Inadmissibility of the Acquisition of Territory by Force

The UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements
Part I: Inadmissibility of the Acquisition of Territory by Force


Howard Adelman

This series of blogs on the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its continuing expansion of settlements in the West Bank, a resolution passed on Friday, offers an opportunity to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once again, but in the context of what has taken place over the last fifty years, within the current context in which we are witnessing the largest tectonic shift in the way politics has been conducted over the last century, and in the context of an even larger shift in the modes of communication we use to understand the world and converse about it in the first place. But I begin, not with these large themes, but with one specific motion passed 14-0 with one abstention, that of the United States, in response to the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel for its policy of expanding settlements in the West Bank. My effort is in the tradition of the oldest and almost obsolete mode of communication, a detailed analysis and a hermeneutic for comprehending what is happening and what is at stake within the emotional context of a lament.

For those who like their political analysis to be terse and to the point, that is easy enough. For the last forty years, I have been active, not on the front rows, but as a bit player on the world scene as the drama of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfolded even further than it had previously. I was a very active member of the Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East (CPPME) and, for one year following the death of Harry Crowe, served as its president. I was part of one of sixteen known Track II efforts of international diplomacy, that is, the use of academics to advance a peace process in a context where either side could participate, but never take responsibility or be accused of taking positions. The politics of deniability was at the heart of Track II diplomacy.

I was also a scholar who had studied refugees in general and the Palestinian refugee situation in detail, not only for scholarly purposes, but as an advisor to a Canadian diplomatic team as Canada gavelled the most important of the five sets of multilateral talks dealing specifically with the Palestinian refugee question. For that set of talks was also about deception as many of the matters that could not be sorted out in the bilateral talks, matters that had nothing to do with the refugee issue per se, were resolved in the refugee talks through the expertise and good offices of Canadian diplomats – issues such as: who spoke for the parties, who could represent them, how they were to be recognized.

During that time, I could be clearly labeled politically. I was an extreme dove, supporting the two-state solution and believing that Israel would have to give back most of the territory captured in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem. while never expecting Israel to agree to the last part of that position. I was especially surprised when two different Israeli Prime Ministers, one from the right of centre and one from the left of centre, both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, made unprecedented offers of peace that I had never expected, offers that included the provision of turning over East Jerusalem to the Palestinian state. Ehud Olmert in 2007 would go on to insist that unless Israel strongly pursued a two-state solution, the nation risked being compared to South Africa as an apartheid state by the world community. Not risked becoming an apartheid state, as many mistakenly interpreted his statement, but being identified as one.

During the last eight years, I have watched President Barack Obama spend a considerable amount of international and domestic political capital in what his administration perceived as a last chance at forging a two-state solution, only to conclude at the end of the process that the prospect was very dim. Further, publicly he placed almost the total blame for that failure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Finally, he indicated that in the light of those events, the U.S. would have to re-assess “aspects” of its relationship with Israel. One of those aspects became very clear as the U.S. did not veto but abstained on Resolution 2334 passed 14-0 in the Security Council on Friday just as the United States was on the verge of Donald Trump taking power, the Donald who clearly has a very opposed view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a radically different approach than the one that had been used over the last forty years of my involvement in dealing with international conflicts.

The passing of that resolution on Friday was not an expression even of a last hurrah, but a de facto confession of moral impotence and hypocrisy that has been a deep part of the failure in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is important to understand why this is so, why the movers of the motion felt so impassioned about it, why the passing of the resolution received such sustained applause and why the Obama administration and why Benjamin Netanyahu had such opposite responses when the motion was passed. The motion was really a pronouncement that the two-state solution was dead. The motion was a claim for rhetorical victory by the losing side, much as the United States in 1972 had claimed victory in extracting itself from the Vietnam War only to watch North Vietnam take over the south three years later. While many applauded and others raged at the passage of the UNSC resolution, I cried. Literally!

This series of blogs is intended to explain my position in great detail. I begin with the dissection of the resolution itself – in this blog dealing with the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. In subsequent blogs, I will deal with other issues in international politics, law and ethics – the principles of protection of civilians in times of war, the role of International Courts of Justice in dealing with highly complex international political issues, the demographic character of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the danger of continuing Israeli settlements imperiling the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines (my italics), the role of past UN resolutions demanding a freeze on settlement activity, including freezing any opportunities for natural growth, the dismantlement of illegal outposts of the settler movement, and the compatibility of all these moves with the vision of the region in which two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.

