Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

Settling for Statehood

The 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly has just begun.  Unless a diplomatic miracle happens, that body will soon be asked to approve what amounts to a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood.  Palestinian spokesmen say they had no choice but to make their end run around serious negotiations with Israel—because what Israel is offering in such negotiations is just a fraction of the territory to which the Palestinians are entitled.

Relevant Links
Cavour and Garibaldi, 1860  Denis Mack Smith, Cambridge University Press. In this classic study of Garibaldi’s conflicts with Cavour, the flamboyant soldier emerges as a hardheaded realist.
The Greek-Turkish Population Exchange  Yaprak Gursoy, East European Quarterly. Ataturk lost control of his home town after the Greco-Turkish War.  The Greek and Turkish populations lost a good deal more.
The 1947-48 War  BBC. An account of the bloody results of Lord Mountbatten’s line.

To appreciate the hubris in this justification, it helps to recall a historical fact: Virtually no nation founded in modern times has been born in possession of all the territory to which it could lay plausible claim.  Settling for half a loafthat is, statehood in a territory significantly smaller than the historic or desired homelandis the price that most national liberation movements have paid for self-determination and international recognition.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, the pre-eminent military leader of 19th-century Italian unification, was born to an Italian family in Nice, where most inhabitants spoke the language of northern Italy.  One of Garibaldi's goals was to unify the Italian peninsula into a single state, including Nice.   When a peace treaty was imposed giving the city to France in exchange for statehood, Count Cavour, the political leader of the nationalist movement, at one point tendered his resignation as prime minister. 

When the treaty was ratified, there were riots in the streets of Nice, and thousands moved across the new border to Italy rather than be ruled by France. French possession of Nice was the price Italy paid for independence, recognition, and peace.  Politics is the art of the possible.  

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was born in Salonika.  It had been an Ottoman city for four centuries.  During most of that time, Jews were the largest ethnic group in the population; for many years they were a majority.  But the city also had a large and powerful community of Ottoman Muslimsincluding not only Ataturk, who was born there in 1881, but most of the leadership of the modernizing Young Turks.  In 1912 the Greeks conquered the city and renamed it Thessalonica.  After World War I, Greece suffered a military defeat by the Turks.  But in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, Thessalonica  was ceded to Greece in return for recognition of the Republic of Turkey, with internationally settled borders.

This has been the pattern.  Greece, for its part, achieved national independence in 1823.  At that time it was a tiny statelet, with territory ending just north of Athens.   Mount Olympus, the plain of Thessaly, Constantinople, Homer's birthplace, and most of the world's Greeks were beyond its borders.  In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles created a series of independent states for previously stateless peoples, including Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Czechs, and Slovaks.   None of these states had the borders that their people's leaders wanted.  In 1947, Lord Mountbatten drew a line across the map of India.  With his stroke, the Indus Valley, the cradle of Indian civilization and then home to millions of Hindus, was excluded from the new nation of India.   A long and bloody ethnic cleansing by Pakistani Muslims has left the Indus Valley almost without Hindus.   They moved across the line to India, which flourishes inside the arbitrary line that Mountbatten drew.

Just this summer, the primarily Christian and animist South Sudan assumed statehood with gratitude and hope, despite a border that excludes the heavily Christian province of Abyei.  Meanwhile large, historic peoples, including Kurds, Tibetans, Baluch, Pashtun, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Uyghurs, can only dream of an opportunity for national self-determination.  Most would accept sovereignty even over a piece of their historic homeland no larger than a postage stamp, as long as it was a place in which they could determine their own fate and cultivate their unique history and culture.

In 1937, the Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky asked "merely for a small fraction" of the "vast piece of land" that included modern-day Israel.  And in 1948, that is precisely what the United Nations offered the Jews, reserving the larger part of the land west of the Jordan for Arabs.   Jews accepted the UN's offer even though the heart of the biblical kingdoms, Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem, lay outside its borders.  Arab leaders rejected the offer, launching a war to destroy the Jewish state instead of seizing the opportunity to build an Arab Palestine.  

Garibaldi and Ataturk achieved statehood at the cost of ceding the cities of their birth to rival nations.  When the goal of a national movement is to build a state in which a treasured language, literature, and culture can flourish and be passed on to new generations, the leaders of the movement will pay such a price. 

