Few observers expected anything different. From the outset, it was open to question. The controversial selection of the Commission’s members and omission of Nelson Mandela was one of the first signs of another diplomatic cover-up. Chaired by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee was constituted shortly after the October summit attended by Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the United States, Israel, the United Nations and the European Union. Despite its subtle rebuke of the PA and exoneration of the Israeli government, the long-awaited report was warmly welcomed by the former and coldly rejected by the latter.
Both in its introduction and concluding recommendations, the Mitchell Report emphasized one theme that could easily be read as a press statement from Tel Aviv or Washington. One of the recommendations contained therein states that “The PA should make clear through concrete action to Palestinians and Israelis alike that terrorism is reprehensible and unacceptable, and that the PA will make a 100 percent effort to prevent terrorist operations and to punish perpetrators. This effort should include immediate steps to apprehend and incarcerate terrorists operating within the PA’s jurisdiction.”
If the reader were an alien from another planet, he or she would have concluded that the Palestinians are the illegal occupiers of Israeli land and the perpetrators of collective punishment upon its civilian population. After reading the introductory assertion that “some Palestinians appear not to comprehend the extent to which terrorism creates fear among the Israeli people,” the reader would also get the impression that it is the Palestinian Authority that imposes blanket curfews on Israeli residential areas, denies food and medicine to their besieged towns and villages, uproots and destroys crops, prevents the export of their produce, and bombards their homes, businesses and public facilities, including educational and health facilities, with missiles from F-16 warplanes, helicopter gun-ships, rocket launchers and tanks. Everyone on this planet, however, knows this is not the case.
One of many
The Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee was not the first and will not be the last of its kind. Its report adds to a long list of other such reports that can be traced as far back as 1919 when U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered a two-man commission-Dr. Henry King and Charles Crane-to investigate and ascertain the wishes of the people of Syria, Palestine and Iraq. That commission found that the initial claim submitted by the Zionists “that they have a right in Palestine based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago can hardly be seriously considered.” They warned that the national home project could not be carried out except by force of arms because the Arab population was “emphatically against the entire Zionist program.” Hence, they recommended that the idea of an independent Jewish State in Palestine should be abandoned, and Jewish immigration strictly controlled.
Because of its support for the wishes of the Palestinian people, the King-Crane Commission report was withheld from the public until late December 1922, after the installation of the mandatory authority, which gave Britain the ‘constitutional’ cover to enforce the Balfour Declaration and Judaize Palestine.
If Britain wanted to consider the wishes of the Palestinian people, it certainly could have done so and spared the region many decades of turmoil. But it had no intention of doing that as it considered the aims of Zionism far more important than the rights of the Palestinian people. Following the unrests in Jerusalem (1920) and Jaffa (1921), two more inquiries were conducted. Both commissions (Palin and Haycraft respectively) highlighted the depths of popular discontent and the need for a careful handling of the situation in order to avert a serious catastrophe.
In the context of the current intifada, there were still two other commission reports of even greater significance. The first is the International Commission appointed by the British government in 1930 and approved by the Council of the League of Nations in 1931. It followed an attempt by Jewish settlers to change the status of the Western Wall in 1929, which resulted in bloody clashes and hundreds of deaths on both sides. On this occasion, the International Commission confirmed that the sole ownership and proprietary right to the Western Wall belonged to the Muslims, seeing that it forms an integral part of the Haram el-Sharif (Sacred Sanctuary) area, which is Waqf-endowed property. The reckless violation of this verdict provoked the eruption of the present Aqsa Intifada.
The second major report was that issued by the International Commission to enquire into reported violations of International Law by Israel during its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Its most salient recommendation was “that the United Nations set up a special international tribunal to investigate and prosecute individuals charged with crimes of State, especially in connection with the [Palestinian refugee camps] Shatila and Sabra massacres.” Once again, had the international community carried out this recommendation, the timing and course of the current Intifada would, perhaps, have been altogether different.
Since the start of the Aqsa Intifada, two high-profile international inquiries were sent to the occupied territories. Mrs. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights headed the first, while former senate leader, George Mitchell, chaired the second. Despite the UN endorsement of both missions, the report of High Commissioner Robinson was treated like an unwanted orphan in official circles. As expected, there has been no shortage of patrons pledging to adopt the Mitchell Report. Why?