All of these elements of the resolution have to be analyzed within an historical pattern of perception in which all trends on the ground are simply perceived in negative terms because they are looked at strictly from the position of a defense of preserving one version of the two-state solution and the increasingly forlorn hope of the resurrection of a position I have defended and worked on for forty years, but for which there is no longer any realistic prospect. Further, all this is happening in a context in which the conduct of international politics and the even larger context of international political communication are both undergoing a seismic shift.

I have included the full UN Security Council resolution at the end of this blog, though it is preferable if it is read, and repeatedly read, before each step in the analysis. I also must explain that my blogs may be more irregular as much of my time increasingly goes to my new position as a nurse’s aid. Eventually, I will cover all the key problems with the resolution, the reasons for the American abstention and neither supporting nor vetoing the resolution, Donald Trump’s role in its passage, the response of the Israeli government as well as the leading opposition parties in Israel, the analysis of those who pushed the resolution and their rationale, the role of Egypt, the larger context of international diplomacy and communications, and the long term consequences of the resolution on all the relevant parties.

The Inadmissibility of the Acquisition of Territory by Force

On 23 December 2016, the UN Security Council passed UN Resolution 2334 included at the end of this blog. I have added the bolding. The relevant clause discussed in this blog is the first principle cited in the preamble and it reads as follows:

Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.

Is it inadmissible to acquire territories by force?

The principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territories by force is embodied in UNSC Resolution 242 passed on 22 November 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War. Chapter VI of the UN Charter calls on member states to settle their disputes by peaceful methods (inquiries, negotiations, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, etc.) rather than war. In cases of failure to reach agreement, the issue must be referred to the Security Council. Chapter VI allows any state or consortium of states to bring a resolution before the UN Security Council. Note that Chapter VI only allows the UN to pass resolutions that are recommendations; resolutions that are passed, do not bind the member states engaged in a dispute. This is unlike resolutions passed under Chapter VII which are deemed obligatory. Resolutions under Chapter VI are commendatory, particularly since the UN has no enforcement mechanism.

If territories are acquired in a defensive war, not through intentional conquest, why is it inadmissible to hold onto such territories, particularly if the territory is largely being held both for defensive reasons and as bargaining chips in a future peace negotiation? The inadmissibility is directly tied to efforts to settle populations on that territory as distinct from acquiring those territories? What is the definition of acquisition of a territory by a state?

Further, since the Six Day War, Israel concluded two peace agreements, one with Egypt in which Israel gave back all territory captured as part of a full peace agreement. The other was with Jordan, a country which had walked away from any responsibility for the territory it had captured and annexed in the 1948 war. Article 2, paragraph 5 of the UN Charter requires states to refrain from using force “against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Such a clause is only possibly applicable to the Golan Heights which Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and subsequently annexed. However, the bone of contention driving Res. 2334 is the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, captured in the 1967 war and claimed, not by an existing state, but by an aspiring Palestinian state.

It is notable that the supposed universal principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force only refers to Resolution 242 applicable to only one area of the many occupied by one state and taken from another, and then only after Israel acquired further territory following the Six Day War in 1967; it is not applicable to the additional territory Israel captured and annexed in the 1948 war.

Look at many of the other areas of the world to which the principle has not been applied. In 1975, Morocco occupied just over 100,000 square miles of desert flatlands in the Western Sahara (formerly the Spanish Sahara) that was also claimed by Mauritania when Spain gave up administrative control of the territory. The Polisario Front also fought to make the territory an independent self-governing state (the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic), even though the population totalled only about half a million. In the war that ensued, the Polisario Front was left with at most a third of the territory, while Morocco controlled the rest, including the whole Atlantic Ocean coast line, all in defiance of a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice that upheld the right to self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara.

In contrast, the U.S. politically recognized Morocco’s right to the territory even when, subsequently, Morocco and the Polisario National Front agreed that a referendum would be held in which the people of the Western Sahara could determine their fate. That referendum has never been held, though periodically there have been diplomatic efforts to resolve the impasse. Under Trump, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will bring pressure on Morocco and King Mohammed VI to sort out the problem of voter eligibility and the mode of conducting the referendum, especially given the access Morocco provides U.S. military forces to Atlantic ports and aircraft refueling. Thus, though the U.S. launched a war against Iraq in 1991 that could theoretically have been on the principle of the inadmissibility of conquering the territory of another state when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the U.S. used the Moroccan conquered territory as part of its war effort. In current U.S. policy stretching back to those years, including both Bush and Clinton administrations, the U.S. does “not automatically reject a territorial transfer brought [about] by force.”

