[Published 20 January 2014]
It is a pity the US State Department chose to focus this week on the private remarks of Israel’s Minister of Defence labelling US Secretary of State John Kerry as being delusional and messianic - rather than concentrating on PLO Chairman Abbas’s very public remarks in the Jerusalem Post that go to the heart of the 130 years old Jewish-Arab conflict:
“Israel’s problem is that the Palestinians know more than the Israelis about history and geography. We talk about what we know”
Is Abbas correct in his contention or has he become a victim of his own propaganda?
The answer depends on how one views Abbas’s following statement to the United Nations on 26 September 2013:
“However, as representatives of the Palestinian people, we have long been aware of our responsibilities towards our people and had the necessary courage to accept a two-State solution: Palestine and Israel on the borders of 4 June 1967, establishing a Palestinian State on 22% of the land of historic Palestine.”
Are the West Bank and Gaza in fact 22% of historic Palestine or do they comprise only 5% of historic Palestine?
The answer to that question first involves an answer to this question:
Resolution of the conflict will stand a far greater chance of success - and be more enduring - if Jews and Arabs can first reach a consensus in answering this fundamental question.“Is Jordan 78% of historic Palestine - as the PLO Charter claims - or is Israel 78% of historic Palestine - as Abbas suggested at the United Nations?
That is a challenge that should excite Kerry as he seeks to find a way through the complexities of a conflict whose solution has eluded so many eminent people, organisations and Committees before him - including those appointed by both the League of Nations and the United Nations.
Agreement that Jordan comprises 78% of historic Palestine would greatly enlarge the territorial field within which the Jewish-Arab conflict can be resolved - making the conflict much easier to settle.
Jordan’s inclusion could materially advance the prospects for the creation of a new Arab state between Israel and Jordan - the subject of the current negotiations - or open up other alternative solutions to end the conflict if they fail - which seems destined to happen.
Kerry needs to urgently determine if there is any consensus between Israel, the PLO and the Arab League on the history and geography of “Palestine”.
History books and atlases can be used to resolve any disagreements - supported by eminent historians and geographers well qualified to express their opinions.
To achieve this end result Kerry could instruct his State Department to prepare a questionnaire for Israel, the PLO and the Arab League to complete by a specified date.
To ensure the process is fair and transparent - Kerry could recommend a panel be constituted comprising Kerry as Chairman and six history and geography experts - three appointed by Israel and three by the PLO and the Arab League - with Kerry holding a casting vote should the experts be equally divided.
The questionnaire could possibly include these questions:
1. When was “Palestine” first so named and by whom?
2. Was the name of “Palestine” prior to its change “Eretz Yisrael”?
3. When was “Eretz Yisrael” so named and by whom?
4. Is Israel 78% of “Palestine” or only 17% of “Palestine”?
5. Is Jordan 78% of “Palestine” or does it form no part of “Palestine”?
6. Is the “West Bank” 22% of “Palestine” or 4% of “Palestine”?
7. When was the “West Bank” first so named and by whom?
8. Was the name of the “West Bank” prior to its change “Judea and Samaria”?
9. When was “Judea and Samaria” so named and by whom?
10. When was “Jordan” first so named and by whom?
11. When were “Palestine’s borders” first defined and where were they located?
12. Did the Mandate for Palestine include what is today called Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza?
13. Were the West Bank and Transjordan unified into a single territorial unit between 1950-1967?
14. Where was the border between Israel and Jordan immediately prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War?
15. What date did the Arab residents of the West Bank become Jordanian citizens and on what date was their Jordanian citizenship terminated?
16. What settlements were established by Jews in the West Bank prior to 1948?
17. Who was the last sovereign power to legally occupy the West Bank and for what period did such oction last?
18. On what date and in what part of Palestine were the provisions of the Mandate for Palestine relating to the reconstitution of the Jewish national Home in Palestine postponed or withheld?
The questionnaire would seek to flesh out the extent to which Jewish and Arab historic and geographic narratives coincide - with the objective of eventually reaching a joint consensus in answering the questions posed.
The questionnaire should be answered by Israel, the PLO and the Arab League before Kerry presents Israel and the PLO with his proposed framework agreement for peace.
If the parties cannot first agree on the territory within which the Jewish-Arab conflict is to be resolved - how can meaningful and serious discussions on Kerry’s framework agreement even be contemplated or commenced?
Kerry needs to focus on this issue - rather than concerning himself with negative comments affecting him personally.
Abbas’s claimed knowledge of history and geography needs to be tested.
The result could be Kerry’s key to ending the current deadlock and resolving the conflict.