Monday, January 27, 2014

Jewish Anti-Zionism in the 21st Century

For as long as Zionism has existed as a nationalist movement, there have been anti-Zionist Jews. While today the most visible anti-Zionist Jews are haredim whose religious beliefs foreclose the possibility of a Jewish state established by men (as opposed to God) and who view with disdain the current state of Israel, which was founded by largely secular, socialist Jews. These haredim have consistently taken anti-Zionist position, though many today live in Israel and hypocritically take money and support from the very state whose existence they oppose.

Throughout Zionism's history, there have been many Jews who took the view that establishing a Jewish state was against the interests of the Jewish people for a variety of reasons. When Chaim Weizmann was working to secure British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the former Ottoman territory of Palestine at the conclusion of World War I, he was confronted by opposition from many of the Jews who were part of the United Kingdom's social and economic elite. Mostly assimilated into the upper echelons of British society, these Jews felt that the establishment of a Jewish homeland would alienate them from the United Kingdom, forcing them to choose between their British and Jewish identity and calling into question their loyalty to the UK. Indeed, many Zionists working in the United States during the interwar period faced similar opposition from mainstream U.S. Jews, who feared that supporting the Zionist movement would alienate them from the society in which they had successfully assimilated or were assimilating into.

The Zionists who did not face such opposition were people like Ze'ev Jabotinsky, working to promote Zionism in Tsarist Russia, where Jews were not assimilated as a matter of government policy and national identification and were singled out for pogroms, systemic discrimination and were virulently hated by significant portions of the Russian and then Soviet population. Jews were confined to the Pale of Settlement, allowed to live only on the outskirts of the Russian Empire, away from Russia's cultural and political centers. Unsurprisingly, when the Zionist enterprise succeeded in establishing the state of Israel, Jews from places like the Soviet Union left as quickly as they could (when they were allowed to) in large numbers for free nations like the United States and Israel.

Yet, anti-Zionism among the Jewish populations in the United States and Western Europe continues to be a significant political view, usually paired with a left of center ideology that has sharpened into a focus on the plight of the Arabs displaced by the establishment of Israel. Indeed, the leftist and Arab media blitz, portraying Israel as a successor to apartheid South Africa, which is the source of all problems and oppression in the Middle East, has fed into the anti-Zionist idea, that the establishment of the State of Israel was wrong and that its "oppression" of the Arabs, who are the "rightful" inhabitants of the region, does not justify the continuation of the Zionist enterprise. My thoughts on this position are described in many of the posts here, but relevant portion for this discussion is that to such people, the very idea of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East is anathema, and no proposed borders or peace agreements absent the dismantling of Jewish sovereignty would satisfy such critics, despite their attempts to cloak such views.

Contextually, while antisemitism is still rampant in Europe, the Middle East and many parts of the United States, Jewish people, especially those living in the United States, feel a level of security that unequaled in Jewish history. And why not? There has been comparatively little institutionalized antisemitism in the United States, Jews have been wildly successful in a variety of fields in America and today have significant influence in both business and politics. And yet, it is easy for us to gloss over and forget America's less than stellar track record of dealing with minorities in its midst. Native Americans, blacks and Japanese can all speak to exceptions to America's noted "tolerance" and "freedom," times where America as both a people and a government turned against a minority and neither America's constitutional protections nor America's legacy of democratic ideals could stop it. Indeed, in many areas of business and academia, Jews were subject to persistent discrimination for many years as part of a calculated effort to keep them from the echelons of power.

American Jews have the luxury of being able to be anti-Zionist in a way that few Jews in history have. They have this luxury, the same luxury they had when Israel was established in 1948 or even when emigration from Tsarist Russia to Ottoman Palestine began at the turn of the 20th century. They did not have to flee institutionalized antisemitic persecution and no large scale immigration from the United States to Israel ever took place. Yet, in the short history since Zionism's founding in the late 19th century, antisemitic pogroms in Tsarist Russia and the Holocaust both saw significant anti-Jewish action at a government level against a people who were powerless to resist and had nowhere to run. Contemporaneously with Israel's founding, antisemitic government policy spiked among Arab nations. The Nazis felt at ease with their Final Solution because they were convinced of the world's indifference to what happened to European Jewry by the failure of the Evian Conference to find a place for Jewish refugees to go. There was no Jewish state then that could stand up and say "yes, we will take them" when no other nation would.

