U.S. Palestinian Solution That Might Have Been, But Never Was, Revealed in Secret Documents From 1980s

Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher greets Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak inside 10 Downing Street, London on March 14, 1985 where they had talks. Newly uncovered British documents revealed how Mubarak attempted to get Thatcher's support in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict two years earlier. Roy Letkey/Reuters

The U.S. had planned to resettle Palestinians from war-torn Lebanon into Egypt in the 1980s, but the North African state's former leader demanded the West first find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, according to secret British documents seen by BBC News.

The documents were reportedly obtained via the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act and revealed a quiet attempt by world leaders to find solutions to both the ongoing Lebanese civil war, which was fought between various political, religious and ethnic factions from 1975 to 1990, and the decades-long struggle for Palestinian independence that followed the 1948 creation of Israel. They contain notes from a meeting between former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally who came to power after the assassination of his predecessor in 1981 until his overthrow following a 2011 revolution, and former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who left office in 1990 and died in 2013.

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After meeting with President Ronald Reagan in Washington, Mubarak went to the U.K. to visit Thatcher. The Egyptian leader told her he would accept a U.S. request to welcome Palestinians fleeing Israel's 1982 invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon, but "said he could only do so as part of a comprehensive framework for a solution" to their national aspirations that pitted them against U.S. ally Israel, according to a BBC News report that coincided with Wednesday's U.N.-observed International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Without such a state, Mubarak said he told U.S. ambassador to Egypt Philip Habib "that by making the Palestinians leave Lebanon the United States risked a dozen difficult problems in various countries."

Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher greets Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak inside 10 Downing Street, London on March 14, 1985 where they had talks. Newly uncovered British documents revealed how Mubarak attempted to get Thatcher's support in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict two years earlier. Roy Letkey/Reuters

The U.K.'s initial response to Mubarak's plan to create a "framework for the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict" appeared to be negative. First, Thatcher was concerned that a Palestinian state would undermine Israel's security. Mubarak's visits to the U.S. and U.K. came eight months after the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian militant splinter of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, attempted to assassinate Israeli ambassador to the U.K. Shlomo Argov in June 1982.

Days later, Israel used the attack as grounds to invade Lebanon, where Palestinian fighters had launched raids against Israel and were involved in a protracted civil war against mostly Lebanese Christian forces. As Israel entered the multifaceted conflict, Iran helped establish the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah that contributed significantly to Israel's 2000 ceasefire and withdrawal from Lebanon.

In the context of 1983, however, Thatcher's primary concern was a rise in Palestinian militant activity along the borders of a theoretical Palestinian state with Israel and she argued that "even the establishment of a Palestinian state could not lead to the absorption of the whole of the Palestinian diaspora," believed to now number about 6 million, according to Al Jazeera. Mubarak's Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Boutros Ghali countered this notion, saying the new Palestinian state would be limited in size and hardly present a united political force.

"The Palestinians will have their own passports, however, and they will take different positions," Ghali said, according to the documents.

"We should not only have an Israeli state and Jewish diaspora, but a small Palestinian state and Palestinian diaspora," he added.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is seen among his supporters in Beirut during the early days of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The majority-Sunni Muslim Palestinians mostly fought alongside Lebanese Shiite Muslim and leftist groups backed by Syria against with Lebanese Christians backed by Israel until Palestinian leadership later settled in Tunisia. RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to Thatcher's concerns about Israel itself, she held broader grievances about the international alliance of the Palestinian nationalist movement during the latter years of the Cold War. Since the earliest days of the Soviet Union and well before Israel's establishment, Moscow's communist government declared support for Palestinian independence. This support turned into weapons for Arafat throughout the 1970s and, while fighting in Lebanon in 1982, the Palestine Liberation Organization had fought alongside Lebanese Shiite Muslim and leftist forces backed by Syria, a known ally of the Soviet Union.

Mubarak's political advisor, Osama al-Baz, tried to ease the prime minister's concerns by stressing that Palestinians would prefer the West-allied, wealthy monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula to Moscow. Baz said Thatcher's fear "was a misconception. A Palestinian state would never be dominated by the Soviet Union. It would be economically dependent on the oil-rich Arabs who were vehemently opposed to a pro-Soviet state. Saudi Arabia for one will never allow it," according to BBC News' documents.

"A Palestinian state will never be a threat to Israel. The Palestinians in Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf will never return to a Palestinian state," Mubarak reportedly told Thatcher.

The proposed Palestinian state would first exist in a confederation with Jordan, another pro-West kingdom that had expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization after a failed 1970 uprising that ultimately saw the Arafat move to southern Lebanon in the first place. The Palestinians would remain tied to Jordan and "evolve within 10 to 15 years into a demilitarized Palestinian state," according to Baz.

A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones towards Israeli troops during clashes at a protest in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah May 11, 2017. Mohamad Torokman/Reuters

While the 1985 Amman Agreement saw Palestinians join a confederation with Jordan and later declare statehood in 1988, the following years were fraught with conflicts against Israel and a major split between Fatah, the largest political party of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. Even as Palestinians were granted administration over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the continuous construction of Israeli settlements and internal infighting among Palestinian parties have threatened the integrity of a two-state solution. Nearly 70 years after the birth of Israel, the Palestinians have not received U.N. membership.

Toward the end of his administration last year, former President Barack Obama and his top diplomat, John Kerry, launched rare criticisms of Israel's settlement policy in the occupied territories. President Donald Trump, who took office in January, pledged a greater relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has promised "the ultimate deal" for Israelis and Palestinians.

In trying to do what his predecessors couldn't, Trump appointed his son-in-law and senior political advisor Jared Kushner to mediate between the two factions, but earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly denied a call from Kushner and the relationship between Palestinian and U.S. officials has deteriorated in past months. Vice President Mike Pence was set to meet with Abbas and Netanyahu next month in an attempt to forge a path to peace.