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May 13, 2002
Israel's Security and Palestinian Rights

By Dr. Mahmoud Amr


Israel's Security and Palestinian Rights
By Dr. Mahmoud Amr

Former Minister Plenipotentiary
Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations

This is an abbreviated version of an article written in late November of 1977 under the title 'Prospects of Peace in the Middle East'. The original article was adapted from two speeches I gave to the New World Forum in New York City (11/22/1977) and to the Senior Officers of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island (11/29/1977). I did not write the original speeches as a journalist, but as a diplomatic representative of Egypt at the United Nations. As such, this article accurately reflects the official foreign policy of the Egyptian Government at the time.

I am republishing this abbreviated version to demonstrate that, whatever faults Egyptian diplomats might have made in implementing Egyptian Foreign policy, the Egyptian government has been extremely consistent in articulating a precise position and in fulfilling its legal obligations under peace treaties signed with Israel and the United States. The final implementation of the Camp David agreements in April of 1982 has resulted in two decades of peace on the Egyptian-Israeli border, despite blatant Israeli belligerence against smaller and weaker Arab neighbors.

Our original hopes that the separate peace agreement with Israel would pave the way for a more comprehensive regional agreement faded quickly when the Begin/Sharon Likud government invaded Lebanon in June of 1982. The ink was barely dry on the historic Camp David accords. Egyptians felt betrayed by Sharon's murderous siege of Beirut and the subsequent massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The election of Sharon as Prime Minister and his government's systematic assaults against the Oslo peace process has left most Egyptians deeply troubled by Israeli intentions and American complicity. Yet the Egyptian government continues to hold firm to its vision of peace. Although Egypt has paid a heavy price for abiding by their commitments to the Camp David accords, the government continues to search for a comprehensive and just peace for all the people of the region.

So, I would challenge the reader to evaluate the following article, now 25 years old, and compare Egypt's consistent record of promoting peace in the region with Israel's record of plotting to liquidate the Palestinian cause for freedom and liberty in their own independent state. Egyptians are an ancient people with the accumulated wisdom of 7000 years of civilization. One of the most abiding Egyptian traits is patience and faith in good things to come. There is an old, simple, elegant and beautiful expression that I have heard often on Egyptian lips. 'Patience' they say 'is beautiful'. But, patience also has its limits, no matter the power of its beauty.

Since I wrote the original article, a quarter of a century ago, Israel has launched two invasions of Lebanon, one in 1978 and another in 1982 and actively inflamed the Lebanese civil war. They have continued to annex native Palestinian lands and build exclusive Jewish settlements, doubling the number of settlers since the Oslo accords. 1,500 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded. The future of the whole region is now held hostage to the whims of a small minority of zealous settlers.

Brutal collective punishment is now the law of the land in the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, Israel has had to contend with two major Palestinian uprisings, the second more lethal than the first. The Israeli army continues its occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and would only budge from Southern Lebanon under pressure from the Lebanese resistance. As things now stand, one out of every two Israelis publicly endorses the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Even more disturbing, their extremist 'transfer' fantasies are made legitimate by no less than the Republican Majority Leader in the American House of Representatives, Rep. Richard Armey, a powerful ally of George Bush. I am aware that Dick Armey has made a lame attempt to apologize. But I am still deeply curious about the wiring of an intellectual circuit that would lead him to such dangerous conclusions. As a retired journalist, I also see an American mass media machine, once a paragon of intellectual integrity, now rendered a sharp ax in the hands of a delusional and belligerent Israeli Lobby. We cannot dare to despair, but we should be aware that under the ruse of 'security', Israel has managed to derail all pragmatic attempts at achieving a durable and just peace in the region.

Israel's Security and Palestinian Rights
By Dr. Mahmoud Amr

Supporters of Israel, particularly in the United States, have always had a role to play. They should open their minds to the truth about the situation in the Middle East and try to understand the difference between supporting Israel within her own borders and supporting her in occupation of Arab territories. American Jews should stop expressing alarm every time a U.S. President considers proposals to restore justice to Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular.

Israel's sympathizers constantly express their concern for the security of the Jewish State. Does the encroachment upon the land of another people add to Israeli security? Consider the argument that the return of the occupied Arab territories would be tantamount to asking Israel to take greater risks or would be an invitation to live more dangerously. Is it not absurd that the return of law and order, as defined by international law, should ever be considered a 'risk'?