While the Mitchell Report labours on the need to resume security cooperation, the Robinson report focused upon human rights abuses; it is, in fact, scathing in its condemnation of Israel for not showing the minimal respect for international humanitarian law and basic standards governing the use of force: é”the Israeli occupation forces response during the latest events suggests that it is official policy to shoot-to-kill or cause serious bodily injury.” Therefore, was the dismissal of Mrs. Robinson’s report the final straw that drove the former Irish president to declare her unwillingness to stay on for a second term at the head of the UNHCHR? Or, viewed from another angle, was the expulsion of the United Sates from the UN Human Rights Commission hastened by Washington’s disregard of the High Commissioner’s report?
The more one examines the Robinson report and compares it with the Mitchell Report, the more it becomes apparent why the former was shelved and the other met with approval. While Mrs. Robinson’s report states categorically, that “these protests are a natural result of Israel’s illegal policies and measures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including occupied East Jerusalem,” the Mitchell Report feigns apologetically: “We are not a tribunal. We complied with the request that we do not determine the guilt or innocence of individuals or of the parties [involved].”
Instead of demanding Israeli withdrawal from all the territories illegally occupied since 1967 in accordance with UN resolutions, the Mitchell Report in its recommendations states, “The IDF should consider withdrawing to positions held before September 28, 2000, which will reduce the number of friction points and the potential for violent confrontations.”
The Mitchell recommendations call upon the PA to “prevent gunmen from using Palestinian populated areas to fire upon Israeli populated areas and IDF positions.” It makes no similar demand on the IDF to halt its “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force” as confirmed by the Robinson report. Likewise, it makes no demand upon the IDF to end settler attacks. Yet the Robinson report says, “settler violence is part of a campaign of terror against the Palestinian people carried out with the protection of Israel military officialsé.They are given political and logistical support by the Israeli government, and operate with the cooperation and backup of the Israeli Occupying Forces. Their violations against Palestinians range from systematically attacking Palestinian-owned properties, including businesses and agricultural sites, to assaulting Palestinian civilians, causing bodily injury or death.”
Fact or fallacy
The Mitchell Report has naturally created strong doubts about how far its sponsors are prepared to go in order to stop and prevent the “recurrence of violence.” In the aftermath, some analysts maintain if the sponsors of the Mitchell Commission did not intend it to be a cover-up, they would not have requested the commissioners ‘not to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals or of the parties.'”
Instead of exposing the facts showing how Israel’s prolonged belligerent occupation has perpetuated sadistic acts of cruelty and destruction of property and lives, the Report reduces the issue to a simplistic claim of “two proud people” who “share a land and destiny.” This, of course, is a gross distortion of the facts. The truth is one people are in occupation of another’s land. The UN awarded the newcomer 56% of the original land. The beneficiaries thereafter seized, by force of arms, the remainder of the country and are now refusing to recognize the right of the indigenous people to 22% of their land. These are the basic facts. The fallacy recycled in the Mitchell Report is that the ‘competing claims’ of the two proud peoples have led to the conflict.
Why does the Mitchell Report claim that the two people share a destiny? There is no partnership between the two. One people, the Palestinians, are yearning to be free and independent and the other, Israelis, seek to impose their will on them. With the help of the international community, they have wrongly and unjustly accrued to themselves the right to determine whether the Palestinians should have a State, what kind of State it should be, and who should live in it. Indeed, they insist on affecting even the most basic and fundamental aspects of Palestinian life. As a young student from Khan Younis refugee camp recently said, “We lost our homes, food, drink, books, schoolbags-even sleep we no longer taste.”
In the current climate of international relations it is hardly surprising that the Mitchell Report has turned out to be another fig leaf designed to cover up Israeli war crimes. Its integrity, impartiality and scope were always held in question because of its American origins. Surely if the President of the United States does not have the freedom to invite Yasser Arafat to the White House, how could the American-sponsored Mitchell Report begin to seriously criticize or rebuke Zionist Israel? Five months after its inauguration, the Bush Administration is still not ready to trod the path of conventional diplomacy. Heavily indebted as he is to America’s big business for bankrolling his election campaign, the President’s main concern now is not so much the wanton waste of Palestinian lives as it is to secure increased quantities of cheap oil from the region. Such supplies would not only keep the owners of the giant corporations and military industrial complex happy but it would also secure larger contracts for lethal weapons to crush anti-Israeli demonstrations in the Middle East.
The author is a researcher at the Palestinian Return Center, London, and editor of its Return Review.