All of this is not to say that Zionism is "for" all Jews in the sense that there remain vibrant Jewish communities outside of Israel in the United States, Iran, France and the United Kingdom (though French and British Jewry declines each year with rising Islamic and European antisemitism). And, many would argue that the expulsion of long standing Jewish communities across the Middle East was just a response to the injustice of the establishment of a Jewish state on Arab land, but that narrative only confirms my long held belief that the Arabs were only willing to tolerate those Jewish communities so long as they were politically powerless and nonthreatening minorities. The establishment of Jewish sovereignty of any kind represented an upheaval of the traditional role of Jews as dhimmi. Anti-Zionism is necessarily based on the same rationalization, that it is better not to rock the boat, not to risk identifying oneself as not American, British, French, Iranian or otherwise. The problem is, of course, that history has shown that absent absolute concealment, even the most secular, the most non-religious and the most assimilated Jew has been identified, scapegoated, persecuted, expelled or even killed. The fundamental anti-Zionist belief is in the kindness of strangers, a kindness that history has shown can quickly disappear. The Zionists understood one thing very clearly, even before the Holocaust, that their greatest chance to survive and thrive away from antisemitic recriminations that had developed and grown over centuries was to seize control of their own destiny by establishing their own sovereignty in their ancestral land. Nothing less could guarantee their safety.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Before Operation Opera: The Iranian Strike on Osirak

While my views on the new deal between Iran and the PS5+1 will be the subject of a forthcoming post, the renewed discussion of a potential Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities caused me to start thinking back on the destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. The story of Israel's bombing of the Osirak facility is fairly well known, but less discussed was both Iran's involvement in that operation and Iran's own strike on the same nuclear facility in the early days of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. In looking at the modern There is a fantastic bit of irony in the fact that Iran struck Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1980 and encouraged Israel to do so again in 1981 due to its fear that Iraq's nuclear reactor, which both the Iraqi and French governments repeatedly asserted was for research and could not be used for weapons purposes, posed an existential threat to Iran due to Saddam's fiery anti-Iranian language during the war's opening phase.

The Iran-Iraq was itself a particularly complicated conflict, sparked by a combination of historical border disputes between the two nations and Saddam Hussein's fear that the new Iranian government would incite Iraqi Shias to overthrow the Ba'athist Party (as an aside: Hussein's fears were perhaps prophetic both with respect to Iran's involvement in Iraq after the 2003 invasion by the United States, as well as its intervention and support of the Shi'ite group Hezbollah and its support of Alawite Bashar al-Assad in Syria). Whatever its causes, Iraq invaded Iran in September of 1980. Eight days into the war, Iranian fighter planes flew low over Iraq and headed toward Tuwaitha and the Osirak reactor. Iranian planes struck the reactor and damaged it, but failed to destroy the reactor completely. Saddam Hussein's scientists and his team, along with French scientists, began work to repair the reactor and eventually did so. When it happened, Iran's attack on the Osirak power plant was the first ever military strike on a nuclear facility. In a great bit of foreshadowing, Hussein was so shocked by the attack on the reactor due to his gross underestimation of Iranian air power that he assumed that Israel was behind the strike.

Nine months later, on June 7, 1981, Israeli fighters struck and destroyed the Osirak reactor, flying through Saudi and Iraqi airspace before bombing the reactor. The world was in an uproar, decrying the preemptive Israeli airstrike on a nuclear reactor that had been struck by Iranian warplanes less than a year earlier. The leadup to the attack certainly proved the old maxim that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" when Revolutionary Iran and Israel worked together to derail the Iraqi nuclear program through an Israeli strike. While there is dispute over the exact nature of the collaboration, many sources agree that Iran provided intelligence, photographs of the region and possibly offered to let Israeli pilots emergency land at Tabriz. Documents found in Hussein's personal effects and released in October of 2011 lent credibility to the idea that the Osirak reactor was to be used for military purposes, as Hussein was recorded as saying "Once Iraq walks out victorious (in the Iran-Iraq War), there will not be any Israel,” Hussein. “Technically, they (the Israelis) are right in all of their attempts to harm Iraq.”