The question arises: why is the U.S. willing to exempt Morocco from acquiring territory by force, especially given three factors – Morocco, unlike Israel, is an autocratic monarchy not a democracy; Morocco engages in extensive human rights abuses; finally, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the tension is a source of instability in both areas – the Maghreb and in the former territory of the Palestinian mandate. Yet the Obama administration never challenged Morocco. President Obama even lauded the monarchy for its efforts at “deepening democracy” and “promoting economic progress.” Trump’s foreign policy will undoubtedly stress even more favouritism towards allies rather than rights of self-determination and the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory by force.

However, the key question raised in Friday’s vote was the policy of the UN. The UNSC this year renewed its peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) that was also passed on a Friday (almost eight months earlier on 29 April). In spite of a much greater UN presence there as a peacemaker than in Israel-Palestine, and perhaps because of that and the risks a more activist diplomatic stance might make on the security of its peacekeepers, the UN has not placed any significant pressure on Morocco. It has not even passed any resolutions on Morocco to cease and desist from its policies of expulsion in the area. When Ban Ki-moon visited the territory this past year and even called it “occupied,” a diplomatic firestorm ensued.

The original Res. 379 of 2 November 1975 simply urged the contending parties to desist from unilateral actions and instructed the Secretary General to report back. The stronger 6 November 1975 Resolution 380 deplored a march held by Morocco in the territory, called on Morocco to withdraw its troops and asked the contending parties to cooperate with the UN. The very recent 29 April 2016 Morocco resolution continued the pattern of its predecessors, including Res. 2218 of the previous year, renewing the peacekeeping mandate for an additional year while endorsing the efforts of UN envoys to reconcile the position of the parties and congratulating both parties for their positive efforts to reach a compromise. Nothing was ever said about the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.

The full resolution 2218 on the Western Sahara conflict can be found at the end of this blog.

This was not the case when Indonesia invaded East Timor, also in 1975, and the UNSC passed resolution 384 on 22 December 1975. Though that very much stronger resolution required all states to respect the territorial integrity of East Timor and the inalienable right to self-determination, the resolution never invoked the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. What forced the Indonesian withdrawal was the weakened state of the Indonesian economy and the active intervention of the Australians, propelled in good part by their oil interests in the area.

Only in the case of Kuwait, an independent state and full member of the UN, did the UN Security Council pass a resolution (660), but it authorized member states to take military action to resist and overturn the conquest. The members passed that resolution, not under the principle of the inadmissibility for the acquisition of territory by force, but under a much harsher Chapter VII principle of maintaining peace and security in the region. The resolution endorsed military intervention.

When North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975, no resolution akin to the anti-Indonesian one was passed. In no other case that I can find has there been the invocation of the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force of arms.

Though the UN and other states put pressure on China to accede to the independence of Mongolia in 1961, the Chinese military takeover of Tibet in 1950 and its repression of the Tibetan uprising in 1959 never involved any invocation of the principle of the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory by force. At best, the General Assembly of the UN periodically took up the question of Tibet, but even China’s strongest critics never invoked the principle of the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory by force. Perhaps some resolutions had been morally stronger – charging China with acts of genocide in the fifties and insisting that Tibet had previously been an independent state, but the principle of the inadmissibility of the conquest of territory was not invoked.

The principle is applied exclusively to Israel. Further, the resolution applies only to Israel following the 1967 war.

There are many other cases. Do we need to add the supine character of the UN when it came to the Russian takeover of Crimea, Moscow’s coercive interventions in eastern Ukraine, never mind Russia/s military invasion of Georgia in 2008 ostensibly on behalf of self-determination in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A United Nations member was being dismembered by force, and the UN was impotent to act.

In the case of Ethiopia’s two-year war with Eritrea which began on 6 May of 1998, the two parties reached a peace agreement. That agreement provided for an arbitration commission to determine borders. That commission found in favour of Eritrea and against the claims of Ethiopia that most of the territory of the border region it occupied belonged to Ethiopia, specifically the hundreds of towns and villages along the border in which the Ethiopian army destroyed the buildings and infrastructure in the area occupied, particularly that of the border towns of Senafe and Tsorona- Zalembessa. The UNSC proved unable to enforce a ruling by an independent boundary commission awarding the bulk of disputed border territory to Eritrea.

Ethiopia ignored the findings and continued to occupy the border territory and integrate it into the territory of Ethiopia. This was another example of a seizure of territory by force never condemned by the UN Security Council as a breach of the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. Instead, based on a report of the UNSC Monitoring Group, the UN reprimanded Eritrea for violating the UN resolution by importing weapons and ammunition from eastern Sudan and claimed that it had evidence that Eritrea supported the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement and Ginbot Seven. Eritrea had also been condemned by a human rights commission for arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, enslavement, murder and reprisals against family members of dissidents inside the country. There is no equivalent report on human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza except by Israel.

