Annex the West bank to salvage Palestinian refugees.

Recently there has been a bitter condemnation of left-wing veteran Labour Party Member of Knesset Eitan Cabel. He urged his party to ‘sober up’ and push to annex Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank. He wrote in the Haaretz newspaper that Israel “cannot wait for the Palestinian side because Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) has already given up on the two-state solution.” He later added the annexation should be “until the Palestinians have a Mandela”

Mr. Cabel was explaining to the readers of the newspaper that for the peace process there is only one important issue – land. It is ownership and control of land and living on that land. The provocation was to coerce the Palestinians to the negotiation table to grant them ownership and control of land and enable refugees to return to live on it. The important point highlighted by Mr. Cabel is that suitable Palestinian leadership is lacking. This is a continual phenomenon since the Arab Revolt 1936-1939. The Revolt is seen as the birth of Arab Palestinian identity as well as the exile without return of leadership and people – the creation of Palestinian refugees.

There were two phases to the Revolt.The first was a nationalist uprising by Palestinian Arabs against the British administration demanding Arab independence but it was counterproductive. It was directed mainly by the urban and elitist Higher Arab Committee (HAC). It focused on strikes and other forms of political protest. It was short lived and quickly defeated by the British civil administration using a combination of political concessions, international diplomacy and the threat of martial law. The leadership and many other wealthy Arabs feared for their lives and livelihood and fled to other countries.

The second phase started in 1937 without cohesive strategy, resources or leadership but still seeking Arab independence. It was typified by a violent peasant-orientated Arab resistance movement. It was brutally suppressed by the British Army using repressive measures intended to intimidate the Arab population and undermine popular support for the revolt.Thousands of Palestinian houses were destroyed including the demolition of large parts of the old city of Jaffa and massive financial costs were incurred including the devastation of fields, crops and orchards. Over ten percent of the adult male Palestinian Arab population between 20 and 60 was killed, wounded, imprisoned or exiled.

Those that could flee the British suppression did so to neighbouring Arab countries such as Lebanon and Egypt. They set up shop and lived as Arabs in a Muslim state. They were not yet designated as refugees or displaced persons as these terms had yet to enter the lexicon of international affairs

Those who didn’t flee became embroiled in disputes blaming each other with the British capitalising by the strategy of “divide and rule”. An example is the feud between the two largest Arab families. The Husayni family rejected the British mandate and Zionism as a whole, while the Nashashibis felt that the best approach was through political compromise. Additionally, partisan bickering often resulted in one family blocking the policies of the other family that genuinely may have been in the national interest. The Nashashibis also dispatched “Fasail al-Salam” (Peace Bands) in coordination with the British Army against nationalist and Jihadist Arab “Fasail” units. Eventually the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin of the Husayni family and leader of the first phase of the Revolt also fled into exile

It was this destruction, the exile of the main Arab political leadership as well as many peasant families due to the 1936-1939 Revolt that later impaired Palestinian efforts after the United Nations decision (29 November 1947) to create a State of Palestine. After the 1948 war saw the State of Israel gain its independence yet Jordan and Egypt occupied territory designated to what should have been a State of Palestine.

Even in 1949 Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion identified the significance of the Arab Revolt 1936-1939 as a cause of the lack of a State of Palestine. The Arabs, he said, were “Fighting dispossession. Their fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people.” The Revolt commenced the process that has yet to be overturned because there is no sturdy Palestinian leadership, leadership that exists prefers exile. Palestinians haven’t attained a homeland that was once well within their grasp

It was only in the 1950s that the Palestinian refugee calamity was declared. It identified those who had fled the Arab Revolt 1936-1939 and the 1948 war as refugees and they became estranged in their host states. Militant Palestinian liberation organizations sought to use refugee status to seek world attention, world support and world condemnation of Israel. There is no evidence of Palestinian leadership making any attempt to actively resolve refugee status of Palestinians in Arab states or to place them as the top priority of any peace negotiation.

The various Palestinian leadership that exists since then prefers to leave exiled families being designated as refugees for generations. They have nowhere to return to for as left-wing veteran Labour Party Member of Knesset Eitan Cabel soberly stated Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) has already given up on the two-state solution. It is because of such leaderless Palestinians that there are Palestinian refugees.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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