Arab League slights boycott of Israel by backing ‘land swaps’

yitzhar
Yitzhar settlement, near Nablus. (Photo: Gili Yaari / Flash 90)

Until last week the Arab world’s position on Israeli borders was firm.
Then Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Middle East and the Arab League reversed its stance on settlements, backing “land swaps” between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite an offer that posed squaring relations with the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the resolution. Having already renounced similar proposals from the Arab League in the past, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh condemned it as well.

Yet the change in the Arab League’s policy on a return to 1967 borders was not a political throwaway. The resolution itself has concrete implications on Arab League member nations. It brings into question their stated boycott of Israel, which began in 1948.

In 2002 the Arab League first offered to fully normalize relations with Israel and their 22-member states. The Arab Peace Initiative required an Israeli pullout of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Lebanon, the establishment of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.” The Arab League also compelled the Palestinian leadership to build a “comprehensive peace with Israel” beyond a cessation of hostilities. In essence the document was a plan for a two-state solution that would end the row between Israel and the rest of the Middle East.

After the initiative was passed, a Central Boycott Office was established to moderate adherence from member countries. However of the 22 countries that signed onto the boycott, only Syria and Lebanon have ever implemented strict non-normalization laws, leaving the initiative firm in platitudes alone. Still al-Akhbar English regularly reports on Israeli products hitting the shelves of major Lebanese cities. Vegetables, cosmetics and even cigarette lighters from Israel have been spotted, despite the law and popular sentiment against the sale of Israeli goods.

Even more, for Egypt the “land swaps” offer is bark from a toothless dog. Agreements such as the Camp David Accords weaken the impact of the Arab League’s offer of peace for trade and diplomacy. In 1980 Egypt began selling oil to Israel and opened diplomatic relations. Adding in security cooperation with the Israeli military over the Rafah crossing to Gaza and asylum seeker arrests in the Sinai, Egypt has in practice undercut any meaningful boycott of Israel. 

But still Israeli leaders have rejected the plan since 2002. They have maintained their opposition on the grounds of the policy originating from a body that they were not part of, and because of vagueness on Palestinian refugees. For Israeli officials, refugees are a non-negotiable. The Jewish state is adamant that they will not cede on allowing the return of any Palestinian refugees to inside of Israel’s 1948 borders. Akiva Eldar noted in al-Monitor days ago that Israel will not accept the notion of “land swaps” because it already considers large swathes of the West Bank their territory. Therefore rejecting the Arab League’s offer on land swaps,

is a natural reaction, given the views of those leaders — it’s obvious they cannot trade sovereign Israeli territories for other territories that they also regard as their own and call ‘Judea and Samaria,’ despite the fact that the rest of the world defines them as ‘occupied territories.’ This is a non-starter. Even a child understands that in order to trade stamps with a friend, both of them have to at least agree that each is the proprietor of his own collection. As far as Israel is concerned, it owns most of the other side’s stamps, as well.

The sentiment of “already owning” the West Bank is common in official Israeli discourse. “I think the answer to this killing should be by building. That we should find an appropriate place and an appropriate time to do it legally,” said Israel’s Defense Minister Danny Danon. Danon was making condolences for a settler who was stabbed to death while hitchhiking days ago in the West Bank. Speaking to Arutz Sheva, “We will make sure that there will be more Jews in Yehuda and Shomron [the West Bank],” continued Danon.

Danon’s response is worth noting in the context of the Arab League’s land swaps because it demonstrates for the Israeli government settlement building is both a legal process and a punitive force against Palestinians. If Israel already assumes claim of the West Bank and is committed to populating it with “Jews”—in the words of Danon—then the concept of land swaps becomes a concession, rather than a step towards ending the occupation.

Conversely, the Palestinian Authority (PA) backed the proposal in 2002, 2009 and then again after the recent land swaps augmentation. But Hamas officials, who initially gave conflicting statements on their support, ultimately indicated a complete rejection of the initiative years ago. After last week’s announcement, the political leadership in besieged Gaza again renounced the proposal.

“To those who speak of land swaps we say: Palestine is not a property, it is not for sale, not for a swap and cannot be traded,” said Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s disputed Prime Minister of the PA. “The so-called new Arab initiative is rejected by our people, by our nation and no one can accept it,” he continued.

And in the sphere of reconciliation between rival Palestinian parties, the land swaps offer tilts political leverage to Hamas in advance of conciliatory talks expected later this month.

Internally, the Arab Peace Initiative has served as a source of division between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah has continuously demanded Hamas adopt the resolution as a precursor to reconciliation. Yet it would be an overstatement of the importance of the initiative to qualify it as reason for the lack of Palestinian political unity. For Fatah vis-à-vis the PA, accepting the resolution brings them closer alliance to the Arab League. For Hamas, rejecting the initiative gives them a bargaining chip with  in their discussions of a unity government.

Yet even though the land swaps offer was seemingly dead on arrival, the pronouncement on settlements marks a formal change of direction from Arab League itself. In the past when countries like Lebanon had discovered Israeli products on the shelves, they were promptly removed. Now the “land swaps” language seems to indicate the Arab League is open to broad normalization with Israel despite the ongoing occupation.

 

About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.
Posted in Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, Middle East, Occupation, Settlers/Colonists, US Policy in the Middle East

{ 13 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Les says:

    This is more than grotesque. But it has been long assumed that Israel and Saudia Arabia worked together against their joint Palestinian and Arab enemies. With friends like these, what must the enemies of the Palestinians be like?

