The conflict between Israel and Palestine is frequently a victim of competing narratives — and often the more successful narrative is not the correct one. Take, for example, Israel’s bid to unilaterally annex about 30 percent of occupied Palestinian lands.
The prevailing Israeli narrative might initially seem to make sense but it is dead wrong. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to convince the world that Palestinians do not want peace and have refused every overture that was made, and that action taken by Israel simply aims to “force” them to accept an olive branch that would grant them some kind of homeland, without infringing on Israel or its security and religious needs.
People under occupation are not obliged to make compromises or accept the return of some parts of their land in return for the withdrawal of “benevolent” occupiers. No one asked the Kuwaitis if they would agree to allow Saddam Hussein to hold onto a small part of their country because “it is the 19th governorate of Iraq.” Russian President Vladimir Putin was not given a pass and allowed to keep the annexed Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine just because the people there speak Russian. Argentina’s attempt to capture the Falklands was not negotiated, and met with the full force of the British fleet.
The international community agreed after the Second World War not to tolerate attempts by powerful nations to take land from their neighbors. This principle was stated bluntly in the preamble to UN Security Council Resolution 242, unanimously adopted in 1967, which states it is inadmissible to acquire land through war.
Despite the fact that the Israeli occupiers had no right to bounty as a result of their offensive war in June 1967, Palestinians accepted the concept of annexation, albeit as part of an agreement in which small land swaps could be made.
Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat agreed to the concept of mutually agreed land swaps on condition they were equal in size and kind. Netanyahu wants to arbitrarily and unilaterally choose which land to keep. The fact that the US president has suggested, also unilaterally, a vision for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict also makes a mockery of the idea of any equitable, mutually agreed-upon land exchanges.
Contrary to the Israeli narrative, Palestinians are not the ones who ended peace negotiations. Former US Secretary of State John Kerry made this abundantly clear during his testimony to the US Senate in 2014, when he blamed the Israelis for the collapse of talks.
Efforts by a number of countries, most recently Russia, to organize face-to-face peace talks have failed twice in recent years because the Israelis refused to participate, not because Palestinians do not want peace or are not ready to negotiate.
Another false claim is that because it is understood that the Israelis will ultimately get to keep some of their heavily populated settlements on Palestinian land close to Israel, annexing that land will not harm the chances of peace. Again, this narrative falls apart because it is a unilateral assumption. It is one thing to accept “slight border adjustments,” as the latest Palestinian peace offer suggests; it is quite another to preempt peace talks by unilaterally seizing Palestinian land in advance.
The idea that “your land is mine” (because it is, somehow, a divine right) and “what remains of your land is negotiable” feels more like a diktat from the winning side in a war than a mutually agreed-upon peace agreement.
Some Israelis certainly subscribe to the theory that the Palestinians have lost and must accept whatever the victorious Israelis decide. This idea, however, is based on an imagined Palestinian surrender and is futile. Palestinians have not, and will, not surrender their rights or their land. And while the occupation has gone on far too long, it has always been understood to be temporary, not permanent.
Annexation, whether extensive or limited, attempts to legitimize an occupation described by the UN Security Council as “inadmissible.” As long as the world believes that right is might, and not that might is right, no country in the world should accept that.
In trying to deflect from this reality, the Israelis are masters at the practice of “whataboutism,” which attempts to deflect attention from an accusation or difficult question by making counteraccusations or raising different issues.
They try to deny the internationally declared status of the Palestinian territories as occupied by calling them “disputed” areas. They try to deny the legitimate national rights of Palestinians by claiming that there never was a state of Palestine. Instead of accepting the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination on their own lands, they push idiotic ideas such as “Jordan is Palestine,” or that Palestinians do not deserve a state because they do not practice Jeffersonian democracy.
The way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to recognize the humanity of Palestinians and their legitimate rights. This can begin with an agreement to end the “inadmissible” occupation and return to the final-status talks that were part of the signed Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles, not a biased US/Israel vision in which Palestinians did not participate.
Daoud Kuttab is a former professor at Princeton University, and the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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