Buzzwords of Bias
Over the years, states, leaders, international organisations, and the international and Israeli media have developed a tendency to endlessly repeat certain internationally recognisable catchphrases and buzzwords with the aim of dictating and influencing a distinct, partisan political narrative against Israel.
This tendency is becoming a permanent phenomenon and increasingly obstructs any genuine attempt to achieve reconciliation between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
The repetition of such phrases and terms in all and any discussion and reporting of events and developments in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is legally inaccurate and blatantly misleading.
While such uses may emanate from ignorance as to the genuine meaning of such phrases and buzzwords and the actual facts and legal background of the various issues, it is more likely that they are deliberately intended to mislead the public.
The following are several examples of such false, misleading, and malicious catchphrases and buzzwords.
1. “State of Palestine”
In fact and in law, no “State of Palestine” exists among the world’s sovereign state entities. Such a state has never existed.
While the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has, since 1974, held observer status in the United Nations as a recognised national liberation movement, its attempts to gain recognition as a fully-fledged, voting member-state of the UN have never been accepted. The Palestinian leadership has never been able to indicate to the UN Security Council that a Palestinian entity is a “peace-loving” entity that fulfills the universally recognised capacities for statehood.
The United Nations does not have the legal capacity to establish states, but only to admit states to membership upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
In attempting to bypass this hurdle, the Palestinian leadership has gradually extended and upgraded its observer status and even changed the denomination of its observer delegation to “Palestine”. This was achieved through initiating a series of political resolutions in the UN General Assembly, which were adopted by an automatic majority. However, such resolutions are not binding and not authoritative.
This Palestinian political exercise in the UN General Assembly culminated in 2012 in another non-binding and non-authoritative resolution, adopted by the same automatic political majority, to upgrade its status from an “observer entity” at the United Nations to a “non-member observer state”.
Since 2012, the Palestinian leadership has utilised this change in nomenclature without any legal authority, seeking to manipulate the international community into believing that it has achieved statehood and to represent itself as the “State of Palestine”.
But this fiction has not altered the fact that the Palestinian status in the United Nations remains that of an observer.
2. The “Illegal Occupation”
In the course of more than 50 years of malicious repetition and deliberately misleading marketing, the expression “the occupation” has become universally synonymous solely with Israel’s presence in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria.
According to the international law and practice of armed conflict, a situation of occupation is not illegal. It is an accepted legal situation, a legal term of art referring to a provisional status of belligerency in which one sovereign power occupies, during an armed conflict, the territory of another sovereign power, pending an agreed resolution between the parties in conflict. Occupying powers have both obligations and privileges under international humanitarian law.
“Occupation” does not reflect the case with respect to Israel, whose status in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip is unique (sui generis) since these areas had never been considered sovereign Jordanian or Egyptian territory. The territories legitimately came under the authority of Israel, while defending itself during a war imposed on it by its neighbours in 1967. The areas were not taken or acquired from states that held prior legitimate sovereign status or powers over the territory, and, as such, do not fall under the accepted definition of occupation.
On the contrary, Jordan’s presence and its 1950 annexation of the West Bank area had never received international recognition. Similarly, Egypt never claimed or represented that its military administration of the Gaza Strip prior to 1967 was its sovereign territory.
Thus, the implications and assumption of Israeli illegality are utterly flawed.
Regrettably, the term “the occupation” has been artificially tailored to attain a negative political connotation with respect to Israel – through repetitive international political manipulation. It is cynically used within the international community to defame and condemn Israel and to delegitimise its legal and historical claims regarding the territories.
With the willing and automatic support of a politically biased international community, the Palestinian leadership has even weaponised the term “occupation” as a means to question Israel’s legitimacy. It has transformed the international legal term “occupation” into a catchphrase “illegal occupation,” which governments, international organisations, diplomats, media, and human rights activists have blindly adopted in an attempt to recast Israel as an outlaw state. The result of such manipulation is that the term “the occupation” is generally misused to imply that Israel took control of and administers the areas illegally. Such misuse ignores legitimate legal and historical claims espoused by Israel and acknowledged by the international community concerning the permanent status of the areas.
The expression is used derogatively only concerning Israel, as if no other situation exists in the world where a state exercises authority in disputed areas. In its apparent fixation on Israel, the international community ignores such cases.
