Comment: Who is Responsible

This commentary by Birzeit University Board of Trustees Member Haidar 'Abdel Shafi, first appeared in al-Quds Newspaper on 31 March 1998.

It is intuitively known that peace between peoples and countries and individuals can not be achieved and remain stable except on the principle of righteousness, justice and the mutual recognition of these principles. Any violation of these principles will hinder any development towards peace.

Let us examine the peace process in the Middle East and on these bases so as to reveal the stances of the disputing parties and therefore decide who is responsible for the obstruction of this process and what should be done.

The Palestinian side

- The Palestinians are the grandchildren of the Semitic tribes who settled in Palestine since the dawning of history. Their existence in Palestine was an ongoing presence before the establishment of the Jewish state. Based on this, they can not be considered intruders or invaders and their basic right to self-determination and independence are unnegotiable rights which cannot be argued. 
- The Palestinians were subjected to aggression and a violation of their rights to self-determination by the British who adopted the Zionist claim that all of Palestine is Israeli land. The British took it upon themselves to implement this claim with abstract force and against the resistance of the Palestinian people in their self-defense. They fought a losing battle due to the imbalance of power. It was apparent from the beginning of the British mandate that nothing was established or achieved on Palestinian land except by force and not by legitimacy or law.
- In the context of the Palestinian people's exposure to aggression and their unending defense of their rights, over three-fourths of the Palestinian people were exiled from their homes, cities and villages to become refugees. And this is how the problem of peace was created in the Middle East.

For the sake of ending the conflict and achieving peace and stability, the Palestinian people gave the following concessions:

  1. They took into consideration the Jewish existence which was achieved with the help of Britain. They called for a democratic secular state in all of Palestine where Jews along with Christian and Muslim Palestinians would coexist on the basis of equality and the practice of democracy.
  2. A year after the start of the intifada, the Palestinian National Council in its 19th session on November 15, 1988 adopted the resolution to accept the principle of two states. This constituted an essential concession for peace, since it entailed recognizing the existence of the state of Israel as an independent state on Palestinian land. However, Israel rejected this initiative.
  3. The National Council agreed to participate in the peace process in Madrid despite the extreme and unfair Israeli conditions.
  4. The Palestinian people are still holding strong to the principle of peace and they are calling on Israel to stop rejecting the requirements for peace.


The Israeli side

The first Zionist conference which took place in Basal, Switzerland established the claim that all of Palestine and parts of surrounding Arab lands are Israeli land despite the ongoing Palestinian existence on it since the beginning of time. The conference decided, in order to establish a Jewish state, to remain strong and work on implementing the following concepts, given that it was apparent that the project could not be implemented except by force:

  1. The establishment of a military and economic force in order to achieve the political goal.
  2. Obtaining international strength from outside the area (Britain).
  3. Not recognizing the existence of a Palestinian national entity.
  4. Adopting the principle of peace through force.


Before and after the first Zionist conference, Zionist leaders exerted themselves in thinking of ways to annihilate the original inhabitants (the Palestinians) when a Jewish state was established.
- The Zionist acceptance of the partition resolution was a transitional acceptance on the road to occupying the whole of Palestine. 
- The occupation of 22% more land than was granted to them by the partition plan and their rejection to withdraw from it despite UN resolutions. 
- The occupation of all demilitarized areas in violation to truce agreements. 
- The occupation of the Gaza Strip in 1956 in participation with the tripartite aggression and a refusal to withdraw except as a result of American pressure. 
- The 1967 war and the occupation of the rest of Palestine; the immediate start of land confiscation and settlement building and not responding to Security Council resolutions and international public opinion. 
- The Palestinians' displacement from their land, cities and villages was carried out through terrorism starting in the mid-thirties by the massacres which took place during the 1948 events. 
- Despite all its actions and violations, Israel speaks more than anyone else about peace and security, so what is the truth? 
- President Sadat's initiative constituted the most important test of Israel's credibility towards peace after peace was achieved between the largest and strongest Arab country and Israel. What was the impact of this on Israel? 
- Israel took advantage of this achievement, not to get closer to calls for peace, but to start its vast settlement project in the West Bank. 
- It carried out its unjustified and vicious aggression against Lebanon in 1982 which ended in the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla. 
- Israel rejected the Palestinian National Council initiative in November of 1988 which showed their refusal to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of their independent state. 
- Israel has maintained its stronghold on its extremist stances which placed the Washington negotiations in a constant crisis. 
- Despite the negative aspects of the Oslo agreement and the concessions it entails, Israel has continued with its violations and confiscation.

How should we diagnose the current situation?


  1. Peace will not be achieved except on the basis of justice and mutual recognition of rights.
  2. Palestinians will not give up their rights to self-determination and an independent entity.
  3. Security can not be achieved except through a just peace. What should be done?




  1. The current situation constitutes a crisis and existential challenge to the Palestinian people.
  2. Their priorities should be to achieve a better stability for themselves on their land and to organize themselves in order to take advantage of their potentialities.
  3. The importance of democratic transition in order to achieve these requirements.
  4. We must work to resurrect Palestinian intellectual and cultural thinking so as to gain from Palestinians in the Diaspora.
  5. In the face of the continuing Israeli stance which, in actuality, is a call for battle, Palestinians must maintain their right for armed struggle by whichever appropriate manner in the case that all other possibilities for a just peace are exhausted.




  1. The normalization between the Arabs and Israel can not exist through the illusions of Oslo in the face of the obstructed political process.
  2. The Arabs must insist on their right to militarize themselves on the same level as Israel including all the Unites States gives to Israel in this field.
  3. To work towards eliminating all sources of dispute between Arab countries and to activate the Arab League.




  1. The importance of adopting objective stances and dealing with one standard.
  2. The issue of security which Israel constantly brings up to justify its aggressions and violations of the law and of human rights must be subjected to objective long-term thinking far from personal and ethnic responses. The security which Israel calls for can not be separated from the principles of justice and peace. Therefore, Israel will not have its security unless it changes its position to agree with the calls for security and peace.
  3. The United States' bias towards Israel constitutes a black mark in its history.
  4. We hope that the European democracies will work to activate their stances towards Israel which will force it to commit to the calls for peace and justice.