In contrast, if leaders of a national movement declare that they will not even negotiate until they have been promised every square inch of the land that they regard as their historic homeland, they are effectively announcing to the world that they are not prepared to assume a responsible place in the community of nations.  If Palestinian leaders are serious about taking their place in this community, they will need to make the kind of concession that Ataturk and Garibaldi, Greece, Poland, India, and Israel made.  They would do well to recognize that the borders sought by some members of the movement are only aspirational, that the nation on the other side of the border also has a right to statehood, and that it will be necessary, finally, to settle down to the business of building a government, an economy, and a peaceful future.

Diana Muir Appelbaum is an American author and historian.  She is at work on a book tentatively entitled Nationhood: The Foundation of Democracy.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Nachum on September 19, 2011 at 6:43 am (Reply)
Conversely, Corsica remains French to this day mostly because Napoleon annexed it. Hitler did the same to Austria and Stalin to Georgia, but those didn't last.
Vicious Babushka on September 19, 2011 at 7:52 am (Reply)
The land that the Palestinians are claiming is not even "historical Palestine." If you look at pre-1948 maps, you will find that "historic Palestine" includes parts of what is today Jordan and Lebanon but does not include the Negev. What the Palestinians are demanding for their state are the parts of "Palestine" where Jews live--i.e., Israel.
Independent Patriot on September 19, 2011 at 8:38 am (Reply)
But isn't that the point of the Palestinian push for statehood--to delegitimize Israel so they can take over the entirety of what they consider to be their land? They refuse to compromise, deciding that they are above all others on the planet. This inability to compromise, coupled with the hubris of self-important entitlement, shows that they are not capable of creating a true, just, and democratic state. In fact, their continuing goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. The fact that they will not make Palestinian refugees--even those living in the West bank and Gaza--citizens of Palestine shows their true colors. They are not creating a state so that their people will have peace, comfort, and legal international protection. The question for the world community is this: When has the world ever created a nation dedicated to the eradication of a fellow nation-state? It is one thing for the majority of states--which are totalitarian, dictatorial, and without any morality of their own--to buy into this UN farce. It is quite another when the so-called democratic nations, especially those in Europe, which abided the mass murder of the Jews in their nations just one generation ago, sanction this call to the destruction of a new generation of Jews. Seems Europe wasn't as de-Nazified as we thought.
Kenneth Besig on September 19, 2011 at 9:08 am (Reply)
The real tragedy is the way the Palestinians have squandered decades wallowing in povery, ignorance, and violence because of their delusional and seemingly endless war to destroy Israel. Certainly the Palestinian war to put an end to Israel has made life difficult for us Israelis, with thousands of us murdered in cold blood, tens of thousands maimed and crippled for life, and property destruction costing millions of dollars and shekels. But for the Palestinians (not the leadership, of course, who don't care at all about how badly their people suffer), the past 62 years of war with Israel have left them in terrible condition--physically, educationally, socially and, of course, financially. They, too, have lost lives and suffered maiming and crippling. Most are living in dire poverty. And they are no closer now than in 1948 to destroying Israel, the Jewish people, or our resolve to continue to build our wonderful, progressive, and financially stable and wealthy Jewish democratic state. So now the Palestinians will declare statehood and incur the wrath of the United States, the Europeans, and even the Israelis. They will make any chance of peace even more impossible, and their statehood will be utterly void of any political or diplomatic meaning; nor will it improve the financial or social situation of single Palestinian. Indeed, Palestinian statehood may prove to be counterproductive in that the West may decide to end its financial support. After all, Greece and Ireland are far more important to the West than another failed, impoverished, ignorant, violent, and tumultuous oppressive Arab regime.
With this new Palestinian gambit of achieving statehood without ever settling with Israel, it is inevitable that the Palestinian war to exterminate Israel will go on forever, destroying Palestinians and any hope they may have for a decent and productive future. What a shame, what a loss.
David Baden-Australia on September 19, 2011 at 10:10 am (Reply)
Regardless of what the UN decides, bear in mind that all Arab countries in particular, and the Muslim world in general, have only have one aim, and that is the total destruction of Israel as an independent state. Don't be fooled by any bleatings about "peaceful co-existence." Even if there are any moderate voices in the Arab world, they will be squashed by the power brokers in Iran and Saudi Arabia who control the flow of money to various terrorist groups and train their brainwashed religious fanatics to cause as much mayhem as possible. Just look what happened in Gaza, for example,after Israel withdrew completely. Within a few weeks the lunatics were firing rockets into Israel to kill as many people as possible, then throwing up their hands in horror when Israel was forced to respond. They managed to fool some extremist elements in the West, talking about their "human rights" being violated. What a joke these people are. So, even if statehood is declared,so what? Does it mean peace? No way. You wait and see what happens next.
Mack Hall on September 19, 2011 at 10:22 am (Reply)
But aren't Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon Palestinian states now?
Daniel on September 19, 2011 at 11:50 am (Reply)
Your article is based on the assumption that the Palestinians want a state alongside Israel. What they actually want is a state in place of Israel.
Michael Schulder on September 19, 2011 at 1:17 pm (Reply)
The only response to the article can be: And? This dispute is not about justice or historical precedent. It is a battle for survival. The Arabs are (in this fight) united and strong. The Jews are divided and weak. That is why the Arabs are pushing for more, more, more, relentlessly . . . and it has worked for them. The idea that "they have squandered decades" is meaningless to them. Sheikh Yassin predicted the demise of Israel by 2025. They will persist towards that goal whether it takes 14 or 140 years.
Mira on September 19, 2011 at 1:57 pm (Reply)
To David Baden-Australia, "what a joke these people are" is hardly a positive outlook to a peaceful future, if that's something you ever intend to work toward or be a part of. I think there's an immense possibility that after years of seemingly constant violence and war, Palestinian statehood will be a great step forward in ending the conflict with Israel. I disagree with the author's notion that Palestinians are not compromising on the parts of Israel that they feel are part of their homeland. As she noted in her historic examples, nobody gave up territories happily; it was always reluctantly and after very bloody negotiations. Moreover, the same finger could be pointed at Israel, with the many bloody battles for areas settled outside of internationally recognized Israeli land. What hasn't been mentioned is the amount of aid that Israel receives from the United States; a Palestinian state next door to Israel would have to be very well behaved if it dreamed of receiving any fraction of the aid that both Israel and Egypt have received for decades just for "playing nice" with each other. Realistically, for enough American dollars, the Palestinians can be expected to be obedient and peaceful in the same way the Egyptians and Israelis were. And no, David B-A, the Arab and Muslim worlds have not had the goal of eradicating Israel as the single topic on their agenda since 1948. If you have been following the Arab spring, you've seen that the corrupt heads of state were illegally trading some of those countries' commodities with Israel--a bit different from trying to eradicate Israel, if you ask me.
Marek Singer on September 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm (Reply)
". . . because what Israel is offering in such negotiations is just a fraction of the territory to which the Palestinians are entitled." Your article isn't correct at all. You may be firm in some other countries' history, but you don't know, or are omitting the correct facts about, Israel's rebuilding.

