Saturday, November 23, 2013

I Used to Hope for a Two-State Solution

Don James, Bridges for Peace
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is familiar to almost everyone; some would say much too familiar, as it seems incessant and intractable.  For many who have an opinion on the matter, a “two state solution” seems to be the obvious, if elusive, direction to look.
I became interested in the modern situation of the Jewish people and, therefore, this conflict, in 1998.  Until recently, I have accepted the common wisdom that the only way forward was “two states for two peoples”.  What changed my mind?

The first factor that has come to my attention is what may be called “Arab rejectionism”.  From my reading of twentieth century history, the Arabs of the region have been offered a state on at least four occasions and have rejected the offer each time.  The most obvious instance was in 1947 when the United Nations proposed partition of Palestine.  The Jews reluctantly accepted the plan; the Arabs rejected it and launched a war of extermination on the just-born Jewish state.  Recent offers by Israel have included the Camp David proposal of 2000, its follow-up proposal at Taba, Egypt, and the most recent one, a quiet proposal by Ehud Olmert in 2008.  Critics of this view suggest that the offers were unfair.  Even were this true, it is still difficult to fathom why there was never even a counter-offer by the Arab side.  As noted, the response in 1947 was a declaration of war; in 2000 it was the launch of the Second Intifada.

Learning the history of the region since the end of the Ottoman Empire was a second factor which undermined my support for a “two state solution”.  The Ottomans had sided with the Germans in World War I and to the victor went the spoils.  The Allies divided up the Ottoman Empire into a system of “mandates”, to be supervised by the great powers until the inhabitants were ready for self-government and independence.  These mandates were secretly delineated by Mark Sykes and George Picot, British and French diplomats respectively and ratified by the victorious powers in the 1919 San Remo Agreement.  In 1920 the Treaty of Sevres was signed with the Ottoman Empire, and in 1922 the League of Nations ratified the arrangements. What were they?
To France was given responsibility for Syria and Lebanon – the French Mandate.  Britain was given two mandates – Iraq and Palestine.  It is the Palestine Mandate that concerns us here.  In 1917, Britain had issued the Balfour Declaration, stating its support for a Jewish homeland, within which the rights of Arabs and others would be protected.
The boundaries of this proposed homeland were outlined by Sykes and Picot as seen in the map below.
Compared to the current situation, the proposed Jewish homeland was a comparatively large area, encompassing present-day Jordan.  No sooner, however, had this agreement been ratified by the League of Nations, than it was significantly altered by Britain.  Seventy-seven percent of the Palestine Mandate was hived off and given to a Saudi prince, to be known as Transjordan.  The next year, 1923, the Golan Heights was removed from the mandate and given to France/Syria.  With these two alterations of the original proposal, eighty percent of the “Jewish homeland” was given to the Arabs.
It is not a stretch to say that this already was a “two state solution”, with Jordan as the Arab/Palestinian state.  Between the two world wars, however, Arab pressure was constant against Jewish settlement in the remaining twenty percent still allocated to the Jews.  The conflict was so challenging for the British that they relinquished their supervision of the area in 1947 to the United Nations.   The UN then devised the Partition Plan, which further divided the original mandate so that the Jewish portion was now thirteen percent. 
Still, the Jews accepted it and the state of Israel was declared in 1948.  The Arab response was war, as noted above, bringing us back to the first argument, Arab rejectionism – no acceptance of a Jewish state at all.  Again in 1967, the neighbouring Arab nations, together with the resident Arabs of Palestine, attacked the tiny Jewish state, seeking its extinction.  Israel’s victory in that Six Day War is what gives us the current situation, rather controversially called “the occupation”.
The pattern seems clear - constant Arab pressure against any Jewish sovereignty in the area formerly known as Palestine.  In a recent article, British journalist, Melanie Phillips, points out how successful this pressure has been over the decades and lays blame on the world community, which regularly reacts to the Arab hostility by demanding that the Jews make further concessions.  Unless we believe that the Jews deserve no land at all to call their own, there needs to be a change in this practice.
I began by confessing that only recently did I recognize these problems with the two-state solution as promoted today.  This embarrasses me to a degree.  How could I support it?  Without absolving myself completely, I would suggest that the degree of propaganda and misinformation in our culture on this issue is almost overwhelming.  An entirely different, and false, narrative has been spun.  In the face of great odds, I believe the task of pushing back is worthwhile.
Very briefly, my recommendation for a solution is to encourage the government of Israel to annex Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank) into the nation of Israel.  This would obviously be an extremely controversial act in the current climate and would result in a storm of opposition.  However, it is a practical solution, from the point of view of security, and it is a just solution from the point of view of the Arabs who live there.    From a security point of view, Israel must be in control of this area in order to survive.  A well-known Palestinian journalist told me that if the West Bank is given away, I would be landing in Amman (Jordan) from now on.  Ben Gurion Airport would easily be in Arab gunsights from the Judaean hills. From a justice point of view, the Arabs of Palestine have been treated by their fellow Arabs as pawns in this conflict and are suffering greatly because of it.  They would be far better off under Israeli sovereignty, like their Arab compatriots who presently make up twenty percent of the population of Israel. 
Finally, Judea and Samaria are the biblical heartland, the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah, the “mountains of Israel” to which the prophets promised that the exiles will return.  I do not expect every reader to accept this premise; it is something that I resisted myself for a long time.  But the twentieth century historical case on its own, as summarized above, is something I urge every open-minded reader to consider.

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