Into the Fray: Reassessing ‘root causes’ and ‘red herrings’

In the face of mounting international pressure, Israel cannot afford to lose sight of what the conflict is really about.

PA President Abbas at PLO Executive meeting 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
PA President Abbas at PLO Executive meeting 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
We shall not enter Palestine with its soil covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.

– Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt, March 8, 1965
This chilling declaration of genocidal intent by the leader of the largest Arab nation, over two years before any Israeli presence in the “occupied territories,” was not an isolated aberration.
Quite the contrary, it was typical of a pervasive Judeo-phobic frenzy that prevailed throughout the Arab world, well before the notions of “occupation” and “settlements” — the current buzzwords for rallying anti-Israeli sentiment — had any meaning.
Recalling recalcitrant realities
Thus on May 18, 1967, following the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping forces in Sinai, in compliance with Egyptian demands, the Cairo-based radio station Voice of the Arabs blared:
“As of today, there no longer exists an international emergency force to protect Israel. We shall exercise patience no more.... The sole method we shall apply against Israel is total war, which will result in the extermination of Zionist existence.”
Two days later, Gen. Hafez Assad, then-Syrian minister of defense, and later president, boasted: “Our forces are now entirely ready.... The time has come to enter a battle of annihilation.”
On May 27, Nasser reiterated his murderous goal: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”
And four days before the outbreak of war, on June 1, Iraqi President Abdul Rahman Ali — later assassinated by Saddam Hussein — threatened:
“The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified... Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.”
The Jordanian factor and the Palestinian element
The mood on the Jordanian front and among the Palestinians, together with their Arab “patrons,” was strikingly similar.
Nasser on November 18, 1965: “Our aim is the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.”
Jordan’s King Hussein, apparently impressed by this bluster, entered into a military pact with Egypt on May 30, 1967 — despite bitter acrimony between Nasser and himself. He declared:
“All of the Arab armies now surround Israel. The UAR [Egypt], Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Kuwait.... There is no difference between one Arab people and another, no difference between one Arab army and another.”
At the time, the entire “West Bank” and Gaza, territories now claimed for the establishment of a Palestinian state as the alleged sine non qua for peace — were under Arab control. Nasser ruled Gaza, Hussein the “West Bank.” Yet neither undertook the slightest initiative to initiate any self-governing Palestinian entity in these territories.
(What is even more astounding, as we shall see later, is that the Palestinians themselves eschewed any aspirations of sovereignty over the “West Bank” and Gaza, which seem to have been totally irrelevant to “full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people” in the eyes of both the Palestinians and of the wider Arab world — MS.)
The rhetoric from Palestinian leaders was no less bellicose.
On May 27, Ahmad Shukeiri, Yasser Arafat’s predecessor as chairman of the PLO, gloated:
“D Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation.”
And a few days later, on June 1, in a somewhat premature flush of triumph, he crowed:
“This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive.... We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors — if there are any — the boats are ready to deport them.”
As the Arab armies massed against it, Israel began to brace itself for the coming war — preparing mass graves in Tel Aviv and other cities in anticipation of heavy civilian causalities.
‘Liberation’ equals ‘annihilation’
Shukeiri’s use of the words “liberation” and “homeland” is revealing. They clearly did not apply to the “West Bank” or the Gaza Strip, since both were under Arab rule and certainly not considered the “homeland” towards which Palestinian “liberation” efforts were directed.
The true significance of these terms emerges with stark clarity from the text of the original version of the Palestinian National Charter — formulated in 1964.
Article 16 states: “The liberation of Palestine... [is] necessitated by the demands of selfdefense” and “the Palestinian people look forward to [international] support... in restoring the legitimate situation to Palestine... and enabling its people to exercise national sovereignty and freedom.”
But Article 24 stipulates precisely what is not included in the “homeland” of “Palestine” and where sovereignty is not to be exercised. Indeed, it unequivocally forswears Palestinian claims to “any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Gaza.”
It is difficult to imagine a more authoritative source for exposing as bogus the Palestinian claim that the “West Bank” and Gaza comprise their “ancient homeland.”
Indeed, even within the pre-1967 lines, long before the alleged “root causes of the conflict” — “occupation” and “settlements” — were part of the discourse, much less facts on the ground, Israel was condemned as a colonial, fascist, expansionist power.
According to Article 19: “Zionism is a colonialist movement in its inception, aggressive and expansionist in its goal, racist in its configurations, and fascist in its means and aims. Israel, in its capacity as the spearhead of this destructive movement and as the pillar of colonialism, is a permanent source of tension and turmoil in the Middle East.”
