Israel living in peace and cooperation with all its neighbors.
There is no legitimate reason why Israeli children learn about peace and coexistence in their schools, while at the same time Palestinian children are learning to honor the suicide bombers and jihad. Those who desire peace should educate for peace, and not promote hatred and murder.
The Palestinians' vehement anti-Israel rhetoric has had a crippling impact throughout the region on efforts for peace. The intense coverage of the Palestinian perspective of events and incitement from Palestinian spokespersons have enflamed anti-Israeli sentiments in Arab countries, even influencing many pro-peace Arab states to downgrade their ties with Israel. Palestinian incitement causes violence in the short term, while in the long term it reduces the chances for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors.
The State of Israel is a Jewish state, first and foremost, in view of the right of the Jewish people to a single independent state of their own, and by reason of the historic and biblical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel). There is no other land in which the Jewish people can lay claim to their own independent sovereign state. There is no other state in which the Jewish people can fully carry out their lives in accordance to their own customs and beliefs, language and culture, goals and plans for their future.
Although for 2000 years, the Jewish people yearned and prayed for the day when they could reestablish their own national home, this right could be fulfilled only following the modern national reawakening of the Jewish people towards the end of the nineteenth century. This revival of Jewish nationalism led to the establishment of the Zionist movement. It received important initial recognition in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which stated that the British Government viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." That recognition was officially endorsed by the League of Nations, the precursor of the United Nations, in 1922.
On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 calling for the termination of the British Mandate in Palestine, and the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in that territory. The idea - still valid today - is that there should be two nation states for two peoples. While the Jewish population celebrated this landmark resolution, the Arab countries rejected the UN decision and started a war to destroy the Jewish state-to-be. On 14 May 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the "establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." In this way, the Jewish people finally could exercise their right to self-determination in their own land.
Israel was founded to provide a much-needed homeland for the Jewish people, who had been persecuted in other lands over the ages. The Declaration of Independence states explicitly that "The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles."
In accordance with its Declaration of Independence, the State of Israel was founded as a democratic state based upon the principles of the separation of powers, freedom, and complete equality before the law for all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, gender or nationality. These principles apply today.
As Israel is self-defined as both a Jewish and a democratic state, it guarantees the rights of its non-Jewish citizens. There is a large Arab minority in the State of Israel, constituting nearly 20 percent of its population. The Arab population of Israel enjoys full civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, religion and worship. They vote in Israel's elections and Arab representatives are elected to Israel's parliament. Israeli Arabs serve as judges, mayors, and civil servants. Currently an Arab-Israeli citizens serves as a government minister, a second is Deputy Foreign Minister. In addition to Hebrew, Arabic is an official language of the state. Although problems still exist with regards to the full integration of the Arab minority, particularly in the economic sphere, these problems are equivalent to those faced in many Western democracies with large minority populations.
t Do the Palestinians have a justifiable "claim of return"?
At the same time that the Palestinians are calling for a state of their own, they also demand a "right to return" to land inside Israel's pre-1967 lines. However, no such claim exists under general international law, the relevant UN resolutions or the agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Under present demographic-geographic conditions, the influx of a large number of refugees into Israel is most certainly not practicable. Given that the present population of Israel is approximately 7 million (of whom about one-fifth are Arab Israelis), the influx of millions of Palestinians into the State of Israel would threaten the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, obliterating its basic identity as the homeland of the Jewish people and a refuge for persecuted Jews. Consequently, the demand to live in Israel is nothing more than a euphemism for the demographic destruction of the Jewish state.
Finally, the Palestinian claim of unlimited immigration to Israel is a political ploy made by those who do not want Israel to exist. It is disingenuous that the Palestinians are simultaneously appealing for a state of their own while calling for the right to freely immigrate to yet another state, Israel. By continuing to demand a right that would, in effect, negate the basic identity of Israel, the Palestinian leadership is undermining prospects for peace. The result of any peace process should be two nation states for two people, as envisioned by the United Nations in 1947, in the partition plan.
The Palestinian refugee problem has remained unsolved for approximately 60 years, causing suffering and instability throughout the Middle East. However, alongside the current social and humanitarian aspects of this issue, it is important to examine the causes of the problem and the reasons why it has been perpetuated for six decades.
The immediate source of the refugee problem was the Arabs' rejection in 1947 of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 - which would have partitioned the British Mandate area into an Arab state and a Jewish state - and the ensuing war they started in the hope of destroying Israel. Many Palestinian Arabs who lived in areas where the fighting took place abandoned their homes, either at the request of Arab leaders, or due to fear of the fighting and the uncertainty of living under Jewish rule. A refugee problem would never have been created had this war not been forced upon Israel by the Arab countries and the local Palestinian leadership.
