Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Arab/Israel Conflict: Palestine Delayed
It has become fashionable to blame Israel for the failure to create a Palestinian state. These days, Israel is often criticized and even vilified over its settlements in the West Bank. Personally, I don’t support the settlements, not because they are illegal (there are conflicting views on this point), but because they weaken the Palestinian moderates (whoever they may be) and they strengthen the hand of those who vow to never accept any sort of peace with Israel.
The question that I would like to explore here is whether the Arabs have done everything that they could to create the Palestinian state that they now claim they want. Although much has happened before 1948, including missed opportunities for Arabs for reconcile with the Jewish presence in the Middle East, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s start with the UN partition plan of November 29, 1947.
The UN partition plan allocated 43% of Mandatory Palestine (previously occupied by Britain) to an Arab State with only 1% Jewish population while it allocated 56% of Mandatory Palestine to a Jewish State with 45% Arab population. The Jewish leaders reluctantly approved the plan, but the Arab states rejected it. Had the Arabs accepted it, the “Jewish State” would have been small, and with 45% Arabs, it would have been a Jewish State only in name. The Arabs could have created an almost purely Arab Palestine in the 43% allocated to them.
In addition to refusing the plan, the Arabs started a war against the state of Israel as soon as it was declared in May 1948. The war resulted in over 12,000 casualties, and it ended 10 months later with an armistice. The armistice as signed in separate agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, left Israel with 78% of Mandatory Palestine and fewer Arabs than outlined in the UN partition plan since about 750,000 Arabs were either chased away or left with the intention of coming back after the war had ended.
The war of 1948 was a huge loss for the Arabs. They lost the right to a UN partition plan that favoured them, and they lost territorial contiguity. However, they still controlled the rest of Mandatory Palestine, and they could have unilaterally declared the creation of a Palestinian state in those territories. Instead, they chose to continue hostilities with Israel.
On May 30, 1967, Jordan signed a mutual defense pact with Egypt. Egypt mobilized and massed on Israel's southern border. On June 5, in a preventative strike, Israel launched a surprise air-based attack on Egypt in a war that would last six days. By the end of the war, Israel had occupied the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt), Gaza (Mandatory Palestine), the West Bank (Mandatory Palestine), East Jerusalem (Mandatory Palestine), Shebaa farms (Lebanon/Syria), and the Golan Heights (Syria). The land occupied by Israel was now several folds larger than the land allocated to the “Jewish State” in the UN partition plan.
At that point, Arabs could have negotiated back their land in exchange for giving Israel what it desired, which was peace with its neighbours. They could then create the Palestinian state in the West bank and Gaza. Instead, in August 1967, Arab leaders met to discuss the Arab position toward Israel, and they decided that there would be no recognition, no peace, and no negotiations with Israel (also known as "the three NOs").
The hostilities between Israel and Arab states continued. On October 6, 1973, during Yom Kippur, the most important day of the Jewish calendar, Syria and Egypt staged a surprise attack on Israel. The Israeli military was unprepared and took about three days to mobilize. This gave time to other Arab states to send troops to help the Egyptians and Syrians. Israel managed to fight back, and after the ceasefire on October 25, Israel had increased even further the land that it occupied, even if only slightly.
Later in the 1970s, Egypt decided to reach a peace agreement with Israel. At that point, Arab states could have united in negotiating peace with Israel, and they could have secured the creation of a Palestinian state. Instead, Arabs states vilified Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat for his initiative.
In 1994, Jordan decided to negotiate its own peace agreement with Israel. Again, Lebanon and Syria could have joined in the negotiations and secured a Palestinian state, but again they chose to stay out and leave the future of the Palestinian state unresolved.
Now in March 2014, Syria and Lebanon are mired in infighting, and the divided Palestinians are going through the motions of yet one more round of peace negotiations with Israel, but Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and Syria’s and Lebanon’s refusal to settle the issue of Palestinian refugees all mean that the peace talks are likely to fail or end in another inconclusive interim agreement.
In their relationship with Israel, Arab states have had many opportunities to create a Palestinian state, but their complete inability to accept a Jewish state in the Middle East has meant that for 66 years, they have preferred to leave the Palestinians stateless and Palestine unresolved. Today, more than ever, Arab states are stalled in internal conflicts, civil wars, and state tyrannies, and yet they blame their woes on Israel and other liberal democracies.
As someone of Arab origin, I am ashamed of what Arabs have done and continue to do, but I also want to believe that the Arab conflicts can be resolved. I believe that what Arabs lack most is competent and honest leadership like the one provided by former Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat. They need leaders who believe in their futures as strong nations able to be equal partners in peace and in trade. They need modern, smart, and educated leaders instead of weaklings, thugs, and demagogues, and then Palestine might finally become a reality.