16 June 2009

Netanyahu recalcitrant

There is much commentary to the effect that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, in his foreign policy speech at Bar Ilan University, has taken a momentous step in the direction of Middle East peace. The White House, for example, said that Mr Netanyahu had taken “a big step forward in acknowledging for the first time the need for a two-state solution”.

He did no such thing. Rather, Mr Netanyahu resorted to the standard Likud tactic: when backed into a corner, agree subject to unacceptable pre-conditions, and position the other side as the obstacle to peace. Ariel Sharon was a master at it.

I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.

The Palestinian entity that Mr Netanyahu has in mind has none of the attributes of a state. Its powers would be more like those of the custodians of native lands within the United States – limited powers within the boundaries, no control of air space, no control of borders, no defence force. By contrast with the native lands, however, the Israelis would still decide who comes and goes, and what goods come and go. More like an outdoor prison, really.

And in order to get that the Palestinians simply have to agree that Israel is a Jewish State (ie the 20% of the Israeli population that is Arab doesn’t really belong there), and that there is a simple solution to the problem of all the Palestinians who were driven from their homes in 1948 – they can be resettled in other Arab countries.

This is just, of course, because actually the whole of the country west of the Jordan belongs to the Jewish people:

The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People. (Applause)

As the first PM David Ben Gurion in the declaration of the State, the State of Israel was established here in Eretz Israel, where the People of Israel created the Book of Books, and gave it to the world.

There is just one tedious little problem:

The truth is that in the area of our homeland, in the heart of our Jewish Homeland, now lives a large population of Palestinians.

So there you have it, all those blasted Palestinians right here in the middle of our Jewish homeland, an Inconvenient Truth that we are going to have to deal with. And to hear Mr Netanyahu tell it, the sole reason that the tireless efforts of the peace-loving Israelis have been thwarted over all these years is this:

The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been, and remains - the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish People to its own state in its historical homeland.

We will leave aside for the moment the fact that you need to look pretty hard in the Old Testament to find an area of that historical homeland that was not already occupied by someone else, and just mention a few more modern matters that might help to explain why the Palestinians are so small minded about the creation of the State of Israel.

It might possibly have something to do, for example, with the betrayal of the promises of independence that were given to the Arabs during World War I. This promise was of course difficult to reconcile with the parallel promise bestowed upon the Zionist movement by perfidious Albion in Foreign Secretary Balfour’s 1917 letter to Lord Rothschild, the key sentence of which is:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this objective , it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Nevertheless, a Palestinian would not have to be an extremist to observe that there is quite a leap from “a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine” to the notion that all of Mandate Palestine is sovereign Jewish territory by right of history – nor to observe that there has been more than a little prejudice to the rights of the non-Jewish communities.

The tedious attitude of the Palestinians might also be shaped by the influx of Jewish people during the Mandate Period. In 1915 there were 80,000-90,000 Jews in Palestine, and 500,000-600,000 Arabs. By 1939 the Jewish population had reached 475,000. Far too much is made of the Holocaust as a driver of the history of Mandate Palestine. After the War it became fundamental, but the Zionist movement had gained a very strong foothold in Palestine, with the acquiescence and facilitation of the Mandate Authorities, before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Notwithstanding this growth in the Jewish population, the 1939 British White Paper on the future of Palestine envisaged it becoming an independent unitary state within ten years.

Finally, Palestinian attitudes might have something to do with the fact that so many of them were driven out and/or expropriated in 1948. According to a British census, the population of Palestine in 1947 was 1,157,000 Arab Muslims, 146,000 Arab Christians and 580,000 Jews. Over the seven months following the creation of Israel, the Israel Defence Army drove most of the Palestinian population from their homes and herded them into neighbouring Arab countries; two years later only 200,000 Arabs remained in the 78 per cent of Palestine which had become Israel. Another study showed that in 1946 Jews had owned 12 per cent of the land in what became Israel, but after the 1947-48 war they owned 77 per cent. A conciliation commission set up by the United Nations estimated that 80 per cent of the land the Jews gained was taken by force.

So “the root of the conflict” is not exactly as Mr Netanyahu would have us believe, and there is no possibility of a solution to the problem until there is an honest approach to what the problem is. Meanwhile, the two state solution is going exactly where Mr Netanyahu wants it to go. Nowhere.

No comments: