In his 1989 book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman wrote that Israel’s far-right “will never be prepared, for ideological reasons, to allow a Palestinian state in the West Bank or Gaza, explaining: “They are committed to holding forever the Land of Israel, out of either nationalist or messianic sentiments.”
Friedman has been proved right, but the question of any desire by Zionists to share the Land of Israel with the Arabs stretches far back into the origins of the state. Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, envisioned the Jewish settlement of Palestine as giving rise “a wondrous breed of Jews…The Maccabees will rise again,” and he talked of the “displacement and transfer” of Palestine’s Arab population, albeit “with full financial compensation,” according to Israeli historian Benny Morris. “We must expropriate gently,” Herzl said.”Both the process of expropriation and removal of the poor (Arabs) must be done discreetly and circumspectly.”
When the British issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917 it’s real purpose was not to give the Jews a homeland, but to bolster British ability to fight the Germans. In 1917, British forces were bogged down in a stalemate and the British leadership were fearful of the Russians making a separate peace. Also, many Jews in America favored the Central Powers. To curb this and in an effort to draw America into the war, the declaration promised Palestine as “a national home for the Jewish people.”
It is an amazing document. Britain was offering to give away land to which it had no claim nor did it consult with the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who had lived in it for 700 years. Eight years after the declaration, Dr. Chaim Weitzman, a prominent Zionist, and a key actor in the declaration's proclamation said, “Palestine is not Rhodesia, and 600,000 Arabs who live there have exactly the same right to their homes as we have to our national home.”
After pograms in Russia in 1901, a large influx of Jews into Palestine began and by 1919, tensions between Arabs and the news arrivals were on the climb, especially since the Zionists had plans for large scale immigration and settlement. According to Morris, Maj. Gen. Sir Arthur Money of the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration in April 1919 wrote to Lord George Curzon, the British foreign Secretary, “The Palestinians in fact desire Palestine for themselves, and have no intention of allowing their country to be thrown open to hordes of Jews from Eastern and Central Europe.” To implement the Balfour Declaration “would involve Britain in the use of force in opposition to the will of the majority of the population.”
Another who saw the issue with dazzling clarity was future Israeli President David Ben-Gurion. When it came to Arab versus Jewish aspirations, he said, “…Not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf and nothing can bridge it….We as a nation want this country to be ours; the Arabs as a country, want the country to be theirs.”
Shertok, a close Ben-Gurion aide said: that should the Jews “…allow a partner into our state – all content and meaning will be lost to the enterprise.”
The Jews intensified their building of settlements and in 1928, violence between Arabs and Jews erupted in a quarrel over construction at the Temple Mount.
Throughout the years up until world war II, Jewish purchases of Palestinian land continued, the sales mainly coming from Arab absentee landlords who lived in Turkey or Lebanon and who cared little that Jews were buying it as long as they were paid a good price. When Jews bought the land, they evicted the Arab tenants who had lived on it for centuries, Morris says. He adds that the betrayal by absentee Arabs of the Palestinians devastated the Palestinian national movement. More and more of them saw the Jewish immigration as a springboard for Jewish expansion in Palestine.
In any case, Morris alleges that by 1936, as some ugly tensions continued to build, Ben-Gurion clearly saw their cause: In May, he said, “The Arab fear of our power is intensifying. (It’s) exactly the opposite of what we see. It doesn’t matter whether or not their view is correct: They see immigration on a giant scale…they see the Jews fortifying themselves economically…They see the best lands passing into our hands…They are fighting dispossession…The fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people which others want to turn into the homeland of the Jewish people.”
Ben-Gurion was also candid enough to acknowledge that in the Arab-Israeli political struggle: “…we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.”
By 1936, Morris says, no mainstream Jewish leader thought coexistence with Palestinians to be possible and that the Jewish future lay with a clear physical separation of the two peoples, achievable only by transfer and expulsion of the Arabs. In fact, the Jewish leadership saw transfer as “a highly moral solution,” in the words of one. Jewish leaders felt that the Arab had no ancestral or religious tie to his land and that Jordan or Egypt or Syria would be the same for them as Palestine. Transfer would be best done “voluntarily,” but if necessary, force would be used. As one Zionist politician, Zingwell said in 1905, “We must be prepared to drive out by the sword those in possession as our forefathers did,” and added that there was “no particular reason for the Arabs to cling to these few kilometers,” as if the Jews passionate attachment to the land was unique and peculiar to them.
