Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rewriting history: the middle east in 1947 and 1967

An anonymous comment on a previous article, What Really Happened in Palestine has posed the question, what would you have done in 1947?

I'm not sure I can answer that, but let me start by working backward from 1967. I can't blame anyone for not recognizing, in the heat of the moment in 1967, what seems evident now with 20 / 20 hindsight, from a comfortable desktop in mid-America. But the last half century could have worked out so much better.

In 1967, there was no question that Israel was under attack from at least three nations, backed by the resources of at least a few more. Israel moved pre-emptively, but only when it was blatantly obvious that armies were mobilizing for all out war in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel won, hands down. It was the last time in history when Israel could credibly present itself as a scrappy underdog acting in pure self-defense.

Among the territories Israel militarily occupied were the Gaza strip, illegally seized by Egypt in 1948, and the west bank of the Jordan River, illegally seized by the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan in 1948. Both territories had been part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and therefore, if not part of Israel, should have been the land of an indpendent Arab state in Palestine. That's what the UN resolution to partition the mandate had directed.

So, Israel could, at that moment in 1967, have proclaimed itself the liberator of an independent Arab Palestine, in conformance with the UN resolution, from illegal occupation by neighboring kingdoms. The national socialist Arab successors to some of those monarchies would have howled, infiltrated saboteurs, etc. of course. But, if a truly independent self-government had been rapidly developed behind the protection of the victorious Israeli army, the feudal monarchies and national socialist republics might have had to move on to some other pretext for demagoguery.

A Talmudic scholar who fought in the 1967 war, and now lives in America, has suggested that Israel should have outright annexed the entire territory. His personal experience was that Arab civilians told him they were looking forward to Israeli citizenship, after experiencing the Hashemite monarchy and its minions. That would have raised howls of protest at the UN. But, if Israel moved quickly, dissolved the stinking refugee camps, moved the population onto available land or into available industrial work, when feasible even returned traditional family homesteads (where that did not displace people who had been improving the land for themelves for over 20 years), it might have drained the abcess of "resistance" politics.

Either solution would have been better than the stalemate of the last forty-four years, keeping "Palestinians" in limbo, breeding various forms of protest and terror.

Could anything better have been done in 1947? The British had no will at all to do this, but if control had passed to a power that did, it would have been good to delay partition, keeping the entity of Palestine intact. It would also have been good to develop a highly trained military strike force to exterminate the Grand Mufti's most loyal forces, especially the Nazi-trained legions (and kill the Nazi refugee trainers), then either remove or isolate the man himself. Balance would have required taking out the Stern Gang also, and possibly the Irgun.

Then, a period of testing out what worked, slowly and painfully, might have involved dividing the territory into rather small political units of at least five varieties. In places where Jewish Kibbutzim and Arab villages led by Muktars had been getting along, combine them into regional cantons, leaving local self-government unimpaired, with cooperation only on larger projects, like water and irrigation. Were there such valleys? Leon Uris wrote about that in different ways, in Exodus and The Hajj. Absent the Grand Mufti and his allies, either one could have been worked with.

There would also have been overwhelmingly Arab areas, to be left alone and excluded from Jewish settlement, and overwhelmingly Jewish areas, to be administered as such, and open to additional Jewish settlement. There would be some area where various populations were intermixed, and happy to be so. And there would have been vacant lands, which would be designated for development by people from various adjacent areas. Some, but not all, would have been available for Jewish settlement.

Major cities and religious shrines would have had to be handled to provide general access, if that could be done while preserving public order and security. Hard work? Yes. Impossible? Maybe not. The British didn't care to even try. It would have been worth pointing out that, when the mosque on the Temple Mount was built, the rashidun caliphs went to great lengths to assemble as many pieces of the Second Temple as they could find, on the site where the Romans smashed the entire complex, and incorporated them reverently into the walls of the mosque.

In ten or twenty years time, decisions could have been made to partition the territory into two, or three, independent states, or a federation with a common national defense policy. All this assumes that British mishandling set off a racial and religious war that didn't need to happen at all.

Or, perhaps it was inevitable. If enough Arabs were willing to kill all Jews, and all Arabs who didn't join in the campaign, if enough Jews were willing to kill Arabs indiscriminately, then perhaps open bloodletting to set boundaries was unavoidable, however sad. In that case, the next opportunity would have been 1967.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I read Fousesquawk. He puts together a lot of local information I would normally miss. I usually agree with your comments and enjoy reading them over there even I don’t completely agree with them.

I don’t have much time to comment since I have to prepare to go out of town, but I agree that 1967 was a pivotal year for Israel. Pre-war people were scared they would be all be massacred. Post-war they gained a lot of confidence, maybe too much.

Post 1967 War Israel had no peace partners who were willing to give peace in exchange for land. They got the three nos. I don’t think Jordan ever really wanted the Palestinians so they weren’t interested in a land for peace deal.

IMO, Israel should have withdrawn from population areas in the West Bank and could maintained control over unpopulated areas for security until an agreement could have been reached. Then Israelis would not have become occupiers of people, which has made peace more difficult.

IMO, it would demand too much for the British to try to hunt down paramilitary groups in 1947. I think conflict was going to result no matter what the British did.

HeartRight said...

My inclination is to take 48 as the decisive point.

The facts so far:
1. The UN, acting as the coalition of victorious Powers of WWII, ordered the partition of the former Mandate.
2. The Yishuv accepted this plam.
3. The Arabs did not.
4. The Arabs waged war with the aim to dislodge the Yishuv from its Endowment by the UN.

The following are opinions based on facts.

The Arab invasion of said territory is a flagrant breach the peace.
It is also an unpermissible flaunting of the authority and majesty of the Winners of WWII.

Followed by a verdict.

I. All land grants made to the Arabs by the UN are rescinded.
II. The Arab Nations involved in the aggression are permanently stripped of voting rights in the UN.
III. The UN will not permit, not now nor in the future, the residence of any Arab in the former Mandate, other than as a loyal Citizen of the Jewish State.

They rejected what was offered.
Now they will have nothing.
Absolutely nothing.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

HeartRight, welcome to my widely unread blog! I think in this instance, we have started from somewhat different facts and arrived by modestly different paths at somewhat different conclusions.

I start by recognizing a difference between "the Palestinians" and "the surrounding Arab states," then, a difference between "the people called Palestinian" and "the organizations who claim to represent Palestine." One is not entirely responsible for the sins of the other, although Israelis can certainly be forgiven that they can't always discern who is which.

In short, there is no such entity as "The Arabs." The Arabic population offered one part of a partitioned British Mandate did not rise up in arms. They were peremptorily told to get out of the line of fire by the armies of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. I would agree that none of these nations is entitled to anything. They initiated an avoidable war, and lost.

However, this leaves the Arabic population with historic roots in, and/or continuing to reside in, the territory of the former British Mandate. Simple realpolitik dictates that they must have an opportunity for a prosperous, self-supporting, settled, peaceful life, OR they will be a recruitment base for the likes of Hamas.

The difficulty of course is that the population now called Palestinian have been shamelessly manipulated by the surrounding Arab nations, particularly Jordan and Egypt, although neither has shown much stomach for it lately, and over several generations has come to believe the lies told them by the armies that ordered their ancestors to get out of the way.

But still, peace of any durable nature requires that they have sufficient basis for life that they come to value peaceful enjoyment of their land over tangling with Israelis at any opportunity.