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The Impasse Over Israel

Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice

by John Quigley
Duke University Press, 337 pp., $18.95 (paper)

Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder

by Janet Wallach, by John Wallach
Lyle Stuart, 384 pp., $19.95

Palestine and Israel: The Uprising and Beyond

by David McDowall
University of California Press, 322 pp., $24.95

The False Prophet: Rabbi Meir Kahane—From FBI Informant to Knesset Member

by Robert I. Friedman
Lawrence Hill, 282 pp., $19.95

Is the Zionist state legitimate? Is the “Palestinian state” legitimate? Most Arabs deny the legitimacy of Israel. The Arab argument grew more passionate earlier this year as it became clear that the PLO’s expressed willingness to negotiate with Israel was not leading to a Palestinian state, and many Palestinians concluded that Israel remained implacably opposed to Palestinian nationalism. When I spent some time this summer on the West Bank, even before Saddam Hussein became the hero of the Palestinians there, the young people with whom I talked were no longer listening to their parents, or even to the supposed leaders of the intifada.

The mood in Israel, too, was changing radically, in the direction of more intense nationalism. Even the left was adopting the language of fervent patriotism. The main reason for this change was the vast new immigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. The Zionists in the Labor party and the parties further left refused to join the Palestinians in proposing limits to the new immigration, which the Palestinians feared was tipping the balance against the possibility of the Palestinian state. Most of the Russian Jews would have preferred to come to the United States and few were moving to the West Bank. But they were rapidly occupying scarce housing in Israel, and the cheaper, government-subsidized housing on the West Bank was becoming more attractive to other Israelis.

In the encounter between Israelis and Palestinians the divisive issue was still—as it had been throughout the history of the conflict since the 1870s—the question of Jewish immigration. One of Israel’s best-known left-wing polemicists, the journalist and politician Uri Avnery, who has been advocating a Palestinian state since 1948 when he was a soldier in Israel’s war of independence, wrote this summer that his mother had come to Israel from Russia and he could not now say to his cousins from Pinsk that they should not be allowed to come to Israel, too. If he were to agree to such a policy, Avnery wrote, he would be declaring his mother’s arrival to have been illegitimate and his own presence in Israel to be the result of usurpation. Throughout Israel the “right of return,” which guarantees that unrestricted numbers of Jews can settle in Israel, was again being asserted as a fundamental principle that all Zionists share.

This Zionist principle was not extended to the Palestinians. Even the most outspoken members of the Zionist left, such as Shulamit Aloni, the leader of the Civil Rights party, could not accept the possibility that a large number of Palestinians would return to Israel; and many were not at all sure that they would welcome a totally unrestricted return to the West Bank, though Aloni recently has been bold enough to ask: “Why should the Palestinians not hail Saddam Hussein? What have we, even in the ‘peace camp,’ done for them?” Aloni was responding, in an interview with Ha’aretz (August 27, 1990), to the news that Yossi Sarid, one of her most respected colleagues in the peace movement, had written in Ha’aretz ten days before that while he still favored Palestinian self-determination and the end of the occupation, he was angry and disappointed with the PLO for its support of a leader who “murdered tens of thousands of ‘regime opponents’ without blinking an eye.” “Let them call me,” Sarid had said, implying that they should do so after they get over their infatuation with Saddam Hussein. In her answer, Aloni said that a settlement with the Palestinians was not a reward for good conduct and that, moreover, the continuing war with the Palestinians was debasing Israel.

The deep issues in the conflict between Arabs and Jews are now being stripped of the customary obfuscation of liberal rhetoric on both sides. The Palestinians are asserting their right to an Arab state, and they continue to blame the Western powers, and particularly the United States, for helping to inflict Zionism upon them. The Israelis insist that only anti-Semites would dare question the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. The most liberal members of both camps agree that the Israelis and the Palestinians are facts of life, and that some kind of solution for their co-existence must be worked out. But most people in both camps think it is not morally necessary to accept this view.

The most extreme case for the Palestinians that I have seen recently is Palestine and Israel: A Challenge to Justice by John Quigley, a professor of law at Ohio State University. The closest he comes to finding some validity for Zionism is when he acknowledges that the mandate to govern Palestine, which the League of Nations gave to Great Britain in 1922, contained an endorsement of a “Jewish national home in Palestine.” But that endorsement must be qualified, he argues, because the Zionist leader, Chaim Weizmann, failed at the Versailles Conference in 1919 to get the Allies to use the phrase “historical right” to describe the Jewish claim to settle in Palestine; the Allies had settled for a reference to the “historical connection” between Jews and Palestine.

