Last week, and not for the first time, the European Union slammed Israel over its settlement policies, claiming they threaten a ‘two-state solution.’ As day follows night it’s taken for granted that one of those two states will be Palestine. But will it?
Ignore history and it will remind you of the classes you bunked. How many truants imbibe that mother of all lessons, even with Israel’s landscape scarred by the punishments history inflicted for ignoring it. The tell-tale scars of the Oslo Accords are everywhere; but the security barrier stands supreme as a monument to that old but prescient warning, ‘Ignore history at your peril!’
A case in point could well be the two-state solution. Its peril is where? Go to history, oh leaders of Europe, oh two-state punters. Consider her ways and be wise.
To make a start, attend the history class of 1947 – 48. They’re the years of the Partition Plan and aftermath. Granted, it’s common knowledge that the UN plan was aborted when neighbouring Arab states tried to abort the Jewish state by invading it. But do we know what would have happened had Israel lost and the Arabs won that war? What flag would now flutter at the United Nations? If you answer the flag of Palestine, you’d be wrong. That’s not the lesson we learn from the class of 47-48.
The actual lesson is that territory captured by the victorious Arab armies would not have been handed over to native Palestinians. Rather, the Arab scramble for Palestine would have divided it among the invaders: Transjordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon. Toggle all you like, but not a single Arab regime looked upon the Palestinians as a distinctive people worthy of self-governance. Neither did the Arab-siding British, before turning off the lights on their Mandate. As one official observed:
It does not appear that Arab Palestine will be an entity, but rather that the Arab countries will each claim a portion in return for their assistance [in the war against Israel]…
At the same time the British high commissioner for Palestine, Sir Alan Cunningham, told his colonial secretary that,
The most likely arrangement seems to be Eastern Galilee to Syria, Samaria and Hebron to Abdallah (of Transjordan), and the south to Egypt.
The Arabs agreed. Eminent Arab-American historian Philip Hitti had described the common Arab view to an Anglo-American commission in 1946: “There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.”
So lessons from the 47- 48 class are mandatory for those taken by the two-state idea. Only look at what happened when Gaza and the West Bank fell into the hands of Egypt and Jordan. Were those spoils of war given over to the Palestinians for a state? They most definitely were not. The British, whatever their failings, proved adept at reading history’s wayward pulse.
What lessons might the class of 64 hold for two-state punters? Remember, at this time Israel is not the occupier of the West Bank and Gaza; Jordan and Egypt are. And the Palestinians feel more than comfortable with that arrangement. ‘Stay,’ they beg their Arab brothers. ‘We’ve no inclination for a state of our own.’ Look it up for yourself, Article 24 of the National Covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, enacted May 28, 1964:
This Organization does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in the Gaza Strip or the Himmah area.
So Palestinian Arabs accepted that Judea, Samaria, the eastern part of Jerusalem, and Gaza belonged to Arab states; accepted and liked it that way.
Then there’s the class of ’67. What may be taken from that vintage year? The Six-Day war had ended in a stunning victory for Israel, and the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242. Land for peace would be the cornerstone of Arab-Israeli dialogue from there on. What land was that? Our ears prick. Was the UN preparing the ground for a Palestinian state?
Absolutely not – or it would have been a perfect case of putting the cart before the horse. Not even the UN could plan for a Palestinian state before there were a Palestinian people to govern it. They, if you attend the class of 68, were still a year away from being born.
So it was that the UN took it for granted that territories evacuated by Israel would be returned to their pre-1967 Arab occupiers: Egypt and Jordan. UN resolution 242 spoke of the need “for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem” – not the Palestinian problem, mind. Who were the problem refugees? The Palestinian Arabs certainly, but also the larger group of 850 000 Jews expelled from Arab states during and after the 1948 war.
The entire international community saw it the UN’s way. Western democracies rejected the idea of Palestinian nationhood; so did the great Arab-supporting Soviets, and even the Arab world recoiled at the idea of nationhood. Professor Efraim Karsh of Kings College, London relates how the Hashemite rulers of Jordan viewed an independent Palestinian state as a mortal threat to their own kingdom, while the Saudis saw it as a potential source of extremism and instability. Pan-Arab nationalists were as adamantly opposed, having their own designs on the region. In 1974, Syrian President Hafez al Assad openly referred to Palestine as “not only a part of the Arab homeland but a basic part of southern Syria.”
What of the Palestinians themselves? If no one else saw them that way, surely they were convinced of their distinctive identity? Not one bit of it. Yasser Arafat, the symbol, hero and embodiment of the Palestinian people was by ironic twist, the living proof that there was no nation by that name. Arafat, of course, was an Egyptian national, Cairo-born, four decades before the Palestinian people entered the record books. And don’t look to the leader before Arafat, PLO Chairman, Ahmed Shukeiry, who was a Saudi national.
But for a really fine history master few can beat Zahir Muhsein, one-time head of the PLO Military Department and member of the PLO Executive Committee:
The Palestinian people do not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the State of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality, today, there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan – which is a sovereign state with defined borders – cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa. While, as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan. (Amsterdam newspaper, Dagblad de Verdieping Trouw, March 31, 1977)
Have we cause to be surprised? Only if we’d bunked the history class of 48 which Efraim Karsh, diligent once more, attended:
The collapse and dispersion of Palestinian society following the 1948 defeat shattered an always fragile communal fabric, and …prevented the crystallization of a national identity. Host Arab regimes actively colluded in discouraging (it). Upon occupying the West Bank during the 1948 war, King Abdallah had moved quickly to erase all traces of (Palestinian identity.) On April 4, 1950, the territory was formally annexed to Jordan, its residents became Jordanian citizens, and they were increasingly integrated into the kingdom’s economic, political, and social structures. For its part, the Egyptian government showed no desire to annex the Gaza Strip…but ruled it as an occupied military zone.
That Egypt did – keeping Gazan’s under tight control, and denying them Egyptian citizenship.
We in the West who flog the two-state solution may have skipped a history class or three; but it’s highly doubtful the Arabs did.