While Israel was criticized for its 1981 strike on Osirak, the fact was that neither Israel nor Iran put much stock in Iraqi and French claims Saddam Hussein would not use the nuclear facility being constructed by the French outside Baghdad to create nuclear weapons to use on Iran. Indeed, Saddam's subsequent use of chemical weapons during the conflict showed his willingness to use weapons of mass destruction against Iranian soldiers. Obviously, the circumstances of bombing the nuclear reactor in the larger context of open warfare presents a different scenario than Israel currently faces with respect to Iran's nuclear program. However, Iran's anti-Israel language calling for Israel to be wiped off the face the earth harkens back to Saddam Hussein's assertions about Iran's attempts to conquer the Arab states and extend Shi'ite influence over the Sunni. Hussein himself believed that the Arabs' two great enemies were the Persians and the Israelis. Iran's government holds views of the "Zionists" that are substantially identical to those held by Hussein, beliefs that led to him launching SCUDs at Israel during the Gulf War.

Given all this history, it is understandably difficult for the Israelis to rest easy when being told that Iran has no nuclear intentions. After all, if such assurances from the West (notably France) weren't good enough for the Iranians in 1980, why should they be good enough for the Israelis in 2013?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

On the idea of a Jewish, Democratic State

One of the most interesting articles I have read in the last year came from Israel's new finance minster, Yair Lapid. In an article appearing in the Jerusalem Post, Minister Lapid posits that Israel's dual identities: (1) as a Jewish state and (2) as a democratic state, created a fundamental contradiction given the lack of integration in Israeli society. Lapid points to piecemeal advances among Israel's minorities, such successful Arab-Israeli soccer players, as insufficient to fulfill Israel's self visualization as a thriving democratic state. Lapid's point gets at the heart of Israel's identity and the goals of the state.

The motivation of the early Zionists to found a Jewish state was a response to a very specific problem: increased antisemitism in Europe, especially in the Russian Empire. Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement after witnessing the antisemitic sentiments that arose in France during the Dreyfus Affair. Many more Zionists from Russian and Ukraine sought freedom after the increasing hostility against them under the reigns of conservative Tsars Alexander III and Nicolas II. With the Kishenev Pogrom in 1903, the movement expanded and the idea of the Jewish National Home, memorialized in the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1922 San Remo Conference sought to solve the "Jewish Question" by giving Jews their own state in which the could be free from the same discriminatory reprisals that characterized their status as stateless minorities for two milennia. If nothing else, the events of the Holocaust proved the danger to Jews in remaining stateless.

There is, however, and interesting aspect of the founding of Israel that bears mentioning to address Minister Lapid's concern. When Jews started to move to Ottoman and then Mandatory Palestine, there were already some Jews living there. The "Old Yishuv," Jews living in Palestine before the first aliyah, were largely impoverished Orthodox Jews dependent on donations to sustain their livelihood. Indeed, aside from being Jewish, they had little in common with the new aliyot coming to the land, who were mostly young Socialist Jews from Eastern Europe who emphasized self sufficiency and hard, physical labor to establish their State. More fundamentally, the members of the Old Yishuv believed, and many Orthodox Jews still do believe, that the reestablishment of a sovereign Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael was to be brought about by divine intervention and not work to be completed by mere men. A close childhood friend of mine, now an ultra-Orthodox Jew living on the East Coast, had a lengthy discussion with me about the sources of tension between Israel's haredim and Israel's founders, and that to the haredim, the State of Israel's founding and continued existence is a source of tremendous debate and tension, ranging from strong support to extreme opposition, exemplified by the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta sect. The general point of this history is to illustrate the fact that while Israel was founded as a Jewish state, it was not founded as a state based on Jewish law or the Torah. While it is without question that many Jewish laws and customs are a significant part of Israel's identity, Israel is not, for example, a Jewish state in the same way that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state that seeks to follow the Q'uran as closely as possible.