Israel does not bear responsibility for the creation or the perpetuation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Thus it cannot declare, even as a gesture, responsibility for the problem.
Sadly, during this period there were innumerable refugees fleeing wars and conflict in many parts of the world. Almost all of these were resettled and their lives rehabilitated. The sole exception remains the Palestinians, deliberately kept as refugees for political aims.
The fate of the Palestinian refugees stands in sharp contrast to that of the many Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries in the wake of the establishment of Israel, leaving behind a great deal of property. Despite the difficulties, the hundreds of thousands Jewish refugees were absorbed as citizens of the State of Israel.
The Arab countries, with the sole exception of Jordan, have perpetuated the refugee problem in order to use it as a weapon in their struggle against Israel. The refugees continue to live in crowded camps, in poverty and despair. Few attempts have been made to integrate them into the numerous Arab countries in the region. These refugees, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren remain today in number of Arab countries with no political, economic or social rights. This policy was pursued in order to gain international sympathy for the Palestinian cause, at the expense of the Palestinians themselves.
The international community also has played a role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem. It has averted efforts to resettle the refugees, as is the international norm. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, responsible for finding permanent homes for all refugee groups around the world, does not do so for the Palestinians. Instead, a special agency was set up to handle Palestinian refugees. This organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), operates solely to maintain and support the Palestinians in refugee camps.
The international community has yielded to political pressure from Arab regimes and in effect granted the Palestinians an exception from the internationally accepted definition of a refugee under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol which make no mention of descendants. According to this exception - which has never been granted to any other population - all the generations of descendants of the original Palestinian refugees are also considered refugees. This means that the vast majority of Palestinian refugees who demand to immigrate to Israel have never actually lived within the borders of Israel. Moreover, the exceptional definition of refugees in the Palestinian case includes any Arab who lived in the area that became Israel for just two years before leaving. These exemptions have inflated the number of Palestinian refugees and allowed it to expand over the years from the hundreds of thousands to the millions.
The Palestinians falsely assert that their claim is based on UN resolutions, most specifically paragraph 11 of General Assembly Resolution 194 (December 1948). Nonetheless, the General Assembly is not a law-making body and General Assembly resolutions on political matters do not create legally binding obligations.
When referring to General Assembly Resolution 194, a number of additional points are relevant:
The Arab states originally rejected Resolution 194, and therefore cannot base current claims on that discarded Resolution.
This Resolution was an attempt by the UN in 1948 to bring the sides to negotiations by making recommendations regarding a number of key issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees, etc.), aimed at the achievement of a "final settlement of all questions outstanding" between the sides. Only one section of 194 (paragraph 11) discusses refugees. That paragraph does not contain a single reference to any rights, but rather merely recommends that refugees should be permitted to return. It is illogical to demand implementation of a single sentence independently of the rest of the resolution.
Additionally, the resolution sets specific preconditions and limits for return, foremost amongst them that the refugees must be willing to live in peace with their neighbors. The support among the Palestinian population for the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000, as well as at other times in the past, has so far precluded this possibility.
The resolution specifically uses the general term "refugees" and not "Arab refugees", thereby indicating that the resolution is aimed at all refugees, both Jewish and Arab. It should be remembered that following the establishment of Israel in 1948, at least an equal number of Jewish residents of Arab states and Arab residents of Israel were forced to become refugees
The resolution stipulates that compensation for refugees who chose not to return, or whose property was damaged or destroyed, should be provided "by the governments or authorities responsible". The demand for compensation does not specify Israel by name, and it is clear that the use of the plural (governments) precludes any Palestinian claim that implementation of the resolution should fall exclusively on Israel.
UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, supplemented 194 and reinforced Israel's position by again omitting any reference to a "right of return," or even to General Assembly Resolution 194. Instead, 242 confines itself to affirming the necessity "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."
In summary, the Palestinians, after originally rejecting the resolution, have now selectively claimed elements of Resolution 194 that offer political and rhetorical benefits. At the same time, other material aspects of the issues involved have been ignored.
In international law, the principle of return is addressed in relevant human rights treaties. However, the principle only deals with individuals (not an entire people) and as a rule, governments have limited the right to reenter a state to nationals of that state.
None of the agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors mention a claim of return. In the course of the peace process, the Israelis and Palestinians themselves have agreed that the question of refugees, along with other issues, could be considered as part of a permanent settlement between the sides. Israel stands by this commitment.
t What is the status of Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is a holy city for the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is the religious status of Jerusalem which endows such great significance to this city and all that happens within it. Israel recognizes and guarantees the rights of all worshippers and protects their holy shrines in the city, as indeed it does in the country as a whole. At the same time that Jerusalem has a special status due to its religious import; Jerusalem is also the capital of the State of Israel.
