Middle East Peace Talk

By Whitbeck, John V. | The Nation, April 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

Middle East Peace Talk


Whitbeck, John V., The Nation


Ariel Sharon's election as Israeli Prime Minister insures a prolonged pause in progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. While awaiting his successor, politicians and commentators could occupy their time constructively by adopting a new "language of peace." Dangerously misleading terminology remains a major obstacle to a resolution of the conflict.

It is normal practice for parties to a dispute to use language that favors them. In this regard, Israel has been spectacularly successful in imposing its terminology not simply on Israeli and American consciousness but even on many Arab parties and commentators. It has done so not simply in obvious ways like use of the terms "terrorism," "security" and "Judea and Samaria" but also in more subtle ways.

There is much talk of "concessions" being demanded from and offered by Israel. This word suggests the surrender of some legitimate right or position. In fact, while Israel demands numerous concessions from Palestine, Palestine is not seeking any concessions from Israel. What it is insisting upon is "compliance"--compliance with agreements already signed, compliance with international law and compliance with relevant UN resolutions--nothing more and nothing less. Compliance is not a concession. It is an obligation, both legally and morally.

The concept of "compliance" is well entrenched in Iraq's case. Partial Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions is rarely hailed as a "concession"--"painful," "far-reaching," "unprecedented" or otherwise. In Iraq's case, anything less than full compliance is deemed "defiance"--at least by the United States. Notwithstanding Israel's eventual full compliance on its Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese borders, most Israelis still believe, with the encouragement of successive US administrations, that peace with Palestine can be achieved without compliance. This is most unlikely--but how many more, on both sides, will die before the logic of "compliance" replaces the false generosity of "concessions"?

The Palestinian territories conquered by Israel in 1967 are frequently referred to as "disputed." They are not. They are "occupied," illegally so. While sovereignty over expanded East Jerusalem is explicitly contested, none of the world's other 192 sovereign states have recognized Israel's sovereignty claim, and Palestinian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip and the rest of the West Bank is, in both literal and legal senses, uncontested.

Israel has never even purported to annex these territories. Since November 15, 1988, when Palestinian independence and statehood were formally proclaimed, the only state asserting sovereignty over those portions of historical Palestine that Israel occupied in 1967 (aside from expanded East Jerusalem) has been the State of Palestine.

Commentators on all sides speak of Israel "ceding" territory to Palestine or to "the Palestinians." This word suggests a transfer of land by its legitimate owner. …

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