Why is this historical perspective relevant? Minister Lapid's contention can be seen in two ways: (1) that Israel is not a "Jewish state" precisely because it is a democracy or (2) that Israel cannot be democratic because it professes to be a Jewish state. The first of these points misunderstands the basis for Israel's founding. The underlying goal of the Zionists was never to found a state based strictly on Jewish legal principles or Jewish law. Their goal was a response to two specific problems that they saw: government backed anti-Jewish discrimination in Europe and Jewish assimilation. These problems had less to do with Jewish religious practice and everything to do with the confluence of Jewish culture, language, religion and identity in European nations. Even non-religious Jews living in Europe were still viewed as apart from their European hosts. Even in the Soviet Union, where Jewish religious practice was forbidden, Jews were still identified separately from "Russians" or "Ukrainians" on their passports and other government documents. As a result, the purpose of the Jewish national home was to create a place where Jews were not subjected to the centuries old discrimination they suffered and also where Jews were not pressured to renounce their religious, cultural and linguistic heritages to assimilate themselves into the society of their resident nation. But, that did not mean that the founders of Israel were planning to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel or the Kingdom of Judah when they founded the state. Indeed, the politics of time drove the New Yishuv as much if not more than Jewish law. Israel's law was not a codification of the Torah, but contained laws far more suited to the times. Most fundamentally, Israel was not a Kingdom at all, but was the first Jewish sovereign state that was democratic in nature, a radical departure from the governance style in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It was a democracy founded on certain Jewish ideas and laws but it was not and is not the "Israel" that some Jews (and Christians) believe will be founded upon the return of the Messiah.

This understanding of Israel, not as a Jewish version of Saudi Arabia, but as a state whose founding and existence came about because of the rise of antisemitism and the rise of nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries lends allows one to understand why Israel can be and should be both Jewish and democratic. The irony, of course, is that the response of Israel's Arab neighbors to its founding was decidedly undemocratic, since essentially all of these countries evicted their Jewish subjects either upon Israel's founding or, if not then, soon after the Six Day War.

Minister Lapid's comments can be seen as a provocative way to get at a different issue: the role of Israel's non-Jewish minorities. And while the lack of integration into Israeli society of the Druze, Bedouin and Arabs is a known issue, the fact is that lack of integration is not a strictly religious issue, as one could not unreasonably assert that Israel's haredim are just as segregated, if not more segregated, than Israel's Arabs and Druze. I would take the position that by virtue of their participation in Israel's national service, the Druze are in many ways more "Israeli" than the Jewish haredim are. The question of Israel's minorities and their integration depends largely on the question of how willing these minorities are to subscribe to and further Israel's national vision. Israel is not a state that can be all things to all people, it cannot satisfy the nationalist aspirations of its Arab minority, the varied religious visions of the haredim and the founding vision of its secular socialist founders. When it was founded, Israel tried to balance these interests but ultimately, it could not. The haredim and the Arabs resisted the vision of the state, and those groups continue to struggle with and against Israel in its current form.

Ultimately, Minister Lapid's statements beg the question: to what extent should Israel change to accommodate its minorities, be they Arab, Druze or haredim. Israel is not perfect by any stretch, there are Jews, Arabs, Europeans, Iranians and others who see it as an oppressor of the Arabs, an illegitimate colonialist state and ultimately, a state that should either be destroyed or radically changed. But the amazing thing about Israel is that despite all of these conflicts, both internal and external, the proof that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state is that it has continued to exist and succeed. While there may be further to go, Arabs, Druze and haredim do participate in its political process. They vote. They argue. And when they do so, they are allotted significantly more freedom to do so than they would receive in most other nations in the world and as much as they are likely to receive in the Western liberal democracies. No one said the ride wouldn't be bumpy and full of obstacles, but the idea that Israel cannot reconcile its democratic ideals and its identity as a homeland for the Jews that in some ways harkens back to the days of Jewish sovereignty two thousand years ago with radically changing itself has not been borne out by the last 65 years.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Palestinian Judenrein