Jerusalem is the "heart and soul" of the Jewish people's spiritual identity and national yearnings. On every occasion that the Jews have been an independent people in the Land of Israel, Jerusalem has been their capital. Jerusalem served as the Jewish people's historic capital since King David made it so in 1004 B.C.E. Jerusalem remained the capital until its destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE and the subsequent loss of Jewish independence.
Jewish independence was renewed in 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel. Shortly thereafter, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) determined that Jerusalem would be the capital of the State of Israel. Following this decision, government institutions were located in Jerusalem, including the President's Residence, the Government ministries, the Knesset and the Supreme Court. In 1980, the Knesset legislated the "Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel", which enshrined its decision in law.
Most states have not respected Israel's sovereign right to determine its own capital city, and have refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The reasons for this are essentially political, and are contrary to principles of international law. Israel should enjoy the same basic right as any other country in determining the choice of its capital.
Throughout the centuries, no other nation, other than the Jewish people, made Jerusalem its capital. While important to other faiths, Judaism is the only religion which places Jerusalem at the center of its belief.
t What is the status of the territories?
Control over the West Bank and Gaza passed to Israel in 1967 in a war of self-defense. For nearly a quarter of a century afterwards, the Palestinians rejected every Israeli overture, missing opportunity after opportunity to peacefully resolve the dispute through negotiation. In 2005, Israel then decided to leave Gaza unilaterally, passing control over this territory to the Palestinians themselves in the hope that they would use it to establish the base of a peaceful future Palestinian state. Sadly, Israel's hopes were dashed.
As long as the future status of the West Bank is subject to negotiation, Israel's claim to this disputed territory is no less valid than that of the Palestinians. This territory held the cradle of Jewish civilization during biblical times and Jewish communities existed there over thousands of years. Modern-day Israel has deep ties to the many historical sites located in the West Bank. Yet Israel's claim to this territory is based not only on its ancient ties, religious beliefs and security needs; it is also firmly grounded in international law and custom.
Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dated back to 1967 and the Six Day War. It is important to remember that Israel's control of the territories was the result of a war of self-defense, fought after Israel's very existence was threatened. It has continued due to the intransigence of Israel's Arab neighbors, who steadfastly rejected Israel's many offers of peace, including its post-Six Day War message that it would exchange most of the territory in return for peace. In 1979, Egypt and in 1994, Jordan both signed peace treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians have yet to do so.
It has been asserted that Israel's presence in the territories violated UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, one of the cornerstones of the peace process. This allegation ignores both the language and the original intent of 242. The framers of this resolution realized that the pre-1967 borders were indefensible, and deliberately chose to use the term withdrawal "from territories" (and not "from all the territories" as the Palestinians claim) in order to indicate the need to change any future borders.
Moreover, Resolution 242 (and Resolution 338 of 1973) places obligations on both sides. The Arab regimes cannot demand that Israel withdraw while they ignore their own responsibilities and the need for negotiations. They deliberately overlook the fact that 242 calls for the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency" and the "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."
Israel's presence in the territory is often incorrectly referred to as an "occupation." However, under international law, occupation occurs in territories that have been taken from a recognized sovereign. The Jordanian rule over the West Bank and the Egyptian rule over the Gaza Strip following 1948 resulted from a war of aggression aimed at destroying the newly established Jewish State. Their attacks plainly violated UN General Assembly Resolution 181 from 1947 (also known as the Partition Plan). Accordingly, the Egyptian and Jordanian seizures of the territories were never recognized by the international community. As neither territory had a prior legitimate sovereign, under international law these areas could not be considered as occupied and their most accurate description would be that of disputed territories.
Palestinian spokespersons not only claim that the territory is occupied, they also allege that occupation is - by definition - illegal. However, international law does not prohibit situations of occupation. Rather, it attempts to regulate such situations with international agreements and conventions. Therefore, claims that the so-called Israeli "occupation" is illegal - without regard either to its cause or the factors that have led to its continuation - are baseless allegations without foundation in international law.
Palestinian efforts to present Israel's presence in the territory as the primary cause of the conflict ignore history. Palestinian terrorism predates Israel's control of the territories (and even the existence of the State of Israel itself). The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, three years before Israel's presence in the territories began. Moreover, Palestinian terrorism has often peaked during those periods when a negotiated settlement was closest at hand, whether at the height of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s or after Israel's unprecedented peace proposals at Camp David and Taba in 2000.
There are those that claim that if only the clock could be turned back to 1967 (i.e. a full Israeli withdrawal from all the territories) the conflict would be resolved, and no border issues would need to be resolved. It is important to remember that in 1967, there was no such entity as a Palestinian state and that there was no link between Gaza and the West Bank. Yet still its Arab neighbors threatened Israel with destruction. What Israel is now being asked to create a totally new construction, whose product must be the result of direct negotiations between the two parties.
