Emmanuel Navon is an International Relations expert who teaches at Tel-Aviv University and at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy forum (a Jerusalem-based conservative-libertarian think tank) and a Senior Analyst for I24News (an Israel-based international TV channel). He has addressed the American Enterprise Institute, AIPAC, the Jewish Federations of North America, as well as leading universities such as Georgetown, Columbia, and Rice. Navon is a frequent guest for American, French, and Israeli media, and he has appeared on Voice of America, on France 24, and on the Knesset Channel. Dr. Navon was born in Paris, France, in 1971 and went to a bilingual (French/English) school. He graduated in public administration from Sciences-Po, one of Europe’s most prestigious universities. In 1993 he moved to Israel, enrolled in the IDF, and earned a Ph.D. in international relations from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Israel inherited the international borders of the British Mandate with Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. As for Jordan, an armistice line was delineated with the 1949 armistice agreements. It was not an international border, but an armistice line defined as temporary upon Jordan’s insistence. This “green line” (the armistice line was drawn with a green marker in the armistice agreement) was never an international border. What was supposed to be a temporary armistice line lasted for 18 years until the Six- Day war when Israel conquered the West Bank (it was called “Cis-Jordan” back then, though in French it is still called “Cisjordanie”). When UNSC resolution 242 was passed in November 1967, the question of borders was left open to negotiations: the resolution calls for Israel to withdraw “from territories” (the words “all” and “the” were dropped after five months of negotiations over the final wording) to “secure and recognized boundaries.” In other words, Israel is not required to withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949. Its final borders must be negotiated and agreed upon. The Palestinians claim that Israel is not entitled to retain any territory beyond the green line because the French version of 242 says “des territoires” (i.e. from “the” territories). But the resolution was written in English and its “travaux préparatoires” clearly show that “all” and “the” were dropped as a result of negotiations between Security Council members. Additionally, it is completely unrealistic given the reality/facts on the ground to withdraw from all territories. Also, when 242 talks about secure boundaries, it is hard to argue that the green line constitutes a secure boundary. This fact was recognized in 2004 by George W. Bush when he wrote to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Israel’s’ future borders should not be identical to the green line and should take into account the reality on the ground. Despite this letter, the negotiations under the Ehud Olmert government, and Olmert’s 2008 proposal to Abbas, endorsed territorial swaps. When you agree to swaps, you are saying that Israel should not have any net territorial gains, and you waiver an important element of 242. Since the 2008 Olmert proposal, it is hard to imagine how the Palestinians would abandon the idea of land swaps. The recent UNSC resolution 2334, explicitly says that future borders should be based on the green line. This removes the flexibility of 242, which is why the passing of 2334 was such a diplomatic setback for Israel.
With the new US administration, there might be a chance to renew the 2004 understanding between Bush and Sharon on retaining the three settlement blocks. That would entail a settlement freeze outside the settlement blocs, and even encourage isolated settlements to be relocated to the western side of the security fence. Even if the conflict is currently unsolvable, Israel has to decide if it wants to move toward annexation or toward separation. If it chooses the latter, it must complete the security fence and stop building in isolated settlements.
Legitimacy and legality are two separate concepts. In my opinion, Israeli settlements are both legal and legitimate, though not necessarily wise. It is legitimate for a Jew to live in Judea. And it is legal to build in a land that is not occupied but disputed.
The West Bank is not legally occupied since you can only occupy land that has a recognized and legal sovereign. Such was not the status of the West Bank before 1967— it had been conquered by Jordan in 1948 and annexed in 1950, but this annexation was not recognized by the international community (except for Britain and Pakistan). Therefore, many international law experts dispute the claim that the Fourth Geneva Convention* applies to the West Bank.
Israel has a strong legal and historical claim for the full annexation of the West Bank. But that would mean adding some 2.5 million Arab citizens to Israel’s population. In such a scenario, Israel would no longer be a nation-state but a binational one (I am aware of the different demographic estimations, but none of them changes the bottom line), which is why Israel never annexed the West Bank. There can be no half-annexation either: you cannot annex the territory without annexing the population, and annexing only Area C would create an archipelago of some 30 separated Palestinian enclaves within a sovereign Israeli territory. Besides creating a logistical nightmare for Israel with no tangible benefit, such a move would increase international pressures as well as tensions with the Palestinians. As for a unilateral withdrawal similar to the one from Gaza in 2005, it is a non-starter because it would turn the West Bank into a launching pad surrounding Jerusalem and overlooking Tel-Aviv. So there is no credible alternative to a two-state solution, yet this “solution” keeps working in theory and failing in practice. It’s a catch-22. However, if a two-state solution were to emerge one day, I see no reason why there should be no Jewish minority in the Palestinian state, the same way that there is an Arab minority in the Jewish state. Actually, I see a reason: Jews would understandably fear for their lives, let alone their freedom and welfare. But Jews who want to remain on the Arab side of the border in a two-state scenario should be given that choice.
