I must apologize to my readers for not keeping-up with my self-imposed publishing discipline (for those of you who thought this was a relief, my apologies for ending your break). Having basically four jobs (teaching in three universities in addition to working as a business consultant) is challenging in the first place, but running for office on top of it is simply overwhelming (I am running for Likud’s primaries to enter the next Knesset). I know: Jacques Attali was still publishing at least one book a year while he was Senior Advisor to France’s President and while he was running the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. But I need more than a two-hour night sleep.
After all, I started this blog in October 2008 to stay sane: I felt, and still do, that writing is a healthy and creative way of responding to the maddening things you read in the news. My hectic schedule notwithstanding, recent events compelled me to call my blog to the rescue. Madness oblige.
Last month, South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies declared that he intended to issue an official notice “to require traders in South Africa not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as products of Israel.” Davies added that Pretoria recognizes the State of Israel “only within the borders demarcated by the United Nations (UN) in 1948.”
The UN did not demarcate Israel’s borders in 1948. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to divide the British Mandate on Palestine between an Arab state and a Jewish state (Resolution 181). This vote constituted a mere recommendation since General Assembly resolutions are not binding in international law. Thus, the idea that the UN “created” the state of Israel with Resolution 181 is mistaken (the General Assembly can approve the admission of new states to the UN, but it cannot create states). This resolution became moot as soon as it was passed since the Arab states flatly rejected it.
Resolution 181 suggested borders that never came into being. When Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, it did not specify its borders (Israel’s Declaration of Independence does refer to Resolution 181, but not to the borders suggested by the resolution). The war launched by six Arab countries (Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia) against the newly declared State of Israel ended with the armistice agreements signed in Rhodes in 1949. Those agreements did not establish borders but armistice lines, which were different from the borders suggested by UNSCOP. The armistice line between Israel and Transjordan was specifically defined as “temporary” upon the latter’s insistence.
This “temporary” line lasted for 18 years, until Jordan attacked Israel on June 5, 1967. When Israel conquered the West Bank in self-defense, it did not occupy a sovereign country or part of a sovereign country. Transjordan annexed the territories it had conquered west of the Jordan River during Israel’s War of Independence, but this annexation was never recognized by the international community (only Britain and Pakistan recognized Jordan’s conquest and annexation). As for Israel, it regained in June 1967 a territory that had been granted to the Jewish People for self-determination by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 and by the League of Nations Mandate in 1922 –a territory that, incidentally, was given to the Jews according to the Book on which US Presidents are administered the Oath of Office.
UN Security Council Resolution 242 (adopted on 22 November 1967) does not demand an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines. The resolution calls for “secured and recognized” boundaries (the 1949 armistice lines were neither) and for an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” (“the” was intentionally dropped to leave room for negotiations). Negotiations between Israel and Jordan (between 1967 and 1988) and between Israel and the PLO (between 1993 and 2008) have failed to establish “secured and recognized” boundaries. Blaming Israel alone for that failure flies in the face of the historical record.
So when South Africa recognized Israel on 24 May 1948 (for Rob Davis’ information), it did not recognize Israel “within the borders demarcated by the United Nations (UN) in 1948.” The UN suggested borders in 1947, not in 1948, and those borders never came into being. When South Africa recognized Israel, Israel did not have borders. It was in the middle of a war that ended-up in armistice lines which disappeared eighteen years later as a result of Arab aggression.
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe" Albert Einstein is said to have quipped. In the Middle-East, two things are hopeless: the Arab-Israeli conflict and human ignorance; and I’m not sure about the Arab-Israeli conflict.