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Palestine: The Search for a New Golden Age

The case of Palestine, as I see it, is a unique twentieth-century political dilemma. No parallel problem has been recorded in human history, for the “culprit” in this case is the Jewish people, as embodied in the Zionist movement—a people that has been a traditional victim in history—whereas the victim is the Palestinian people, which was not a nation in its homeland, but became one when it sought shelter outside it as refugees. The Palestinian Arabs, who were merely Arabs in their country, became Palestinians once they were exiled from their homeland among their Arab brethren in other Arab lands.

If such contradictions were not sufficient to make the Palestine case one of the strangest in history, let us note, in addition, that it was, and still is, the only political issue that at one time unified the two world blocs. When Great Britain approached the United Nations at the height of the cold war in 1947 to propose the termination of the Mandate, both blocs united under the leadership of the United States and the USSR to pass the historic partition resolution. This was the first resolution in the history of the world organization to unite these countries in so fateful a case of war and peace. Such agreement recurred only in November, 1967, when both powers accepted, with all other members of the Security Council, Resolution No. 242, which called for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and justly settling the refugee problem.

The United Nations, the Security Council, the United States, and on occasion the Soviet Union are much blamed by the Arab Palestinian population for the agreement of 1947, but what both the UN and the great powers tried to achieve at that time must be seen in a wider perspective.

I

Anti-Semitism

The occupation of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus was the first act in a long history of what later came to be called anti-Semitism. The Western world, Christian and Muslim alike, has been grateful to the Jews or has hated them (consciously or unconsciously) because they introduced monotheism. Ironically, both those who hated the Jews and those who were grateful to them helped to create a situation that enabled Jews in all countries of the world to preserve their special entity and their subjective feeling of being aliens. Those who hated the Jews because they “killed God” refused to obey their Christ’s words on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24), and preferred the reputed words of the Jews themselves: “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25).

The history of the relations between Christianity and Judaism thus became a chain of persecution and discrimination. In the name of love and tolerance Christians oppressed Jewry all over the world. In the name of Christ and his prophecy for self-sacrifice, tolerance, love for one’s enemies, and “whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” Jews were killed and their rights were limited in almost every society where Christianity came to power.

Under Islam, however, both Jews and Christians possessed an acknowledged right to conduct their religious rites and administer their personal affairs within what later became known as the Millet System.1 Thus Jews in Islamic states preserved their identity, developed independent religious institutions, and retained unity and a feeling of special belonging.

This distinction between the status of Jews in Islamic and Christian countries is not, however, absolute, for Jews of the Islamic world were at times persecuted, particularly during the periods of decay of Islamic civilization. Jews of the Western Christian world had known tolerance in some states at certain times, but, on the whole, Islam was more merciful toward the Jews.2 One indication of the relative understanding between Jews and Muslims is that both religions refer to the same historic period as their Golden Age, the period during which Islamic rule was extended to Spain. This Golden Age for Jews and Muslims ended in 1492, when both groups were expelled from Spain, but the relative coexistence of Muslims and Jews lasted until the advent of the twentieth century and the rise of Zionism among European Jews.

Let us note, however, that the Zionist movement, with its politico-national theme, did not succeed in arousing many Jews of Islamic countries to migrate to Palestine until the establishment of the state of Israel. No more than 20 percent of the Jews who emigrated to Palestine before 1948 came from Islamic countries. We must remember that a great number of Jews occupied sensitive positions in the political and economic spheres of many Arab countries before the establishment of Israel.

Even in the early 1960s after Jewish-Islamic relations had been poisoned with the defeat of the Arab armies in 1948, more than one Jewish minister served in a North African cabinet in spite of the feelings of disappointment and bitterness accompanying the defeat which were exploited in many cases to promote feelings of hostility toward Jewish minorities in Arab and Islamic countries. Today small and persecuted Jewish minorities live in states bordering Israel; but only in Lebanon does this minority enjoy some stability and well-being. There are also a few respected Jewish minorities living in Arab Islamic countries far from the center of dispute (e.g., in Morocco and Tunisia).

Muslim Arabs in the twentieth century have undoubtedly been more merciful toward the Jews than Christians have been in Germany, Russia, and other Western countries. The hatred and persecution of European Jews caused them to found a national movement which eventually brought injustice to both Palestinian Arabs—Muslims and Christians—and Jews of Islamic countries who were uprooted from their communities, environment, and sources of living, and thrown into a strange, transitional culture in Israel. This disruption also affected Judaism as a whole, and threatened the amicable relations of Jews with followers of the Islamic religion.