We saw what happened after the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. On a logical level, you can always argue that desperation and occupation can lead to violence. It is too simplistic to say terrorist attacks are just because of occupation. There were terrorist attacks before 1967. I am not trying to evade Israel’s responsibility, but I am challenging and denying the accusation that it is all because of Israel. Israel alone cannot be blamed.
Would I prefer a solution? Yes. Do I think there is a short-term solution? No.
It is a classic catch-22 for Israel. An agreement is currently beyond reach. A unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would create an unmanageable security challenge. Annexation would make us binational. The status quo has its limits. But Israel can create the conditions for a future and currently unreachable agreement by pursuing separation and disengagement without abandoning security prerogatives.
Technically, Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries can be modified for the sake of demographic homogeneity. The contentious point regarding Jerusalem is the Temple Mount and the holy places. Here also, you’re not going to change people’s beliefs or narratives. But here also there are facts. The facts are that religious freedoms and non-Muslim holy sites were not respected when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule from 1949-1967. Synagogues were destroyed and the Jewish cemetery of the Mount of Olives was desecrated. And Jews were not given access to the Wailing Wall. Since the mid-1990s, Jordan’s control over the Temple Mount (via the Wakf) has been mostly taken over by the PLO, which built two huge mosques under the Temple Mount and destroyed many Jewish antiquities. Under Israeli rule, by contrast, the holy sites of all religions have been preserved and respected. So when it comes to the final status of Jerusalem, the record of all parties regarding the holy places should be taken into account.
The facts are that there were two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. The destruction of the second temple by the Romans was described in detail by Flavius Josephus in The Jewish War. Yet the Palestinians today deny this fact. At the July 2000 Camp David conference, Arafat claimed that there never had been a Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Yet the original Arabic word for Jerusalem is Bait al-Makdis, which is the Arabic transliteration of the Hebrew Beit Hamikdash (Temple). So the Arabic language itself recognizes the Jewish past of Jerusalem. Touristic guides published in English by the Wakf in the 1920s described at length what used to be Solomon’s Temple. So saying today that there was no temple is not a narrative but a lie –and the Palestinians know it.
While I don’t think that narratives can be reconciled or even need to be, I do think that denying historical facts and insulting people’s deepest sensitivities make it harder to reach compromises. So the more the Palestinians deny Jerusalem’s importance to the Jews, the harder they make it for Israelis to compromise.
This “right” is baseless in international law. The Palestinians quote UNGA resolution 194, but it is a recommendation (like all general assembly resolutions) and it only relates to the refugees themselves, not to their descendants. UNSC resolution 242 calls for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.” A “just settlement” cannot possibly mean turning the third and fourth generations of Palestinian refugees into Israeli citizens. Plus, as Arthur Goldberg (the US ambassador to the UN in 1967) explained, 242 relates to both Arab and Jewish refugees.
There should be financial reparations for Arabs who lost their property in Jaffa or Haifa in 1948, the same way that there should be financial reparations for Jews who lost their property in Baghdad or Cairo in 1948.
Additionally, the idea that the refugee status applies to future generations makes it harder if not impossible to solve the issue. The UN has two separate agencies for refugees: the UNHCR and UNWRA, the former being in charge of all refugees in the world, and the latter only of Palestinian refugees. This is an unjustified overlapping structure that has consequences. UNHCR and UNRWA define refugees in different ways. UNHCR only gives refugee status to refugees themselves, but UNRWA applies the status to the refugees’ descendants. From approximately 650,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948, UNRWA estimates them at five million today, since a grandchild of a refuge from 1948 is immediately registered as a Palestinian refugee.
The two-state solution is incompatible with the right of return. It’s either/or. In a two-state framework, the Palestinians will be entitled to apply a “right of return” to their own state, the same way that Israel applies a “right of return” to all Jews. But each “right of return” should be applied separately in each state. Applying the Palestinian “right” of return to pre-1967 Israel contradicts the very logic of a two-state solution since it would undermine Israel’s existence as a nation-state.
People are entitled to their own narratives but not their own facts. You don’t need to accept the other side’s narrative in order to try and find solutions, even partial ones, to a conflict.
