[Published 21 June 2012]
The Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Information has now issued a book instructing Palestinian Arabs on the words they should use to replace ”the Israeli and American dissemination of poisoned terms”.
Palestinian Arabs are encouraged to use terms that indicate that Israel is the result of “a racist, colonialist endeavor,” and the book instructs Palestinians never to use the name “Israel” alone but instead to use the term “Israeli colonialism” To use “Israel” by itself is damaging, according to the PA, because to do so “describes Israel as a natural state.”
Whilst most of the misleading and deceptive terms to be employed are not new - the book highlights official PA approval and acceptance of the use of such terms in the semantic war that has been ongoing for the last 130 years - alongside the actual conflict that has been played out between Jews and Arabs during that period.
For example - the use of the term “West Bank” was introduced by Jordan in 1950 to replace the biblical names “Judea and Samaria” - names that had been used throughout the centuries and were still being used by the British Mandate authorities in 1948. This change of name has been an effective propaganda tool in trying to erase any Jewish connection with and entitlement to these areas after they were occupied by Jordan in the 1948 War of Independence and subsequently lost by Jordan to Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.
Similarly the use of the term “freedom fighter” instead of the term “terrorist” has had an impact on the way the Jewish-Arab conflict has been perceived.
Describing the conflict as the “Arab-Israeli conflict” or the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” also suggests that the conflict only begun in 1948 and completely ignores the important legal and historical milestones that had taken place in the previous 30 years.
Encouraging the use of the words “racist and apartheid” in the same breath as the word “Israel” or the words “land theft” where “State lands or waste lands” are involved - conjure up poor and negative images of Israel that every day confounds the world with its scientific, agricultural, medical and intellectual discoveries.
These carefully chosen and continuously used terms have had remarkable success in aligning countries around the world to lend their support to the creation of a new exclusively Arab state between Israel and Jordan for the first time ever in recorded history. That is no mean feat.
Yet this kind of semantic war has been one of the major obstacles to resolving the conflict.
Whilst both sides are using different terms in talking about the conflict - any attempt to come to meaningful decisions in resolving the conflict is bound to fail - until both sides start talking about the conflict using the same language.
It is fair to say that in this kind of semantic tug of war - the People of the Book have been linguistically outsmarted by the successors to the authors of the One Thousand and One Nights.
But this brand of semantic war pales into insignificance when one considers the semantic war being waged when the parties are using the same terms - but applying different meanings to those terms.
Both sides have been engaging for the last 19 years in a dialogue under the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap that has not been based on terms that have first been defined and agreed upon between them
The deliberate ambiguities and vague generalisations in the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap have led to innumerable differences and disagreements.
Any lawyer worth his salt will insist on terms being fully defined in agreements so that the parties will be in no doubt as to what the use of that term in the agreement means.
The simplest and most basic of these misunderstandings relates to the meaning of the term “Palestine“.
Does Palestine only include Israel, the West Bank and Gaza? Or does it also include Jordan - 78% of the territory called Palestine covered by the Mandate for Palestine conferred on Great Britain by the League of Nations in 1922 following the San Remo Conference and the signing of the Treaty of Sevres in 1920?
According to Article 2 of the the Palestine Liberation Organization Charter - Jordan is included:
“Palestine,with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.”
So why is the PLO only demanding territorial concessions including land swaps by Israel - and not Jordan - in its push for statehood and independence?
Why should Jordan - the Arab country that invaded and occupied the West Bank for 19 years between 1948-1967 when an independent Palestinian Arab State could have been created in a Jew-free West Bank - be quarantined from being part of the solution - now that 350,000 Jews live there?
When the Hashemite rulers in Jordan proclaim that “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine” - what do they mean? When these same rulers pronounce that “Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan” - what are they trying to convey?
Any territorial grant of land by Jordan to a putative Palestinan Arab state equal to the amount of territory retained by Israel in the West Bank would have no effect on Jordan’s security or territorial integrity. Yet it could have a real impact in bringing about a resolution to the long running conflict.
Jordan helped create the current problems in the West Bank. Why shouldn’t Jordan be part of the solution to ending those problems arising from its former occupation of the West Bank and the fact that it sits on 78% of “Palestine”?
All of these questions must now take on a new meaning following the declaration by PLO chairman - and Palestinian president - Mahmoud Abbas - that the negotiations between Israel and the PLO under the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap are “clinically dead”
Here again is another new term introduced into the political lexicon - which now needs to be defined so that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in agreement as to its meaning as it inevitably becomes part of the international dialogue.
Anyone care to speculate that Israel and the Palestinian Authority will ever agree on what the terms “Palestine” and “clinically dead” mean?