For years the PLO and their supporters have been waging an intimidating propaganda campaign against the State of Israel. They have labelled the country a pariah nation, an apartheid state and an abuser of human rights without parallel in the world. Israeli leaders have been labelled war criminals, racists and Nazis. Central to this “soft war” is a distorted historical narrative which casts the Palestinians as the innocent victims of western backed imperialism and which denies the Jews any legitimate right to self determination.
Lest anyone believe that this war is confined to mere Palestinian radicals, one need only read the recent article by Nabeel Sha’ath, a member of the Fatah Central committee, and a man often regarded as a true voice of Palestinian moderation.
Sha’ath starts by castigating the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the pledge made by the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Baron Rothschild to establish a national homeland for the Jews. This was a pledge made “to a people who did not even live there” and “without consulting the indigenous Christian and Muslim inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people”.
Nowhere here is there any acknowledgement that Palestine had been continuously populated by Jews, both before and after their expulsion in 70 AD, that it was the location of Judaism’s holiest sites and that the area had served as the focus of world Jewry’s religious aspirations. Instead he regards Zionism as a con trick because it diverted Jewish immigration “away from America and Western Europe”.
Sha’ath’s twisted historical narrative continues. He talks of how, during the First World War, “Britain had committed herself to assisting the Arab nations in achieving their independence from the Ottoman Empire” and goes on to say that “thousands of Palestinians, fought for their freedom”, allowing the establishment of the mandate.
The latter claim is largely false: Palestinian Arabs generally remained loyal subjects of their Ottoman overlords and failed to assist the Allied armies, partly a consequence of their underdeveloped national identity. But in his first statement, Sha’ath is blind to the implications of what he is saying. Britain did assist the Arab nations in their quest for post WW1 independence, carving out a number of Arab states from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Zionism was a complementary liberation movement, looking to free land from an imperial overlord. It should properly be seen as the spearhead of an anti-imperial movement, not a form of colonial oppression.
Sha’ath talks of how Britain “repressed Palestinian nationalism” while it “helped to encourage Zionist immigration into Palestine”. Palestine, he declares, was the “victim of colonial conspiracies”. Whatever his personal animus towards the British imperial administration, he ignores the fact that Britain’s position in Palestine was entirely legal. Since 1920 at the San Remo conference, Britain’s mandate over Palestine operated with the support of the international community. The 51 member League of Nations ratified the mandate in 1922, providing an overwhelming level of legitimacy for creating a Jewish homeland.
Moreover, far from stifling the rights of Palestinian Arabs, Britain supported them enthusiastically. Notwithstanding the handing over of three quarters of Palestine to a future Jordanian state in 1922, the 1937 Peel Commission recommended a partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the latter forming the vast majority of the area. While the Zionists accepted the principle of partition, the Arabs, under the leadership of the notorious anti-semite Hajj Amin-al Husseini, rejected it wholeheartedly. This was the most blatant sign that the Palestinian leadership would never accept any form of Jewish self determination in the area, whatever the cost.
Sha’ath goes on to say that it was never envisaged “that the British mandate would end with a catastrophe in the form of the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people from their homeland”. Indeed not. The undoubted calamity brought upon some 600,000 Arab citizens came about because, once again, Palestinian leaders rejected a compromise formula.
After the UN voted to partition the area into a Jewish and Arab state in 1947, the Zionist leaders responded with an emphatic “yes” and Husseini with an equally emphatic “no”. What followed was a concerted effort to drive the Jews into the sea.
As the historical archives have been opened, it has become abundantly clear that Jewish communal leaders in Haifa, Jaffa and elsewhere did all they could to prevent an Arab exodus in 1948. It is equally clear that, amid the civil war that engulfed Palestine in 1947-8, Arab inhabitants largely fled from the war zone, encouraged by exaggerated tales of Jewish atrocities and the promise of a swift return once the Zionists had been routed. The Palestinian exodus was a self induced catastrophe.
When Sha’ath says that the mandate was “never meant permanently to thwart Palestinian national aspirations” he is wrong. Under the mandate, Britain was only obliged (rightly) to safeguard “the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion”. Its primary provisions were to facilitate a Jewish homeland and it made no promise to create another Arab state.
But as already stated, there could have been a Palestinian state prior to 1948. It was the bitter, prolonged and bloody campaign of intimidation launched by Palestinian leaders that thwarted those aspirations and the same pattern of terror and violence has followed in subsequent decades.
What Sha’ath does not tell his readers is that whenever Israel has made major concessions to her Palestinian partners, the result has been an upsurge of violence and terrorism. When Israel implemented the Oslo accords in the 1990s, she faced a relentless barrage of suicide bombers sent by Hamas. In 2000-1 Israel’s offer to disengage from the majority of the West Bank was rebuffed by Yasser Arafat. What followed was the second intifada which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians and maimed thousands more.
The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 saw an upsurge of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, affecting Israeli communities across the south of the country. Mere Israeli concessions are not the panacea for peace, and they never have been.
The Palestinians must be encouraged to give up their dream of defeating Israel. This means abandoning the “right of return”, banning incitement against Jews and ending the glorification of terrorists. Above all, they must free themselves from the twisted historical narrative that has been foisted upon them for so long. Only then should we start talking about a future Palestinian state.