[Published 24 March 2015]
“Words matter” - White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters this week.
Regrettably Earnest was being less than earnest in failing to point out that words can also have several meanings — which can result in people failing to actually communicate with each other because each has a different understanding of the words he is using.
As a lawyer with extensive experience in drafting agreements — I have found the most critical part in any agreement is the definition of terms used in those agreements - so that the parties are in no doubt at all as to the meaning of the words they are using.
The so-called “two State solution” has gone nowhere in the last 20 years for precisely this reason.
The parties to the negotiations - including America on its own and as part of the Quartet — have been talking at cross purposes without first agreeing on the meaning of the terms they are using.
Take the following terms - and their suggested possible definitions:
1. “Palestine” — means “the territory known today as Israel, West Bank, Gaza and Jordan being the territory covered by the Mandate for Palestine dated 24 July 1922.”To the legally uninitiated this may sound like a lot of detailed, unnecessary and technical drafting — but its purpose is quite clear — to ensure when the parties to this dispute use any of the above terms - their meaning is unmistakably clear.
2. “Palestinians” — means
(i) “those Arab nationals who, until 1947, normally resided in Palestine regardless of whether they were evicted from it or stayed there.
(ii) Anyone born after 1947 of a father qualifying as a Palestinian under paragraph (i) - whether inside Palestine or outside it”
3. “West Bank” — means “the term used since 1950 to refer to the territory known as “Judea and Samaria” since biblical times and comprising the territory that came under Israeli military government control in 1967”
4. "Oslo Accords 1" - means "Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements or short Declaration of Principles(DOP) dated 13 September 1993
5. “Oslo Accords II" - means "Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip commonly known as Oslo II or Oslo 2 dated 25 September 1995"
6. “Oslo Accords” means “Oslo Accords I” and “Oslo Accords II”
7. “Bush Roadmap” means — “the two-state solution”
8. “two-State solution” — means “the Performance Based Roadmap To A Permanent Two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as presented in President Bush’s speech of 24 June 2003, and welcomed by the EU, Russia and the UN in the 16 July 2003 and 17 September 2003 Quartet Ministerial statements.”
9. “Quartet” means “America, European Union (EU), Russia and the United Nations(UN)”
10. “Jerusalem” means “all of the area that is described in the appendix of the proclamation expanding the borders of municipal Jerusalem beginning the 20th of Sivan 5727 (June 28, 1967), as was given according to the Cities’ Ordinance.”
11. “Palestinian Authority” means “The Palestinian National Authority established in 1994 following Oslo Accords 1 and disbanded on 3 January 2013”.
The proof is in the pudding.
Do President Obama and his Press Secretary — Josh Earnest — agree with the above definitions when they utter these commonly used terms almost daily?
Do Israel’s Prime Minister — Benjamin Netanyahu — and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agree with these definitions?
Do the media? Do you?
If indeed there is any disagreement — then the parties need to first reach agreement on their meaning - before they can even think of talking to each other.
Unless everyone is singing from the same hymn book - the music will sound frightfully discordant.