Commenting on American economic policy, David Brooks wrote: “A country is divided when different people take different sides in a debate. A country is really divided when different people are having entirely different debates.”
Israel is experiencing a similar situation at the political level. The current debate on the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict deals with the demolition of some Israeli settlements; the way negotiations should be pursued; lines on maps and land swap ratios; and appropriate responses to rocket attacks from Gaza. But the other debate, and the one worth focusing on (other than Iran), is the very nature of Palestinian claims on any territory west of the Jordan River. What are these claims? How did they originate? How legitimate are they?
These matters have not received the exposure they deserve. Future historians will be puzzled at how the fundamentals of the Arab-Israeli conflict were derailed to give way to a concocted narrative which spawned one absurdity after another and yet managed to capture the attention of world diplomats for decades.
How the Palestinian narrative was forged by United Nations resolutions.
After losing several wars of aggression against Israel, the Arabs developed a new strategy. Rather than blustering about throwing the Jews into the sea, the Arabs introduced the “Palestinian people” to the world. Their leader, Yasser Arafat — already schooled in Marxist ideology — embraced the advice of the Soviet KGB, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became overnight the main beneficiary of the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist and anti-racist campaigns that raged during the Cold War. Most of the 33 articles of the PLO Charter, as revised in 1968, reflect this ideology. This absurd document was soon to receive growing international support from successive UN General Assembly resolutions.
Starting in December, 1969, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed Resolution 2535(B) where, for the first time, the Arabs of Palestine were referred to as the “Palestinian people” entitled to their “inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations.” The reference to the Charter meant that the rights of this people included the right of “self-determination” [as per Art. 1(2)], thus defining the Palestinians as a colonial people and the PLO as a national liberation movement.
In November, 1970, the UNGA passed Resolution 2649, which strongly emphasized the right of self-determination in general and condemned those Governments that deny these rights, “especially [for] the peoples of southern Africa and Palestine” (Art. 5). It also affirmed the legitimacy of the struggle for self-determination “by any means at their disposal” (Art.1). This implicitly gave carte blanche to the PLO to engage in terrorist operations which they gladly conducted to foster the Palestinian cause.
In the wake of the multiple plane hijackings near Zarka, in Jordan (September, 1970) and the massacres at the Munich Olympics (July, 1972) and in Ma’alot (May, 1974), Yasser Arafat was invited at the UN. He addressed the UNGA on November 13, 1974 — in a session chaired by UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim — and, with a pistol holster on his belt, Arafat extolled the virtues of “peace, justice, equality and freedom’ and launched a vitriolic assault on the “Zionist entity” with clear Marxist overtones. He accused Zionism of being an “ideology that is imperialist, colonialist and racist”; he branded Zionists as “terrorists…war criminals”; and he claimed the right of the PLO to “to establish an independent national state on all liberated Palestinian territory.”
Had the UN remained faithful to its founding principles and to its Charter, Arafat would be rejected on the spot. Instead, his speech received a roaring applause and a standing ovation. This was not surprising in the UN landscape of the 1970s where the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) were the predominant blocs. Ten days later, the UN General Assembly signalled its broad support to Arafat’s speech by passing the infamous Resolution 3236.
Resolution 3236 (Nov. 22, 1974) was adopted with a 2/3 majority. It expanded on the contents of previous resolutions and included blatantly anti-Zionist provisions reflecting Arafat’s speech: it reaffirmed the “inalienable rights of the Palestinian people in Palestine…their right to self-determination and their right to national independence and sovereignty over Palestine,” as well as “[their] inalienable right to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted, and calls for their return.” In essence, it eradicated Israel, a member state of the UN, as an entity accused of crimes against international law because of its “aggression” against the “colonized” Palestinian people.
The final demonization of Israel occurred a year later when UNGA Resolution 3379 was passed on November 10, 1975, ironically, on the 37th anniversary of Kristallnacht. It contained only one operative clause: “[the UNGA] Determines that zionism (sic) is a form of racism and of racial discrimination” and established a clear linkage to the apartheid regime in South Africa, thus subjecting Zionism to opprobrium and incessant attack until it is eradicated. Immediately after and in order to complete the final Palestinian construct, the UN created the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP). In its first report, issued in 1976, the CEIRPP states: “Once the Palestinian State was established, it could participate, on a basis of equality, in the negotiations for a peace settlement in the Middle East, which would cover the question of secure and recognized boundaries for all States in the region.” This is in flagrant contradiction to UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November, 1967, which does not call for such a “basis of equality” with a “Palestinian” non-state entity that is never mentioned.
