BY GEORGE JONAS
‘Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his Bar Ilan speech last week, summing up in nine words why the Middle East conflict is intractable.
Being the Jewish nation-state is precisely what the Arab/Muslim world can’t accept about Israel.
Netanyahu was responding to Barack Obama’s Cairo speech in which the U. S. President said: “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s,” making it sound as though Israel had questioned Arab rights to statehood. Please, Mr. President, hit your history books again.
After the British Mandate replaced the Ottoman Empire’s suzerainty over lands the 1917 Balfour-declaration designated as the future site of a Jewish homeland, Arab inhabitants of the former Turkish possession were the first to achieve statehood. In 1922, on the basis of a British plan, the League of Nations removed almost 80% of the land from the Balfour-declaration’s purview to establish the Hashemite Emirate of Transjordan. Under British tutelage it gradually became independent and turned into the Kingdom of Jordan.
The British Mandate east of the Jordan River having become an independent Arab country, the division of the former “land of the Turk” between Palestinian Arabs and Jews might have been regarded as complete — but it wasn’t. When the Palestine Royal Commission (called “the Peel Commission”) made its recommendation for partition, it was to split the remaining 20% of the Mandate between Palestinian Arabs and Jews. Future Israelis were to have a narrow strip along the Mediterranean Sea, plus the Jezreel Valley and the Galilee, with future Palestinians taking Judea, Samaria (the “West Bank”) and the Negev. Had the Arab/Muslim side said yes, the Palestinians could have had another state, besides the Hashemite Kingdom.
But Arabs were far more interested in Jews not having one state than in Palestinians having two. In 1938, when the Peel Commission published its Partition Recommendations, the Zionists said yes and Arabs said no. This was a year before the Nazi genocide began in earnest. If Jews had had a state then, the worst of the Holocaust might have been avoided.
Would a two-country-for-two-peoples formula bring peace today? True or false, Israel isn’t an obstacle to it. When Obama says, as he did: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements [because it] undermines efforts to achieve peace,” the exclamation: “Mr. President, you’re confusing cause and effect” rises to one’s lips — until one remembers that Jeremiah Wright’s former parishioner simply echoes received wisdom.
Received wisdom never ceases questioning the settlements. “My understanding is that Israel was created, with specific boundaries, out of portions of the former Palestinian Mandate and the settlements exist outside those boundaries,” one correspondent wrote me recently. “I look forward to your comments.”
Such questions call for tutorials rather than comments, but let’s try. Before one can say that something is outside a boundary, one has to agree on a boundary. Had the Arab/Muslim world accepted the boundaries within which Israel was created by the United Nations in 1947, it could legitimately say that settlements built on territories occupied after the war of 1967 fell outside them. But had the boundaries been accepted, there would have been no 1967 war and no occupied territories.
Subsequent wars and territorial losses happened because the Arab/Muslim side rejected UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Within hours of Israel declaring statehood in the spring of 1948, five of its Arab neighbours invaded it. For the next 61 years the Jewish state has had no recognition and no peace. A country that has no peace has no boundaries.
Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon’s response to the UN partition plan creating side-by-side Jewish and Arab states was what UN general secretary Trygve Lie called the first aggressive war since the Second World War. To everyone’s surprise, fledgling Israel fought five Arab armies to a standstill. At the conclusion of the hostilities, the Jewish state was in possession of Gaza as well as the Sinai. The Armistice Agreement of 1949 returned those territories to Egypt. Giving land for peace (or its illusion) was what Israel did long before the phrase was invented.
Unfortunately, it never got peace for land.
Chapter One of the Zionist saga has Jews going to their forefathers’ home to offer gold to its Turkish title-holders and Arab inhabitants for desert sand. They irrigate it with sweat, turn it into arable land and defend it with blood against those they had given gold for it. In Chapter Two, Israelis offer to trade the land they had developed with their sweat from the sand for which they had paid gold to those who accuse them of having stolen it, in order to obtain peace from their accusers against whom they had defended with blood what they had bought from them with gold.
As Chapter Three begins, Israel’s friends advise Jews to keep offering land they bought with gold, developed with sweat and defended with blood in case it brings a promise of peace…This is where we are. Maybe it’s time to turn the page.
See Related: ISRAEL-MIDEAST