When Turkish forces took over Northern Cyprus and continued to administer the territory as if it is an extension of Turkey rather than part of the territory of an independent state and member of the UN, it did so under the pretext that Turkey had no jurisdiction or control over the territory of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which Turkey, but no other country, recognized as an independent de facto state. Turkey claimed that Northern Cyprus was not a “subordinate local administration.” The European Court of Human Rights had already previously ruled that Turkey exercised effective control over northern Cyprus. Nevertheless, the UN Security Council had never ruled that Turkey’s effective control was an example of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory through force.

Comparative historical examinations of other situations as well as of the case of Israel before 1967 clearly points to the fact that the Security Council has been using the language of a general principle to apply to one and only one case, thereby undermining that principle as a norm of international conduct and reinforcing the position that the acquisition of territory through force is, in fact, the accepted practice and not its obverse.

Next Blog: The UNSC Res. 2334 Part II: Occupation and Acquisition:
Legal Obligations and Responsibilities Under the Fourth Geneva Convention

Appendix 1:

Security Council Resolution 2334
Reaffirming its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 476 (1980), 478 (1980), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), and 1850 (2008),
Guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force,
Reaffirming the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, and recalling the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice,
Condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions,
Expressing grave concern that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperilling the viability of the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines,
Recalling the obligation under the Quartet Roadmap, endorsed by its resolution 1515 (2003), for a freeze by Israel of all settlement activity, including “natural growth”, and the dismantlement of all settlement outposts erected since March 2001,
Recalling also the obligation under the Quartet roadmap for the Palestinian Authority Security Forces to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantling terrorist capabilities, including the confiscation of illegal weapons,
Condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction,
Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,
Stressing that the status quo is not sustainable and that significant steps, consistent with the transition contemplated by prior agreements, are urgently needed in order to (i) stabilize the situation and to reverse negative trends on the ground, which are steadily eroding the two-State solution and entrenching a one-State reality, and (ii) to create the conditions for successful final status negotiations and for advancing the two-State solution through those negotiations and on the ground,
1. Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;
2. Reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard;
3. Underlines that it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations;
4. Stresses that the cessation of all Israeli settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and calls for affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution;
5. Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;
6. Calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction, calls for accountability in this regard, and calls for compliance with obligations under international law for the strengthening of ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination, and to clearly condemn all acts of terrorism;
7. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law, including international humanitarian law, and their previous agreements and obligations, to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, with the aim, inter alia, of de-escalating the situation on the ground, rebuilding trust and confidence, demonstrating through policies and actions a genuine commitment to the two-State solution, and creating the conditions necessary for promoting peace;
8. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process and within the time frame specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;
9. Urges in this regard the intensification and acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East on the basis of the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Madrid terms of reference, including the principle of land for peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap and an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967; and underscores in this regard the importance of the ongoing efforts to advance the Arab Peace Initiative, the initiative of France for the convening of an international peace conference, the recent efforts of the Quartet, as well as the efforts of Egypt and the Russian Federation;
10. Confirms its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations and in the implementation of an agreement;
11. Reaffirms its determination to examine practical ways and means to secure the full implementation of its relevant resolutions;
12. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Council every three months on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution;
13. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Appendix 2: The UN Security Council on the Western Sahara:

“The Security Council,
“Recalling and reaffirming all its previous resolutions on Western Sahara,
“Reaffirming its strong support for the efforts of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy to implement resolutions 1754 (2007), 1783 (2007), 1813 (2008), 1871 (2009), 1920 (2010), 1979 (2011), 2044 (2012), 2099 (2013), and 2152 (2014),
“Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and noting the role and responsibilities of the parties in this respect,
“Reiterating its call upon the parties and the neighbouring states to cooperate more fully with the United Nations and with each other and to strengthen their involvement to end the current impasse and to achieve progress towards a political solution,
“Recognizing that achieving a political solution to this long-standing dispute and enhanced cooperation between the Member States of the Maghreb Arab Union would contribute to stability and security in the Sahel region,
“Welcoming the efforts of the Secretary-General to keep all peacekeeping operations, including the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), under close review and reiterating the need for the Council to pursue a rigorous, strategic approach to peacekeeping deployments, and effective management of resources,
“Expressing concern about the violations of existing agreements, and calling on the parties to respect their relevant obligations,
“Taking note of the Moroccan proposal presented on 11 April 2007 to the Secretary-General and welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution; also taking note of the Polisario Front proposal presented 10 April 2007 to the Secretary-General,
“Encouraging in this context, the parties to demonstrate further political will towards a solution including by expanding upon their discussion of each other’s proposals,
“Taking note of the four rounds of negotiations held under the auspices of the Secretary-General and welcoming the commitment of the parties to continue the negotiations process,
“Encouraging the parties to continue cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in implementing the January 2012 updated Plan of Action on Confidence Building Measures,
“Stressing the importance of improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps, and encouraging the parties to work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights, bearing in mind their relevant obligations under international law,
“Encouraging the parties to continue in their respective efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps, including the freedoms of expression and association,
“Recognizing and welcoming, in this regard, the recent steps and initiatives taken by Morocco to strengthen the National Council on Human Rights Commissions operating in Dakhla and Laayoune, and Morocco’s ongoing interaction with Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, including those planned for 2015, as well as the planned visit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2015,
“Also welcoming the implementation of the enhanced refugee protection programme developed by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in coordination with the Polisario Front, which includes refugee and human rights training and awareness initiatives,
“Reiterating its request for consideration of a refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps and inviting efforts in this regard,
“Welcoming the commitment of the parties to continue the process of negotiations through the United Nations-sponsored talks,
“Recognizing that the consolidation of the status quo is not acceptable, and noting further that progress in the negotiations is essential in order to improve the quality of life of the people of Western Sahara in all its aspects,
“Affirming full support for the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Ambassador Christopher Ross and his work in facilitating negotiations between the parties, and, welcoming to that effect his recent initiatives and ongoing consultations with the parties and neighbouring states,
“Affirming full support for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara and Head of MINURSO Kim Bolduc,
“Having considered the report of the Secretary-General of 13 April 2015 (S/2015/246),
“1. Decides to extend the mandate of MINURSO until 30 April 2016;
“2. Reaffirms the need for full respect of the military agreements reached with MINURSO with regard to the ceasefire and calls on the parties to adhere fully to those agreements;
“3. Calls upon all parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO, including its free interaction with all interlocutors, and to take the necessary steps to ensure the security of as well as unhindered movement and immediate access for the United Nations and associated personnel in carrying out their mandate, in conformity with existing agreements;
“4. Welcomes the parties’ commitment to continue the process of preparation for a fifth round of negotiations, and recalls its endorsement of the recommendation in the report of 14 April 2008 (S/2008/251) that realism and a spirit of compromise by the parties are essential to achieve progress in negotiations;
“5. Calls upon the parties to continue to show political will and work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue in order to enter into a more intensive and substantive phase of negotiations, thus ensuring implementation of resolutions 1754 (2007), 1783 (2007), 1813 (2008), 1871 (2009), 1920 (2010), 1979 (2011), 2044 (2012), 2099 (2013), and 2152 (2014), and the success of negotiations;
“6. Affirms its full support for the commitment of the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy towards a solution to the question of Western Sahara in this context and calls for renewed meetings and strengthening of contacts;
“7. Calls upon the parties to continue negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, taking into account the efforts made since 2006 and subsequent developments, with a view to achieving a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and noting the role and responsibilities of the parties in this respect;
“8. Invites Member States to lend appropriate assistance to these talks;
“9. Requests the Secretary-General to brief the Security Council on a regular basis, and at least twice a year, on the status and progress of these negotiations under his auspices, on the implementation of this resolution, challenges to MINURSO’s operations and steps taken to address them, expresses its intention to meet to receive and discuss his briefings and in this regard, and further requests the Secretary-General to provide a report on the situation in Western Sahara well before the end of the mandate period;
“10. Welcomes the commitment of the parties and the neighbouring states to hold periodic meetings with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to review and, where possible, expand confidence-building measures;
“11. Urges Member States to provide voluntary contributions to fund confidence-building measures agreed upon between the parties, including those that allow for visits between separated family members, as well as food programmes to ensure that the humanitarian needs of refugees are adequately addressed;
“12. Requests the Secretary-General to continue to take the necessary measures to ensure full compliance in MINURSO with the United Nations zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to keep the Council informed, and urges troop-contributing countries to take appropriate preventive action including predeployment awareness training, and other action to ensure full accountability in cases of such conduct involving their personnel;
“13. Decides to remain seized of the matter.”


Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace.Part I: Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem.06.05.13

Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace                                                            06.05.13

Part I: Sadat’s Visit to Jerusalem


Howard Adelman

The title of today’s blog is taken from the documentary directed by Harry Hunkele called Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace which I saw at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival but was too busy to write about it during that busy film week. The film is available on Netflix or on a DVD. It is not a new film; an early version was shown at the 2009 Monte-Carlo Television Festival, premiered at the Abu Dabai Film Festival in October 2010 and was screened at Cannes in 2011. The title also belongs to the book of one of the important individuals involved as a back channel conduit featured prominently in the film, Leon H. Charney, and from whom the director clearly borrowed a great deal in dealing with the Camp David segment.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been long and appears intractable. In these types of conflicts, military forces and diplomats alone rarely achieve peace. Complex approaches are used involving a multitude of agents in addition to diplomats and soldiers – academics, human rights activists, conflict resolution experts, businessmen. These are referred to as Track II initiatives. They bring parties together and can focus on joint projects and building trust even when the parties are technically at war. They also offer a parallel path for contacts. Track I and Track II efforts can be clandestine or open. The use of clandestine contacts, dubbed back door channels through trusted private individuals or politicians, has been a part of virtually every peace negotiation in history. This film purports to focus on those back door channels. Having been involved in several Track II efforts, some clandestine, I was very interested in seeing the film.

The documentary is about the efforts and personalities who brought together first Anwar Al-Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, then the Camp David Accords and finally the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that followed. The film, as the subtitle indicates, is also about the consequences of such peace efforts to the principals involved. The film contends that all three principals, Anwar Al-Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter at Camp David, paid a huge price for making peace before the finale focuses on allusions to the present with clips of Obama presumably from his speech in Cairo.

Let me deal with the conceit, indeed, distortion, that all three leaders paid a great price to make peace. Unquestionably, Sadat did. He was assassinated for signing the Camp David Peace Agreement. In fact, the film slides over the fact that his Prime Minister resigned over the issue and most of his advisors refused to attend the signing ceremony. This is important for it was relevant to whether Israel could be confident that a peace agreement would hold. It did hold, but it turned out to be a cold peace that today is under threat of unravelling.

The suggestion is made that Begin also paid a high price. His colleagues, who had accompanied him through his long years in the underground and in the wilderness of the opposition, accused him of betrayal according to Hunkele. Further, as he stalled on the second half of the peace agreement dealing with the Palestinians, Ezer Weisman resigned from his cabinet – though the film does not deal with these events. The filmmaker believes that Begin then invaded Lebanon in 1982 to prove to everyone he was not a softie or an appeaser, and, following that calamitous decision, in 1983 withdrew into isolation as a seriously diminished individual, ended as a recluse and thus became a victim of signing the Accords.

I do not even find this argument plausible, but perhaps some case could be made for it.  The film never even tries to make the case. This is not true for the explanation of Jimmy Carter losing the bid for re-election. In the Q&A that followed the showing, Harry Hunkele was asked why, if Jimmy Carter played such an important role in making peace, he developed so much ill will in the Jewish community in America. Hunkele presumed the questioner was referring to Carter`s statement about Israel being an apartheid state, and said that he believed that this was a result of Carter becoming frustrated with Israeli intransigence on the Palestinian peace front.

It is hard to believe that this is what he actually said. It only indicated to me that a director can make a very effective and powerful film, especially out of such historically important material, and still be relatively ignorant about the subject matter he is covering. Carter did not just make one statement about apartheid. He wrote a book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a polemic against Israel, Israeli politicians and Israeli Jewish and gentile supporters in America based on distortions, misinformation and exaggerations that help sabotage rather than advance peace. And it is not just an aside. Carter’s obsession with Israel and his hatred of Begin have never abated.

What about then? It is certainly true that Carter`s support in the American Jewish community fell from 72% in his first election bid to 45% in his bid for re-election. But to connect that fall in support to Carter`s facilitating the Camp David Accords and subsequently the Camp David Peace Agreement is more than a stretch. Look at the facts. 

Carter no sooner took office than he alienated the Jewish community by calling for a Palestinian homeland. Such a vision might be considered prophetic, not simply because I held that view at the time, but it ran strongly against both community beliefs and the back door efforts underway in the seventies to make a deal with Jordan. Second, in the Spring of 1978, Carter sold Saudi Arabia America’s top fighter, the F-15; recall that Mark Siegel, who helped initiate the Holocaust Museum in Washington and forge Carter’s generous policy towards Soviet Jews, resigned from Carter’s White House staff over the issue. Third, Zbignew Brzezinski, who was Carter`s Security Advisor and plays a prominent role in the film, worked with Carter to get Sadat and Begin to attend a Geneva Conference with the goal of producing a comprehensive and all-encompassing peace agreement, an initiative that both Sadat and Begin regarded as foolish and incapable of producing results. Fourth, after Sadat made his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 `behind Jimmy`s back`, Carter had to reverse gears and remake his strategic approach. Carter deserves credit that he did change his approach and took the lead in inviting Begin and Sadat to Camp David against the advice of his closest associates.