II

Collaborators and Patriots

Modern nationalistic ideas accompanied nineteenth-century Western imperialist expansion to the Middle East. The younger generation of the Ottoman Empire felt that this new spirit threatened their supremacy, which was based on the Millet System and on decentralization. Consequently, many called for “Turkization” of the Caliphate, imposing the Turkish language and culture upon the Arab countries and creating a centralized system of control over the previously loosely associated provinces of the empire. Arab nationalism was born as a response to this attempt to impose Turkish culture on the Middle East.

The Arab nationalist movement demanded continued decentralization in order to protect and preserve its existing cultures. New educational institutions such as the American University of Beirut and other European missionary schools enabled the secular nationalistic ideas of Europe to reach Arab youth. A high percentage of its leaders were Christian Syrians or Lebanese, or even Jews such as Jacob Sannu, the Egyptian, and Elias (Eliahu) Sassoon, who was later to become an Israeli cabinet minister and who started his public life as an editor of the Damascus paper that became the voice of Faisal’s Arab Kingdom after 1918.

Along with the subsequent disappearance of the Ottoman Empire and Islamic rule in the Middle East, the Zionist movement arose, helped by the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine. Locally the Zionist movement failed to enlist allies among the Muslim and Christian Arabs of Palestine. The Palestinian Arabs, on their part, also failed to establish political representation that would enable them to resist the progress of Zionism or to contain it. Thus, the history of the British Mandate in Palestine is one of thirty years of confrontation and antagonism between Arabs and Jews.

During this period the Western imperial powers gave the neighboring Arab countries a limited independence, which was to grow until the Arab leaders of Palestine became dependent on the Arab regimes. This was especially so because these regimes were always promising to achieve Arab unity, and the Palestinian Arabs especially believed in that unity.

But Arab unity was and still is an empty slogan used by those who trade in politics for self-aggrandizement, to gain popularity and political dividends. The Prime Minister of the Iraqi government, Nuri Es-Said, became a millionaire by trading in cattle with the Jews of Palestine while bragging about how he would liberate Palestine from Zionism. Similar attitudes prevailed among many other leaders in Lebanon, Syria, and Trans-Jordan who, in spite of an Arab agreement to boycott the Zionists and not sell land to them, sold their estates in Upper Galilee, Hula, Marj Ben Amer, and the coastal region to Jews. The feudal Palestinian leaders were nearly all collaborators with the Jews for personal economic and political profit.3

One exception was the Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini, a member of a prominent Jerusalem family, who in 1919 led the first Arab demonstration against Zionism in Jerusalem, in which both Jews and Arabs died. The Mufti escaped to Trans-Jordan, returning two years later to head the largest economic and religious organization in Palestine. The returning culprit was appointed by the High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, as the Mufti of Jerusalem and the director of the Muslim Wakf, a trust which controlled 12.5 percent of the agricultural land in Palestine, including thousands of dwellings and religious and educational institutions.

Haj Amin Al-Husseini’s influence in Palestine was extensive. He was able to impose his absolute authority on the Arab society in Palestine, leading armed uprisings (especially during 1936-1939) that exhausted the Palestinian Arabs and stripped their society of its best members, since those who disagreed with the Mufti were murdered by his followers.4 The Mufti eventually escaped after he acknowledged having put an end to the revolution by yielding to the interference of the heads of the Arab states who had promised that “Britain is a friend to the Arabs” and would consider the Arab requests.

The Mufti Haj Amin Al-Husseini was the only Palestinian leader who aspired to gain the throne (or the leadership) of an independent Palestine, whereas the other leaders collaborated with Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan (later King of Jordan), or with the President of the Republic of Syria, or the King of Egypt.

The Palestinian leaders in most cases had connections with feudal Arab countries and regimes, and were loyal to them. Most of them had spent much of their time in these Arab countries; they were married to women of Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian origin and sent their children to the more sophisticated schools of Beirut or Cairo. These leaders feared the Mufti and treated him politely, but showed no enthusiasm for taking any real part in fighting under the Mufti’s Palestinian banner. They preferred to have others fight and shed blood for them, to liberate them from the Zionist danger. A special Palestinian political entity under the Mufti did not, in their view, deserve to be fought for. Some of them believed, naïvely, that the Arab soldiers of Egypt, Syria, or Trans-Jordan would fight to liberate Palestine and then hand it over to them. In any case, there is no evidence that Palestinian Arabs had much concern about the shape the government of Arab Palestine should take after the “liberation.”

