Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. US Congress, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the chanting of the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Since Congress, which appears to have a disproportionate number of genocidal maniacs in its ranks, is all right with the Palestinians being subjected to mass murder, it should come as no surprise that they are all right with their remaining unfree from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

As often has been the case in American history, the House of Representatives has failed to understand its role in the Constitution. The representatives might like to consult their own website, which notes that the First Amendment says,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The resolution passed Wednesday is a blatant attempt to abridge the freedom of speech. That is why it is a resolution and not incorporated into a law, because the law would be struck down immediately. As for the resolution, it is hateful hot air.

The resolution alleges that the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is “antisemitic.” They seem to be worse readers of texts even than they are constitutional scholars. The phrase doesn’t mention Jews. It says that Palestine will be free.

Palestine is currently not free.

However, on 13 December, 1993, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher signed the Oslo Peace Accords. These accords, which have the force of U.S. law, specified that Israel would withdraw from Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank by 1997 and turn their governance over to the Palestine Authority, that is, the state of Palestine. Had the Oslo accords been implemented, then from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, Palestine would have been free.

They were not implemented because the accords were deliberately derailed by the far right wing Likud Party led by Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu boasted about his role in ensuring that Palestine did not become free. The Likud wants to annex the West Bank and Gaza and to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population (which the New York Times is forbidden to tell you).

So the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” can be read as an insistence that Oslo, which is US treaty law, actually be implemented.

The congressional resolution insists that the phrase must mean that the state of Palestine would constitute all the land of historic Palestine, i.e. the area of the British Mandate of Palestine. In such a scenario, there would be no place for Israel.

However, in those Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, signed by the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat, that organization agreed to recognize Israel.

So supporters of the PLO and of the state of Palestine obviously do not mean by the chant to take back away that recognition. In fact, the ones who reneged are the Israelis, who took back away their recognition of Palestine.

It may be that some people who use the phrase “from the river to the sea” mean it in an anti-Israel fashion. That it always has this sense is not something that Congress, most of whom are signally ignorant of the Middle East, can stipulate. If we stop letting Congress play ventriloquist with Palestinians, and listen to actual Palestinians, what do we hear?

Yusuf Munayyer wrote in Jewish Currents“I wasn’t concerned with Israel’s identity crisis over whether it could be both Jewish and democratic; I was concerned that Palestinians were being denied basic rights throughout their homeland. My column, “From the River to the Sea,” would be focused on the unity of the Palestinian experience and how all Palestinians faced a shared struggle with Zionism regardless of where they lived.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib wrote, “From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.”

Congress complains that the phrase seeks to deprive the Jewish people of the right of self-determination. But the Jewish people in the sense of followers of the Judaic religion are not a national unit. American Jews are Americans. If Congress is saying that all Jews everywhere have the right of collective self-determination and that it can only be exercised in historic Palestine, then it is saying that the 6 million American Jews are deprived of that right. The resolution reduces American Jews to second-class citizens in the US. What could be more antisemitic than this resolution?

The statement is not about the Judaic religion but about the political doctrines of Zionism, which Congress is attempting to impose on us all. Moreover, the perspective adopted in the congressional resolution is not that of garden variety Zionism but that of the most extreme, fascistic forms of the ideology, which rule out a Palestinian state and any basic human rights for the 14 million Palestinians, who surely have as much right to collective self-determination as the 16 million Jews.

In contrast, the Mandatory authority in British Palestine, given that charge by the Versailles Peace Conference and its San Remo satellite conference after World War I, in its last official pronouncement of London’s vision of the future, the 1939 White Paper, said:

“The objective of His Majesty’s Government is the establishment within 10 years of an independent Palestine State in such treaty relations with the United Kingdom as will provide satisfactorily for the commercial and strategic requirements of both countries in the future. The proposal for the establishment of the independent State would involve consultation with the Council of the League of Nations with a view to the termination of the Mandate.

The independent State should be one in which Arabs and Jews share government in such a way as to ensure that the essential interests of each community are safeguarded.”

The mandatory authority envisioned that the Palestinian people in its charge would be no different from the Syrian people under French rule, the Iraqi people under British rule (class A mandates), or the people of French and British [formerly German] Togoland, which were Class B mandates. British Togoland became part of Ghana and French Togoland became the Togolese Republic or Togo. There is today a Syria, an Iraq, a Togo. There is no Palestine. International law was thwarted by hard line Zionists, in the crimes of whom Congress is an accessory after the fact.

The League of Nations and then the United Nations were committed to ending the problem of statelessness and would not have wanted the Palestinians to be colonized forever, and forever to lack collective sovereignty.

Again, this principle was made explicit by the British government:

“His Majesty’s Government are charged as the Mandatory authority “to secure the development of self governing institutions” in Palestine. Apart from this specific obligation, they would regard it as contrary to the whole spirit of the Mandate system that the population of Palestine should remain forever under Mandatory tutelage. It is proper that the people of the country should as early as possible enjoy the rights of self-government which are exercised by the people of neighbouring countries.”

So the first nation to pledge that “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” (by 1949!) was the United Kingdom, the mandatory authority to which the League of Nations and then the United Nations forwarded the rule of Palestine. Moreover, its pledges in this regard have continuing force in international law regarding the ultimate disposition of the Palestinian people.

The UN General Assembly partition plan of 1947 was no more than a (remarkably pro-Zionist) suggestion and did not have the force of law. Only the UNSC has executive authority, and that body never adopted the plan. Both the Zionists and the Palestinians rejected it. Some Zionist apologists pretend that David Ben Gurion and other Zionist leaders accepted the plan, but then why did they usurp territory such as the Galilee that was not awarded to them? Ben Gurion wrote in his diary when Israel was founded in 1948 that its borders were not specified in the constitution, just as those of the United States had not been in its. He had in mind an expansionist Manifest Destiny, and tried to annex Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Palestinian Gaza and southern Lebanon, and officials around him plotted to get the West Bank from the late 1950s. Does that sound like he accepted the UNGA map?

Moreover, the Palestinian rejection of the UNGA proposal is no grounds for forever denying them the right to citizenship in a state, which is denied to no other people in the world. That is, there are peoples who chafe at the citizenship they have, such as Syrian Kurds, but there is no other group of several million people who have been kept stateless for many decades the way the Palestinians have been.

An end to this statelessness is one of the things that is meant by “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Congress has repeatedly obstructed any attempt to end Palestinian statelessness or to realize the vision of even the British colonialists, supercilious and racist as they were. Congress is clearly much more so. “It is proper,” British officials maintained, “that the people of the country should as early as possible enjoy the rights of self-government which are exercised by the people of neighbouring countries.” “As early as possible” was not envisioned in 1939 as some date after 2024.

Please share this story and help us grow our network!

You can also make a donation to our PayPal or subscribe to our Patreon.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole, a TomDispatch regular, is the Richard P. Mitchell collegiate professor of history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: A New Translation From the Persian and Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires. His latest book is Peace Movements in Islam. His award-winning blog is Informed Comment. He is also a non-resident Fellow of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Doha and of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

ScheerPost is an award-winning, independent news organization that focuses on progressive politics and human rights issues that the mainstream media misses. We make it our mission to bring you the latest...