Jews, like any other nation, are entitled by international law to self-determination in their land. This is not, and should not be, negotiable. The rights of some nations are sometimes competing and conflicting with the rights of other nations. This is a reality of life, but it does not imply that national self-determination should be denied just because of competing or even incompatible claims. This is why the UN proposed partition in 1947: the right of both populations to self-determination was to be honored, but each population was expected to waiver some of its claims in order for self-determination to apply to all. The Arabs rejected that compromise at the time and they waged a war against Israel. That war made refugees, both Arab and Jewish (Jews were not only expelled from the areas of the former British Mandate conquered by the Arab armies, but also from Arab states themselves). These are the facts. The narrative is about whether you think the Arabs were justified to reject the compromise, or about who you think has a stronger claim over the land. But there is no point comparing or evaluating narratives: people have their own feelings and their own beliefs. Some people, sometimes, change their beliefs and their narratives. But you’re never going to get all Arabs to adopt the Jewish narrative and you’re never going to get all Jews to adopt the Arab narrative. So this narrative competition is pointless.
Most nations are born in war. After World War II, most countries didn’t become independent peacefully. Look at India and Pakistan (15 million refugees after the partition between India and Pakistan). Decolonization was nasty and violent (think of Algeria and Vietnam). So it is absurd to single out Israel, as if it were the only country whose birth produced war and refugees.
Also regarding the history of this disputed land, there are facts and there are narratives. The land was conquered in the seventh century by Arabs and had been conquered and ruled by many people before that (Franks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Turks, etc.). In the nineteenth century, when Jews started building kibbutzim, there was no “Palestinian people” here—there were Christians, nomads, Templers, Arabs, Muslims, Bedouins, etc. When Mark Twain visited here, he didn’t describe some homogeneous population. It wasn’t an empty land, but it wasn’t either a land that had been inhabited by the same people for nineteen centuries. There certainly was no “Palestinian people,” and large parts of the Arab population were nomadic. In fact, the 1947 UN partition plan recommended the partition of the British Mandate between a Jewish state and an Arab state, not a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, because nobody had ever heard of a “Palestinian people” at the time.
You can stick to your own narrative without denying historical facts. Yet the Palestinians do just that when they deny any connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount (which they did at the July 2000 Camp David conference for example). And when they deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, they burn bridges with Israelis who would otherwise be willing to compromise. I would also say that from the Israeli point of view, past sufferings should not be used as an excuse for current failures. In other words, even Israelis who sympathize with the Palestinians over the Naqba would say that the Palestinians should get over it and build their future. We Jews know what suffering looks and feels like, and yet we’ve gotten over it and we have built a successful country. We don’t believe in eternal whining.
Finally, let us not forget what the Middle-East looks like today. Peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors is desirable, but peace among Arab countries is nowhere to be found. The Arab world is one big war zone, with countries imploding and devastated by civil war (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya). So to claim that the Middle-East will be peaceful once Israel and the Palestinians work out their differences is simply not reasonable.
The main organizers of BDS are against the right of Israel to define itself as a nation state. They are not fighting for a two-state solution, they are fighting Israel’s existence.
BDS militants deny the legitimacy of the Jewish nation state, but they do not deny the legitimacy of nation-states in general. This is a double-standard. Most countries today are nation states. If you are against nation-states in general (and want all countries to be multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and with no religious affiliation), that’s fine. But if you are in favor of nation-states except for one nation (the Jewish people), then this is discrimination. And, yes, the Jews are a people and not only a religion. They meet all the criteria of peoplehood, since they have their own language, their common history, their common culture, and their own land. The fact that Judaism and Jewish national identity are intertwined does not take away from the Jews their right to national self-determination. And if you want to start playing the game of who passes the test of peoplehood and who doesn’t, the Palestinians would not fare very well.
As for apartheid, it is an Afrikaans word that described the official policy of racial discrimination in South Africa. Under apartheid, there was institutionalized discrimination and inequality before the law between whites and blacks (such as separate beaches, separate schools, and separate buses). In Israel, by contrast, there is equality before the law regardless of your race or religion. There is no contradiction between being a nation-state and guaranteeing the civic equality of all citizens. Israel’s Declaration of Independence proclaims the establishment of a Jewish state, as well as total equality of all citizens regardless of their race or religion. Practically, this means that the national anthem and the flag express Jewish national sovereignty, but Arabs are members of the parliament and of the Supreme Court. In Israel, a former president was sent to jail by an Arab judge. This would never have happened in Apartheid South Africa, not least because Blacks could not serve as judges.
In the West Bank, the Palestinians do not enjoy full rights because the conflict with Israel is still unresolved and because the Palestinian Authority is not democratic. But this abnormal situation the West Bank cannot be blamed on Israel alone. Yes, it is abnormal for a Western democracy and an OECD member to live with a semi-occupation (I say “semi” because there is a Palestinian self-government and because you don’t occupy your own land), but ending this abnormal situation involves huge risks and requires compromises on both sides. If it were so simple for Israel to extricate itself from this contradictory situation, it would have done so a long time ago. But as the famous Facebook status says, “It’s complicated.”