The sons of Arab Palestine, who until the British Mandate were loyal to Damascus, Beirut, or Jerusalem, instead of being unified by any national administration, failed to form a national leadership and to define common objectives. Even the Arab Higher Committee, the leading Arab organization claiming to represent all the Arabs of Palestine, did not go beyond mere flowery rhetoric.

Let us also note that the members of this Committee left Palestine as soon as the war began; the historian Aref El-Aref mentions that Ahmad Hilma Pasha—who was later appointed as the first and last premier of the Palestine government in Gaza and was not originally a Palestinian, but was born in Sidon, Lebanon—was the only member of the Committee who remained in Jerusalem.5 The other feudalists of the Arab Higher Committee and its leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini found a refuge in the Arab states with which they felt a bond.

We must not forget that the Zionist movement was certainly a pioneering movement with popular roots and loyal leadership. Zionist leaders from Herzl to David Ben-Gurion tried to win the backing and sympathy of the Pope, the German Kaiser, the Turkish Sultan, and the British King as well as the leaders of Russia, the United States, and France. They did get help in varying degrees from most of these sources, and the Zionists always tried to make this help serve their cause and advance their plans. The Zionist leaders did not refuse any aid that was offered to them; on the contrary, they accepted it and then sought more. Arab leaders, in contrast, persisted in requesting everything in one go, making the Arab position look rigid and causing it much harm. This enabled the Jewish leaders to convince the Christian West, which was already suffering from a bad conscience after the Nazi war crimes, that they were moderates searching for a shelter for the victims of Europe, as was indeed one of their aims.

Thus the Arab leaders became agents for Arab states that were both large and sparsely populated. But the Zionist leaders, who had come from various nations, were able to take advantage of the political moment and persuade Stalin’s Russia, the leading state of the communist bloc, to support their claims in 1947-48 for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, just as they had also succeeded in persuading Harry Truman to support them.

III

Refugees and Returnees

The leaders of the Palestinian Arabs succeeded in convincing the leaders of the adjacent Arab states to participate in the Palestinian War against Israel in 1948-49—after more than half the Palestinian Arabs had become refugees. The Palestinian Arabs believed in the promises made by the Arab states to fight Israel and prevent her from declaring independence. They started fighting the semiorganized Jewish forces soon after the partition resolution, but the inexperienced, disorganized Arabs did not stand much chance against their disciplined Jewish opponents. Thus principal towns (such as Jaffa, Haifa, Beisan, and Safad) fell prior to the termination of the Mandate, and refugees started filling the churches, mosques, and schools of the adjacent Arab states. But the Palestinian Arabs had not yet lost hope.

In fact, most of them trusted Arab promises of liberation, making it easier for them to leave their homes without any resistance.6 Similarly, Arab stories about Jewish barbarism and power, which were much exaggerated, had their effect in increasing the flow of refugees. The Arab armies arrived with old-fashioned weapons, their cooperation limited to pronouncements and speeches, and their military training limited to festivals or exercises in outmoded warfare. This put the nails in the coffins of Arab hope. Musa Alami, the well-known Arab lawyer, who tried in the summer of 1948 to examine the extent of the Palestinian catastrophe and understand what had happened, tells how the late Shukri Quwatli, President of Syria, assured him that Syria was in possession of an atom bomb which was enough “to solve the problem and eliminate the Israeli State.” When Alami inquired how the Syrians got the bomb, Quwatli answered that a Damascus ironsmith with golden hands had manufactured it.7

The Palestinian Arabs realized that they had been twice deceived, first, in depending on Arab armies and leaders and, second, in believing that these allies were powerful enough to decide the case in their interest. But this awareness came too late; for the Egyptians, Jordanians, Iraqis, and Syrians, although much weaker than the Jews, were still able to confiscate all weapons from the armed Palestinians, thus removing all their political options.8 Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, backed by Britain, annexed what was left of Arab Palestine to his kingdom. The Egyptians, traditional antagonists of the Hashemites, even established a “Palestinian Government” in the area of Gaza, which they had captured.

Abdullah succeeded in convincing some Palestinian leaders who were living under his rule to call for a Palestinian-Jordanian Unity, as the Egyptians had done in calling some dozens of Gaza leaders to establish an “All-Palestine Government.” But Abdullah paid with his life for usurping the West Bank, although his “Unity” lasted from April, 1950, until the June War in 1967. The Egyptians, partly as a result of King Abdullah’s stubbornness, failed to establish the new independent Palestinian state in Gaza. In 1952, when the Prime Minister of Gaza, Ahmad Hilmi Pasha, died, its budget was annulled, and the Egyptians, who had created the state, did not allow it to exist in Gaza, or even to issue its special stamps.