With another year of failing peace process and condemnation of Israeli construction in Jerusalem, I find myself revisiting a question that almost completely flies under the radar in the Western press: the future of Jews living in a potential Palestinian state. The proposed two state solution, one in which Israel exists within the "1967 borders" alongside a Palestinian Arab state, usually focuses on the underlying rights of Arabs to continue to live in and move to Israel. Indeed, the "right of return" calls for the "repatriation" of an unknown number, maybe as many as a million, Arabs into Israel. I have discussed and written frequently about the incompatibility of such an option with Israel's continued existence as a homeland for the Jews and as a democratic state, but a more interesting and under discussed aspect of the two state solution is the exact nature of this proposed Palestinian state.

There is no better way to proceed than to listen to what is coming out of the mouths or pens of the Palestinian Authority, the "moderate" peacemaking governing entity in Judea and Samaria. In 2011, Maen Areikat, the PLO ambassador to the United States said: "After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated." I will leave alone for the purposes of this post the fact that Ambassador Areikat seems content not to mention the 19 years of Jordanian military occupation. No less an authority than Mahmoud Abbas said in July of 2013 that "In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.” Indeed, such a position on Jewish residents would be totally consistent with the policies of many Arab states in the region which categorically forbid Jews to take up residence: Saudi Arabia and Jordan being prime examples. Jordan, despite having a peace treaty with Israel, has the following provision of its Nationality Law:

"The following shall be deemed to be Jordanian nationals:...(2)Any person who, not being Jewish, possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948 and was a regular resident in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 20 December 1949 and 16 February 1954...

In essence, the prospect of Palestine being a Jew-free state, in which any currently existing Jewish residence would be uprooted much in the way long-existing Jewish communities were uprooted in the 1948 War of Independence or during Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is expressly contemplated by Palestine's would-be founders. Even now, Jews cannot live in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority and under the Palestinian Authority's laws, the sale of real property to a Jew is punishable by death. The irony of this position is abundantly clear when one considers that the Arabs not only wish to keep in place the current Arabs that live in Israel, but add substantially to that number under the auspices of the "right of return." The final product of this would be a multiethnic, multireligious Israel containing between a 20% (currently) and over 50% (based on some calculations of how the "right of return" would play out in real life) non-Jewish population and a state called Palestine with no Jews in it whatsoever. This would certainly defeat the initial purpose of Israel as a Jewish homeland and state where Jews could have the same rights as other nationalities and be masters of their destiny.

Such behavior by the Arabs is not without precedent. In the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the borders shifted, sometimes radically, from the proposed borders in the UN-backed but Arab rejected Partition Plan. Most notably, Jordan occupied Judea and Samaria, as well as the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City and the Western Wall, and held those territories until the Six Day War in June of 1967. During those 19 years, Jews (not just Israelis) were prohibited from living in the "West Bank" of Jordan, and Jews who lived in that territory were quickly evicted because, as today, Jews are not allowed to live in Jordan. Places in which Jews had lived for millenia, such as Hebron, quickly became Judenrein as part of a systematic policy of removal. During that time, all Jews were prohibited from praying at the Western Wall and from access to other holy sites in the Jordanian-occupied "West Bank." One could expect identical behavior under Palestinian control of the Old City, given the Palestinian Authority's consistent attempts to deny any link between Jewish history and Jerusalem, positing, among other things, that the Temple did not exist and that Israel plans to level the al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild the Temple.

Most interestingly of course, is that there is no significant condemnation or even discussion of the consistent Arab statements to this effect. Indeed, while John Kerry and European leaders condemn Israeli construction in Jerusalem and elsewhere and call for boycotts on Israel, not a word is spoken of the fact that the proposed Palestinian state would prohibit Jews from living in it. And while the construction of "settlements" in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria makes front page news, the Arab population of Israel continues to grow, with Arabs enjoying rights as citizens while Jews receive and would receive no rights in the nation that seeks to make peace with them.