The implication is clear. To remove enduring “tension and turmoil” in the region, their “source” — Israel — must be removed.
Accordingly, we must conclude that the only conceivable “plain-English” translation for the ‘liberation of the homeland” must be the “annihilation of Israel.”
Hatred frozen in time
The 1964 Palestinian National Covenant was replaced by a 1968 version, which in the guise of “the liberation of Palestine,” continued to advocate the destruction of Israel as a necessary precursor for Mideast peace — now in blatantly explicit terms.
Article 22 states that the “liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence and will contribute to the establishment of peace in the Middle East.”
Any thoughts that the reference was now to the post-1967 “occupied territories” is quickly dispelled by Article 19, which declares: “The partition of Palestine in 1947, and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time...”
Article 20 delves even further back into history — to 1917 — to deny the validity of Jewish statehood in any portion of the Holy Land:
“The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate System, and all that has been based on them are considered null and void. The claims of historic and spiritual ties between Jews and Palestine are not in agreement with the facts of history and the conception of what constitutes statehood.”
This implacable repudiation cannot be ascribed to wrath induced by post-1967 Israeli occupation. They echo — almost verbatim — those articulated in Articles 17 and 18 of the pre-occupation 1964 Covenant, underscoring the unbroken persistence of the Palestinians enmity towards Israel — regardless of any temporal or territorial parameters.
From Shukeiri to Abbas
This provides the conceptual context for the indefatigable refusal of the allegedly moderate Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to acknowledge that Israel is the nation-state of the Jews. After all, he is merely being faithful to his National Covenant (both original and current) according to which “Jews do not constitute a single nation with an identity of their own,” and the establishment of Israel comprises a “violation of the basic principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
Both versions of the Covenant are posted on the Palestinian Permanent UN Observer website. This is an outrage of epic proportions, for despite a promise to president Bill Clinton and a vague letter that certain — unspecified — articles have been abrogated, the Covenant has not been formally changed or redrafted. Indeed, to fulfill the pledge to Clinton, 28 of the 33 articles would have to be annulled or amended.
It is therefore brazen gall on the part of the Palestinians to aspire to UN membership while flaunting documents that denounce the 60- year-old membership of another nation as a “violation of the basic principles... of the United Nations — and scandalous misrepresentation on the part of Clinton to charge, as he recently did, that it was Binyamin Netanyahu who “... killed the peace process.”
Thus, Israel would be sadly remiss not to perceive Abbas, the current chairman of the PLO, as adhering to the principles laid down by Shukeiri, the first chairman of the PLO, who drafted the original National Covenant.
This was rather starkly illustrated at the recent UN General Assembly session when Abbas, theatrically, exclaimed: “After 63 years of suffering: enough, enough, enough.”
How reminiscent this was of Shukeiri’s 1964 declaration, 47 years earlier at the first session of Palestinian National Council, that “Palestinians had experienced 16 years’ misery.”
Hmmm. 16 + 47 = 63 years! Thus both past and present PLO chairmen steadfastly condemn the birth of Israel — not the “occupation” – as the “original sin” that is exclusively to blame for Palestinian “suffering”/”misery.” Certainly can’t fault them for inconsistency!
“The Arabs are the same Arabs...”
So one might be forgiven for conceding that Yitzhak Shamir might just have had a point when he cautioned that “the Arabs are the same Arabs, and the sea is the same sea.”
Indeed there are those who might see corroboration for this abrasive assessment in the fact that the allegedly “pragmatic” Fatah movement (established in 1959) found no need to amend its constitution (also formulated in 1964 but not to be confused with the Palestinian National Covenant) at its 2009 Convention in Bethlehem.
This constitution specifies the “goal” of the organization as: “Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.”
It goes on to stipulate the “method” by which this “eradication” is to be effected, i.e., “armed struggle,” and emphasizes that this “is a strategy and not a tactic. [T]he Palestinian Arab People’s armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated.”
The Fatah emblem shows “Palestine” as extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Separating ‘red herrings’ from ‘root causes’
Israel has allowed itself to be manipulated into a perilous and potentially tragic situation. To have any hope of extricating itself from this unenviable position, it must be very clear as to what this conflict is really about — and what it is not about.
It must separate the “root causes” from the “red herrings.” Mistaken diagnosis will result in mistaken policies choices which are liable to precipitate “terminal” consequences.
It is time to acknowledge the unpalatable fact that the enmity of Arabs towards the Jews and the Jewish state is:
– not about borders but about existence;
– not about what the Jewish people do but about what the Jewish people are;
– not about the Jewish state’s policies but about the Jewish state per se; and
– not about Jewish military “occupation” of Arab land but about Jewish political existence on any land.
Israel must internalize these truths and undertake a policy to convey them – with conviction and vigor — to the world. Otherwise it may well be “liberated.”