If the Syrian Civil War teaches us anything, it teaches us that there never really was such a thing as Syria or a “Syrian” identity. Syria is a national myth imposed upon a biblical geographic narrative that hearkens back to the age of David and Solomon. In the myriad of identities that made up the Arab occupation of the Levant for more than a millennium, there were Muslims of at least two kinds, Christians, Druze, Kurds and even some Jews, but there weren’t any Syrians. Syria was a place established in the Torah and the Christian New Testament.
The same was true for “Palestine”. “Historic Palestine” never existed in reality. Historic Israel existed. Palestine was the name that the Catholic Church had adopted from the Roman Empire after Christianity had become the official state religion of Rome. The name “Palestine” was an integral part of the punishment that the Romans had meted out to the Jews for their unsuccessful military revolt. Exile and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem were also key parts of the punishment. Once the Arabs conquered “Palestine” over eight hundred years later, they never called the place or themselves Palestine or Palestinians. The geographic territory of biblical, historic Israel are, part and parcel, the same as the fraudulently named “historic Palestine”. Palestine was historically a European invention.
The map of historic Israel has nearly always matched the biblical reality that encompassed both sides of the Jordan River. That was true before Christianity and indeed matched the Catholic Church’s own cartography of so-called “historic Palestine”. The geographic history of Israel has a biblical reality, a Roman reality and a Christian cartographic reality. What it completely lacks is an Arab or Muslim cartographic reality. The geographic DNA of post-biblical Israel resides in the Vatican map collection, and not in any library anywhere in the Muslim world. This is crucial evidence that the so-called “map of historic Palestine” is a contrivance of a modern national movement bent on subverting history and theology for its own ends (the elimination of the Jewish State). In truth, modern day Palestinian nationalism was created in the aftermath of the League of Nations Mandate for “Palestine” which established both sides of the Jordan River as a future homeland for the Jewish people.
The majority Arab people and others who occupied the Levant over the last thirteen hundred years were first and foremost Muslims, and not (as has been recently demonstrated) Syrians or Iraqis. Jordanian and Palestinian nationalism are products of the second half of the twentieth century and represent a reaction against a Jewish nationalism that goes back millennia The Jewish nation is almost as old as China or Egypt. Its legitimacy certainly exceeds any nation on the European continent with the exception of Greece, and in Western Asia only Iran (Persia) can claim a continuous national identity for as long as Israel.
These facts are crucial for the so-called “peace process” (between Arabs and Jews) to evolve. Because once the geography of the land and its history have been clearly determined, only then can the politics between the two peoples begin to be sorted out. For example, the 1948 War ended with an armistice by which the Arab side was in possession of over eighty percent of the territory of the original Mandate and at least half of historic Israel. But the Arab side had adopted a road map that they had inherited from the British Colonial Office. In this erroneous configuration, an entity called Transjordan had been created. A royal family from the Arabian Peninsula (the Hashemites) had been placed on a throne, and a brand new country had been created in a single afternoon (sometime before tea-time in Cairo in the summer of 1921). It was with this stroke of the pen that the British created the three-way struggle for historic Israel (on both sides of the Jordan River).
Jordan has no history outside of British imperial illegality. Hence the original partition of historic Israel (Mandated Palestine) had been accomplished without international coordination, and therefore in a lawless manner. But this new configuration (with the Hashemite-British army east of the river) set the stage for any number of partition proposals between Arab and Jew. These proposals either called for the illegal occupation by the Hashemite King on the West Bank or excluded the king altogether and truncated historic Israel to an entity which only existed from the “river to the sea”, leaving the Jews with an even smaller portion of that entity. Over a period of nearly eighty years, neither Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank (as a permanent political solution) or a three-state solution (Israel, Palestine and Jordan) has proven workable.
