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In November, the Arabs Said "No"

There are no uneventful months in the tortured history of the Arab-Israel conflict. November is no exception.  It was on November 2, 1917 that British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent Lord Rothschild, titular head of the British Jewish community, a letter—the Balfour Declaration—expressing the backing of the British government for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."  And, as if to bookend the month, November 29th will mark the 64th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly's adoption of the 1947 Partition Plan, the two-state solution that was recklessly spurned by the Arabs in a rebuff that presaged the Arabs' rejection of a Jewish homeland ever since.

Relevant Links
An Overwhelmingly Jewish State  Martin Gilbert, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. How British policy on the “national home for the Jewish people” evolved between the Balfour Declaration and the creation of the British Mandate in 1922. (PDF)
Homeland for the Jews  Ami Isseroff, Zionism & Israel Information Center. Was the Balfour Declaration meant to favor Jewish interests? Or to keep Palestine out of the hands of the French?
Through Arab Eyes  Abdul Wahab Said Al Kayyali, Palestine: A Modern History. The Palestine Arab Executive “adhered to their policy of non-cooperation with the Government and rejected an offer to establish an Arab Agency in Palestine.”

Between these two November dates—specifically, on November 9—the Israel, Britain, and the Commonwealth Association held a gala anniversary dinner in Tel Aviv to mark Balfour's pronouncement.  Guests included Britain's ambassador to Israel, the head of the European Union delegation, and ambassadors from several commonwealth countries (including those that reflexively vote against Jerusalem at the UN).  In general, the Israeli government does not make too much of the occasion, though Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon addressed the Tel Aviv banquet.  But Hamas makes it a point to issue an annual denunciation of the declaration, accompanied this year by a montage featuring photos of Israel's leaders splattered with blood and a picture of Balfour wearing a devil's horns and vampire's fangs.  Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, routinely condemns the Balfour Declaration's grant of rights to "those who had no connection" to the land—meaning the Jewish people.

This November also marks the 59th yahrzeit and the 137th anniversary of the birth of Chaim Weizmann, the distinguished chemist who was instrumental in fashioning the Zionist-British alliance that produced the Balfour Declaration.  As Jonathan Schneer, not a Zionist sympathizer, notes in his book The Balfour Declaration, Weizmann's achievement was never preordained.  He had to overcome the influence of important assimilationist Jews like Edwin Montagu, who strenuously urged their government not to cooperate with the Zionists, and Grand Sharif Hussein of Mecca and his sons, the Emirs Abdullah and Faisal, who lobbied through British proxies.  The Palestinian Arabs had scarcely any unique identity at the time, but Arab intellectuals in Syria argued against Zionism on grounds that Palestine was an integral part of Syria and could not be excluded from the magnanimous territorial bequest that Britain had made to the Arabs.

At the end of the day, Britain promised a sliver of the Middle East to the Jews and everything else to the Arabs.  After World War I, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and the San Remo Conference in 1920 ratified Britain's plans for Arab and Jewish self-determination in Palestine.  Balfour expected that the Arabs would be willing to share a small sliver of the vast Mideast landscape with the Jews, and in 1919 Faisal wrote encouragingly to Zionist leader Felix Frankfurter, "We Arabs, especially the educated among us look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement."

Tragically, pragmatists like Faisal did not carry the day.  Instead, anti-Zionist Arab riots, instigated by the fanatical Husseini clan, were launched in 1920.  London immediately went wobbly and embarked on a series of moves that first backtracked and then reversed its Balfour Declaration commitments.  To assuage Arab demands, Britain brought Abdullah from Arabia (where the family ultimately lost control to the Saudis) to Eastern Palestine in November, 1920.  By 1921, this immense area—today's Jordan, 80 percent of Palestine as defined by the League of Nations and promised to the Jews by Balfour—had been ceded to the Arabs, leaving the Jews only the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean. 

In 1937, in response to intensified Arab violence, Britain's Peel Commission called for further splitting even the 20 percent of Palestine still left to the Jews so as to create an additional Arab state within what was originally supposed to be Jewish Palestine.  The Zionists reluctantly acquiesced, but the Arabs said no.  By 1939, with the Nazi killing machine getting into lethal gear, Neville Chamberlain had completely reneged on the Balfour Declaration and blocked Jewish immigration to Palestine. 

None of this can be blamed on Balfour, who deserves to be remembered as a friend of the Jews. True, statesmen do not act purely out of altruism; Balfour, like other British politicians, was partly motivated by an exaggerated sense of Zionist influence in the international arena, which the British hoped to exploit for the war effort.  But Balfour also believed that Christian anti-Semitism had been a "disgrace" and, according to his biographer R.J.Q. Adams, hoped to make amends by providing the Jews with a "small notch" of territory.  In 1925 he helped dedicate the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus.  Like Theodor Herzl, Balfour may have assumed that British Jews would either thoroughly assimilate or choose to live in the Jewish homeland.