I like to think of myself as nothing if not fair in my views of the region. Indeed, the idea of evicting all Jews from the Palestinian state, while painful for those Jews living in the territory allotted to such a state, may have positive impacts by separating two historically combative peoples from one another. But, turnabout being fair play, it would seem most logical for, to borrow Ambassador Areikat's phrasing"After the experience of the last 44 years of military occupation and all the conflict and friction, I think it would be in the best interest of the two people to be separated," and require that all Palestinian Arabs (however defined) leave the territory of Israel and move to the newly formed State of Palestine. One need only imagine the public outrage and outcry at the possibility of suggesting such a proposal, but the fact is, the Palestinian Authority regularly suggests it and clearly believes that the Palestinian Arab state should be free of Jews, so why shouldn't its Jewish counterpart be similarly free of Palestinian Arabs? And, if such a policy is inconsistent with our view of how peace should be established between the two sides and what a future Palestine and Israel would look like, then we should demand that the Palestinian Authority be taken to task for outlining a vision of its Jew-free nation while demanding that Israel absorb hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees as a condition of making peace.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Analyzing the Binational State

I recently read an article on Al Jazeera where the columnist proposed that the only feasible solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict is the creation of a single binational state of all the peoples living in Israel, Judea, Samaria and Gaza. As a strong opponent of any current "two state solution" because I believe it will simply lead to another war, I have found the proposals for a binational state to be interesting to consider for a variety of reasons.

First, there is a historical perspective. After the Balfour Declaration set into motion the beginning of significant Jewish immigration into the British Mandate of Palestine, the British governed the Mandate for the seventeen years between the Balfour Declaration and the 1937 Peel Commission under the assumption that the territory west of the Jordan river would be a single state. Contemporaneous understandings of the creation of the Jewish "homeland" in the Mandate did not explicitly reference the creation of a sovereign nation, and indeed focused on creating a place where the Jews could live, though not necessarily a state governed by Jews. Given the population figures in the region at the time of the Balfour Declaration, it was not feasible to assert the creation of a Jewish State in a place with only a few thousand Jews. However, as Jews moved to the Jewish National Home created by the British and approved by the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference of 1922, the dynamics changed in the region as Jews, and especially the Jewish Agency, began purchasing land from the Arabs in the region. Jews had been forbidden from purchasing land in the region under Ottoman rule, but rapidly began purchasing land, often buying sparsely populated marshes and other uncultivated land. This, Many historians cite the increased purchasing activity by Jews as one of the main impetuses (coupled with a rise in Jewish immigration associated with rise of the Nazis) for the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, which were so large and difficult to put down that the British felt it necessary to change their view of the solution to the "Jewish Question."

In 1936, Lord Peel came to Palestine from Britain and conducted an extensive survey of the underlying causes of unrest between the Jews and Arabs. The 1937 Peel Commission report is notable historically for two reasons: (1) it for the first time proposed partition of the territory west of the Jordan river to create an Arab state and a Jewish state and (2) it proposed that Britain outlaw the purchase of land from Arabs by Jews. The Arabs rejected the Peel Commission plan out of hand and the Jewish reaction to it was lukewarm at best. Subsequent British review determined that the British would be unable to enforce the partition and that it was not a workable solution. In 1939, the British issued what is known today only as "the White Paper," which repudiated the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission and proposed the creation of a binational state while significantly restricting Jewish immigration (a fact that would become highly significant in short order as Nazi Germany expanded. The White Paper contended that the number of Jews in the Mandate meant that a "Jewish national home" had been created and explicitly rejected the idea that a Jewish state would come to exist in the region. The White Paper also adopted the Peel Commission recommendation restricting land purchases by Jews.

Predictably, neither side was happy. The Jews felt the rug had been pulled out from under them, while the Arabs felt that the restrictions on the Jews did not go far enough and that Jews should be deported from the region. The White Paper remained in effect until the end of World War II, by which time the restrictions on Jewish immigration into the British Mandate, coupled with the refusal of any nation (save the Dominican Republic) to accept Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, had doomed Europe's Jews to their horrible and well known fate.