Israel has fought off the entire Arab world but has sought strategic depth as a permanent peace guarantee. For security reasons, the vast majority of Israelis legitimately refuse to completely return to the 1967 armistice lines as a final border. Neither the Center nor the Left in Israel acknowledge the true geographic dimensions of either Mandated Palestine or historic Israel. Security for the state is their only criterion for a viable political solution. Even on the Left, the demilitarization of a West Bank Palestinian state and an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley have become requirements for a successful Green-Line partition. The Israeli Center position on security is even more stringent and, unlike the Left, tends to doubt the durability of a Palestinian state on the West Bank alone. But like the Left, the Center offers no other solution to the conflict other than a West Bank Palestinian state.
The Right in Israel offers no peace plan at all. Anachronistically, it continues to maintain that “Jordan is Palestine”. Yet while it is certainly true that Jordan is a part of historic Israel and also represents a part of Mandated Palestine, the idea that Jordan alone could become an alternative homeland for the Arabs of the West Bank is a delusion of the first order. However, the West Bank Palestinian notion that Israel could retreat from territories with neither a security apparatus nor a clear political delineation as to the future relationship of the two banks (the states of Jordan and Palestine) is equally a first-class delusion. In other words, the two-way partition of historic Israel into three states seems as unlikely as the one-way partition of Mandated Palestine into two states alone. That is, partitioned either at the Green Line or the Jordan River, without an integrated center (either “Greater Israel”, the “Jordanian Option” or “Greater Palestine” on both banks of the river).
If a “two-state solution” from “the river to the sea” is impossible, and so too is a greater-state solution, then except for a bi-national state (which is completely unworkable) only an integrated West Bank solution with an East Bank Arab component could suffice. Partition at the Green Line and the Jordan River with an Israeli-Arab condominium (shared rule) for Jerusalem and the West Bank, would by default become the new paradigm. Partition and integration of the geography of historic Israel and Mandated Palestine is an idea whose time has come.
In the final analysis, if and when the Kerry initiative collapses, Israel and the Palestinians will be forced to make some very difficult choices. The collapse of the PA and the West Bank economy, the boycott of Israel and its further isolation, the internationalization of the conflict through the I.C.C., or maybe a Palestinian front to a regional war are all extremely unattractive possibilities. For the Israeli Right the idea of not having a peace plan, or a narrative that the world can clearly understand, is a tragedy. Historic and geographical Israel as a cornerstone to a dramatic and peaceful new interpretation to the Covenant of Abraham could be just such a narrative. In whichever direction the Israeli Right decides to move, it cannot be done with Hamas and Iran as the sole villains of the drama. Fatah is a crucial player, and Fatah has its sights clearly on the European and American Left. This includes huge elements of the US Jewish community and the Democratic Party. Without a peace plan and an inclusive narrative, Religious Zionism will eventually fail as a political movement. This is a certainty. If that were to happen, once again the geography of the conflict would contract, and the eventual prospect of a Greater Palestine (on both banks of the river) would be back in the picture.
For a Greater Palestine has been the goal of the PLO since the “Black September” Civil War in Jordan. The Palestinians are now the majority in Jordan, and for simple reasons of demography, democracy, and economics the Arab communities on both banks of the river are linked. If a two-state solution is negotiated west of the river (as the Left would have it), the East Bank would be set in turmoil. In a region without a clear balance-of-power between Iran and the rest, this scenario has become foolhardy.
But without a peace plan and an inclusive narrative of its own, the Israeli Religious Right will continue to be portrayed as occupiers and usurpers. Only through integration and partition in the land of historic Israel can the theological peace between Islam and Judaism be established. If the Palestinians are willing to share the West Bank with us, then we should be willing to share Jerusalem with them. And that’s the only deal we should offer them. The future of the East Bank and its absolute monarchy will hopefully be democratic, or at least a constitutional monarchy. But that’s not for Israel to decide. It’s strictly an Arab matter. For Israel, only with the integration of the West Bank do the Green Line and the River Jordan make sense as lines of partition.
Let the followers of Rav Kook decide as to where and how the Divine Narrative should be fulfilled. Let the Arab Muslims decide, what is the Will of Allah? Is it through conquest, or genuine peace with democratic rule? For without a form of democratic rule, the Arabs of the Levant will continue to be economically destitute. And without the economic cooperation of the East Bank of the Jordan, a West Bank state could never exist in the first place. Partition and integration must become the new paradigm.