In this manner the Palestinians were scattered after the 1948-49 war. Some became Jordanians, others became refugees in Arab lands, while some remained in their homes and towns in the area that became part of Israel. The world thought the case was thus solved, or was about to be, but the absolutist monarchical regime in Jordan, which was totally dependent on foreign aid and on mercenary professional soldiers of nomad background, could not absorb the Palestinians, who were more advanced economically and culturally than the Jordanian Bedouins. The Palestinians were not convinced that they were citizens, in spite of the fact that they were offered Jordanian citizenship, for the discrimination and persecution against them by the Jordanians were too obvious. For example, the population of Arab Jerusalem did not increase between the years 1948 and 1967. In the same period Amman’s population doubled ten times. The fate of Jenin and Hebron, on the West Bank, was similar to that of Jerusalem, whereas on the East Bank Irbid and Salt shared the progress of Amman.

In spite of the huge cultural gap between Palestine and Trans-Jordan, the command of the army and its dominant units, the posts of prime minister and most influential ministries were all restricted to the less sophisticated Jordanians. Both houses of Parliament were supposedly elected equally by Trans-Jordanians and Palestinians, but individual freedoms were always uncertain, and the King could dissolve both houses at his pleasure: the Jordanian king has the absolute right (although most of his people do not recognize it) to establish governments and dissolve them, to call for new elections and to ignore their results.9

At the same time, the refugees in Jordan and other Arab countries were fed slogans and empty words. The United Nations promised them “the free choice” of repatriation or compensation, but in fact supplied them with some flour, oil, and secondhand clothing.10 The Arab host countries coined “liberation” slogans while at the same time exploiting the refugees as an auxiliary cheap labor force. The Arab League, which at one time served as the hope of the Palestinians, declared its refusal “to liquidate the Palestinian case through refugee rehabilitation.” And so the refugees lingered on for over twenty years in camps, while the Arab leaders feasted on their calamity.

And what about the Palestinian Arabs who became Israelis? About 150,000 Palestinian Arabs stayed in Israel, most of them villagers lacking leadership and an elite. The treatment by the Israeli authorities of their Arab citizens was never encouraging, but the years of relative tranquillity allowed the Israeli Arabs to progress and develop their society. Still, they were never able to reach full cultural, economic, or political integration with the Jewish citizens of Israel.11 In this connection, it may be useful to remember that Israel is not a secular state but primarily a Jewish state,12 although it promises full equality to non-Jewish citizens. Moreover, the belligerency and tension that have dominated Israel’s relations with her neighboring countries have made a warm coexistence impossible between the Israeli state and its Arab citizens.

We find, then, that none of the groups that had previously formed the Palestinian Arab people found a workable solution to their problems. It was natural for all the Palestinian groups to attempt to set up political movements to solve these problems. The first such movement was started, after the establishment of the new state, by some refugees who tried to negotiate with Israel, but failed because the Israelis decided they had “nothing to negotiate with those who have no right and authorization to declare war or sign a peace agreement.” A second attempt took place in the 1950s at the American University of Beirut, where the Arab Nationalist Movement was established to bring together a “total Arab Unity.”

Naturally, the Palestinians took the initiative because they felt they were deprived of their rights and hoped that Arab unity might enable them to regain them. Nasser’s regime in Egypt followed suit in calling for Arab unity, and found that Palestinians all over the Arab East were volunteering to serve under their banner, for the same reason.

The Israeli-British-French campaign against Egypt in 1956 and the Egyptian political victory were a launching point for Arab unity and for Palestinians who pinned their hopes on it. But the failure of the Syrian-Egyptian union in 1961 and the indulgence in private was and personal interests on the part of the “revolutionary regimes” in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, and Algeria caused the Palestinians to seek an independent path.

IV

Warriors

In 1964 President Nasser was able, for the first time, to force the Arab League states to accept the existence of a single group—the Palestine Liberation Organization—to represent the militant Palestinians. This act of Nasser’s posed a challenge to his rivals in the Syrian Ba’ath party; in effect, Nasser had raised the price of admission into the community of Arab nationalism. In response, the Syrians decided to back a small group of Palestinians who were willing to seriously escalate action against Israel by making armed raids across its borders and against civilian and military targets inside the country.

The reasons for this go back to the founding of the Ba’ath party, which was a pioneer of Arab unity when it was established in the early 1940s. With others, the Ba’ath succeeded in creating a miracle, or at least an event without historical precedent: they compelled Shukri Al Quwatli, the Syrian President, to fly to Egypt with a large delegation urging Nasser to accept unity with Syria. Obviously, such a union could only make Syria an annex to Egypt; while it continued, four to five million Syrians were necessarily dominated by more than thirty million Egyptians.