Any Middle East settlement that does not provide for complete withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders and the restoration of Palestinian rights would not be durable. History has shown that territorial depth alone can never provide security. Israeli claims to the contrary, the 'security threat' is only a flimsy pretext to conceal elaborate and well documented expansionist designs. The security of Israel should not mean the insecurity of other countries in the region and should not entail encroachment upon other peoples' land and property.

It should be noted that successive American presidents have stated a firm commitment to the political independence and territorial integrity of all the nations in the Middle East. Israel has persistently refused to make a real commitment to return the Arab lands occupied in the 1967 war. Rather, her policy has relied on American support and huge amounts of American arms, playing for time to avoid a final resolution of territorial issues.

As for the right of the Arab people of Palestine to have their own state, it should be recalled that in 1947, the Israelis claimed that all they needed was a roof over their heads as a shelter country for displaced European Jews emerging from the inferno of the Holocaust. does it stand to reason that the same people should be entitled to destroy the roof over another people's heads?

Israelis need to be reminded that U.N. Resolution 181, the 'partition' decree passed by the Security Council in 1947, provided for the establishment of two independent states in Palestine, an Arab state and a Jewish state. Israel came into being as a result of that resolution and was admitted to the United Nations on condition that it would respect and adhere to all the provisions of the partition plan. Furthermore, it was on the strength of that resolution that the United States and the Soviet Union extended recognition to the State of Israel.

The tragedy of the Palestinian people has long engaged the attention of some Jewish intellectuals.

Judah Magnes, a former President of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, in a speech shortly before his death in 1948, said: "The time has come for the Jews to take into account the Arab factor as the most important facing us. If we have a just cause, so they have. If promises were made to us, so were they made to the Arabs." Magnes believed that as Jews loved the land, with which they have a historical connection, so too do the Arabs. He also had this to say: "Even more realistic than the ugly realities of imperialism is the fact that the Arabs live here and in this part of the world, and will probably be here long after the collapse of one imperialism and the rise of another. If we wish to live in this living space, we must live with the Arabs."

Moshe Dayan, now the foreign Minister of Israel, had this very wise thing to say in Harper's (November, 1975): "Even if we get from the United States paradise itself, we can get peace only from the Arabs."

In the search for peace, one important question should be asked: Is this about Israel's survival or is this about nurturing Israeli expansionist fantasies? If genuine peace is the goal of Israelis, they should work to gain acceptance and legitimacy, and this necessitates giving up the occupied territories and paving the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In his address to the Israeli parliament, November 20, 1977, President Sadat proposed a peace agreement in Geneva based on the following points.

  1. Ending the occupation of the Arab territories occupied in 1967
  2. Achievement of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, including their right to establishing their own state.
  3. The right of all states in the area to live in peace within recognized boundaries, which will be secured and guaranteed through procedures to be agreed upon, with the purpose of providing appropriate security to all parties.
  4. Commitment of all states in the region to administer the relations among them in accordance with the objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter, particularly the principles concerning non-resort to force and a solution of differences among them by peaceful means.
  5. Ending the state of belligerency in the region.

In seeking stability in the area, President Sadat promises what he can fulfill and what he judges as feasible. It may therefore be safely assumed that he will insist on these fundamental requirements for peace in any negotiations.

Keeping Sadat's basic position in mind, the ideas mentioned by Prime Minister Begin during his visit to the United States concerning the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are bound to be rejected. He is calling for 'self-rule' for the Palestinians under Israeli military occupation, and makes no reference to a Palestinian state. The suggestion that there should be a military presence in Sharm El-Sheik is absurd in view of the atmosphere of trust created by President Sadat. Proposals of this kind are not helpful and are not commensurate with the political risks that the Egyptian government has taken to create peace and harmony in the region.

At the time of writing, the Israeli Premier is on his way to Egypt for a meeting with President Sadat, and much will depend on a change of Israeli attitudes. This is the time for Israel to create new policies that would remove suspicions about the Jewish State's intentions.

For both Egyptians and Israelis, the past few weeks were uniquely marked by psychological, emotional, intellectual and political challenges, with hopeful signs that the Middle East may at last be on the way of a durable peace. Like other peoples in various parts of the world who have been following the recent fast-moving events, they feel that if the opportunity is missed it may never present itself again.

The time has certainly come for the Israelis to see reason and discard expansionist designs. At present, Israel's rulers have a rare chance to act of their own accord in light of President Sadat's imaginative initiative. If they listen carefully to the voice of sanity, the next few weeks should bring the kind of stability that appeared to be very elusive and remote during more than 1560 weeks of turmoil and unrest (1947 - 1977). This would lay the foundation for the economic reconstruction of the whole area, with room for everybody and tremendous opportunities for all.

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