Ninety-four years after Balfour's declaration, the right of the Jewish people to re-establish their national homeland is still rejected even by Palestinian Arab "moderates."  The unremitting threat of renewed violence remains the Arabs' default position.  Sparked by the Gilad Shalit deal, Arab violence in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza has seen an upswing.  Cairo's renewed efforts to bring Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas together this week will likely entail more militancy from Fatah, not greater flexibility from Hamas.  In the words of Mahmoud Zahhar, the notion that Hamas will ever make peace with Israel is "insane."

Sixty-four years after Palestinian Arabs rejected the partition plan, Abbas claims to be having second thoughts.  Yet instead of negotiating with the Jewish state, he is forging ahead at the UN for unilateral statehood without making peace with Israel.  Sadly, Abba Eban's 1973 quip that the Arabs "never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" holds stubbornly true.  To be fair, time does not stand completely still: Abbas-like moderates are operating only 64 years behind real time.  For the "militants" of Hamas, though, it is perpetually 1917.

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Peter Rothberg on November 21, 2011 at 9:40 am (Reply)
The author should have put the phrase "Abbas-like moderates" into inverted commas, since the last agreement with Hamas, recently reached in Cairo, removed last masks of his alledged moderation. Peter Rothberg, [email protected]
Jacob Silver on November 21, 2011 at 2:22 pm (Reply)
Abbas was deputy to Arafat; it should not be surprising that his "philosophy" is rather close to that of Hamas. But there is still the numbers problem, which means that Israel cannot incorporate all of the Palestinians into Israel. New Palestinian leadership has to be found; and Israel, using all the discretion at its command, should encourage the development of leaders it can work with.
Sheldon Dan on November 21, 2011 at 8:42 pm (Reply)
Jacob, there may be a time when we all have to accept the reality that there may not be "Palestinian leaders Israel can work with." We thought Arafat and his group were "leaders we could work with" in the 1990s. That was a mistake. Unfortunately, the Palestinians are reading peace negotiations as weakness on the part of Israel; and the rest of the world, desperate for a "peace" regardless of its effect upon Israel, is only too happy to accommodate them. And we are not supposed to incorporate any Palestinians into Israel: That is the job of the new Palestinian state. With the last two sentences of your comment, you have basically answered the question of why there will not be peace in the foreseeable future between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jerry Blaz on November 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm (Reply)
I was quite disheartened by the loss of perspective in the article. Israel cannot continue to exist as a state if it does not find a way of living in peace. Sooner or later, the superior strength in armaments that Israel achieved will be surmounted by the combined armament strength of its neighbors. Sooner or later, most of the Jewish population will give up on Israel. Israel was not created to make war but to allow Jews to live in their land in peace. The "Yiddishe kopf" is not the end-all and be-all of Israel's future. It must also include a path for peace. Certainly, there are still many Arabs who want to see Israel gone. But they represent a smaller percentage of the Arabs today than they did a decade ago and two or three decades before. Today, there is a Palestinian peace camp; and if we look for it, it is not hard to find. The last negotiations did not stop because they reached a dead-end; they stopped because of an internal Israeli political problem (actually, a personal problem of the Prime Minister) that forced the Olmert government to give up power. At that time, the two sides were arguing over less than 2% of the land. Certainly, there may have been other issues, but most Israelis who follow these matters have a pretty good idea of what the Palestinian state adjoining the State of Israel will look like. We know what the peace will be like, if only we can get there. Does that mean the Arabs who hate us will suddently change their minds? Of course not--but, then, peace will not suddenly change the minds of Jews who hate Arabs. Right now, that peace is a work in progress, and to translate a Yiddishism, "You shouldn't show a fool a half-finished work."
Peter rothberg on November 22, 2011 at 12:50 am (Reply)
No known Palestinian activist or dignitary is ready to achieve a negotiated solution based on mutual concessions and compromises, without which an agreement can't be reached. Israel can't and shouldn't strive to incorporate all of the Palestinian population. (According to Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu's approach, we should't rule over any of them at all.) The point is being able to have a partner who would be ready to compromise. So far, there is no one with whom we could find common interests, readiness for mutual concessions, and a real, honest willingness to achieve peace. I see the solution in a regional arrangement based on a new territorial partition with Jordan and Egypt--since, for demographic, geographic, and strategic reasons, it is not possible to establish two valid, independent, and continuous states in the territory presently controlled by Israel and Palestinian Authority. The two-state solution is a mere propaganda gimmick and a math mistake: Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not located on an isolated island. The two nations are Arabs and Jews (Israelis). The Arabs already have 22 existing sovereign states. So it's not against one but, rather, one Jewish state against 23 Arab entities - 22 plus a new Palestinian terrorist state. Peter Rothberg