Understandably, therefore, during the union with Egypt, the Ba’ath party, one of the leading forces of the call for Arab unity, lost its influence. Some of its leaders backed separatists who were working against the Syrian-Egyptian Union by opposing Arab unity itself. Syria seceded from the Union in 1961 and in the factional disputes in Syria of the following years, the Ba’ath leaders opposed a rapprochement with Nasser. Thus the Ba’athists lost the sympathy and support of the young generation throughout the Arab countries, who now saw that the party preferred to stay in power at the cost of its original Pan-Arab ideals.

The more extremist leaders of the party, isolated as they were from militant Arab sentiment, began looking for ways to regain the hearts of the masses. They thus took up the Palestinian issue as a convenient device with which to gain public support, both at home in Syria and in other Arab countries, and made promises to liberate Palestine. But by having backed separation from the UAR they had committed, from their supporters’ point of view, a crime which was too serious to be forgotten or redeemed simply by talk. Nasser, as I have said, embarrassed them all the more by setting up the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964. The party needed to show that it could take dramatic action. It was at this point that its leaders found a small group of Palestinian intellectuals13 who were ready to carry out the border attacks on Israel that I have mentioned.

Fatah carried out its first raid against a target in Israel in January, 1965, about a year after Syrian and Fatah leaders had agreed to cooperate. According to its leaders, Fatah was first organized in the occupied Gaza strip in 1956, but in fact no one had heard of Fatah before 1965. The Israeli government retaliated and the series of reciprocal “warning” actions made Fatah famous and heated the borders. The Nasser regime in turn attempted to match the militancy of Syria. These events were among those that helped to bring on the June, 1967, war, which stripped the Arab regimes’ defenses naked and exposed their anti-Israeli declarations to be as hollow as they had always been.

King Hussein, with chaos in his kingdom, seemed virtually powerless. The “Palestinian resistance” exploited the Arab defeat by establishing positions on the East Bank of the Jordan. Moreover, Arab political groups, such as Arab Nationals,14 had no difficulty in setting up political paramilitary units. The raw material for these organizations was abundant in the refugee camps, and the general atmosphere was confused and humiliating. The regular Arab armies, including “the most powerful striking force in the Middle East,” as the Egyptians used to call their army, had collapsed within hours before the Israeli war machine. The Palestinians found that it was a most appropriate time to prove their military ability to the world, and especially to their Arab brethren, who had refused to include them in the Arab armies.

Consequently, late in the summer of 1967, the Palestinian fedayeen raids against the Israeli forces started, but the Arab press and radio, including that of Egypt, refused to recognize the existence of these raids until the spring of 1968. At this time, the Israeli government decided to put an end to this new disturbing factor, which was annoying the Israelis just while they were enjoying their triumph. In the Karameh raid of March, 1968, Israeli forces damaged a huge refugee camp on the East Bank that contained a big fedayeen base. Although the Israelis captured hundreds of Arab prisoners, they also lost dozens of their soldiers, and left bodies and damaged tanks on the battlefield (something that had rarely occurred before). This offered the Palestinians “the clear-cut evidence that the Israeli Army is defeatable.” The late President Nasser praised the raiders publicly; Kabbani, the most famous Arab poet, compared them to the promised Messiah.

Thus the humiliated Arabs found in the Palestinians, who were making sacrifices and were prepared to die, not only consolation, but also a replacement for their paper armies. Arab leaders sought the friendship of Yasser Arafat and George Habash, Arab society women knit sweaters for the heroes who were split up into small cells with various names, but were united in their aim to “liberate Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and to refuse any recognition of Zionist entity in any part of Palestine.”15 The Arabs did not take into consideration the opinion of 2.5 million Jewish Zionists who are living today in the state of Israel, of whom the vast and absolute majority will never in the foreseeable future agree to anything other than an independent sovereign entity.

How can we do the impossible—to fulfill the rights of both the Palestinians to their homeland and the Jews of Israel to self-determination? Doubtless, the options are few: there must be either a compromise or the destruction of one side. The Arab armies have failed twice, in 1948 and 1967, discouraging those who hope for a military solution to the problem. The situation is similar with regard to the guerrilla war which the Palestinians have been launching against Israel during the last four years. This war will not put an end to the Zionist entity. On the contrary, when the guerrilla war reached its peak between summer, 1968, and spring, 1969, it was helpless in achieving the aims of the liberation movement.

