It is really quite striking to take in hand a document about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict written 70 years ago--in this case, a summary of a summary chapter of the Peel Commission ("Palestine Royal Commission") Report of July 1937--and find so much of immediate relevance.
There is no military solution, the report states: "repression will not solve the problem." Nor can the "well-being and development" of the population be expanded in view of the security burden of managing the conflict: just ask Israeli tax-payers and Palestinians in Gaza. Yet the solution also does not rest in mere economic development: "the conciliatory effect on the Palestinian Arabs of the material prosperity which Jewish immigration would bring in Palestine as a whole" was found by the report to be not justified. After 40 years of occupation, many Israelis and international actors still do not understand that economic carrots (and sticks) will not significantly change Palestinian attitudes.
There is more: "the hardships and anxieties of the Jews in Europe are not likely to grow less", states the Peel report, anticipating the Holocaust with characteristic understatement. And "there is no [single]. . . system which could ensure justice both to the Arabs and to the Jews"--a reminder to those who then as now clamor for the chimera of a "one-state solution".
Finally, "while neither race can fairly rule all Palestine, each race might justly rule part of it". Here is the birth of the still elusive two-state solution. Seventy years and several attempts later, we are still not there. It took the Palestinian national movement another 50 years and several wars after Peel to finally embrace the idea officially; many Israelis continue to harbor the suspicion that ongoing Palestinian demands like the right of return contradict the spirit if not the letter of a two-state solution. At the same time, a dedicated and fanatic messianic minority in Israel is also determined to prevent such a solution, as is Hamas, which represents roughly half the Palestinian population.
Some 70 years after Peel, we have just hosted yet another attempt by outside forces to catalyze the process of partitioning Mandatory Palestine into two states. Indeed, US President George W. Bush is the first American leader to officially endorse the two-state solution in the post-1967 era. Still, Bush's half-hearted engagement is likely to be as futile as were the British efforts of mandatory times.
Yet, "partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does." This closing statement is as resoundingly true today as it was in 1937. The difference is that in the course of the past 70 years the alternatives, the "other plans", have indeed been tried and found wanting: war, Jordanian and Egyptian rule, Israeli rule, autonomy, unilateralism, Palestinian intifada. Palestinian and other Arab mistakes have, over these years, radically altered the ratio of land allotted to Jews and Arabs to the extent that today the Palestinian national movement is negotiating over approximately the same small percentage of the overall territory of Mandatory Palestine that the Jews were offered by Peel--and accepted.
With every new round of war and negotiations since then the Palestinian leadership has confronted the demand to negotiate a Palestinian state in a reduced portion of the whole--reduced by its own making. Palestinian frustration and anger is thus fully understandable. But Palestinian failure to make good on a Palestinian national homeland is unforgivable.
- Published 14/1/2008 © bitterlemons.org
It is sometimes interesting and useful to revisit important chapters in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to draw lessons from the past that can benefit the present. One example is the 1937 findings of the Peel Commission. These findings on the one hand captured the dilemma of the British Mandate, and on the other reached a conclusion that continues to guide efforts to solve the conflict today.
It is somewhat ironic to recall that the Peel report concluded that, "Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State," and therefore recommended that, "Partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does." The commission reached that conclusion after looking at the reality on the ground and the interests of the United Kingdom--representing those of Europe and maybe the West in general.
The commission realized at the time that neither maintaining the British Mandate nor allowing one party to dominate and govern the other would help bring peace to the country. Rather, the options would either leave the country under continuous outside oppression or at war. Each side had, and has, strong feelings toward and narratives about the land. In addition, Britain and other superpowers at the time had different interests--strategic, religious and economic--in that part of the word. In retrospect, it is safe to say that the failure of the two parties and the international community to agree and implement the partition plan is a major reason for continuing conflict and suffering.
Partition, meanwhile, has continued to crop up throughout the history of the conflict and is the main foundation of most peace efforts and proposals. It is the underlying premise on which the Madrid and Oslo peace processes were built, and the most recent version of partition is what is called now the "Bush vision".
However, in the period since the Peel Commission published its report, the behavior of the parties and the role of the international community have not been conducive to implementing a just solution. Israeli practices in Palestine, both the part that was taken and became Israel in 1948, and the rest--the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip that were occupied in 1967--reduced the practical and political feasibility of partition, or in modern terminology, the "two-state solution".
The racist treatment of the Palestinian minority in Israel, combined with the establishment of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, has had an enormously detrimental effect on any possible reconciliation and compromise on the basis of partition/two states. In addition, the attitude and behavior of the international community--or sometimes, the lack of behavior--often directly encouraged these Israeli polices.
Indeed, the statements of US President George W. Bush during his recent visit to the region were not at all helpful. First, he dismissed the legal right of return of Palestinian refugees by saying that a solution to their plight should be sought in the context of a Palestinian state. He then expressed near-formal acceptance of the illegally built Israeli settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank. Finally, he adopted the Israeli position that Israel is a "Jewish state", ignoring not only the right of return of Palestinian refugees, but also 20 percent of the country's population. Such positions from the US will only serve to defer and preempt attempts at resolution based on partition that the Peel Commission endorsed those many years ago.
What revisiting the Peel Commission report above all prompts are questions, both to the parties and the international community: Are we serious in our endeavor toward a two-state solution as a strategic option to resolving the conflict? If yes, we must ask ourselves what positions and behaviors are most conducive to such a solution.- Published 14/1/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons.org family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Historic compromise and historic justice
by Dan Schueftan
Seventy years, and the fundamental "Force of Circumstances" has not changed much. "An irrepressible conflict" is still raging "between two national communities, within the narrow bounds of a small country". The Arabs are still "in strife, open or latent" with the Jews, not only in Nablus and Jerusalem, but also in Jaffa and Umm al-Fahm. The conflict is not only political. As in 1937, "there is no common ground between them... their cultural and social life, their way of thought and conduct are as incompatible as their national aspirations."
The essential difference, today as in the 1930s and 1940s, is their respective attitude toward historic compromise on the conflicting claims to the same land: while the Jews accept its inevitability, often even desirability, the Palestinian Arabs reject it even when they pretend to embrace the "two state solution". This is not because Jews are better or smarter. They simply understand that they cannot impose their will over hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims and they don't want to subvert the democratic nature of their open society.
The Palestinians and their radical Arab supporters, on the other hand, are confident that their side must ultimately prevail and impose an exclusively Arab reality on the whole region. The concept of partition--pioneered in 1937, adopted by the international community in 1947 and realized by the Jewish victory in 1948/49--is ultimately adopted by the Jews, who seek historic compromise, and invariably rejected by the Palestinian Arabs, who seek historic justice.
This is not because Jewish leaders are always of yielding stock while Palestinian leaders are stubborn by nature. The roots go much deeper into the political culture of both national communities. Even ideologically committed hardliners like Begin, Sharon and Olmert (let alone Ben Gurion, Eshkol and Rabin) came to fundamentally reconsider their lifelong insistence on historic justice for the Jews when they assumed the position of supreme responsibility and identified a chance to promote historic compromise. By contrast, a Palestinian leadership could never politically survive abandoning the claim for ultimate historic justice for the Arabs by institutionalizing the recognition of the Jewish nation-state alongside their own and disclaiming the "right of return".
The Zionists were prepared in 1947 to establish their state without Zion (Jerusalem), which focused Jewish aspirations for millennia. Six decades later, with Jerusalem firmly under its control, the Israeli government forbids individual Jews to even move their lips while praying alone on the Temple Mount, let alone to congregate or pray aloud in the most sacred place in Jewish history. The Palestinians, by contrast, negate the very existence of Jewish history in Jerusalem--Arafat told Clinton that there was no Jewish temple there--and demand exclusive control over the mount (incidentally, Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran). All this does not make Jews kinder or more considerate. They simply internalize the imperative of compromise even when it comes to their holy of holies. Palestinian justice leaves no room for that.
