Monday, 21 December 2009

The Missed Peace III: Barak and Syria

In 1948, Syria won land that gave it access to the Sea of Galilee.[1] The 1948 war had two stages: the first stage (which was mostly a civil war between the Palestinians and the Jews) and second stage where the Arab nations invaded Palestine.[2] The first stage began after it was clear that Palestinians had rejected the UN Partition Plan.[3] The first stage was initiated by the Arabs and the Jewish forces remained largely defensive for the first phase of the first stage.[4] The second stage was also initiated by the Arabs.[5] Essentially, this was not a war of self-defence on the part of the Arabs or the Palestinians.[6]

In 1967, Israel launched a war in which it gained territory three times the size of its 1949 borders. In response, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, 242. This is not a binding resolution.[7] However, there is a statement which reflects international law and is held on to closely by all the Arab regimes. “The inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”[8] In an aggressive war, this doctrine isn’t disputed.[9] Part of the reason for calling for a withdrawal of Israel from West Bank is because it is there illegally and that it cannot take land that does not belong to it by force.

Yet the same principle isn’t applied to Syria. Syria entered a war aggressively and won land that gave it access to Sea of Galilee. It has no right over such land.[10] There are two borders: the 1923 International Border and the June 4th lines. The latter gives it access to the Sea. If the principle were applied to Syria, then there would have to be a return to the 1923 lines.

When Barak came to power in 1999, he offered the Syrians a withdrawal based on the June 4th lines but that would not give them access to the Sea.[11] Even though Syria had no claim to the extra-territory, Barak offered exchanges so that Syria would be getting 100% of the land mass they wanted.[12] A national park in which sovereignty would not be given to either party would be offered for the area adjacent to the Sea (thereby encroaching on Israeli land). Syria rejected this.[13] They rejected it on the grounds that it didn’t give them access to the sea.

This was also offered in 1967.[14] It was rejected then as well. The inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force is a principle that people should held consistently. Hypocrisy thy name is Syria.


[2] Righteous Victims, Benny Morris, p.191 (Vintage, 2001)

[3] Ibid, p.186, 1948, Benny Morris, p.76 and One Palestine, Complete, Tom Segev 498-501

[4] Righteous Victims, Morris, p.196

[5] Ibid, p.218-20

[6] Norman Finkelstein, quoting Zeev Maoz says that this is the one war, according to him, that can be considered a war of self-defence on the part of the Israelis. (Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis ofIsrael's Security and Foreign Policy, Zeev Maoz)

[7] UNSC 242 is a Chapter VI resolution: these are not binding international law. Chapter VII, however, are binding international law. For more on the distinction, see Israel and Iraq: United Nations Double Standards –UN Charter Article 25 and Chapters VI and VII, Gerald M. Adler

[8] UNSC 242

[9] War, Aggression and Self-Defence, Yoram Dinstein, p.168-72

[10] The 1923 border was established in ‘Agreement between His Majesty's Government and the French Government respecting the Boundary Line between Syria and Palestine from the Mediterranean to El Hámmé’ – in this agreement there were some reservations made about the water usage. However, this is largely irrelevant as this does not give them sovereignty over such areas.

[11] and Israel and Palestine, Avi Shlaim, p.271

[12] Ibid, p.271

[13] Footnote 1, 11, 12

[14] and also The Iron Wall, Avi Shlaim, p.254