The Arab armies are not cooperating even to the extent of being able to deceive the naïve Arab masses into thinking they have formed a united front. The Arab Eastern Front against Israel dissolved in a massacre in which the blood of civilians, of Palestinian fedayeen, and of Jordanian soldiers was shed while the fedayeen were brutally defeated. The Iraqi units which had promised to support the Palestinians during the civil war of September, 1970, left the battlefield as soon as the fighting began, whereas the Syrians were too busy dealing with their own coup d’etat to aid the Front at all.

The Egyptian forces have tried to put pressure on the Israeli army during the last two years to force them to retreat from the Canal Zone, but this war of attrition has failed, and I am not among those who expect the Sudanese and Libyan forces to change the balance. Nor do I expect the Soviet-manned anti-aircraft missiles which have been so much talked about recently to be more than a limited defense system at best. Israeli superiority is guaranteed and the Israeli experts have proven their efficiency in the past.

But do the Israelis want to live by the sword forever? Moshe Dayan, Minister of Defense, expressed the idea that Israel’s fate throughout history has been to live for long periods without peace. But in my opinion, Dayan, who is highly considered by Israeli youth, made a mistake when he then quoted from the Bible to convince the Israelis of his viewpoint. The Israelis respect Dayan, but none considers him a prophet or a man of moral sanctity. On the contrary, his followers soon find that he is most pragmatic and quick to coin slogans which fit a specific time and place.

Time and place could easily prove that Dayan, his colleagues, and his counterparts in the Israeli and Arab cabinets should follow the only logical, reasonable way of compromise. What would happen if a miracle took place tomorrow and the Arabs occupied Israel and liberated Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea? What would happen to 2.5 million Jews whose right of self-determination has been recognized by all the Great Powers, including the USSR?

Would the Arabs annihilate their cousins and their present enemies? I do not think so; I cannot imagine it; I do not want it; and world public opinion will never tolerate it. Would the Palestinian Arabs occupy Palestine, to become, in effect, a large minority which might be able to replace Moshe Dayan with Meir Wilner of the New Communist Party as the leader of Israel? That is nonsense. If the Arabs prefer moderate Israeli leaders, they should initiate policies that will encourage such leaders to gain power in Israel.

Israeli ideas about a solution vary from demands for the whole of Palestine to a willingness to withdraw to the borders as of June 5, 1967, insisting always, however, on the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. If we take into consideration the long history of the Jewish people, a history full of persecution and humiliation, we reach the certain conclusion that there is not even a slight hope at this time of convincing a significant percentage of Israeli Jews to cooperate with the Palestinian Arabs in a mutual homeland and state. They prefer a small state dominated by Jews to an empire governed mutually by Arabs and Jews.

And what of the Palestinian Arabs? I have no doubt that the vast majority would refuse to live in a bi-national state with the Jews, for the same reason. The Arabs fear the Jews as the Jews fear the Arabs, and both sides want a place they can call their own.

So the common homeland must be divided between the parties, and who are the parties? On one side there is Israel, backed by many Jews all over the world—this side is clear. But the other side is indistinct. The Palestinian Arabs are legal owners of much of the land, but after the Arab League states declared war in 1948 there no longer was a Palestinian political entity: the host countries imposed on the Palestinians their own political allegiance. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was established, but was little more than a debating club between Palestinians who had a double loyalty to Palestine and to the different Arab states in which they resided

Thus, the solution as I see it demands:

  1. The establishment of a distinct Palestinian Arab position; this can be done only by the creation of a representative body of Palestinian Arabs, which would work toward a solution to the problem of the Arab people of Palestine. Arab states and their people would be requested to help the Palestinians to regain their national rights without interfering in their local affairs, and to begin by recognizing that Palestinian “brothers” should represent their own case. This would be similar to the way world Jewry interacted with the Jewish Agency at the time of the British Mandate in Palestine, offering moral and physical help but leaving policy and strategic and tactical positions to the Jewish Agency.

  2. So that the Palestinian Arabs can achieve such an aim, the Arab states should decide that King Hussein and his Hashemite dynasty have no power west of the Jordan River; it must be obvious that Arab unity will never be achieved without recognizing the equal rights of the Arab states. Exploitation by the Arab states of the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians must cease.

  3. Palestinian Arabs must honestly examine their situation and develop a practical program that corresponds to the facts, although this does not necessarily mean they must accept the partition of Palestine as eternal. On the contrary, both the Israelis and the Palestine Arabs could and should aim to reunite their common homeland, and I hope that such reunification could take place as both sides gain confidence in each other. Now the only practical solution open to them would be to establish an Arab Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state of Israel.