But knowing full well the subsequent story of the UN backed Partition Plan, its failure, and the birth of Israel and the 1948 War, how can one evaluate the proposed binational state and its likely success? From the Arab perspective, an analysis of policy statements by the PLO and Hamas are instructive. Even in the two state solution, while Arabs would remain in and (under a proposed right of return) move to Israel, it is almost universally held that the Palestinian state would be Judenrein, i.e. free of Jews. Indeed, the continued rejection of "settlements," i.e. the presence of Jews in Judea and Samaria is instructive because while Western governments and the Western media portray particular "settlements" as being problematic, the PLO stance and the view of the Arab world at large is that they are all problematic for the simple reason that they don't want Jews living in their state. This policy would be consistent with that of many Arab states, like Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, all of which forbid Jews to even live within them.

So then, how would this work in a binational state? History tells us that Jews continue to live in Muslim majority states such as Iran and to a smaller extent, Morocco, but that in such cases, those Jews have limited political rights as dhimmi and certainly do not have any government representation or sovereignty. The author of this article discusses the need to disband militant groups such as Hamas, yet ignores two key facts: first that the rise of anti-Jewish groups and mobs in the region occurred long before the existence of a Jewish state and second that the goal of such groups would likely expand beyond just terminating Jewish sovereignty in a binational state and shift to "convincing" Jews to leave by any means necessary. The author points out the PLO's success in suppressing terrorism in the West Bank while ignoring their failure to hold back Hamas in Gaza and the fact that the PLO is successful only due to IDF backing and Israeli shekels. The author's holding out Lebanon as a model of balanced governance among different ethno-religious groups is too laughable to be taken seriously given the spate of political assassinations, civil wars, massacres and the less than ironic fact that Lebanon's governance practices significant discrimination against the Palestinians in that country. About as laughable is the idea that Arab Muslims and Jews would share stewardship of the land, given significant Arab rejectionism of Jewish connection to Israel and the consistent pattern of Islamic societies replacing non-conforming temples and houses of worship with mosques and madrassas.

Now one might say that the long established Palestinian ideology would change with the creation of a binational state, that Hamas and the PLO would give up violence if such a state came into being and would at least tolerate Jews. While this would be wonderful, it is most likely wishful thinking. Again, going on almost 30 years of pre-Partition history, it seems unlikely that the Arab Muslims would suddenly embrace even limited Jewish sovereignty. After all, groups like Hamas reject Jewish sovereignty over any part of Israel, it is unlikely that they would be willing to work in a government composed of Jews and Arabs. One can see the likely behavior from the Arab members of the Knesset, many of whom side with Hamas and Hizbullah and also in the abject failure of successive power-sharing Lebanese governments to bring peace between the Muslims and Christians of that nation. Why would it be any more successful in Israel?

Indeed, the likely failure of the one-state solution, and the failure that already occurred between 1920 and 1947, presents a picture that runs counter to the dominant narrative of understanding the Israel/Palestine conflict: that the goal of both the PLO and Hamas is nothing less than the end of both Jewish sovereignty and Jewish existence (except as dhimmi) in "Palestine." The Arabs could not live alongside Jews even before the Jews had sovereignty and even when the British banned land sales to Jews, capped their immigration at 75,000 per year, and proposed a plan to give them less than 15% of the land west of the Jordan river. After decades embittered by their failure to eliminate the Jews and continued military failure, the idea of governing side by side with Jews would plunge Israel, Palestine, or whatever you'd want to call it, into a civil war that would eclipse Lebanon's decades long conflict.

And of course, let's not forget the fact that a binantional state would give nuclear weapons to "former" members of Hamas.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Two State Delusion

With French and British support for the Mahmoud Abbas' move to gain non-member observer status at the United Nations, Fatah's move to create a functional "two state solution" by establishing a state in the territories acquired by Jordan and Egypt after Israel's 1948 War of Independence keeps moving. While the decision to grant non-member observer status is by no means equal to Mahmoud Abbas 2011 attempt to gain full UN recognition for "Palestine," it is an interim step toward international recognition toward more global endorsement of the establishment of a new Arab state.