  2. RE: The sentiment of “already owning” the West Bank is common in official Israeli discourse. ~ Allison Deger

    SEE: “Fighting Settlers’ Impunity and Immunity”, by Pierre Klochendler, Inter Press Service, 12/16/11

    [EXCERPT] . . . The Israeli occupation, particularly the future of wildcat settlements built by settlers without formal government approval has been a simmering issue ever since their creation during the 1990s.
    In 2005, former head of the State Prosecution Criminal Department Talia Sasson published a landmark report on the question. Commissioned by then prime minister Ariel Sharon, the report found the Israeli government guilty of “institutional lawbreaking”* and of the theft of private Palestinian land to covertly establish over a hundred “illegal outposts”.
    The damning irony is that the “outposts” were a 1997 initiative by none but Sharon himself, then foreign Minister under Netanyahu, who’d urged settlers to seize hilltops in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
    The report recommended criminal investigation against those allegedly involved in the scheme, but it was shelved. Repeated injunctions have since pressed successive governments to address the issue. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to original.antiwar.com

    * P.S. RE: The Israeli government’s “institutional lawbreaking”
    BRANDEIS: Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis elaborated in Olmstead v. United States (1928): “In a government of law, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

    • P.P.S. MY WORKING HYPOTHESIS is that the “Hilltop Youth” who establish these “unauthorized outposts” (and then terrorize the nearby Palestinian communities) serve a purpose for the Israeli government that is quite similar to the purpose served by Mussolini’s “black shirts”.

      • SEE WIKIPEDIA [Blackshirts] – link to en.wikipedia.org
      • AND SEE THIS VIDEO – Mussolini in Color : The Blackshirts [VIDEO, 02:24] – link to youtube.com

  3. American says:

    Saudi is mainly concerned with holding onto their royal thrones…..not letting any more Arab Springs pop up, putting down Shites , like in Bahrain which is getting hot again….Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Iran’s influence, internal Iraq fighting still going on…all of that scares them….that’s the only reason Saudi collaborates with the US or Israel.
    Saudi now has the Syria fubar- outcome uncertain- as well as the Iran issue and the rumor of another revolt in Bahrain starting ……they are desperate for all of that as well as Palestine to go away.
    Kerry probably gave them some ‘assurances’ on all those threats in return for their ‘adjusting their original offer to favor Israel more.
    The Saudis care about their thrones, that’s all they care about.

    • One throne. But many princes etc.

      What do you think the Saudis could do, to get Israel out of the West Bank?

      • American says:

        ”What do you think the Saudis could do, to get Israel out of the West Bank?”…James

        Oil embargo the USA. Like they did in ’73……except this time conditions are 100 x’s more ripe for max damage and max national political exposure of I/P-US-Isr.

        • American – - The US has no need to buy any Saudi oil. The economics of buying “heavy” crude from Saudi Arabia are good, relatively, because US refineries are geared to that grade.

  4. Inanna says:

    In Lebanon, when Israeli items are found, they are still promptly removed. Not only are there laws enforcing the boycott but there are strong civil organisations that attempt to enforce goods and cultural boycotts. It’s the cowardly GCC states who are desperate to normalise relations and always have been. That’s what the 2002 plan was about and that’s what this plan is about. That’s why Israeli officials have long been welcome in Gulf Countries, why some Gulf countries have trade relations with Israel and why they go visit Israel. The land swaps are still DOA.

    • Walid says:

      “In Lebanon, when Israeli items are found, they are still promptly removed. Not only are there laws enforcing the boycott but there are strong civil organisations that attempt to enforce goods and cultural boycotts…It’s the cowardly GCC states who are desperate to normalise relations and always have been.” (Inanna)

      Not as much as you would like it to be, Inanna. Veolia still runs 3 transport companies in Lebanon in addition to water management services and you never here anything mentioned about them, not even from the local BDS groupuscule. Estee Lauder ad posters are plastered all over Beirut and Starbucks is very present in 15 locations. Until a couple of years back, Syria had been buying about 10,000 tons of Golan-grown apples annually from Israel. And if the Palestinians have been themselves entering into all kinds of agreements with the Israelis, why wouldn’t you accept the same dealings for the GCC countries? Cowardly has nothing to do with this; they are looking after their own self-interest. The Israelis, Palestinians and the AL states never discuss the future of the 2 million stateless Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

  5. Sumud says:

    The sentiment of “already owning” the West Bank is common in official Israeli discourse. “I think the answer to this killing should be by building. That we should find an appropriate place and an appropriate time to do it legally,” said Israel’s Defense Minister Danny Danon. Danon was making condolences for a settler who was stabbed to death while hitchhiking days ago in the West Bank. Speaking to Arutz Sheva, “We will make sure that there will be more Jews in Yehuda and Shomron [the West Bank],” continued Danon.

    Danon must be particularly dense since even Netanyahu has now realised that the illegal settlers will be the ultimate undoing of the jewish state of Israel.

  6. MK_Ultra says:

    The Arab League is a joke, a traitor to the people of the Arab world and just another US/ISrael lapdog.

  7. One can say fairly it was understood privately by Arab leaders trying to resolove Israel/Palestine problem, that some limited areas of Jewish colonisation in West Bank would likely have to be swapped for other land currently within 1967 borders of Israel.