The Israeli government has opposed a Palestinian state, as have most of the Israeli parties outside the ruling government coalition. The attitude of the government was made clear in the summer of 1967 when it prevented a meeting of mayors and dignitaries claiming to represent the population of the West Bank. The Israelis refused to allow the meeting because they were then waiting for a conciliatory telephone call from King Hussein, a call that never came. Still, after the six-day war, many left-wing and liberal intellectuals in Israel advocated some form of reconciliation with the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and their views were fairly widely published.

The late Levi Eshkol, then Prime Minister, invited several dozen prominent people from the West Bank and Gaza to a series of private meetings. But the Arabs who attended complained that Eshkol merely preached at them, asking why they did not “act for the sake of peace.” Anwar Nuseibeh, a well-known Palestinian lawyer who had attended the meetings, told me that he informed Eshkol that he would go to Cairo, Amman, or any other Arab city to deliver a message concerning a settlement, if Mr. Eshkol would offer one.

Mr. Eshkol, however, preferred not to make detailed offers to Gunnar Jarring, to the Arab states, or to the Palestinians who had come under Israeli rule. He was waiting for direct negotiations which, as he should have known, would not take place—for many reasons, the most obvious being that there is no single Arab side. Each of the rival Arab nations would demand different and often incompatible terms. The decision of the Arab states at Khartoum not to talk to Israel was partly a device used to cover over the differences among the Arabs themselves.

Mrs. Meir, who succeeded Eshkol, was more forthright about a Palestinian state. She said she had “never heard” of the Palestinian people and did not recognize their existence. Such views, however, were much criticized in Israel by liberal and left-wing intellectuals and journalists and Mrs. Meir has recently adopted the more diplomatic position formulated by Abba Eban—that there is room for only two states between the Mediterranean and the Iraqi border. The Prime Minister has been quoted as saying she would not mind the establishment of a Palestinian state east of the Jordan River, where most of the population is of Palestinian origin—but not west of the Jordan.

The position of King Hussein of Jordan is strikingly similar, if exactly opposed, to Mrs. Meir’s. He is ready to offer autonomy to the Palestinians on the West Bank but only after they are liberated—i.e., after a Jordanian military government has replaced the Israeli one and imposed the divine will of His Majesty on the people.

The Syrian Arab Republic, ruled by the Ba’ath party, cannot cooperate with the Iraqi Republic ruled by the same party. Both governments, however, daily call for the “liberation” of the Palestinian Arabs as a step toward creating “one Arab union with an eternal message.” Syria and Iraq are thus opposed to recognizing an independent Palestinian republic.

In fact the most favorable Arab comment on the creation of a Palestinian state has come from Egypt, where Ahmed Bha Eddin, the editor of Al Mussawar, and Yussef Siba’i, one of Egypt’s widely known writers, published articles supporting the idea as early as 1967. Mohammed Hasanin Heykal, the editor of Al Ahram and generally considered to be one of the more influential commentators in Egypt, wrote on July 23, 1971, in a bitter attack on Hussein, that if the Israelis should withdraw, the population of the West Bank would not return to Hashemite rule but to a Palestinian state.

The relation of these views to Egypt’s future policies remains to be seen. Certainly such sympathies for a Palestinian state are shared by many university professors and students and by independent left and liberal opinion in Israel, including some politicians. Certainly realistic Arabs in the occupied territories and throughout the Palestine diaspora desire such a state, and some would like to organize representative groups among the Palestinians.

Recent events on the West Bank and in Israel have hardly been favorable to this aim. In July, Hamdi Can’an, the former mayor of Nablus and one of the few leaders who had been considered loyal to the Hashemite kingdom, joined with Sheikh Ali Ja’bari, the mayor of Hebron and Can’an’s chief rival for leadership of the West Bank mayors, in calling for elections to create municipal and local councils in the occupied territories. Such elections would enable the population to express their opinions and to elect a new leadership to deal with the new political situation in which the Palestinians find themselves, now that they have been deserted by all the Arab governments.

Mr. Can’an’s call for elections created a stir on the West Bank, where there had been a general apathy about political action. Groups of young men started to collect signatures for petitions requesting that local elections be held which were to be submitted to the military government. The spokesman of the military governor declared that such elections could be permitted only in those areas where the majority of the inhabitants ask for them. But the Israeli Minister of Police, Schlomo Hillel—the Prime Minister’s representative in all political dealings with West Bank leaders—was even more discouraging. In an interview with Haaretz published early in August he said bluntly that since political activity on the West Bank would in the end lead to anti-Israeli resolutions, none would be allowed.

