Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Palestinian Question

This post was originally going to be part of a much larger post on "Middle East Peace", however, due to some comments on Dr. Sanity's blog here and some encouraging comments that followed, I decided to pull my thoughts out and address more directly the Palestinian Question.

The first, and possibly the most important thing to know is that Palestine has NEVER existed as a nation.

The Palestinian ethnic group has ALWAYS been an occupied people. They have never "governed" their own land at any time in their entire history. Someone else has ALWAYS been in charge. The brief history of the control of Palestine with the years of conquest is as follows:

Canaanites - ca. 3000 BC
Israelites - ca. 1250 BC
Assyrians - 721 BC
Babylonians - 586 BC
Persians - 539 BC
Greeks - 333 BC
Ptolemies (Egypt) & Seleucids (Syria) - 323 BC
Ptolemies (Egypt) & Maccabees - 165 BC
Rome - 63 BC
Byzantines - 330 AD
Omar ibn al-Khattaab - 638 AD
Umayyad chaliphs (Damascus) - 661 AD
'Abbasid caliphs (Baghdad) - 750 AD
Fatimids (Egypt) - 969 AD
Saljuqs (Isfahan) - 1071 AD
Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Crusaders) - 1099 AD
Salah al-Diin al-Ayyoubi (Kurdistan/Cairo) - 1187 AD
Mamluks (Cairo) - 1260 AD
Ottomans (Istanbul) - 1516 AD
Moh'd Ali Pasha (Egypt) - 1832 AD
Ottomans (Istanbul) - 1840 AD
British - 1918 AD

Recent history contains these important events:

In 1919 the League of Nations transferred control of Palestine from the Ottoman Empire to the United Kingdom as a mandate. A declaration passed by the League of Nations in 1922 effectively divided the mandated territory into two parts. The eastern portion, called Transjordan, became the Arab state of Jordan in 1946. The other portion, comprising the territory west of the Jordan River, was administered as "Palestine" under provisions that called for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

In 1937, following the Great Arab Revolt, the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission was rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership, but accepted tentatively by Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion. This was notable, as Ben-Gurion showed a willingness to essentially accept about 1/3 of the land that would ultimately be won by Israel in the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War.

In 1947, following increasing levels of violence by militant groups, alongside unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the Jewish and Arab populations, the British government decided to withdraw from the Palestine Mandate. Fulfillment of the 1947 UN Partition Plan would have divided the mandated territory into two states, Jewish and Arab, giving about half the land area to each state. Under this plan, Jerusalem was intended to be an international region under UN administration to avoid conflict over its status. Immediately following the adoption of the Partition Plan by the United Nations General Assembly, the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the plan to create the as-yet-unnamed Jewish state and launched a guerilla war.

On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed.

Promising to annihilate the new Jewish state (though their actual motivation was more complex as we will discuss later), the armies of six Arab nations attacked the fledgling state. Over the next 15 months Israel captured an additional 26% of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan river and annexed it to the new state. Jordan captured about 21% of the Mandate territory (which became known as the West Bank). The Gaza Strip was captured by Egypt and came under its control.

Additionally, the war created about 750,000 refugees. In 1949, Israel offered to allow families that had been separated during the war to return, to release refugee accounts frozen in Israeli banks (these were eventually released in 1953), to pay compensation for abandoned lands, and to repatriate 100,000 refugees (about 15% of those who had fled). This number would have included some 35,000 refugees whose return had already been negotiated and was underway. The Arabs rejected this compromise, at least in part because they were unwilling to take any action that might be construed as recognition of Israel. They made repatriation a precondition for negotiations, which Israel rejected.

In the face of this impasse, Israel didn't allow any of the Arabs who fled to return and, with the exception of Transjordan, the host countries where they ended up did not grant them or their descendants citizenship. About 900,000 Jews either were expelled from or voluntarily left their Arab homelands in the Middle East and North Africa. Roughly two thirds of these went to Israel.

During the Six Day War (1967 AD) Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria. Sinai has since been returned to Egypt in a phased withdrawal but the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are still occupied. The war created a new wave of 200,000 to 300,000 refugees. These refugees have also not been allowed to return nor granted citizenship in their host countries.

And this brings us to one of the interesting things about the Palestinian question. None of the Arab countries wants Palestinians in their country. Why? Because they cause trouble no matter where they live. To wit:

Jordanian policy since 1949 had been to avoid border incidents and terrorism that would generate Israeli reprisals. Al Fatah and the PLO, however, carried out raids and sabotage against Israel without clearance from either the United Arab Command or Jordan. These attacks, although planned in Syria, most often were launched into Israel by infiltration through Lebanon or Jordan. Israeli reprisals against selected West Bank targets became harsher and more frequent from May 1965 onward. Meanwhile, Syrian propaganda against Hussein became increasingly strident. In July 1966, when Hussein severed official endorsement and support for the PLO, both that organization and the Syrian government turned against him. In reprisal for the terrorist attacks by the fedayeen (Palestinian guerrillas), in November Israel assaulted the West Bank village of As Samu. Israel was censured by the UN, but public rioting against the Jordanian government broke out among the inhabitants of the West Bank. The levels of rioting exceeded any previous experience. King Hussein had little choice but the use of the army to restore public order.

What I want to know is this:

1. Who should "own" Israel?
2. If you say the Palestinians, why?
3. Who bears more of the responsiblity for the current plight of the Palestinians, Israel or the Arabs?

Less than half of the Palestinian population even lives in Palestine. 46% of the Palestinian population is registered as "refugees" going all the way back to 1948 and their decendants. Most of the refugees are refugees following acts of agression by Arab countries.

But what does it mean to be Palestinian?

Until the 19th century, most modern Arab national groups, including Palestine, had no distinct national identities per se. There were well-known regions including Palestine, but there was no sense that a person should owe a particular loyalty to his region rather than to his religion or ethnic group, or in the case of a Bedouin his tribe. However, starting in the 19th century, the European concept of nationalism crept in.

The idea of a specifically Palestinian state, however, was at first rejected by most Palestinians; the First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations (Jerusalem, 1919), which met for the purpose of selecting a Palestinian Arab representative for the Paris Peace Conference, adopted the following resolution: "We consider Palestine as part of Arab Syria, as it has never been separated from it at any time. We are connected with it by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds."

Of course, with the French conquest of Syria in 1920, the Palestinians no longer viewed things in the same light. By 1937, only one of the many Arab political parties in Palestine (the Istiqlal party) promoted political absorption into a greater Arab nation as its main agenda.

Zuhair Mohsen, head of the Military Department of the PLO, said in an interview with the Dutch daily Trouw in March 1977: "There is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. It is for political reasons only that we carefully emphasize our Palestinian identity, because it is in the national interest of the Arabs to encourage the existence of Palestinians against Zionism, the establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity... For tactical reasons, Jordan, which has defined borders, cannot claim Haifa or Jaffa; but a Palestinian can claim Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheba and Jerusalem."

Sounds pretty clear to me.

As to the contention that Palestine is "occupied"... it's been "occupied" for over 3000 years. You'd think they were used to it by now.


Anonymous Promethea said...

Excellent summary of a complicated subject.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Dr. Sanity said...

Clear and concise--and even-balanced--as usual!

1:26 PM  

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