Since the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria have never fallen under the accepted definition of occupation, they remain “disputed” between the parties pending an agreed, permanent settlement of their status. Both parties espouse claims regarding the areas and have agreed, pursuant to the internationally endorsed Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords (1993-95), to peacefully negotiate and resolve such claims. Pending negotiated resolution of these areas’ permanent status, the parties have agreed to divide the powers and responsibilities involved in their governance.
Therefore, the term “the occupation,” selectively and derogatively used against Israel, is flawed and has no legal basis. It runs contrary to the agreed Israeli-Palestinian negotiation process to resolve the issue of the permanent status of the territories and seeks to undermine legitimate claims regarding the territories.
3. “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (OPT)
The phrase “Occupied Palestinian Territory” (OPT) is incorrect both factually and legally. The territories are neither occupied nor are they Palestinian.
While between 1967 and 1974, UN documentation used the term “Occupied Arab Territories”, this was artificially altered in UN resolutions and documents through politically motivated, nonbinding UN General Assembly resolutions and constant political repetition, and the term “occupied Palestinian territories” has gained prominence in international parlance since 1982.
There has never been any binding or authoritative international legal instrument, agreement, mandate, declaration, or resolution that determines that the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip are Palestinian. These territories have never been legally or formally designated as “Palestinian” territory. They were never part of any Palestinian sovereign entity, which has never existed and were never taken from any Palestinian entity.
Nevertheless, the erroneous term “OPT” has become lingua franca within the international community.
On the contrary, pursuant to the 1993-95 Oslo Accords, the PLO and Israel have committed to negotiating the territories’ permanent status. If they themselves are committed to negotiating their permanent status, there can be neither logic nor justification in assuming that the territories are Palestinian. Hence the term “occupied Palestinian territory,” which appears in International Committee of the Red Cross and UN documentation and in declarations and statements by world leaders and international resolutions, and even in the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice of July 9, 2014, regarding Israel’s security barrier, is redundant. It is nothing more than a political catchphrase that has never emanated from any genuine legal analysis.
Accordingly, any use or acceptance of the denomination “Palestinian territories” or “occupied Palestinian territories” in effect prejudges the outcome of those agreed-upon negotiations and contravenes and undermines the agreed commitments in the Oslo Accords.
4. “Settler Colonialism”
The use of this curious terminology by extreme left-wing and ostensibly progressive elements is nothing more than a shallow and dishonest attempt to manipulate international thinking. It is done by using outmoded, anarchistic, and quasi-intellectual templates taken from age-old colonial situations in an effort to transpose them onto the case of Israel.
Such templates bear no relation whatsoever to the situation in the Middle East.
Accusing Israel of colonisation is an attempt to fraudulently and artificially represent Israel in the same light as the European powers that colonised Africa and the Americas in centuries gone by. Such representation is absurd and an insult to intelligence.
This false and malicious accusation totally ignores the circumstances of the defensive war that brought about Israel’s acquisition of control of the territories in 1967.
It ignores and undermines those central UN resolutions and signed agreements calling for a negotiated settlement of the Middle East dispute.
It ignores that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed to divide governance of the territories pending the outcome of the negotiations on the permanent status.
It also ignores the indigenous rights of the Jewish people in the area as well as the internationally acknowledged historical and legal claims of the Jewish people regarding the area, as recognised in such instruments as the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Declaration, and the 1922 League of Nations Mandate instrument, and reaffirmed in Article 80 of the UN Charter.
The establishment of settlements by Israel in the territories, in accordance with its prerogatives under international law as the governing authority in the territory, cannot in any way be seen as any form of colonialisation. The use of non-privately-owned public land for settlement or agriculture is entirely consistent with accepted international norms as long as the status of the land is not changed pending its final negotiated outcome.
Pursuant to the Oslo Accords, settlements are an agreed issue of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to determine the permanent status of the territories, together with other issues such as borders, refugees, security, economic interests, and Jerusalem.
5. “Settler Violence”
This expression has taken on a life of its own as part of the accepted international phraseology seeking to vilify Israel. It attempts to establish a new and unique phenomenon of specially tailored violence that exists nowhere else, as if Israeli residents of settlements have developed their own unique technique of violence.
