This is the fifth post in a special series exploring and discussing artefacts from a selection of Adam Matthew Digital collections. This article uses primary sources from the Foreign Office Files for the Middle East, 1971-1981 collection, which can be accessed here.
PEACE AND THE PALESTINIANS: Record of the Proceedings, Part I
When reviewing an historical event, I often enjoy researching the minutiae of the moment. What, I will wonder, was the weather like? What did the participants eat for breakfast? It is for this reason that I wanted to put AMD’s facsimile of the summary booklet for the 1977 ‘Peace and Palestinians’ conference into a more detailed historical and cultural context – drawn in by the little details, and encouraged by the fact that the fortieth anniversary of this significant event is rapidly approaching.
On that Friday and Saturday in 1977, not even thirty years had passed since the 1948 creation of Israel by the United Nations in an effort to rehome Jews displaced by WWII. Almost that same amount of time had elapsed since Al-Nakba – the violent and sometimes deadly displacement of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and theft of their property by the Israeli army. Only ten years since the Six Day War where Israel gained control of the Sinai, Gaza, Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Five years since Palestinian terrorists executed the Israeli Olympic team in Munich. Three years since the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) was recognized by the Arab League as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. And in London, on the two days of the seminar, it was cold and cloudy with a chance of rain.
The seminar, called by the British Section of PAEAC (The Parliamentary Association of Euro-Arab Cooperation), was organized by two British M.Ps – the dramatic Labour politician Andrew Faulds, who wrote the summary’s Introductory Statement, and the Conservative Dennis Walters. PAEAC was formed after the 1973 oil embargo, which hit Europe much harder than it did the U.S., in order to foster better economic and social ties between European and Arab countries.
Participants in the London conference numbered about a hundred statesmen ‘not only from the United States and the E.E.C. and other Western European countries, but also a number of people from the Middle East, including some Palestinians and Israelis.’ And though the report mentions the close relationship of the United States to Israel and its obligation to use that role to foster peace in the region, it closes by stating that a goodwill ‘conclusion must lie with the protagonists in the Middle East; with the Palestinians and the Israelis.’
Dr. Peled, a prominent pro-peace Israeli participant in the seminar, spoke of the challenges posed by a plan for coexistence with the Palestinians and how ‘it would raise the suspicion in Israel that it was the first step in the process whose conclusion would signal the end of the Jewish state.’ Another Israeli tried to stress the need to understand ‘the depth of the Israelis’ trauma about the holocaust and about Israel’s constant vulnerability.’
As a counterpoint, Palestinian participants brought up their own ‘trauma, which also stems from a fearful history of dispossession and oppression.’
Michael Adams admitted in the published conclusion about the conference that such comments ’emphasize[d] the current which ha[d] flowed through all our discussions – the current, even among people who have had the courage and the persistence to work for understanding and to take the risks of attending a meeting like this one, of continuing mistrust.’
Adams closed with the observation that dreams of peace between these two groups were ‘still far from fulfillment, that more than courage and mutual respect will be needed to break through the obstacles which still bar our Palestinian and Israeli friends from the symbolic promised land which we would like to help them to reach.’
This document touches us in the present not only for the continuing plight of the Palestinians, but because the rights of people displaced by war, as the Jews were by WWII, are currently a hot-point issue as the world struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis. It is estimated that Syrian migrants, refugees and displaced people currently number four to five million. And while the United Nations is not looking to designate some portion of the globe as a new “national home” for the Syrian people, they are struggling to convince their member nations to accept substantial numbers of refugees for resettlement.
Returning to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip forty years after ‘Peace and the Palestinians’, one is struck by the fact that violence remains not only in the occupied territories, but is also brewing elsewhere as illegal Israeli settlements proliferate and Palestinians are increasingly deprived of civil rights and subject to human rights violations. Globally the cause of the Palestinians has become a flashpoint for Middle Eastern resentment of the West. The remedy remains unclear.