1. Arab Palestinians weren't ever entitled under valid international documents to get something.
2. The entire area of so-called Palestine was dedicated for the use of Jews and their Homeland during the San Remo (Italy) Conference on April 24, 1920 by the Allied Powers of WWI, valid until today.

Please inform yourself on Daniel, your statement is correct.
anatol on September 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm (Reply)
Nice review. I would add that everything that was said also applies also to Israel. If the goal is Jewish nation-state, then the disposition of, say, 5% of the West Bank is deeply inconsequential compared to a separation from a hostile Arab population, universally recognized borders for the Jewish state, and a maintainable Jewish majority within those borders. Jewish leaders in 1948 understood that. Will they in 2011?
Daniel Z on September 19, 2011 at 3:08 pm (Reply)
Thanks to the Author and to "Mira's" balanced and pragmatic comments on this very complicated issue. Perhaps all "realpolitik" decisions--including the future co-existence of the state of Israel with state of Palestine--should be made by women. It is "us" (Israelis and "right-minded" Jews in general) vs. "them" (Palestinians, Arabs, "leftists" who want to "surrender" in the ongoing war with Islamists) logic that unfortunately dominates current decisions by the Netanyahu government, caught between having to show its peaceful intentions (which we do not question) and pandering to its ultra-right coalition partners, such as "SHAS" and "Israel Beyteynu." Yes, we Jews are "divided" in terms of our approaches to this problem--but not "weak" just because of that.

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham