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No Common Vocabulary: An Israeli View
Last uploaded : Sunday 8th Dec 2002 at 16:57
Contributed by : Yossi Alpher


One of the distinguishing characteristics of the current crisis in Israeli-Palestinian relations is the virtual collapse, with a few prominent
exceptions, of the capacity of the two sides to communicate productively with one another. Israelis and Palestinians who dialogued successfully prior to October 2000 now appear to have lost their common vocabulary, their shared
lexicon of agreed terms.

In reality, they may never have had a common vocabulary. Rather, a temporarily successful peace process, generated by a number of broad
geostrategic conditions, and the optimism it produced, merely concealed the two parties' lack of a common vocabulary of dialogue for a few years. Even the Oslo Declaration of Principles of 1993, by postponing final status issues, simply papered over the communications gap. When the peace process collapsed and the current Intifada erupted some two years ago that gap was revealed, tragically. Since then it has grown to awesome proportions.

Undoubtedly, both Israelis and Palestinians of good will really wish to improve communications. This article, written in that spirit, looks at the issue from the Israeli standpoint, recognizing that Palestinians have their own list of complaints about Israeli input to the communications gap.

First, historical foundations: some of the difficulties go back to Arab/Palestinian misinterpretation and abuse of international norms and resolutions beginning many years ago. Dwelling upon them might seem like pointless quibbling if it were not the Palestinians who constantly insist on the principle of "international legitimacy." Here are some of the more obvious examples:

* UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized in 1988, creates "independent Arab and Jewish states" in mandatory Palestine. This is the most fundamental "international legitimacy" of all. Yet most Palestinians, indeed most Arabs, increasingly including Israeli Palestinians, acknowledge 181 while implicitly or explicitly rejecting the notion that Israel is a legitimate Jewish state and that there is a Jewish people.
* UN General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948, which the Arabs voted against, does not establish a "right of return" of 1948 refugees. Yet it is cited by Palestinians as the source of that right, which in turn implies the delegitimizing of Israel as a Jewish state.
* UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 mandates an Israeli withdrawal
from "territories" (in the binding English version) and not "the territories." Yet Palestinians cite 242 as justification for demanding Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 lines, and insist on adding the definite article.
* Those 1967 lines separating Israel from the West Bank and Gaza are armistice lines, not international borders. They are substantively different from Israel's international borders with Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
This too is relevant for the nature of Israeli withdrawal.

It is of course legitimate for the Palestinians to demand withdrawal to the 1967 borders--but not under false pretenses.

To these basic Palestinian misunderstandings that preceded the Intifada must now be added a newer list of incorrect generalizations and misunderstood terms that crop up repeatedly in Palestinian discourse, and render communications with Israelis of good will all the more difficult. For example:

* The advocacy of "transfer" (ethnic cleansing of Palestinians) by certain circles in Israel is bad. But it does not help when Palestinians label as "transfer" proposals of a very different and entirely legitimate nature, sanctioned by centuries of international conflict resolution, such as territorial swaps involving not only Israeli settlers but Israeli Palestinians.
* Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategic intent to retain Israeli military control over the West Bank and Gaza may be supportive of, and allied with, the ideological Greater Land of Israel movement, but the two should not be confused. If Palestinians wish to oppose Sharon's territorial policies effectively, they should at least understand their strategic military, rather
than ideological, underpinnings.
* Because many Palestinians are effectively surrounded, and fragmented, by Israeli fences and roadblocks, they are inclined to condemn the unilateral redeployment movement--which calls for removal of settlements and the construction of a fence more or less along the Green Line--as "more of the same" In fact, this version of "separation" would give Palestinians control
over large additional swaths of territory in return for no new commitments and without prejudicing a future peace process.
* A majority of Israelis, this writer included, oppose many of the settlements and call for their removal, but this does not mean that Israelis
sanction attacks against settlers. When Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Hani al-Hassan states (Haaretz, 29 October 2002) that "the settlers cannot be considered civilians" he is ideologically not far from the
spokesmen of the Islamist organizations who argue that Israel is a militarized society in which all Jews, including women and children, are fair
game. At least the Islamists are not trying to persuade Israelis of the justice of their cause; but al-Hassan, who sends me a Rosh HaShana card every year, presumably is. Hence he, and those who think like him, must be put on notice that their concept of who is and is not an Israeli civilian is unacceptable to all Israelis.-

Originally published Dec 2nd 2002
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Yossi Alpher is an Israeli strategic analyst. He is former Director of the
Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University.

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