Kerry on November 22, 2011 at 7:27 am (Reply)
Abbas is far more treacherous than Nazrallah. He hopes to retake the entire area for Muslims and massacre all Jews--and has often said so in Arabic, just as Arafat did.
Jerry Blaz on November 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm (Reply)
As time proceeds, the ability to achieve a two-state solution diminishes. Certainly, after 94 years of enmity, achieving a peaceful solution becomes more difficult. Whatever the dreams of a greater Palestine or a Greater Israel people on both sides may have, at the present time, the possibility of achieving anything that the Palestinians want becomes more and more unrealistic.

The alternative will not be bringing other Arab countries into the "deal." Just as Iraqis remain Iraqis as refugees in Jordan and Syria, the Palestinians remain distinct from their "hosts" in the Arab nations because they do differ. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Arabic knows that while Arabs read the same language, they do not even speak the same language, depending upon where they live, and their allegiances are where their families have roots. So the Palestinians in the territories will opt to stay and become citizens of a greater Israel in a single state from the sea to the river, and when the number of Palestinians in that area becomes large enough because of their higher birthrate, it will be, in one way of the other, the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Peter Rothberg on November 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm (Reply)
The alternative I have repeatedly suggested is not a nation- state that might, in the long run, threaten the Jewish majority and, thus, Israel itself, but a new regional repartition--i.e., a contribution of territory on the part of Jordan and Egypt (a small percentage of their half-empty lands) to assist their beloved Palestinian brothers, whom they denied the right of self-determination when the so- called occupied territories were under the full control of these two Arab countries. Israel is not a colonial empire that must grant or deny the right of self-determination to other nations. All we need is defenssible , secure borders. What kind of state the Palestinians would establish beyond these borders--an Islamic Republic, a Caliphate, or a a kingdom--is none of our business, on the condition that tis entity would not threaten our security within the agreed-upon borders and would allow us to live in peace. This arrangement wouild provide the missing element in an equation that now seems insoluble. Peter Rothberg
Jerry Blaz on November 27, 2011 at 3:25 am (Reply)
Jordan has, in its government's estimation , too many Palestinians within its borders now. Egypt, in signing a peace treaty with Israel, would not permit Yamit to continue to exist (Menahem Begin sent Ariel Sharon to evacuate its settlers and literally take the town apart); but, having gotten back all its territory and signed a treaty, Egypt has adhered to it without any problems until now. On the other hand, Egypt did not want to reoccupy the Gaza when they were given a chance. The Israelis didn't want it either, and unilaterally evacuated it because Gaza is overcrowded and cannot support its present population. It is nobody's territorial asset.

It is very easy to sit on the sidelines and offer peace plans involving territories that are not ipart of the current Palestinian problem; such plans misread the constitutive mechanisms of the Arab nation-states. For example, Iraq has a diverse population of Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds, with a few other minorities thrown in; yet the Biden plan to divide Iraq into three states, even federated states, did not have feet.