(This of course echoes the British plan to put all their Jews in Uganda or Abraham Lincoln’s scheme to settle former American slaves in Liberia.)
Today, Israel’s hardline far-right is back in power. Headed by Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, this grouping occupies the central position for a second time, serious disagreements between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama over the peace process have been quick to emerge. Netanyahu, as usual, stubbornly resists a two-state solution involving the creation of a viable Palestinian state, a solution favored by Obama and his team.
But the first real contest of wills has proven to be the question of Israel's soaring construction of Israeli settlements on the disputed land of the West Bank. Last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unequivocally called for a halt in the construction of all such settlements. When Israeli President Shimon Peres met with President Obama, he talked of trying to get a waiver from the U.S. regarding “construction to accommodate natural growth in the settlements.” Peres added that the children of such settlements “are not going to live on roofs,” ignoring the fact that settlements continue to advertise for home purchasers, evidence of ample capacity.
Secretary Clinton went further by demanding a freeze on “natural growth,” adding, “We want to see a stop to settlement construction – additions, natural growth, any kind of settlement activity – that is what the president called for.”
The reply of the Netanyahu government has become obstinate, a condition, as Schopenhauer says, in which the assertive will crowds out the judgment. On the eve of President Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai met with leaders of Israeli settler organizations to announce that all the resources of his office including the ministry’s “impact on local authorities” would be used to for “the good of expanding settlements.”
When Israeli officials said that West Bank settlement blocs like Gush Etzion, Alfei Menashe, Ariel, and Ma’al and others would remain in Israel under a final status agreement so that there would be no point in preventing construction, Obama officials said they might initiate immediate final talks on the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state, according to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
When Netanyahu officials said that the Obama proposals violated unwritten or verbal agreements about settlements reached with the George
W. Bush Administration, Secretary Clinton replied that there was “no memorialization of any informal or oral agreements” and in any case, “…they did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”
Obama had already drawn a stark line during his speech in Cairo when he said: “We do not accept the legitimacy of Israeli settlements,” the first time a U.S. president has discussed the legality of the settlements in terms of international law since President Jimmy Carter. Veteran Mideast former U.S. diplomat David Mack said the question of legality of the settlements was important because “Israel takes great pride in being a society of laws,” adding that the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled in 2005 that settlements were illegal “under the Geneva Convention.”
When Obama officials recently went further and said that the status of Jerusalem would be determined by peace negotiations, Netanyahu said defiantly: “United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours.”
All of which sounds dreadfully familiar. Israeli historian Benny Morris once wrote, “All Arabs were seen by the Zionists as essentially untrustworthy, not to say treacherous,”and in 1946, Ignatius Mubarak, a noted Zionist, made clear this view when he testified before the Anglo-American Committee, and, a year later, before the UN Special Committee in favor of Zionism. “If you oppose Zionism in Palestine, it means returning the people to the domination of savagery and the country to the state of anarchy and bribery in which it existed under the Ottoman Sultans…here is a struggle between civilization and regression, and the Jews represent civilization,” he said.
So it would appear that Israel and the Netanyahu government are confronting the predicament of deciding what kind of society Israel should become, expansive and pluralistic or narrow and exclusive. In a recent article for Haaretz entitled,“Israel is controlled by religious fanaticism,” Shulamit Aloni quoted a 1902 letter sent by Lord Rothschild to Herzl in which Rothschild explained why he could not support the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, saying that he would “view with horror the establishment of Jewish colony pure and simple; such a colony would be imperium imperio. It would be a Ghetto with the prejudice of the Ghetto; it would be a small, petty Jewish state, orthodox and liberal, excluding the Gentile and the Christian.”
What Rothschild wanted was an Israel that would “ensure complete equality and political rights to all its inhabitants regardless of religion, race or sex,” and “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language and culture” as stated in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State.
The whole world is watching.
By Richard Sale, Middle East Times Intelligence Correspondent