In saying this Mr. Hillel was at least being consistent. In the summer of 1970 he had also rejected an application by Mayor Ja’bari to convene a gathering of West Bank notables. In his Haaretz interview, moreover, he made it clear that he preferred King Hussein to the Palestinians as a neighbor on Israel’s eastern borders. Only two days before Hillel’s interview appeared, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan had also stated that he preferred Hussein remain in power since, according to Dayan, the Jordanian monarch had never claimed Jerusalem to be his capital, while the Palestinians could be expected to insist on their rights in that city.

Hillel’s statements were soon challenged. The East Jerusalem daily Al Quds, which is usually rather mild in its editorials, sharply attacked him and especially his argument that no occupying power could allow political activity in occupied territories. The paper cited the example of several countries—Egypt, India, West Germany, and Japan—in which the occupying powers not only allowed political activity to take place but permitted the formation of political parties and eventually of national governments. Al Quds accused the Minister of Police of implying that the rights of West Bank inhabitants were limited to “eating and drinking”—while they were denied rights to publicly discuss or do anything about their political future.

It is clear, then, that the organization of a Palestinian state would necessarily mean reconciliation and compromise with the enemy and this has kept many people on both sides from openly declaring their sympathy for it, especially since the Israeli government seems so committed against it. At the same time, no great power openly supports the idea and this is a major obstacle to implementing it. I should add, however, that two such states, Palestine and Israel, in the land of Palestine might be the first step toward a federal union which would reunite Palestine and inspire a Middle Eastern unity open to all peoples striving for liberation and social, political, and economic progress. Such a unity might open the way to a second Golden Age for Arabs and Jews alike.

A solution of this kind can only be delayed by shortcut plans such as the Rogers Plan (which means returning to the 1967 war status quo, in order to preserve the pro-American “friendly” regime on the East Bank), the four powers’ initiatives (which mean to maintain the four powers’ interest), the reported secret talks between Israeli and Jordanian leaders (which may, at best, assure Israeli and Hashemite rights), and a partial agreement on the Egyptian front (which may reopen the Suez Canal for the benefit of Egypt and the foreign powers).

Those who undertake such attempts believe that there may be a solution which will ignore the desires of the Palestinians; history has proven such assumptions wrong time and again. The Palestinians made the 1949 Armistice agreements unworkable, and they helped to cause the 1967 war; I have no doubt that they have in their power the means to abort any attempt to make peace which does not include them. And whatever their power to disrupt, their claims to a nation of their own are legitimate. The Palestinians must be part of any just and lasting solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

Letters

An Exchange on Israel and the Palestinians February 10, 1972

Palestine & the UN December 2, 1971

  1. 1

    A system under which the various religious communities (millets) were granted by the Ottoman Empire special rights in their courts, tax collection, and communal self-government.

  2. 2

    The Koran contains twenty-five verses calling for tolerance and respect for “people of the book” when they are friendly to Muslims.

  3. 3

    For example, El Jazairee of Algiers, Kabbanu of Syria, and Salam Sursuk Twainy and Tayan of Lebanon sold 600,000 dunnams of land to Jewish settlers in Galilee and the valleys of Jezreel and Hula. See Dr. Edward Seedhom, The Land Refugee Problem (Cairo, 1963, in Arabic).

  4. 4

    Fakhri Nashashibi accused the Mufti of having killed 292 of his followers.

  5. 5

    Aref El-Aref, The Catastrophe (in Arabic), p. 44.

  6. 6

    Ibid., p. 75.

  7. 7

    G. Furlong, Palestine Is My Country (London, 1969).

  8. 8

    Aref El-Aref, The Catastrophe, p. 175.

  9. 9

    Forty-two different governments served in Jordan between April, 1950, and December, 1970.

  10. 10

    UN General Assembly resolutions 194 (111) of December 11, 1948, to that of December, 1970.

  11. 11

    More than 10 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs, but only 2 percent of public employees and university students are Arabs.

  12. 12

    See the Israel Declaration of Independence, the Law of Return, and the Law of Nationality (1952).

  13. 13

    Yasser Arafat is an engineer; George Habash is a doctor.

  14. 14

    Quawmiyon El-Arab, in Arabic, another Pan-Arab movement, which “gave birth” to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Ba’ath created El-Saaiqua. The Communists established El-Ansar (The Partisans), etc.

  15. 15

    Yasser Arafat in a Reuter’s dispatch from Amman, December 6, 1970.

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