A skewed history of the proposed annexation of large West Bank settlements
History shapes current perception. Distortion of history imperils current perception and its implications for the proposed annexation of large West Bank settlements. Case in point: The origin of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Even this formulation — Palestinian” conflict — partakes of a distortion of history. While it is accurate that today there is an Israel-Palestinian conflict, the conflict was not always called this, and this is not mere semantics. There was a different conflict of which the current “Israel-Palestinian” conflict is a descendant.
This was misunderstood in a column in the Wall Street Journal by Walter Russel Mead. He wrote on May 19, “The Palestinians Need to Make Bold Moves.” He distorts the history toward the beginning of his op-ed by writing:
“Ever since they [the Palestinians] turned to the Arab countries to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state in the late 1940s, the Palestinians have needed the support of allies to even the scales against the Zionists.”
Mead’s first mistake is this: There was no Palestinian people in the late 1940s, even according to the Arabs who lived in Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel in May, 1948.
The emergence of a specifically Palestinian identity came in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967.
Mead’s second mistake: Local Arab leaders in Palestine may have turned to Arab countries to prevent the emergence of a Jewish state in the late 1940s. But these countries needed not the slightest encouragement by local Arabs to oppose a Jewish state. Arabs throughout the Middle East opposed a corporate Jewish presence in Palestine whether in the form of an independent state or not. Out of their own desire, religion and ideology, Arab countries invaded Palestine to prevent the emergence of Israel.
Mead’s third mistake: He regards the views of local Arabs as uniform in the late 1940s. They “needed the support of allies to even the scales against the Zionists,” he writes. There was, however, no uniformity of Arab views. There was no “they.” To be sure, the local Arab leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, hated Jews, collaborated with Hitler and did his best to inflame Jewish-Arab relations. To be sure, he had many violent followers and practically speaking they ruled the day. But there was much more daily interaction and friendship between Jews and local Arabs then than now. Elderly Jews in Israel today who lived in Palestine before 1948 recall their friendships with Arabs sundered by violent local Arabs who coerced other local Arabs to sever all relationships with local Jews (“Zionists”) on pain of death.
This is a tragic, overlooked chapter in the conflict: the enforcement of radicalism by Arab leadership on all the local masses, though, to be sure, some needed no encouragement in their hate. The overall picture is more complex than Mead writes.
Mead’s fourth mistake: If the Palestinians ignore the only practical option they now have — to sit down and negotiate with Israel — the proposed annexation of large West Bank settlements will foreclose all options for peace.
Now, if annexation is regarded as unjust, then a complete picture of the history of what is now termed the Israel-Palestinian conflict is required. We believe that no such history can eliminate the motivating force behind the founding of most of these settlements: the 1949-1967 Judenrein policy of Arab leaders in East Jerusalem, and the Arab violence on Israel since 1936. The Zionists’ answer to terrorism has been settlements — a statement that hatred and violence will not make Jews in Palestine or Israel give up on a Jewish corporate presence in the historic Land of Israel. It is just for Jews and Israelis to respond to attempts to destroy them with reinforced commitment not to be destroyed.
This is not to ignore the unjustified Jewish extremism that sometimes erupts. There is no more regrettable example than the conviction for murder of a Jewish settler, who wrongly thinks that the Jewish right to the land trumps other critical Jewish teachings about welcoming the stranger, not to mention, murder.
The origin of much of the Jewish settlement of the land — the response to terrorism — is not seen by Mead. He does not understand the obstacles to a resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. His idea that Palestinians no longer have any allied Arab countries to turn to is secondary. His advice to the Palestinians — just sit down and negotiate with Israel — does not address the critical historical, psychological and ideological factors.
So much for the justice of settlement annexation. Is it wise? This is a legitimate subject of debate. On the one side, if Israel learned in 2005 when it unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip that it is counterproductive to uproot a small number of settlements, then all the more so on a massive scale. So, go ahead, annex these settlements; they’re not going anywhere anyway. They’re not destined to be part of any future Palestinian state. On the other side, if they’re not going anywhere, why annex them? There may be practical reasons for Israel, but are they worth emboldening opposition to Israel?
This critical debate is not addressed by Mead’s simplistic picture — an increasingly isolated Palestinian people facing an increasingly accepted Jewish state. Mead’s admonition to the Palestinian Authority — negotiate with Israel before it’s too late — does not take into consideration the possibility that it may already be too late. Perhaps there have already been too many Israeli answers (i.e., settlements) to too many Palestinian terrorist attacks.
We return, as always, to the same bottom line: Until the Palestinian leadership and people accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Palestine, there will be no peace. Israeli strength alone will not deter Palestinian violence.
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