It is submitted here that the letter addressed by Yasir Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin, dated September 9, 1993 which was widely hailed as the recognition by the PLO of Israel’s right to exist, constituted in reality an act of surrender, as the term is used in international law.
The reasons are detailed below. But before going into details, it might be useful to review the meaning of the term ‘surrender’ in international conflicts.
Surrender – in that particular context – is an act, physical and/or verbal, committed by a specific person, who is ready to relinquish some rights, such as liberty or possessions for more immediate existential needs. A head of state, typically, would consider surrender, if by that he can avoid the devastation of his country.
Surrender, regardless of the label assigned to the act by the concerned parties, is not an act of a free human agent. It is an act committed under threat or duress.
The crucial difference between treason and surrender is that the former is an act of free will, the aim of which is to harm the party one is supposed or mandated to represent, while the later is an act committed by a person loyal to his constituency who considers the situation so adverse as to require such extreme measure. He will, typically, continue to entertain in his inner being, the hope to redress the situation at a later date. A classical act of surrender is the confession signed by prisoners under duress. The prisoner accepts to confess crimes, real or concocted, to escape further torture and hoping to reduce his sentence. He is ready to give statements contrary to his convictions if he can thus ensure his more immediate existential needs, his physical integrity and the reduction of his detention.
An act of surrender will rarely be officially acknowledged for what it is. Leaders of vanquished states are rarely if ever permitted to call their agreements with the victors, ‘acts of surrender’. These agreements will lose all their credibility and legitimacy, if it were to transpire that they were done under threat or duress. The reason is that the vanquished, or a subsequent government representing the vanquished nation might later renege on the commitments, claiming that these commitment were made under threat and thus legally void.
A good way to identify a ‘surrender’ is to analyse an agreement and assess whether it is fair, balanced and could conceivably have been made by two consenting, independent and free parties. A surrender, typically, can be identified by the presence of humiliating, blatantly unfair and illegal provisions.
The newly signed agreements as well as the whole ‘Peace Process’ since Madrid indeed contain numerous humiliating and blatantly unfair elements as well as provisions which are either in violation with UN resolutions or with international law. All of these elements make it clear who the victor is and who the vanquished. The most publicized of these humiliating elements is Israel’s humiliating treatment of the Palestinian delegation to the Peace talks. Less publicized but not less significant is the United States’ unabashed, total and massive support of, and intimate coordination with one of the conflicting parties, Israel, while claiming to be a fair broker between them. The Palestinian side had no choice but to accept such a blatantly biased and unfriendly broker, who did not even bother to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, which practically all UN member states have done.
The letter by Yasir Arafat to Yitzhak Rabin on Sept. 9, contains elements that buttress the claim that Arafat in fact ‘surrendered’ to the established enemies of the Palestinian people, who will not be named here, and that his letter to Mr. Rabin represents the formal part of the Act of Surrender. I will review these indications and urge readers to challenge this assessment or support it.
1. In his letter to Rabin, Yasir Arafat commits the PLO to resolve ‘all outstanding issues relating to permanent status…through negotiations’.
‘All outstanding issues relating to permanent status’, referred to by Arafat include the ‘inalienable rights of the Palestinian people’, namely the right to self-determination and the right of return. The Palestinian National Council and numerous U.N. resolutions have repeatedly endorsed these ‘inalienable rights’, which constitute the very basis of Palestinian national struggle for more than 40 years. And who is more than Arafat aware of the nature of these rights? He must also be aware of the fact that inalienable rights of a people are not negotiable. Yasir Arafat’s commitment to ‘negotiate’ these rights is therefore meaningless. Any future Palestinian negotiator who legally represents the Palestinian people will not fail to discover that he cannot negotiate such rights because they are possessed by the people and cannot be delegated.
2. Furthermore, international law and UN resolutions explicitly endorse the right of peoples under occupation to resist foreign occupation. Yasir Arafat’s commitment to resolve all outstanding issues ‘through negotiations’ implies that armed struggle and even civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation would constitute violations of the agreement. But Arafat cannot simultaneously represent the Palestinian people and dispose of their right to oppose occupation. His representativity is a direct function of his support to the national struggle against occupation.
It is safe to assume that Yasir Arafat is aware of this distinction. His personal statement of surrender is not binding upon the Palestinian masses. He knows that they will continue to struggle against Zionist occupation and for the liberation of their country, even if he is forced to sign a letter of surrender. He knows that he cannot deliver his promises.
3. In his letter, Yasir Arafat declares that ‘the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence’. This statement implies that the PLO, as an organization led by identifiable individuals, officially endorsed terrorist acts, namely acts primarily aimed against defenseless and innocent civilians. By issuing such a declaration, Yasir Arafat incriminates himself and the whole Palestinian leadership. It is hardly conceivable that he or any sane person would voluntarily incriminate himself. This self-incriminatory statement smacks of a statement signed by a prisoner under torture who is ready to confess whatever is attributed to him, just to gain a lease on life, a short nap and some hope.
The struggle of the Palestinian people for their recognized and inalienable rights will not go away because of some piece of paper. If my hypothesis is correct, and we are dealing with a form of surrender, it must be concluded that future leaders of the Palestinian people will be able to claim that Arafat’s signed commitments are legally null and void. If it can be shown that the Palestinian-Israeli agreement was signed by the Palestinian side under duress, threat or blackmail and that its terms are blatantly unfair and humiliating to the Palestinian side, it can be safely expected that future Palestinian leaders will renege on its terms.
And I am certain that Israel’s leaders are well aware of the ambiguous nature of Arafat’s commitments because they know very well under what conditions Arafat made his commitments. One should therefore be wary of letting mediatic staging (such as the signature ceremony etc.) determine one’s analysis of the situation. The evidence is composed inter alia by:
1, The agreement
2 The exchange of letters between Arafat and Rabin.
3. Information on the nature and extent of US commitment to Israel (in absolute terms and per capita) as compared to US commitment to Palestinians.
4. Information concerning the undemocratic decision-making process within the PLO which led to the agreement.
5. The glaring absence from the agreement of provisions concerning the release of 14,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli prisons.
6. The continuous inhumane practices by the Israeli army towards the population of the occupied territories, even after the signature of the agreement (ex: The 800.000 non-Jewish inhabitants of the Gaza Strip were closed in for the Jewish Holidays of the New Year).
7. Reports in the Israeli press concerning Israel’s feverish expansion of Jewish settlements and infrastructure in the West Bank.
8. Hundreds of U.N. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (endorsed by the PLO and rejected by Israel).
But Israel has not vanquished the Palestinian people. It has only succeeded in extracting a miserable surrender agreement from Yasir Arafat. The agreement does not envisage that the Palestinians will enjoy normal civil and political rights in their own country for the foreseeable future. The struggle will therefore continue.