Factoids and the Green Line

Tagged on to the end of a word, the suffix "oid" indicates resemblance to that word, for example an anthropoid resembles, but is not, a human being. Norman Mailer coined the word "factoid" to describe a pseudo fact which takes on the appearance of fact due to repetition in the media.

Because of frequent repetition factoids often go unquestioned and become absorbed into Conventional Wisdom (CW) with the result that CW is often very wrong. After all millions believed the Earth is the center of the universe and that smoking is not harmful to human health.

In his 1904 Notebook, Mark Twain wrote

"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect)".

The 1967 Line

Twain's sage advice is nowhere more applicable than to CW about the "Green line" that delineates the positions of the forces when armistice agreements were concluded between Israel and the opposing armies in 1949. Politicians who should know better have mistakenly swallowed the factoid that this Green line is a recognized border in terms of international law. But there is no such law.  An armistice is not a peace agreement. It is merely a temporary suspension of hostilities with a view to negotiating a more lasting peace agreement as fully set out in Security Council resolution 242.  Much has been said and written about 242's intention and meaning, mostly centered on the sentence "Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict". 

Does this sentence require withdrawal from all or only part of the territories gained in the Six-Day War?  Obviously the most reliable sources from whom to seek clarification are the persons who played key roles in drafting the resolution, British Ambassador to the UN Lord Caradon, American Ambassador Arthur Goldberg and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Eugene Rostow.

Lord Caradon said:

 "It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967 because these positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places where the soldiers on each side happened to be on the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That's why we didn't demand that the Israelis return to them, and I think we were right not to."

Goldberg clarified that he Caradon and Rostow had stated categorically that in drafting resolution 242 they deliberately omitted a demand for Israel to return to the pre-1967 borders

According to Rostow,

"Speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the 'fragile and vulnerable' Armistice Demarcation Lines, but should retire once peace was made, to what Resolution 242 called 'secure and recognized' boundaries, agreed to by the parties.."

It is sad that the pundits who accuse Israel of violating SC resolutions ignore the obvious fact that Israel has substantially complied with its obligations under 242 by withdrawing from the entire Sinai as well as Gaza and there is every indication that it is prepared to withdraw in the West bank to “'secure and recognized' boundaries, agreed to by the parties.."

The 1920 Agreement

I suggest that there is no legal justification for the CW calls for an agreement based on the 1949 armistice lines. But there is a binding legal agreement that is highly relevant to determining Israel's future borders. At a conference held in San Remo, Italy in April 1920 attended by Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan (and as an observer, the United States) the Balfour Declaration became entrenched in international law and legally enforceable. The San Remo agreement has never been abrogated and is therefore still binding on the parties.

Moreover, the conference's decisions were confirmed unanimously by all 51 member countries of the League of Nations on July 24, 1922. Significantly, the only change made to the wording of the Balfour Declaration was to strengthen Britain’s obligation to implement it. Britain was specifically charged with giving effect to the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine as called for in the Balfour declaration that had already been adopted by the other Allied Powers.

The resulting "Mandate for Palestine," laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in Palestine and the San Remo Resolution together with Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations became the basic documents on which the Mandate for Palestine was established on July 24, 1922 declaring unambiguously that Britain became responsible for putting the Balfour Declaration, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, into effect and confirming recognition to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and their right to reconstitute their national home there.

What is too often ignored is that the territory in which the Jewish Homeland was to be established included what is today known as the West Bank and Jordan.

However, on September 16, 1922, the British effectively removed about 78% of the original territory of the area in which a Jewish National home was to be established. Britain divided the Mandate territory into Palestine, west of the Jordan River and Transjordan, east of the river and exempted Transjordan from the provisions concerning the Jewish National Home.

This action violated not only Article 5 of the Mandate which required the Mandatory to be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of the Government of any foreign Power but also article 20 of the Covenant of the League of Nations in which the Members of the League solemnly undertook that they would not enter into any engagements inconsistent with the terms thereof.

Article 6 of the Mandate stated that the Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration and encourage close settlement by Jews on the land in co-operation with the Jewish Agency, including state lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.

However, in blatant violation of article 6 and tragically in view of the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe at that time, a British white paper severely limited Jewish immigration from Europe in 1939.

Israel's presence in the West Bank

When Israel entered the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967 it did not occupy territory to which any other party had title. While Jerusalem and the West Bank, (Judea and Samaria), were illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 they remained in effect part of the Jewish National Home that had been created at San Remo and in the 1967 6-Day War Israel, in effect, recovered territory that legally belonged to it. To quote Judge Schwebel, a former President of the ICJ,

“As between Israel, acting defensively in 1948 and 1967, on the one hand, and her Arab neighbors, acting aggressively, in 1948 and 1967, on the other, Israel has the better title in the territory of what was Palestine, including the whole of Jerusalem. 

While the author advocates a two state resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict and territorial compromise in order to achieve it, he disagrees with those who distort historical facts to bolster their arguments. If and when Israel relinquishes territory in exchange for peace, it will do so because it believes it to be the right thing to do, not because some claim incorrectly, that Israel's presence in the West bank is illegal.

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