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Reflections on the Arab-Israeli Peace Process and Its Future Prospects
American-Arab Affairs (1987)
  • M. Bassiouni, DePaul University
The thrust toward peace that brought about the 1949 armistice agreements faded shortly thereafter, and no substantive peace initiative ensued. A slight opportunity existed through the 1951 Lausanne Conciliation Commission meetings. They broke off, however, when Israel refused to repatriate some of the Palestinians who had left[1] during the 1947-1949 period of the conflict, even though the very partition plan which led to the establishment of Israel provided for the Palestinians' right to return to that portion of Palestine allotted to Israel. Israel's priority, then, irrespective of the Palestinians' rights of return, was the ingathering of Jews and the consolidation of the Jewish state. The Zionist policies of that time could not be reconciled with the presence within Israel of a large Palestinian Arab community. That policy has, however, changed de facto over the years. There are now some two million Palestinians within Israel.[2] But while Israel had accepted with the partition plan the establishment of a Palestinian state, it has since then rejected it. The Palestinians now seek that formula of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, but Israel refuses it. Thus, what was unacceptable to the Palestinians in 1947 has been their unavowed goal since 1967, and their avowed goal since 1985. That goal seems to have been confirmed by the Palestine National Council in April 1987. But what Israel had accepted in 1947 (even yearned for when it accepted the partition plan) is no longer acceptable since their military triumphs of 1967.
President [Anwar Sadat] was receptive to the [Vance] plan, but Vance encountered Israeli and Syrian opposition. For Israel, it was ostensibly on the issue of Palestinian representation. Since the 1974 Rabat summit of Arab heads of state, it had been agreed that the PLO was "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." All Arab states recognized it, but Israel rejected the PLO as a negotiating counterpart. Israel's opposition to PLO representation has been constant since 1968 because of the PLO's refusal to accept Resolution 242 and because of certain provisions in the Palestine National Covenant. But Israel's objection to Palestinian PLO representation, no matter what its merits may be, also conceals its avoidance of negotiations which could lead to the establishment of a Palestinian national entity, which it rejects. Sadat, however, hoped to alter this position and persevered in the search for peace. He took Israel's objections to the PLO's participation at face value and sought to overcome them. Consequently, in supporting the Vance initiative of April 1977, he suggested that the Palestinian representatives at a Geneva peace conference could be Americans of Palestinian origin, and he also proposed that Palestinians could be part of a "unified Arab delegation." The Sadat proposals were still not acceptable to Israel. But he also had little support from the PLO and almost none from other Arab states. The 1977 Sadat PLO-surrogate-representation approach nevertheless formally resurfaced in February 1985, when PLO Chairman [Yassir Arafat] and King Hussein sought to develop the Jordanian-PLO initiative. That formula was rejected by the PNC at its April 1987 Algiers meeting, which once again confirmed the PLO in its representative capacity.
[3]One can almost retrace the phases of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the labels employed to describe it. In 1947, it was the "question of Palestine"; between 1948 and 1967, the "Palestinian question"; after 1967, the "Palestinian refugee problem." The Camp David "Framework for Peace in the Middle East" reiterated Resolution 242, but in a separate letter of the same date, September 17, 1978, President Sadat referred to the "legitimate national rights" of the "Palestinian People." In a separate letter, dated September 22, 1978, which is explanatory of the "Agreed Framework," President [Jimmy Carter] stated: "As in each Paragraph of the Agreed Framework Document, the expression 'Palestinians' or 'Palestinian People' are being and will be construed and understood by you [Prime Minister [Begin]] as 'Palestinian Arabs.' Since 1979, it has become the "Palestinian's right of self-determination," and since 1980 it is also referred to as the "Palestinian's human rights." Labels, shallow as they may be, are nonetheless indicative of a state of affairs, if not a state of mind. The Palestinians prefer to refer to it as "The Palestinians' right to self-determination," though there are several other variations on that theme.
Publication Date
Summer 1987
Citation Information
M. Cherif Bassiouni, Reflections on the Arab-Israeli Peace Process and Its Future Prospects, 21 Am-Arab Aff. 47 (Summer 1987)