Carter also deserves credit for the effective and determined role he played in Camp David, quite aside from all his mistakes. He also has to be given enormous credit, again in spite of his many fumbles, for helping translate that peace accord into a full-fledged peace agreement. At that time, his support within the Jewish community was strong. But the Jewish community, like the American community in general, turned against Carter on all kinds of grounds – his handling of the Panama Canal issue for one. But most of all it was over the failure to rescue the American hostages in Iran that stood in such blatant contrast to the successful Israeli efforts at Entebbe a few years before and his failed negotiations to bring the hostages home.

The Iran Hostage Crisis was sufficient to ensure his defeat. But there were other reasons which guaranteed a landslide victory for Reagan. The Soviets marched into Afghanistan on his watch just after he signed an arms control treaty with Leonid Brezhnev. The American military was perceived as having been gutted so that America could no longer project strength abroad to intimidate adventurism. The American economy was in a shambles suffering from both high inflation and stagnation – stagflation. I spent five days with President Carter in Atlanta over African issues in the 1990s at the CarterCenter. I came to Atlanta with little knowledge of him and a general appreciation for what he accomplished at Camp David.

I left totally disillusioned and convinced that the impression of his fellow leaders in NATO of him as incompetent – obsessed with a combination of high moral principles and meticulous mastery of details that were often irrelevant – had been correct. In my five days with him, he displayed a quite stubborn determination to get his way whatever the objections raised to his proposals for dealing with a particular African problem. In spite of his mastery of facts, he never let an inconvenient fact falsify a conviction he held. His understatement, impish smile and sparkling eyes disguised his powerful will. He was always simplistic even though he had a great capacity to know all kinds of minute details on a subject. He projected a combination of 100% dogmatic assurance who liked to be surrounded by sycophants while underneath being very insecure and uncertain, a state of mind which he covered with dogmatic adhesiveness. The Jewish community – like every other community – had a great many reasons to vote against him. Camp David was unlikely one of them. Rather than paying a price for Camp David, Camp David is perhaps the only action that saves Carter from total ignominy.

Part of the problem of the film is that it covers three phases of the peace process instead of concentrating on the last two where Carter was most effective after the parties themselves arranged the Jerusalem visit in spite of Carter’s deeply flawed and distracting if not destructive Geneva efforts. The back door channels to achieve the first stage could have been easily covered without getting into distractions. Given that the first five minutes of the film are taken up with a silly cartoonish and potted history of the conflict from the split between Abraham’s two sons thousands of years ago to the 1970s that mixed historical film footage with computer-generated imagery was enough to drive you out of the theatre. The film could have started with the October 1973 war and its legacy.

We are approaching the 35th anniversary of 17 September 1978 when President Jimmy Carter brought President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel together to the White House to sign the Camp David Accords, the document outlining how they would subsequently agree to end the state of war between the two countries and also attack the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film could also have begun much more organically with the historic victory of Menachem Begin over Shimon Peres that thrust all us peaceniks into deep doldrums and a sense that we would never get peace. How then did the first major breakthrough come with Egypt? What role did clandestine contacts play? Such a focus, if one obtained access to the right persons, could not help but be a powerful film.

In the first phase of the process to set up the historic visit of Sadat to Jerusalem, I happened to be living in Jerusalem; I was a Lady Davis Visiting Professor at Hebrew University for 1977-1978. Though I managed to wangle my way into the Jerusalem Theatre to hear Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres, I knew nothing at the time of the convoluted back door efforts that had been used to bring about that historic visit. But even before those back door processes through Romania and Morocco could be explored, setting the context of the implausibility of pulling off such a venture is critical.

My own knowledge of the backdrop came from Aziz Sidqi who was Prime Minster of Egypt from 1972 until after the Yom Kippur War. We spent four days together in Amman at a conference and the two of us spent a day off hiking through the hills of Jordan. He was a bright economist with a PhD from Harvard, but with a very jaundiced view of politics. When we went on that hike, he had taken time off from his business as a candy importer. He had been driven from office by orchestrated protests by a cabinet colleague against price controls he had lifted as part of a comprehensive effort to free up the rigidities of the Egyptian economy. In 1973, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, he was in London with his wife who was due to be operated on the next day. Sadat summoned him back to London. Two hours before the war started, he, as Prime minister, was informed. Prior to that, Sadat had told only the Defence Minister and the Minister of Intelligence.  

Sadat was determined to change the ground rules, get back the Sinai and go to war since it seemed that the Israelis, particularly Golda Maier, was not receptive and could not hear his back door overtures. Win or lose, the Sinai campaign would change everything. Against the overwhelming advice of his associates, in spite of the détente in place between the US and the USSR since 1972, and in secrecy with few knowing, he decided to go to war in October. His intelligence service projected that the war would cost the lives of 30,000 Egyptian soldiers. He himself expected 10,000 dead. He wanted change and took the risk. The initial attack cost just over 200 Egyptian soldiers lives.

