Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Legacy of Resolution 194, The UN Resolution That Time Forgot

Sixty years ago, on 11 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly passed an important resolution about Israel and the Palestinians. It called on the newly formed Israeli state to repatriate the displaced Palestinians “wishing to live in peace with their neighbours…at the earliest practicable date”, and to compensate them for their losses. A Conciliation Commission was set up to oversee the repatriation of the returnees. Though never implemented and frequently ignored since then, Resolution 194 has haunted the Israeli-Palestinian peace process ever since, and has proved the most insurmountable obstacle in all peace negotiations. It is the legal basis for the ‘right of return’, to which Palestinians have clung for sixty years.

Far from this fundamental plank of the Palestinian cause being protected and preserved, it has been used like a political football between the parties, sometimes to attack, sometimes to defend, and now as something to bargain over. Through this process the discourse about the right of return has become deliberately ambiguous or vague, responding to Israel’s anxieties. To assert, against this background of appeasement, that the right of return is the sine qua non of any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is viewed today as ‘unrealistic’ and old-fashioned, even an obstacle to peace, as if the passage of sixty years had disqualified the Palestinians from entitlement to their homeland. Israel, conversely, shows no such ambiguity in its perennial and unambiguous rejection of the right of return.

When Israel was founded in May 1948, many Western states saw it as a moral and necessary act to compensate Jews for the damage Germany had inflicted on them. A faraway country, Palestine, in a backward region, mostly under Western control and without the capacity to resist, must have seemed an ideal refuge for the stricken European Jews. Within hours of Israel’s declaration of statehood on May 14 1948, America and the Soviet Union had recognised the new state, many others following suit. One year later on 11 May 1949, the UN General Assembly, affirming this sentiment, voted by a majority of 17 to admit Israel to membership of the world body.

Ignored in this euphoria of settling the post-war Jewish refugees and at the same time solving the centuries-old Jewish question which had plagued Europe and its Jews, was the cost to the native population of Palestine. The resulting tragedy for the Palestinian people has been endlessly documented. Despite Israeli propaganda to the contrary, it was inevitable and predictable, given the determination of Israel’s founders to create a state for Jews in a land that was not Jewish. They recognised from the beginning that they would have to reverse Palestine’s demography, by converting the existing Arab majority into a Jewish one. Zionist writings from the late nineteenth century onwards make no secret of the need to rid the land of Arabs. “We must spirit the penniless [Arab] population across the frontier…Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly”, wrote Theodore Herzl, founder of political Zionism in his diary on 12 June 1895. Yoram Bar Porath put it more bluntly to the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, on 14 July 1972, “there is no Zionism, colonialization or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” And Rafael Eitan, Israel’s Chief of Staff, told the New York Times on 14 April 1983, “the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel”.

This thinking inevitably caused the flight and expulsion in 1948 of some 750,000 native Palestinians, 90 per cent of the total. A third of them had already been evicted by Jewish forces before Israeli statehood was declared, in line with Zionist strategy. Palestinians call these catastrophic events their ‘Nakba’, commemorated each year with sorrow and anger. The refugees were dispersed between camps in the surrounding Arab countries, and exile in the wider Arab world and beyond. It was this dispersal and the apprehensions of those Arab states forced to host the refugees that formed the background to Resolution 194. Expressing Arab anxieties at the time, the Egyptian UN delegate stressed that Arab states could not be made responsible for the refugees whom Israel had expelled, and insisted that Israel repatriate them without delay.

Israel rejected these demands root and branch, even though the terms of its admission to UN membership required adherence to UN resolutions, including 194. When the UN Mediator for Palestine, the Swedish diplomat, Count Bernadotte, who was appalled by the refugees’ plight, tried to push for repatriation in line with Resolution 194, dissidents from the Israeli Irgun organisation under Menachem Begin (later Israel’s prime minister) assassinated him in September 1948. Nothing has succeeded in shifting Israel’s opposition. In sixty years, Israel has not repatriated a single refugee or even apologised for its deeds in 1948, demanding instead that the refugees settle in other states and find compensation from international funds.

Today, they and their descendants number some 5 million people, most of whom are camp dwelling refugees. According to the UN, in 2007 there were 4.5 million registered Palestinian refugees, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank and Gaza. Israel has never allowed them back. “We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinian refugees] never do return”, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, wrote in his diary on 18 July 1948. “The old will die and the young will forget.” In fulfilment of this pledge, Israel practised a shoo-to-kill policy against Palestinians who tried to return to their land, killing thousands throughout the 1950s.

But the Palestinians did not forget. Visiting a refugee camp in Beirut in 1998, I found small Palestinian children, not yet literate, reciting the names of places now in Israel they called home, declaring with childish intensity they would return. Every serious peace plan since Resolution 194 has foundered on the refugee question. The Saudi peace plan, with all its limitations, still needed to include the question of a just solution for the refugees, recognising their centrality to any durable settlement. Yet, none has succeeded to date, and the Palestinians, the longest-standing refugee community in the world, are still suspended in an anomalous existence, without rights or future. By what logic can the displaced Kosovans, say, be repatriated while Palestinians cannot?

Read the rest of Ghada Karmi's article here.

P.S. For everybody that thinks zionists/jews don’t have an overwhelming influence, how do you explain the illogic of zionism [jewish apartheid, jewish exceptionalism, jewish supremacism] being shoved down the world's throat?

This phenomenon itself, and the fact that you [you, being virtually anyone reading this] have probably never heard of zionism and those of you that have are afraid to say peep about it, speaks of their overwhelming influence and power over the rest of us.

For the world to ever be righted, for there ever to be peace, this phenomenon must be aborted. But alas, I'm afraid cancer [zionism] has convinced the patient [humanity] to shut up and remain silent while cancer has its way. Cancer, zionism, will have its way until it is forcefully aborted. There is no sense to trying to reason with zionists. Trying to reason or co-exist with zionism is not reasonable [it’s insane]. Nor is it possible for mankind [civility, humaness, fairness, justice, decency] to survive accommodating zionism.

It's either humanity or zionism.

No comments: