Erekat’s Deceptive Numbers Game

, August 19, 2011

Israel Hayom http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=355

As this column has noted before, the Palestinian leadership knows that it isn’t going to obtain U.N. membership in September by turning to the U.N. Security Council where it faces an American veto. They also know that the resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly are not legally binding and the upgrade of the PLO observer mission from a non-state observer to a state observer will not change anything on the ground in the West Bank.

That leaves the Palestinians with the more modest goal of obtaining a U.N. resolution that increases international acknowledgement of the 1967 lines as the border of a future Palestinian state, thereby shattering Israel’s territorial rights to defensible borders that first found their expression in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, that was adopted after the Six-Day War.

For years now, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has made this one of the principle goals of his diplomatic efforts. To advance this cause he uses a constant refrain during his appearances in the international media: The Palestinians have accepted and recognized Israel on 78 percent of “historic Palestine” and are only asking for the remaining 22%. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also used this argument in his May 16, 2011 opinion piece in the New York Times: “We go to the United Nations now to secure the right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland.”

By framing the issue with these percentages in this way, the Palestinian leadership is implicitly asking if Israel is now demanding that the Palestinians settle for even less territory, like 18, 15, or an even lesser percentage of land. Erekat argued on Christiane Amanpour’s program on CNN in November 2009: “Now it seems to me that Mr. Netanyahu wants to partition this 22%.” This approach presents Israel as the selfish party in the conflict. Palestinian leaders hope that by presenting this line of argument they will forestall international demands on the Palestinians to make any compromises.

This narrative that Erekat has been selling for years will undoubtedly appear prominently in the media blitz he is planning for September. There are many ways to look at the issues of percentages in the Arab-Israeli conflict that can change the balance of justice for any objective observer. In a speech given on July 12, 1920, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, reminded the Arab world that the British Army had just liberated it from hundreds of years of Turkish rule; Britain was supporting the independence of what would become a half-dozen Arabs state that would no longer be “under the tyranny of a brutal conqueror.”

In his words, British Mandatory Palestine, which was to become a national home of the Jewish people, was only a “small notch,” when geographically compared with the vast territories where the Arabs would exercises their sovereignty. He hoped the Arab world would not “grudge” the tiny territory that was committed to the Jewish people.

In fact, the original area of Mandatory Palestine, with the present territory of Jordan included, is less than 5% of the land which the British liberated for the Arab states as a whole, as a result of the First World War. Moreover, most Palestinians at the time of Balfour saw themselves primarily as part of this wider Arab world, which had been just set free. What was to become British Mandatory Palestine was called Surya al-Junubiyya (Southern Syria) in Arabic at the time.

When trying to determine justice by using percentages, Erekat conveniently also forgot about Jordan. In 1922, Britain partitioned the Palestine Mandate by withholding the application of the Jewish national home to the territory that was to become the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. As a result, the British gave 77% of the territory to the Arab population leaving 23% for the Jewish people.

That percentage would drop further after 1948 when Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt ruled the Gaza Strip. To this day, Palestinians and Jordanians frequently say privately that a few hours after a Palestinian state is created, they will form a confederation. This idea was raised in the 1985 agreement between King Hussein and Yasser Arafat and it has been repeatedly proposed since then.

Thus the question of justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks completely different if the observer zooms out from looking narrowly at the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Erekat is really deceiving foreign audiences when he talks about the Palestinians obtaining only 22% of Palestine. When Jordan inevitably comes back into any future peace settlement, the Arab side will control more than 80% of the original area of British Mandatory Palestine.

The real purpose behind the Palestinian claim that all they are getting is 22% of British Mandatory Palestine is to obtain 100% of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The question of Gaza is less controversial since Israel already withdrew in the 2005 Disengagement; the heart of the conflict is over the West Bank. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 never required Israel to concede 100% of the territory it captured, in what was a war of self-defense. It was one of the greatest diplomatic achievements of Israeli diplomacy under Foreign Minister Abba Eban.

The Palestinian initiative at the U.N. in 2011 is seeking to shatter Resolution 242 with new terms of reference, which will increase international pressures on Israel. Israel’s understanding of its rights under Resolution 242 has been backed by successive U.S. secretaries of state for more than 40 years. This September. Israel’s struggle at the U.N. is not only about Palestinian statehood, but rather about Israel’s rights not to be forced back to the pre-1967 lines, which were once enshrined by the U.N., but are now facing a full assault.

Amb. Dore Gold

Ambassador Dore Gold has served as President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs since 2000. From June 2015 until October 2016 he served as Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously he served as Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN (1997-1999), and as an advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.