UNGA Resolutions and international law.
UNGA resolutions do not make international law but they do shape public opinion. Even though they are not binding and are often mere recommendations, these resolutions can also weigh on future provisions of customary international law. This is especially so when a large body of UNGA resolutions recognizes a particular issue repeatedly, and that is what makes Resolution 3236 (and its preceding declarations) worth of special attention.
Whereas Israel’s legitimacy is based on its historical connection to the land — recognized in international law in April, 1920, at the San Remo Conference — and the acquired rights of the Jewish people are protected in Article 80 of the UN Charter and in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Art. 70-1-b), the Palestinian identity was created recently and exclusively by clever diplomacy and public relations. The UN has been central to the edification of “Palestine” and has spared no effort in legitimizing it, while spearheading the delegitimization of Israel through its Human Rights Council and other international agencies.
UNGA Resolution 3236 challenges the legal rights of Israel by distorting the meaning of self-determination from its original Wilsonian concept. This distortion reduces Zionism to a colonial enterprise and leads to the elimination of the Jewish State. The Jewish people would no longer be the legitimate sovereign of the land, as it was recognized under international law at the San Remo Conference and spelled out in the terms of the Mandate for Palestine.
In its 1979 report, the CEIRPP criticized the Mandates applied to the former Ottoman territories after World War One as an extension of colonial pursuits. Interestingly, the current Palestinian leadership also wants to erase the memory of San Remo. In an official communiqué of Fatah, dated April 27, 2011, the Mobilization and Organization Commission blamed the “Zionist gangs” for the San Remo Conference, which it characterizes as the “source of the Palestinian dilemma.”
By introducing the notion of self-defence against colonization “by all possible means,” terrorism committed by the Palestinian Arabs became understandable, if not fully justified. This notion probably played a role in the advisory opinion issued on July 9, 2004, by the International Court of Justice on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” The Court concluded that Israel was not allowed to erect a defensive “wall” against Palestinian terror and it compounded the absurdity of this ruling by declaring ”Article 51 [of the UN Charter] not relevant in the present case.”
The body of UNGA resolutions which culminated in Resolution 3236 signified that resisting the “Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli colonialism” will be viewed as a criminal act. This inverted reality, which is still prevalent in the anti-Israel militant camp (Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, George Galloway, etc.), was admirably described by Melanie Phillips in her book, The World Turned Upside Down.
Resolution 3236 should be revoked.
The thoroughly mounted Palestinian narrative is unprecedented in the UN. No other group — even authentic peoples, like the Kurds, the Chechnyans or the Tibetans — ever benefitted from such largesse. This narrative was, and continues to be, used extensively by Palestinian leaders and their supporters. In a letter addressed to Ban ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, on September 23, 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, referred specifically to Resolution 3236 in his application for UN membership.
All anti-Israel groups active today — whether they condone Palestinian terrorism as a self-defense against “colonial occupation”; or deplore “stolen Palestinian land”; or voice their outrage at “Israeli apartheid”; or brandish the Fourth Geneva Convention against “illegal settlements” — are given a veneer of legitimacy which traces back to the infamous Resolution 3236.
It took sixteen years before UNGA Resolution 3379 (“Zionism = Racism”) was revoked in 1991 by an 80% majority vote. No other UN Resolution has ever been revoked before or since. The reason this happened in 1991 was because the Government of Israel firmly refused to participate in the Madrid Conference while the resolution was in effect.
The present Government of Israel should show equal firmness in demanding the revocation of UNGA Resolution 3236 (and all its preceding building blocks) which implicitly calls for the substitution of Palestine to Israel on the account of anti-colonialism and self-determination, thus denying the very legitimacy of the Jewish State. The incompatibility of Resolution 3236 with the continued existence of Israel is too obvious to ignore.