Violence by anyone, including the residents of Israel’s settlements, is illegal and is to be condemned, prevented, convicted, and punished. However, to single out such acts by a small number of residents of Israel’s settlements, and to turn this into a cynical, clichéd, and generalised expression intended to tarnish an entire group, belies any international logic and morals. It displays a distinct political bias that, in any other circumstance, would be considered the subject of censure.
6. The “1967 Borders”
The widely repeated, legally flawed, and false call for Israel to “return to the 1967 borders” has become a staple component of the Palestinian narrative. This is even though no such borders ever existed, and there exists no agreement between Israel and the Palestinians calling for or agreeing to “1967 borders”.
The lines from which Israeli forces entered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 were the 1949 Armistice Demarcation lines, which, as stated in the armistice agreements, remained temporary lines and not final political borders.
Following the 1967 war, UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) called for the negotiation of “secure and recognised boundaries,” thereby formally affirming the international consensus that the 1949 Armistice Demarcation lines were never considered to be secure and recognised boundaries.
In the 1993-95 Oslo Accords, the PLO, in the name of the Palestinian people, and Israel committed to negotiating “the border issue” in the permanent status negotiations.
Bilateral borders cannot be imposed by false and misleading clichés, generated to establish false political facts. They cannot be imposed by the wishful thinking of partisan elements in the international community. It takes two parties to negotiate a border between them. Any serious negotiation on the border issue must consider the genuine and substantive security, historical, and demographic factors necessary to determine any freely negotiated bilateral border.
7. “Apartheid State”
This false clichéd claim is increasingly repeated by the Palestinian leadership and by propagandists seeking to delegitimise and undermine Israel and represent it as an illegal and criminal entity.
The expression was initially advocated by Yasser Arafat and adopted by NGO groups at the discredited 2001 UN Conference on Racism at Durban. It attempts to deliberately misrepresent Israel’s own constitutional and legal system and its administration of the territories in accordance with the norms and principles of international humanitarian law. It further misrepresents and undermines the mutual Israeli and Palestinian commitments in the Oslo Accords, pending negotiated settlement of the permanent status of the territories.
As such, it attempts to establish a false and misleading equivalence with the former South African apartheid regime.
The adoption of this malicious claim indicates a lack of understanding and even utter ignorance of the racist nature and components of the accepted international definitions of the phenomenon of apartheid. It is no less indicative of an even further and more profound lack of understanding of the character of the state of Israel as an open, pluralistic, and democratic society.
The complete lack of any equivalence between Israel and its administration of the territories and the former apartheid regime in South Africa is so blatant that one can only assume that those employing such an equivalence are deliberately and maliciously manipulating and misleading international opinion. In so doing, proponents of this claim seek to bring into question the very legality and basis of the state of Israel’s existence and ultimately encourage the imposition of an international sanctions regime against Israel modelled on the actions against the former apartheid regime in South Africa.
The comparison of Israel to that regime under white supremacist rule has been utterly rejected by those with an intimate understanding of the former apartheid regime, especially experts from South Africa. Israel is known and accepted as a multiracial society, and its Arab population constitutionally enjoys complete equality and freedom of expression. It actively participates in the political process, elects its parliament (Knesset) members, and is represented in Israel’s government, Knesset, and its Supreme Court. Each religious community in Israel has its own religious court system, applying Sharia, Canon, and Jewish law, respectively.
Israeli law regards Judaism, Islam, and Christianity as official religions and constitutionally ensures complete freedom and equality for all. This is unlike those Arab and other states where one religion is declared the state religion or Western countries where Christianity is considered the predominant religion. It is much unlike those Muslim countries such as Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, where certain areas, towns, and roads are restricted to “Muslims only” and where women are treated as second-class citizens and LGBT communities as criminals.
Inciting or practising racism in Israel is a criminal offence, as is any discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or gender. Israeli schools, universities, and hospitals make no distinction between Jews and Arabs.
It is high time that the international community, leaders, parliamentarians, media representatives, and international and regional organisations simply cease to allow themselves to be blindly manipulated and influenced by false clichés and buzzwords. Any serious and sincere consideration of the need to resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians cannot rely on such catchphrases, which are generated and employed to maliciously dictate a false international narrative.
The above listing of false catchphrases and buzzwords is hoped to serve as an eye-opener for those who unthinkingly permit themselves to be manipulated.
[ Ambassador Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the head of the Global Law Forum. ]