Aug 21st 2010

Resolution 194 - The Achilles Heel of the Arab Peace Initiative

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

Israel's chief reservation regarding the Arab Peace Initiative is the way in which the text addresses the issue of Palestinian refugees. Specifically, the Initiative calls upon Israel to affirm: "achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194." Israelis have largely rejected this passage, believing that it in effect is calling for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugeesto Israel, something that would destroy the Jewish character of the state. But a closer look at the Initiative indicates that its mention of 194 need not be the Achilles' heel that Israel has made it out to be. The Arab states' - and Palestinians' - inclusion in the Initiative of UNGA Resolution 194, adopted in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, is less about the text of the resolution and more about the principle it represents. Resolution 194 addressed the refugee issue as follows:

"Resolves that refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date,and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property, which, under principles of international law or inequity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

To be sure, the Arab states have used this passage in Res. 194 in an effort to make the refugee issue fundamental to any Arab-Israeli peace agreement, and to further extract and mobilize sympathy from the Arab public. However, the Arab states are not chiefly concerned with Israel accepting the exact wording of 194, after all the text also calls for United Nations control over Jerusalem. They do, however, want Israel to accept the principle of addressing the plight of Palestinian refugees in the context of a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In this regard, Israelis should not be fearful of the Arab Peace Initiative's mention of UNGA Res. 194. The resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly - not the Security Council - and as such is not binding. Furthermore, it has not been accepted by all of the parties to the conflict. Meanwhile, United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which Israel and the Arab states have each signed onto, effectively supersedes UNGA Res. 194. UNSC Res. 242 addresses the refugee question by calling for a "just settlement of the refugee problem," yet does not mention the Palestinian refugees by name. Arabs have long interpreted the word "just" in Res. 242 to mean the arrangement that had been described in UNGA Res. 194, while Israelis have been averse to the word "just," interpreting it to mean that Israel should assume responsibility for the refugees. Neither is an accurate interpretation. A "just" resolution is one that both parties agree to and one that effectively settles the disputed claims at the heart of the conflict-and this is where the Arab Peace Initiative gets it exactly right. The Arab Peace Initiative is worded such that Israel does not need to accept the wording of 194; rather it needs to accept a negotiated agreement on the Palestinian refugee issue as a key component of the framework of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli agreement. In this regard, the key words of the Arab Peace Initiative are "a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon..." It should also be noted that in every previous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, especially at Camp David in 2000 and during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2007-2008 the Palestinians have accepted the principle that only a limited number of Palestinian refugees (between 20,000-30,000) would be allowed to go back to Israel over a period of a few years, under family unification.

Opponents in Israel of the Arab Peace Initiative point to the refugee question - and the Initiative's mention of UNGA Res. 194 specifically - to discredit the effort entirely. With their interpretation of the text, they argue that the plan effectively calls for the eradication of the State of Israel by diluting the Jewish state with Palestinian refugees. A cynical view of the Initiative - and the intentions of the Arab states - might claim that it is no wonder the 22 nations of the Arab League have offered normalized relations with Israel-they know Israel would never accept the plan, and if they did it would mean the end of the Jewish state. To further augment their arguments, those Israelis who oppose the Initiative suggest that had the Arab states really sought a realistic solution to the refugee problem they would have stated publically their willingness to settle for partial resettlements and compensation. The Arab states and the Palestinian leadership, however, refuse to single out the Palestinian refugees and want a solution to the problem to be a part and parcel of an overall peace agreement.

Such arguments not only misinterpret the text of the Initiative and the intentions of its backers, they also do a disservice to the Israeli public by ignoring the valuable components of the Initiative which should be embraced. This includes a proper interpretation of a negotiated agreement on the issue of Palestinian refugees and a comprehensive resolution to the conflict on the basis of UNSC Res. 242 which would lead to normalized relations with the 22 member state of the Arab League in addition to the 34 Islamic countries totaling 56 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. By focusing on what it interprets to be negative aspects of the Initiative, Israel effectively sends a message to the Arab world and the international community that it is not interested in negotiating, or seeking peace. It is regretfully ironic that while the Arab Peace Initiative represents a historic repudiation of the Arab League's Khartoum conference in 1967 which declared "no to negotiations, no to recognition, no to peace," it is now Israel which appears to be the party rejecting a momentous opportunity for peace.

The Arab Peace Initiative's approach to Palestinian refugees has been the key source of the current deadlock which has caused the Initiative to languish until today. Those Israelis who are skeptical of the text - and its mention of UNGA Res. 194 - should take a closer look. If they remain skeptical of the intentions of the Arab states, there is only one way to find out-test them. They can do so by accepting the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative and calling for negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states using the Initiative as a basis for a comprehensive settlement.

By taking this approach Israel would effectively turn the table on those who believe it is disinterested in peace, place the burden of proof onto the Arab states, and challenge their groundbreaking promise for a comprehensive peace.


Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."