And change came, even though Israel finally recovered from the not-so-surprise attack if the Israeli government leaders had heeded the signals. In the end, Sadat suffered a profound military defeat. However, it was a diplomatic and political victory. Israel’s post-1967 sense of invulnerability was crushed. Egyptians hailed the defeat as a great military accomplishment just because they so successfully broke through the Bar-Lev line and did not suffer nearly the number of casualties predicted. His domestic and worldwide prestige was enormous. He had earned a great deal of political capital. He had also developed a deep personal emotional motivation to pursue peace which the film does deal with – the loss of his son-in-law in the October War. He now had to find parties on the other side that could hear his message.

In spite of America’s deafness to his back door approaches to Washington that rivalled the auditory blockages in Jerusalem, Sadat had also decided to realign with America rather than the USSR, move strongly towards a more open economy, rebuild his army with superior western arms (and correspondingly fewer troops) and redefine foreign policy in terms of placing a priority on Egyptian rather than Arab interests. The 1973 war would be Egypt’s last war with Israel. Military preparations would accord with that objective and shift the threat perception once a peace agreement could be concluded, at great savings to the Egyptian economy. The first and second disengagement agreements of 1974 and 1975 between Egypt and Israel, the joint Egyptian-Israeli patrols in the Sinai, the attendance of Egyptian and Israeli academics at conferences together and the joint experience of Israeli and Egyptian officers taking the same advanced military courses in Britain and America bore enormous fruit in creating pockets of background trust. (See the account of Ahmed Fakhr of his relationship developed over a year in London with General Ari Brown of the IDF who had been an aide to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.)

These initiatives had allowed Sadat to seed his rapprochement plan at lower levels. These were different aspects of Track II (though not back door) diplomacy underway. Some reference to these initiatives would have made clearer why and when clandestine moves on either Track I or Track II are necessary and helpful since that is the subject of the film. The opportunity was lost. It was important to state that Sadat was not just interested in peace with Israel but in a total realignment of the region and, in particular, Egypt’s new efforts to enable Egypt to foster peace in the whole region, west and south as well as east, and to secure Egypt’s most vital interest, the waters of the Nile. Given what subsequently took place in Sudan and then Libya, Sadat was very prescient. 

Further, in addition to the economic domestic agenda, Sadat had a political domestic agenda for which these moves were prerequisites. Sadat directed the military to stay out of politics on all levels and moved ballot boxes out of military bases as a key step towards democratization, a multiparty system and a freer civil society.

It is against this background, most of which was accessible to Mossad, that Sadat renewed his primary back door peace initiative by planning to go to Jerusalem. Now that much of the Israeli archives are open from that period and can be accessed on the internet, the secret documents are available for all to see. As suggested by pictorial images and interviews with a veteran journalist in the film, on 4 September 1977, two and one-half months before Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem on 20 November, Ceausescu met secretly with Begin in Romania where Begin was told with certain conviction that Sadat wanted a high level meeting between Egyptian and Israeli representatives. Whatever the awful character of Ceausescu as a dictator, Romania was the only country behind the iron curtain that had not broken diplomatic relations with Israel after the Six Day War. Further, Ceausescu was a reliable intermediary with a formidable ability to recall conversations in great detail. In the same meeting – this was 1977 – Ceausescu told Begin that Arafat was willing to recognize Israel in exchange for recognition of the PLO and a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Israel immediately stepped up another back door channel through Morocco’s King Hassan II and confirmed what they had been told by Ceausescu. This is also in the film. A disguised Moshe Dayan flew to Morocco and his entourage was housed in the king’s official guest house next to his private villa with a secret back door specifically designed for back door diplomacy. I thought the director missed a chance to introduce a cartoon version of all this literal back door diplomacy, including a caricature of Dayan in disguise. Dayan met with Prime Minister Hassan Tohami. Mossad made meticulous notes of the meeting. This was an initiative without American involvement because the Americans were stubbornly pursuing a wrong track. The message was clear. The Arab countries wanted to curb Palestinian radicalism because it was infectious and posed a danger to their regimes. Peace was necessary and the opening to that route was now available through Egypt. 

The highway for Sadat to travel to Jerusalem had been built. In spite of the snipers placed in locations around the airport lest a Trojan Horse arrive, something I did not know until I saw the film, Sadat came and won the hearts and minds of the majority of Israelis. The doorway to peace had been opened.

Next: Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace – Part II: The Camp David Accords