On June 10, there will be a big demonstration in Washington calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The precise demands read as follows:
* An end to US military, economic, diplomatic, and corporate support for Israel’s illegal military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
* A change in US policy to one that supports a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights and international law, and the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.
No part of this issue is free from confusion and argument. Some will contend, for instance, that Israel no longer occupies Gaza. This argument ignores the fact that Israel has always maintained control over Gaza’s border, which is encased in a wall and fence, as well as Gaza’s shore and airspace. Not to mention control over Gaza’s water supply and electricity as well as taxes collected from its residents.
There are other debates, on the borders of Greater Jerusalem, which have been greatly expanded, on the meaning of international law and how to apply human rights norms. But apparently, the most vexing debate is over the “full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.”
This phrase frightens a great many people who consider themselves “pro-Israel, pro-peace.” The reason is obvious: the first UN resolution that is coming to mind is UNGA 194 which states that “… the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…” This resolution is usually the first one cited in defense of the right of return, along with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”
This is, of course, why people fear that mentioning “relevant UN resolutions” and insisting that they be followed would mean the destruction of Israel. But what is puzzling to me is why no one seems to give equal weight to another UN General Assembly resolution, one which is just a little older than 194. That would be Resolution 181, which partitioned the area called Palestine under the British Mandate.
UNGA 181 specifically created both a Jewish and Arab state. The relevant point here is that this resolution carries just as much weight as 194. Both do not have the enforcement mechanism that a Security Council resolution has; both were accepted by Israel (181 by the leadership of the Yishuv, as this obviously preceded the existence of Israel; 194 was accepted by Israel, but under duress, as it was a condition of her admittance into the UN); both were initially rejected by the Arab states at the time, though both were accepted, de facto or de jure, by those states many years later; in both cases, the Palestinians had no voice in the proceedings.
I’ve said many times in the talks I’ve given that there is no resolving this conflict without dealing with its most vexing core clash: the irresistible force of Palestinian nationalism meeting the immovable object of Zionism. This is not a pleasant fact for either Israelis or Palestinians. Both see the nationalism of the other as the ultimate threat to them. And both sides have pragmatists who try to find accommodation between and extremists who believe that there can be no safety for their people without utterly defeating the nationalist forces of the other. And a century of violence has proven that this cannot be resolved by force, despite the insistence of forces on both sides on the continued pursuit of a victory by arms.
Thus it is that the two UNGA resolutions, 181 and 194 encompass the core of the conflict. They are also inherently contradictory. Insofar as each of those resolutions embody the national aspirations of Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs respectively, it is clear that neither aspiration can be fully realized without denying the aspirations of the other.
Jewish tradition has a good deal of experience with inherent contradiction. The Talmud can be largely described as an extensive effort to resolve contradictions found in the Torah and Mishnah. It’s not always easy, and the answers that are arrived at are sometimes real stretches made in order to resolve the contradictions. In terms of this comparison, the compromises are not easy and are unlikely to leave anyone happy. But they can be resolved.
For this reason, above all others, the occupation must end, because the resolution of such difficult contradictions in a way that actually lasts cannot be achieved under these conditions.
But we also need to face these contradictions, not try to avoid them. The framework of UNGA resolutions contains a baffling contradiction, but with two legitimate governments (not one that is functioning and one that exists as a proxy under occupation) under international auspices this can be worked out. It must be.
Those who support Israel and also wish for a true peace for it must stop being afraid of UN resolutions and instead use the ones that favor them, not to pre-empt the other but to finally, resolve the core issues of the conflict. Those who call themselves “Pro-Israel and pro-Peace” have a UN resolution of their own, and the political, economic and military power to protect it. To be afraid of other UN resolutions that do not have those power advantages only prolongs the conflict.