It is not at all clear how much difference the distinction between these two phrases makes to Quigley, because he finds the Balfour Declaration as a whole, in the words he quotes from Quincy Wright, an international lawyer who visited Palestine in 1925, “a gross violation of the principle of self-determination, proclaimed by the Allies.” It was a gross violation, for Quigley, for Wright, and for most Arab Palestinians, because the people living in the territory designated as a Jewish homeland in the Balfour Declaration were never effectively consulted; if they had been, most of them could not have wanted a Jewish homeland to be established in Palestine. For Quigley, virtually everything that the Zionists did to establish their presence in Palestine was illegal.

Quigley attacks the validity of the UN Resolution 181, of 1947, which called for the partition of Palestine, and which the Zionists accepted and the Palestinians rejected, on the ground that a resolution by the General Assembly is only a recommendation; it has no enforceable authority. In his discussion of the 1948 Israel-Arab war Quigley seems uneasy. He thinks that the Palestinians, as the existing majority in 1948, had the right to defend themselves against a rebellious minority, the Jews, who were trying to create a state of their own. He suggests that Israel’s claim to any territory at all is open to question, and that the claim certainly does not refer to the territory gained in the war:

The duty to restore the preexisting situation requires Israel to repatriate the Arabs it dispossessed. This means allowing them to return to their original areas. Not only the Arabs who left Palestine but the substantial numbers who took refuge in 1948 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank have a right to return.

Israel’s fight with the Arabs in 1948 was “a war of aggression,” for which not only the state, but even individual Israelis are responsible. Quigley writes as if he has no doubt that virtually all the Arabs who were left were expelled and dispossessed. He takes no account of the research and carefully balanced conclusion in Benny Morris’s recent study The Making of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949 (1987), which shows that more than half of the Palestinians left their homes of their own accord, or in the hope of coming back with the invading Arab forces in victory.

The main problem with Quigley’s book is his selective use of international law. It is true that the Jews were a minority in Palestine in 1948, but were they, then and earlier, by law and by right, as he suggests, entirely subject to the will of the majority? Had they no ethnic or religious character, no history and no active community life of their own in Palestine, and no ties to other Jews, of which international law could and should take into account? The concept of “minority rights” is hardly mentioned in Quigley’s book, even though the League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, have labored long to find ways of protecting minorities against unfriendly majorities.

In criticizing Israel, Quigley invokes the “new law” made at the Nuremburg trials that individuals are responsible for committing illegal acts that were ordered by national authority: individual Israelis, in his view, are personally guilty if they followed orders to expel Arabs. Thus “new law” made by the victors at Nuremburg is valid, but “new law” made by the League of Nations in the 1920s and the United Nations in the 1940s to grant Jews national rights and ultimately a state is invalid. (Nor does it matter that the Jewish settlers agreed in 1947 to live peacefully in a limited part of Palestine in areas where they were the majority, and that they were attacked by the surrounding nations and the Palestinians. I wonder whether Quigley would argue today that the national character of French Canadians can be defined, or even obliterated, by a simple plebiscite based on majority vote of the English Canadians.)

Quigley’s references to the Arab states in the region are also ahistorical. All of the Arab states, without exception, were creations of the arrangements after the First World War when the victors carved up the Ottoman Empire. Their boundaries are artificial. Their very existence as separate states and not as parts of the pan-Arab realm was imposed by the victorious Western powers, an accident of the diplomacy that created the modern Middle East, as David Fromkin points out in his important book, A Peace To End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914–1922. Quigley seems to believe that the West had no business deciding who was to rule in the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That was a matter for Arabs alone, he writes, and never mind the concerns, claims, and rights of all the other peoples—Jews, Kurds, and a variety of Christians—who were in the region. Quigley seems to think that states should be born by immaculate conception, and that outside powers have no right to protect or promote their interests—at least not when it comes to helping the Jews to a stake in Palestine. One problem with this approach to the conflict in Israel and Palestine is that it is far removed from reality, both past and present, and that it offers no basis for making peace.

Geoffrey Aronson’s Israel, Palestinians and the Intifada: Creating Facts on the West Bank, which was praised by both Israeli and Palestinian scholars when it appeared in 1987, has now been published in a revised edition with a concluding section on the intifada. Aronson, a fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, believes that Israel’s continuing policy of “creating facts” with settlements, while refusing to accept any political accommodations on the West Bank, made the intifada inevitable.

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