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Palestine and the two-state solution: The Swedish experience

Foto: TT

What happened when Sweden recognized Palestine 2014? The author Anders Carlberg has investigated the Palestinian Authority’s views of the two-state solution.

Av | 16 augusti 2022
Eventuella åsikter och slutsatser i texten är skribentens egna.
ProfilLästid 7 min Skärmläsarvänlig
I korthet
On its first day in office, October 3, 2014, the new Swedish coalition government under Social Democratic Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced its intention to recognize the state of Palestine. Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström declared that Israel and Palestine “should live within mutually recognized borders, with the 1967 borders as a starting point and with Jerusalem as a capital for both states”. Twenty-seven days after the initial announcement, the final decision became effective on October 30, 2014.

As this article will show, there is considerable doubt as to whether the Palestinians have shown a total commitment to the two-state solution. The Foreign Ministry in Sweden does not seem to have considered this issue prior to the decision in 2014.

It is reasonable to assume that a decision of this magnitude had been prepared in detail by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. For this reason, I contacted these bodies to request a list of reports and memoranda which had been filed. To my astonishment, this research drew a blank. No strategic background documents to back up the decision were identified, the only exception being a document, titled “Lines to take”, attached to the government’s formal decision on October 30, 2014. In this document, the government declared that the Palestinian Authority had “unequivocally committed itself to the principles”, describing these as the two-state solution, the recognition of Israel and adherence to non-violence.

In Israel, a majority in Knesset, the Parliament, voted in favour in November 1993. But what happened on the Palestinian side?

No guidance to the Palestinians’ claims was thus provided by records available in the public domain. To better understand the Palestinian views on territorial issues and their rights in general, one would have to consult the Palestinian National Charter.

The last version of the Charter that can be found in the public domain dates back to 1968. These covenants call for Israel’s destruction and the statement that the Palestinian way to liberation is an armed struggle.  Based on the assumption that the Palestinians have since drastically changed their opinion, the relevant question would seem to be whether new covenants can be found and whether they illustrate a shift in the Palestinian position.

Mutual recognition

A historical occasion in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is represented by the Oslo accord in 1993 between the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the head of the PLO, Yassir Arafat. The core concept of the agreement was “mutual recognition”.

The agreement in Oslo needed to be ratified by the highest body in Israel and by the Palestinians. In Israel, a majority in Knesset, the Parliament, voted in favour in November 1993. But what happened on the Palestinian side?

The Palestinians were given a generous deadline of roughly three years to re-draft the covenants. In May 1996, the PLO announced that it would amend the articles denying Israel’s right to exist, and that a legal committee had been formed for this purpose. Despite this commitment, nothing happened in 1996. The charter was not changed or re-drafted.

Sadly, there is no evidence that the meeting led to the Charter being re-drafted.

On December 14, 1998, the PLO met again in Gaza to make a final decision on whether the offending parts of the Charter could be formally revoked. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, attended the meeting. The objective was to finally put to bed the differences regarding the Palestinian National Charter which had been unresolved for five years. The gathered Palestinian representatives reaffirmed the cancellation of those parts of the Charter which denied Israel’s right to exist. Clinton praised Arafat for his and his fellow Palestinians efforts to preserve the peace.

Sadly, there is no evidence that the meeting led to the Charter being re-drafted. Also, there are considerable uncertainties as to whether the meeting actually met the strict criteria necessary for the change of articles, according to the 1968 covenants.

Nothing happened

Judging from statements from leading Palestinian politicians and representatives in the years to come, nothing happened which would alter the conclusion. In 2002, the head of International Affairs of the Palestinian National Council, Zuhari Saduka, was quoted as saying: “No other covenants have been prepared”. Two years later, PLO Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddoumi told journalists that the covenants were never amended. He added that, in any case two-state solution was only temporary; “in the future, there will only be one state”. Finally, in 2009, the Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmad declared that “the movement’s Charter remains as it was, without any changes”. (Al Ayyam, August 20, 2009).

So far in my research, the Palestinians would appear to have delayed its most basic undertaking under the Oslo accord, to amend its covenants. The 1968 version is obviously not compatible with the claim of the Swedish Government (or any other government which has recognized the State of Palestine) that the Palestinian Authority has “unequivocally committed itself” to the two-state solution and to have renounced violence.

After digesting the full extent of available open source material, I realize that the questions regarding the status of the Palestinian National Charter would have to directed to the Palestinians themselves, how could one else reach a definite conclusion?

On  June 3, 2022, my exchange of emails with the Palestinian Embassy in Stockholm commenced. I received a response from a cordial officer at the embassy, informing me that the covenants had indeed been amended.  Out of the 33 articles forming the 1968 Charter, twelve articles had been nullified, and fifteen had been modified. Based on the response, only six articles would remain unaltered, implying an almost total revision of the 1968 covenants. This is puzzling, and remarkable in itself, as this would be in direct conflict with statements made by leading Palestinians, such as those cited above.

Remarkably, I did not receive a new collection of covenants, the presumed 1998 Palestinian National Charter. Instead, what I received in Arabic was the full extent of the 1968 version, and an added final commentary stating: “The Palestinian National Council approved cancelling the articles of the Palestinian National Charter that stipulated the elimination of the State of Israel, and amending some of them…”, then listing the “deleted articles” and the “modified articles”. It seems awkward to include all non-valid articles in the response, instead of  submitting the updated 1998 version.

Unclear re-draft

Accepting the embassy’s response at face value, the implication would be that the Palestinians no longer stand by the 1968 articles calling for “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine”; “the liberation of Palestine…aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine”; “the partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal” (articles 9, 15 and 19).

The response from the embassy leaves me confused.

However, and most importantly, the embassy does not provide the new wording of the fifteen modified articles. For example, we cannot deduce how the Palestinians have chosen to re-draft article 2: “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit”. This article is an obvious example of an article not even remotely compliant with the principle of a two-state solution.

The response from the embassy leaves me confused.  To claim to have nullified certain articles is one thing; the critical question, however, is how the Palestinians re-drafted the fifteen modified articles. Accordingly, I decided to focus on this question in my subsequent communications with the embassy. If I could receive the amended versions of the modified articles, then it would be possible for me to reconstruct the 1998 covenants.

The embassy recommended me to direct my request to “NAD, the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department” in Ramallah. On July 4, 2022, I sent an email to this department, requesting the full content of the fifteen modified articles. If the covenants were amended in 1998, my request should be fairly straightforward and easy to respond to.

On July 14, at 18:55, I received a signal that my mailbox had registered a new email in my inbox, this time from a sender in Ramallah. I read the message on my screen: “Unfortunately, we do not have the amended articles in our records”, and a phrase in which the official apologized for not being able to assist me.

There is nothing unpolite or unprofessional per se in the response from Ramallah. This, however, does not take away the remarkableness  of the response. The Negotiations Affairs Department does not have the fifteen amended articles in their records. In other words, article two, which stipulates that Palestine is an ”undivided” unity does not exist in a modified form. And the source of this information is the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The Swedish Government’s statement that the Palestinians have shown an unequivocal commitment to the Oslo agreement and the two-state solution thus rests on weak foundations.

This review should, at a minimum, have been conducted by experts at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs eight years ago. It can hardly be seen as an unreasonable demand. In fact, one can support the Palestinian people’s right to a territory, and at the same time require them to fulfill the most basic obligations without any further delays and smokescreens.

Why has it been acceptable to tolerate considerable uncertainty when it comes to the Palestinian National Charter? The Palestinians have had 24 years at their disposal to print the 1998 covenants, to make sure that all versions available in the public domain are correct and to ascertain that the 1968 covenants are not referred to as the current covenants.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for the Swedish Government, eight years after the decision, to formally request the amended articles, and to receive them in one aggregated document, titled “The Palestinian National Charter 1998”. By doing so, the Swedish Government would secure that the covenants are compliant with a two-state solution, a full and irreversible recognition of Israel and non-violence. Time is not up yet…

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