The 1937 report is a grim document boldly recognizing the incompatibility of Jewish and Arab aspirations. The state of affairs seven decades later presents us both with a much more pessimistic reality in one department and with far more optimistic features in another. It should not come as a surprise that the first reflects the costs (not to say the punishment) of proud adherence to complete historic justice, while the second relates to the benefits and rewards of accepting painful historic compromises.
The useless suffering that the Palestinian leadership and elites inflicted on their own people and on all they encountered (Jews, Jordanians, Lebanese and victims of terrorism worldwide) is a direct product of their obsession with justice. Had they been willing to accept the inevitable historic compromise, they could have had a Palestinian state in 1947 in much more than today's West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thirty years ago, before most of the settlements were even established, they could have developed PM Menachem Begin's autonomy into a sovereign state of their own (Arafat himself said as much). Seven years ago, they were offered a state over 97 percent of the territories, with Jerusalem as a capital, control over the Temple Mount and $40 billion for refugee resettlement. Had they substituted the unrealistic quest for ultimate justice with a viable compromise, they could have offered three generations of their children a promising future.
The present reality is more grim than that of 1937 not only because these generations lost this chance, but also because the present day Palestinian leadership and elites who enjoy popular support are as irresponsible as those who inflicted calamity on their people in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, not only the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are unwilling to accept and recognize a Jewish nation-state alongside their own Palestinian Arab nation-state; even the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel consider the Jewish nation-state an illegitimate colonial entity. The Palestinian version of a two-state solution is to partition historic Palestine between one state that will be exclusively Arab to begin with, and another that will initially be not-Jewish, imbued with demographic ("return") mechanisms that will soon turn it too into an Arab state. Needless to say, since the Jews have no intention of committing national suicide, the Palestinians' obsession with their own version of justice promises perpetual conflict.
By contrast to the bitter fruits of the rigid pursuit of justice, the Jews have demonstrated the blessings of compromise. While ideologically-motivated components aggressively advocated "liberating" and settling all of western Eretz Yisrael in the late 1940s and since 1967, the mainstream--from Ben Gurion's time to that of Sharon and Olmert--was willing to endure the pains of the historic compromise of partition that the 1937 report proposed. For want of a responsible Palestinian partner Ben Gurion made a deal with the king of Jordan; Sharon took a unilateral step in Gaza; and Olmert may have to follow a similar strategy in the West Bank. They all understood that the compromise of partition is not only politically inescapable, but also a precondition for the realization of the essence of the Zionist dream of nation-building so eloquently formulated by the Royal Commission seven decades ago: "they mean to show what the Jewish nation can achieve when restored to the land of its birth."
The Jews have done precisely that.- Published 14/1/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Dan Schueftan is senior lecturer, School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Partition was an imperial get-out clause, not a solution
by Musa Budeiri
It is perhaps time we look back and admit that the events of 1948 have been misunderstood. The establishment of a Jewish state on the larger part of Palestinian territory and the dissolution of the Arab national community in Palestine did not lead to a winding down of the national conflict over Palestine. The newly established state, alongside other newly established states in Surriya al Tabi'iya, Greater Syria, remained contested terrain. Indeed, the dynamic of the Jewish state in the making became itself the predominant challenge. The 1949 armistice agreements put an end to armed hostilities but at most they amounted to a declaration of unfinished business.
The significance of the 1967 war was similarly misunderstood. It resulted in the creation of a new entity, the occupied territories, and gave birth to a novel Arab demand, the removal of the results of the aggression. Since then, Israel, which in 1948 managed to unburden itself of the larger part of its indigenous population, found itself in control of coveted territories, but with a large and rapidly growing native Arab population, negating its claims to Jewishness. This has been called a state of exception. There is constant recall of a virtual Israel that conjures up images of Israel within its 1967 borders. Not, it needs to be stressed, within the 1947 UN partition borders. And then there is the really existing Israel in control of the whole of British mandated Palestine and a portion of Syrian territory in the Golan Heights, a temporary detour and by no means representing a state of normality yet, at the same time, accepted as part of a still ongoing process and the fulfillment of the state imperative. The survival of the state has been linked to its willing abandonment or rectification of these borders, while maintaining in the main the demographic and geographic transformations it has affected in 41 years of uninterrupted repression, settlement and regional military dominance.
