The U.S.-led economic conference set for Bahrain in late June needs only a few tweaks to emerge as a potentially dramatic event in the history of Middle East "peacemaking." Pictured: Manama, Bahrain. (Image source: Shahzad Ali/Wikimedia Commons)
The return of Israel to election mode is no reason to change the Trump administration's plans for the U.S.-led economic conference set for Bahrain in late June. The Palestinian decision to boycott the meeting certainly is no reason to change -- or cancel -- it. It needs only a few tweaks to emerge as a potentially dramatic event in the history of Middle East "peacemaking."
The modern phase of the Arab-Israel conflict began in the 19th century and solidified in 1948. It morphed by design or neglect into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. The Arab states escaped responsibility for wars they initiated in 1948, '56, '67, '73, and '82, leaving Yasser Arafat to figure out how to do what they never could -- either make peace with, or win a war against, the State of Israel.
Bahrain allows the Arab states to reach back, meet their obligations under UN Resolution 242 and restart the process the way the United Nations intended -- when its intentions were honorable.
The UN understood the 1967 Six Day War as a war of Arab aggression against Israel. The Security Council recognized that the root of the "Arab-Israel conflict" was not where Jews lived, but that they had sovereign rights to a Jewish homeland -- which the Arabs did not accept. The Arab position, in the view of the UN, was wrong -- Israel had an absolute, undeniable and irrevocable right to a sovereign presence in the historic Jewish homeland.
The Security Council decided that Israel should not be forced to give back territory as it had in Sinai in 1956 without a resolution of the underlying problem. In that frame of mind, it passed Resolution 242.
The preamble states, "Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security." Two things jump out:
- First, use of the word "war," not "force" as it is generally translated. Israel's use of force in 1967 was defensive; "war" was initiated by the Arabs. The inadmissibility of territorial acquisition applies to "by war," which makes sense -- otherwise an offender, in this case, the Arab states, could simply say, "Okay, status quo ante," and wait for the next opportunity. Israel's acquisition of territory by defensive force was not unacceptable. While the acquisition might (or might not) be permanent, the final disposition would be left for the time that the Arabs met their obligation to Israel.
- Second, use of the word "security" is key as well -- the UN did not offer Israel a nebulous "peace" but a concrete set of conditions to create "security."
To ensure that, Resolution 242 has two indivisible clauses – (i) and (ii):
(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
Not all the territories -- American and British diplomats insisted then and do now -- and accompanied by:
(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
Concerned that Resolution 242 did not go far enough in providing security for Israel, the UNSC added the necessity for:
- "Guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area," the proximate cause of the 1967 war;
- "Achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."
- "Guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area."
All of that was to be given to Israel not by the Palestinians, who did not and do not meet the requirements of a state, but the belligerents of 1948 and 1967. Egypt and Jordan have done so. Israel is still awaiting acknowledgement of its sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the countries that supported the war -- Algeria, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and Tunisia. Today, Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority (PA) -- successor to the PLO in the West Bank -- accept those terms as well. The PA has refused.
It should have been simple. In 1967, the Arab states should have acknowledged that their obstructionism in 1948 was illegitimate and the establishment of Israel was legal and just. Some of the countries that have to make their peace with Israel will be in Bahrain, and UN Resolution 242 should be on the table. Fifty-two years late is not too late.
If this conference is part of a pathway toward Arab states not only working with Israel as a counterweight to Iran, but as a political and economic partner in the region... If this conference establishes Arab-Israel relations as the norm in the region... if this conference establishes that both Arabs and Israelis have places to go together and the only way for Palestinians to go there with them is to accept the requirements of UN Resolution 242...
Then progress can be made.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center.