To judge by the negotiations before Netanyahu's government came into power, the Palestinians are willing to take a state including 22 percent of the territory of the Palestinian mandate. There are Palestinians who would not be happy with that, just as there are Jews who would not be satisfied with giving the Palestinians that 22 percent. There is the ideal and there is reality, and in the end the peace will be negotiated in the realm of reality.
Peter Rothberg on November 27, 2011 at 3:03 pm (Reply)
There was never a "Palestinian Mandate." There was a British Mandate over the territories called Palestine--which didn't mean the land or country of or for the Palestinians (who hadn't been yet invented ) but was the Roman name of this province. The Balfour Declaration, while referring to "already existing communities" on the territories intended as the "Jewish National Home," specified that those communities would be entitled to full cultural and religious rights, not self-determination or statehood. That "innocent" 22 percent for the Palestinians would mean giving up holy places and endangering Israeli security by establishing indefensible borders (Auschwitz borders--as as Abba Eben put it, not Netanyahu). What Olmert and Livni promised to Abu Mazen wasn't approved by either the Government or by the Knesset and, thus, doesn't bind the present Israeli administration. Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg on November 28, 2011 at 9:47 pm (Reply)
P.S. In suggesting Jordanian and Egyptian involvement in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I meant not incorporating more Palestinians into these countries' territoriesy - but these countries making territorial contributions to the future Palestinian Entity--which might ease both parties' demographic problems and, thus, make the seemingly imposible equation soluble. In turn, this might counterbalance Israel's legitimate claims to part of its historial places and shrines. That's what I call " swaps" and a compromised, mutually agreed-upon, realistic solution. May the Lord Almighty , the same and only One for all the Nations, grant us the wisdom to find the right way to peace, tolerance, and prosperity.
Peter Rothberg .
Jerry Blaz on November 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm (Reply)
An ideal solution, particularly for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, would be for Egypt to open the land of Sinai at least to El Arish and maybe down south as far as Kadesh Barnea. It would relieve the overcrowding in Gaza. It ain't gonna happen. The Egyptians feel that they had no part in creating the Palestine problem and view their participation in wars with Israel as attempts to resolve the Palestinian problem. With the peace treaty came an implicit undersanding that Egypt was out of the picture. Of course, certain groups in Egypt, like the Muslim Brotherhood, might have another perspective, one that would be less agreeable to Israel. Jordan has absorbed large numbers of Palestinians and given them citizenship, but they still are an important faction that the Hashemite government fears might turn on the king and bring him down. So for Jordan, Palestinians are a pain they prefer to avoid.
Peter Rothberg on November 30, 2011 at 11:27 am (Reply)
By Jordanian and Egyptian "territorial contributions" I do not mean mean incorporating more Palestinians into their respective countries but adding a few percent of thier wide and half-empty lands to the prospective Palestinian entity--not opening Jordanian and Egyptian lands but granting the Palestinians more territory to ease their demographic problems (and ours). Thus, the historical injustice of not granting the Palestinians the right of self-determination (before the Six Days War) will be rectified--since, when the so-called "occupied territories" were fully controlled by Jordan and Egypt, they failed to grant self-determination to their their beloved Palestinian brethren. That is the main point of my new regional partition plan, which differs from all other known peace programs. What the Palestinians may establish beyond the mutually agreed-upon and corrected borders isn't our busines.
Peter Rothberg
Jerry Blaz on December 1, 2011 at 1:52 am (Reply)
The Palestinians did have an opportunity to exercise their self-determination (before the Six Day War). They refused the compromise involved in sharing the land with the Jews. They thought the Jews would be defeated by the combined armies of the Arab nations that attacked in 1948 (after the Palestinians themselves, under the tutelage of Syrian officer Fawzi al-Qawuqj, began guerilla operations in 1947, 64 years ago this week, when the UN approved the Partition plan). Even after the Jews won the war, they were still not willing to sit down with the Jews until the Madrid conference in 1991 under an international framework.
Peter Rotberg on December 1, 2011 at 11:17 am (Reply)
So why, after years of Palestinian violence and rejectionism and the presence of a Hamas terrorist entity within the Palestinian Authority's territory, should Israel accept the Abu Mazen "generous" 22 percent offer? Why accuse Natanyahu of "stuborn intransigence" by claiming that Olmert government would have done it better? Would have done what better? RP
Jerry Blaz on December 2, 2011 at 3:41 am (Reply)
If I were living in Israel I would rather make peace with the Canadians--but Canada is already at peace with Israel and is not occupied by Israel. You may counter that the Palestinians are not a state like Canada, and that may be a part of the problem: The Israelis do not need to be responsible for the Palestinian populations in the territories. Palestinians have tried violence as a means of gaining their state, and at one time they would not accept anything but everything. The Palestinians understand this, better than some Jews who feel that the Palestinians of 2011 are the same people, with the same mindset, as those who operated in 1948. Today the majority of the Palestinian are willing to accept their state on the remaining 22 percent of the British mandated territory between the sea and the river. And Israel does not need to be responsible for the millions of Arabs in these territories. So why, after they lost all their wars and were nasty about it, should Israel make peace? Because it is good for Israel. Israel has devoted too much of its youth and vigor to "handling" the Palestinian problem. It should find an acceptable, mutually agreeable way to make peace with the Palestinian Authority and let them become what they want to be, the state of Palestine.
Peter Rothberg on December 3, 2011 at 11:53 am (Reply)
--"British Mandated Palestine" is a great deal better than an unknown-to-historians "Palestinian Mandate." Yet, the word "Palestine" doesn't mean "Palestinian State" or "the territory belonging to or aimed for the Palestinians." The Palestinians hadn't been invented yet.
--The innocent "22 percent" probably means that the Palestinians are eligible for 100 percent of Palestine but, being so peace-minded and generous, kindly agree to take "only a small part" of it.
--How could returning to the indefensible 1967 borders ("Auschwitz borders" according to Abba Eben, not Natanyahu) and establishing Palestinian State based on Sharia law (which the Palestinian Authority's Assembly has already adopted as the basis of its future constitution) be good for Israel?
--There can't be an "acceptable , mutually agreed" peace with a party that rejects any compromise and is prepared to discuss only terms and conditions of Israel's complete capitulation .
Peter Rothberg

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