Sixty years on, the dominant regional and international political actors have arrived at a consensus--now that Israeli political culture appears to have opted for a two-state solution--that partition is the sole way forward. It remains however to negotiate the terms of this new arrangement, taking into consideration that the Israeli mainstream arrived at this way station out of fear of demographic attrition and the onslaught of contemporary notions of citizenship that threaten the ethnic foundations of the state. The Peel Commission in July 1937 published a report that affords us a glimpse of what this portends. It is encapsulated in the conclusion that "partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does." The authors of the report offer two arguments: One, that neither Arab nor Jew want to continue to live together. Two, that the situation can only be perpetuated through the use of violence, either by an outside power or through the assumption of political and military control by one side or the other, and that there is no political system of self-government which could ensure justice to both sides.
Of course the Peel Report was trying to resolve a British imperial problem. It was already clear that Britain was no longer able to maintain its control of Palestine at the increasing cost Arab and Jewish intransigence was extracting from it. There was trouble ahead and much closer to home. Britain wanted out. Unable to satisfy either Arab or Jewish claimants, and absolving itself of any responsibility for the creation of the impossible situation it was now pleading to abstain itself from, Britain rejected handing over either Arabs to Jewish rule or Jews to Arab rule and offered separation as what it thought was the least unjust proposal. Only an ongoing regime of repression can maintain a situation of peace, though this will not be able to overcome the incompatibility of nationalist aspirations. The empire was now sheltering behind the nationalist imperative to plead the case for partition, dispossession and statehood.
In 1937 all sides rejected partition. And when it did come about ten years later, it bore no resemblance to the vision conceived in the Peel Report. Resort to military force led to an outcome favorable to the stronger party, but the framework was no longer UN-sanctioned. The temporary borders of the only newly established state were the outcome of the balance of forces between Israel and the neighboring Arab states, and the new state itself was shaped internally as a result of the outcome of the struggle to subdue and exclude the native Arab inhabitants of the country. The one-state solution, which was the actual outcome of 1948, did not resolve the internal Arab Palestinian-Jewish Israeli conflict. June 1967 represented a continuation of the dynamics of state formation. The Jewish state-in-the-making was taking shape, but under new conditions: This time, sharing the same geographic and urban space as the native inhabitants, leaving the heroic age behind, and apprenticing all Israelis in the profession of colonial masters.
The world Palestinians and Israelis inhabit today bears little resemblance to that of 1967. Partition, which lasted a mere 19 years, has been overcome. Contrary to the fears of the Peel Commission's authors, a political system of self-government has been found, or is in the process of being established. It represents an innovation in that it is part and parcel of the design of overall Israeli hegemony, military, economic and political. Arabs and Jews in the southern part of Bilad al-Sham have been living in one state for the last 40 years. Attempts to turn back the wheel seem doomed to failure.
Events overcame the British Empire's attempts to maintain its hold in Palestine. Partition was its retreat position. But Palestine was a tiny and distant asset, expendable in the service of the larger interests of the British Empire. Israel, a colonial warrior state assuming the role of regional power in an environment it deems dangerous and hostile, has transformed the region, and in doing so has transformed itself as well. While pursuing the path of ethnic cleansing, when and where it is possible, it cannot turn back whatever the cost. The only salvation for Israelis and Palestinians is for new forms of struggle that are based not on historical nostalgia or worn-out recipes, but on the realization that peace and a necessary modicum of justice can only come about on the basis of a shared homeland. The longer this notion takes to take hold, the costlier it is going to be. Partition was not a solution then and cannot be one now.- Published 14/1/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Musa Budeiri teaches political science at Birzeit University
Chapter XX. - The Force of Circumstances
[Taken from Report of the Palestine Royal Commission: Summary of Report, courtesy of United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine]
The problem of Palestine is briefly restated.