The West Bank can best regarded as disputed territory over which there are competing claims that should be resolved in peace talks. The final status of this disputed territory can only be determined through negotiations between the parties. Attempts to force a solution through terrorism are ethically indefensible and only serve to encourage further violence and terrorism.
t Are Israeli settlements legal?
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal both under international law and the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Claims to the contrary are mere attempts to distort the law for political purposes. Yet whatever the status of the settlements, their existence should never be used to justify terrorism.
The Palestinians often claim that settlement activity is illegal and call on Israel to dismantle every settlement. In effect, they are demanding that every Jew leave the West Bank, a form of ethnic cleansing. By contrast, within Israel, Arabs and Jews live side-by-side; indeed, Israeli Arabs, who account for approximately 20% of Israel's population, are citizens of Israel with equal rights.
The Palestinian call to remove all Jewish presence from the disputed territories is not only discriminatory and morally reprehensible; it has no basis either in law or in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibitions on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, they specifically provide that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. The parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement.
It has been charged that the provision contained in the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement prohibiting unilateral steps that alter the status of the West Bank implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The prohibition on unilateral measures was designed to ensure that neither side take steps that would change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or a unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status talks. The building of homes has no effect on the final permanent status of the area as a whole. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the unreasonable interpretation that neither side is permitted to build houses to accommodate the needs of their respective communities.
As the Israeli claim to these territories is legally valid, it is just as legitimate for Israelis to build their communities as it is for the Palestinians to build theirs. Yet in the spirit of compromise, successive Israeli governments have indicated their willingness to negotiate the issue and have adopted a voluntary freeze on the building of new settlements as a confidence-building measure.
Furthermore, Israel had established its settlements in the West Bank in accordance with international law. Attempts have been made to claim that the settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbids a state from deporting or transferring "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." However, this allegation has no validity in law as Israeli citizens were neither deported nor transferred to the territories.
Although Israel has voluntarily taken upon itself the obligation to uphold the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel maintains that the Convention (which deals with occupied territories) was not applicable to the disputed territory. As there had been no internationally recognized legal sovereign in either the West Bank or Gaza prior to the 1967 Six Day War, they cannot be considered to have become "occupied territory" when control passed into the hands of Israel.
Yet even if the Fourth Geneva Convention were to apply to the territories, Article 49 would not be relevant to the issue of Jewish settlements. The Convention was drafted immediately following the Second World War, against the background of the massive forced population transfers that occurred during that period. As the International Red Cross' authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms, Article 49 (entitled "Deportations, Transfers, Evacuations") was intended to prevent the forcible transfer of civilians, thereby protecting the local population from displacement. Israel has not forcibly transferred its citizens to the territory and the Convention does not place any prohibition on individuals voluntarily choosing their place of residence. Moreover, the settlements are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice. According to independent surveys, the built-up areas of the settlements (not including roads or unpopulated adjacent tracts) take up about 3% of the total territory of the West Bank.
Israel's use of land for settlements conforms to all rules and norms of international law. Privately owned lands are not requisitioned for the establishment of settlements. In addition, all settlement activity comes under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Israel (sitting as the High Court of Justice) and every aggrieved inhabitant of the territories, including Palestinian residents, can appeal directly to this Court
The Fourth Geneva Convention was certainly not intended to prevent individuals from living on their ancestral lands or on property that had been illegally taken from them. Many present-day Israeli settlements have been established on sites that were home to Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people's deep historic and religious connection with the land. Many of the most ancient and holy Jewish sites, including the Cave of the Patriarchs (the burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Rachel's Tomb, are located in these areas. Jewish communities, such as in Hebron (where Jews lived until they were massacred in 1929), existed throughout the centuries. Other communities, such as the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea, were founded before 1948 under the internationally endorsed British Mandate.
The right of Jews to settle in all parts of the Land of Israel was first recognized by the international community in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The purpose of the Mandate was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in the Jewish people's ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided for "close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use."
For more than a thousand years, the only time that Jewish settlement was prohibited in the West Bank was under the Jordanian occupation (1948-1967) that resulted from an armed invasion. During this period of Jordanian rule, which was not internationally recognized, Jordan eliminated the Jewish presence in the West Bank (as Egypt did in the Gaza Strip) and declared that the sale of land to Jews was a capital offense. It is untenable that this outrage could invalidate the right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and accordingly, the legal titles to land that had already been acquired remain valid to this day.
In conclusion, the oft-repeated claim regarding the illegality' of Israeli settlements has no legal or factual basis under either international law or the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Such charges can only be regarded as politically motivated. Most importantly, any political claim - including the one regarding settlements - should never be used to justify terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.
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