Apartheid Israel: a critical reading of the Geneva Accords

IssueMarch - May 2004
Feature by Uri Davis

In the face of the lack of progress in any official “peace process” in Israel/Palestine, there have recently been some unofficial proposals prepared - by peace campaigners or by less entrenched politicians on each side. The highest profile of these initiatives, the Geneva Accords, came from a group including former Israeli and Palestinian Authority ministers last November.

The aim was to provide a tangible demonstration that, contrary to Israeli claims, a partnership for Israeli-Palestinian peace remains possible. The Accordsclaimed it was possible to end the conflict on the basis of Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to their state--with expanded borders to bring illegal settlements currently in the occupied territories under Israeli sovereignty.

As I argue here, these Accords transparently fail to deal with issues crucial to the question of Palestine, and therefore are unable to deliver their promise.

The Jewish state

Israel was established as a “Jewish State” by UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181 of November 1947. This also specified that Israel should share the ter-ritory of former British Mandate Palestine with an “Arab State”; that Jerusalem should be a separate international entity under UN administration; and that all three entities should form an economic union.

This legitimisation of the idea of a “Jewish State” is conditional on it being abinational state which adheres to a democratic constitution, and conforms to the standards of international law and to UN resolutions on the question of Pales-tine. These resolutions include the stipulation that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest possible date; and that Israel's acts to unify Jerusalem as its “capital” were invalid.

The idea of the “Jewish State” in UN resolutions is diametrically opposed the idea of the “Jewish State” in the political Zionist sense of the term. The Zionist idea is of a sovereign state, established and consolidated in Palestine, which attempts to guarantee, both in law (eg the Absentees Property Law of 1950) and in practice (eg the mass expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians under the cover of the 1948-9 war), a demographic majority of “Jewish tribes” (or “ethnic Jews”) in the territories under its control. In other words, an apartheid state. The UN idea of a “Jewish state” was a bi-national state, namely, a state that is essentially democratic with some Jewish “decorations”--eg the official day of rest being Saturday, rather than Friday or Sunday--but definitely not a fundamentalist apartheid state.

Failure of Geneva

The Geneva Accords aim to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a”just, lasting and comprehensive peace and achieving historic reconciliation”.The intention is to succeed where the Taba Summit of 2001 between the Israeli Government and the PLO failed.

However, the primary failure of the Accords is to address the issue at the heart of the conflict, namely, the “ethnic cleansing” of the indigenous Palestinians. The expulsion was subsequently under-pinned by apartheid legislation in the pre-1967 State of Israel and by the application of the British Defence (Emergency) Regulations of 1945 in the territories occupied in 1967.

The Geneva Accords fail to secure the removal of apartheid legislation from the Israeli statute books. Besides the Absentees Property Law mentioned earlier, key laws in this context are the World Zionist Organization/Jewish Agency Status Law of 1952 and the Jewish National Fund Law of 1953.

The Accords also fail to address the circumstances of the one million Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel (20 per cent of the total population of the pre-1967 Israel). While all Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel suffer the effects of Israeli apartheid legislation, some two hundred thousand among them suffer additional disabilities by virtue of being internally displaced persons. They are citizens of the State of Israel, yet, insofar as their pre-1948 property rights are con-cerned, their status is identical to that of the 1948 Palestine refugees. These fundamental omissions are likely to bring about the demise of the Geneva Accords, in a similar way as the Oslo Accords collapsed because a “peace process” and “interim arrangements” were used to avoid confronting the issues at the core of the Palestine question.

A reasonable course of action

The late Aba Eban, first Embassador of the State of Israel to the UN and subsequently Foreign Minister, played a key role in perpetrating the shameless lie alleging that the exodus of the indigenous Palestinian Arab people in 1948-49was voluntary--a lie exposed in 1961 by the Irish diplomat Erskine Childers. However, Eban is reputed also to have observed that people and government stend to consider the reasonable course of action only after they have tried every-thing else and failed.

Over many decades, the international community has attempted various courses of action, mostly unreasonable in that they have largely attempted to exempt the State of Israel from compliance with the terms of the UN Charter, UN resolutions, and established standards of international law. Having tried everything else and failed, the international community may now wish to consider the reasonable course of action, namely, a solution that conforms to the terms of all UN resolutions on the question of Palestine - including the right of return of all the Palestinian refugees.