Under the stress of the World War the British Government made promises to Arabs and Jews in order to obtain their support. On the strength of those promises both parties formed certain expectations.
The application to Palestine of the Mandate System in general and of the specific Mandate in particular implies the belief that the obligations thus undertaken towards the Arabs and the Jews respectively would prove in course of time to be mutually compatible owing to the conciliatory effect on the Palestinian Arabs of the material prosperity which Jewish immigration would bring in Palestine as a whole. That belief has not been justified, and there seems to be no hope of its being justified in the future.
But the British people cannot on that account repudiate their obligations, and, apart from obligations, the existing circumstances in Palestine would still require the most strenuous efforts on the part of the Government which is responsible for the welfare of the country. The existing circumstances are summarized as follows.
An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.
The conflict has grown steadily more bitter since 1920 and the process will continue. Conditions inside Palestine especially the systems of education, are strengthening the national sentiment of the two peoples. The bigger and more prosperous they grow the greater will be their political ambitions, and the conflict is aggravated by the uncertainty of the future. Who in the end will govern Palestine?" it is asked. Meanwhile, the external factors will continue to operate with increasing force. On the one hand in less than three years' time Syria and the Lebanon will attain their national sovereignty, and the claim of the Palestinian Arabs to share in the freedom of all Asiatic Arabia will thus be fortified. On the other hand the hardships and anxieties of the Jews in Europe are not likely to grow less and the appeal to the good faith and humanity of the British people will lose none of its force.
Meanwhile, the Government of Palestine, which is at present an unsuitable form for governing educated Arabs and democratic Jews, cannot develop into a system of self-government as it has elsewhere, because there is no such system which could ensure justice both to the Arabs and to the Jews. Government therefore remains unrepresentative and unable to dispel the conflicting grievances of the two dissatisfied and irresponsible communities it governs.
In these circumstances peace can only be maintained in Palestine under the Mandate by repression. This means the maintenance of security services at so high a cost that the services directed to "the well-being and development" of the population cannot be expanded and may even have to be curtailed. The moral objections to repression are self-evident. Nor need the undesirable reactions of it on opinion outside Palestine be emphasized. Moreover, repression will not solve the problem. It will exacerbate the quarrel. It will not help towards the establishment of a single self-governing Palestine. It is not easy to pursue the dark path of repression without seeing daylight at the end of it.
The British people will not flinch from the task of continuing to govern Palestine under the Mandate if they are in honour bound to do so, but they would be justified in asking if there is no other way in which their duty can be done.
Nor would Britain wish to repudiate her obligations. The trouble is that they have proved irreconcilable, and this conflict is the more unfortunate because each of the obligations taken separately accords with British sentiment and British interest. The development of self-government in the Arab world on the one hand is in accordance with British principles, and British public opinion is wholly sympathetic with Arab aspirations towards a new age of unity and prosperity in the Arab world. British interest similarly has always been bound up with the peace of the Middle East and British statesmanship can show an almost unbroken record of friendship with the Arabs. There is a strong British tradition, on the other hand, of friendship with the Jewish people, and it is in the British interest to retain as far as may be the confidence of the Jewish people.
The continuance of the present system means the gradual alienation of two peoples who are traditionally the friends of Britain.
The problem cannot be solved by giving either the Arabs or the Jews all they want. The answer to the question which of them in the end will govern Palestine must be Neither. No fair-minded statesman can think it right either that 400,000 Jews, whose entry into Palestine has been facilitated by he British Government and approved by the League of Nations, should be handed over to Arab rule, or that, if the Jews should become a majority, a million Arabs should be handed over to their rule. But while neither race can fairly rule all Palestine, each race might justly rule part of it.
The idea of Partition has doubtless been thought of before as a solution of the problem, but it has probably been discarded as being impracticable. The difficulties are certainly very great, but when they are closely examined they do not seem so insuperable as the difficulties inherent in the continuance of the Mandate or in any other alternative arrangement. Partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.