Abbas' most recent move is interesting because it is a microcosm of the evolution of "Palestinian" nationalism, which moved from an uncompromising and vocal anti-Israel stance to a deceptively organized campaign seeking to undermine Jewish sovereignty step by step by making incremental gains. Abbas' campaigns at the UN are the latest in the evolution of Arab strategy to destroy Israel and end Jewish sovereignty. In the early days, the Arabs almost exclusively used organized violence. In the 1920s and 1930s, great revolts featuring massacres of Jewish populations were common place, and more often than not, the British overseers of the region were passive witnesses. In fact, in the times from the 1920 Balfour Declaration until the 1948 War, the Arabs rejected numerous attempts at peaceful resolution of the conflict, rejecting both the 1937 Peel Commission Partition Plan and the 1947 UN Partition Plan.

When the 1948 War ended, Israel's position looked untenable. Squeezed between Egypt, Jordan and the sea, the State seemed unlikely to survive. Egypt's firebrand president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, looked to solidify his position as the leader of the pan-Arabist movement by blockading the Straits of Tiran, evicting UN forces from the Sinai, and moving troops toward Egypt's border with Israel. The Six Day War, during which Israel took control of Gaza, Judea, Samaria and the Sinai, radically changed the dynamic between Israel and the Arabs. It became abundantly clear that Israel could not be defeated conventionally, and even as Arab (especially Egyptian) success in the Yom Kippur War restored Arab pride, it became clear to the Arabs that tactics had to change in order to defeat the Jewish State.

Although the PLO had been created in 1964 (at which time both Egypt and Jordan denied it any sovereignty over the lands they controlled, but were comfortable with its control of land held by Israel), the PLO did not truly emerge as a force until after the Six Day War, when it staged raids into Israel from Jordanian territory. However, when the PLO got too ambitious and started thinking it control all of the land of the former British Mandate (including Jordan), the Jordanian army evicted the PLO in a campaign to be known as Black September.

Over the next few decades, the PLO would be evicted from Lebanon and Tunisia, it was eventually allowed to return to Judea, Samaria and Gaza. One of the major developments of this period was Yasser Arafat's decision to pursue a diplomatic path to achieve the PLO's goals. One of the hallmarks of this plan was laid out in the PLO's Ten Point Program from 1974, combining tacit acceptance of interim territorial acquisitions (primarily Judea, Samaria and Gaza) with the understanding that these would be precursors to a later action to destroy Israel. The idea behind this plan (which in itself was controversial in many Palestinian circles because it was deemed insufficiently militant) was that the Palestinians should make as many interim gains and acquire as much land as possible under diplomatic arrangements with the understanding that any such gains will make further attacks and the ultimate destruction of Israel easier.

It is in this context that proposals for the "two state solution" should be understood. It is certainly how the PLO understands them. In 2009, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon called for acceptance of the two state solution precisely because he believed it would lead to Israel's demise. This understanding is consistent with the perceived benefit of the two state solution to the Arabs. This is best evidenced by the fact that no proposal for a two state solution, not even recent statements by Mahmoud Abbas asserting that he understands he can only be a "tourist" in Tzvat or that he laments the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 UN Partition state his or anyone else's willingness to reject the right of return as a component of creating a new Arab state. In fact, Maen Areikat, PLO Ambassador to the United States, stated last year that any future Palestinian state must be Judenrein, i.e. free of Jews. His comment did not state that Arabs should leave Israel, only that Jews cannot be allowed to live in Palestine. Nor did his comment reject the dogmatic belief in the "right of return." 

Of course, this only speaks to the PLO side of matters, where statements are often hazy, inconsistent or downright false. In the case of Hamas and the vast majority of other Palestinian groups, the two state solution and even tacit and temporary recognition of any Jewish state is anathema. Even Hamas's surprising support for Abbas campaign at the UN comes with the understanding that any upgrade in Palestinian "status" at the UN cannot prejudice "Palestinian rights," which based on historical understanding refers to rights to sovereignty over the entire territory of the former British Mandate west of the Jordan River and that "resistance" remains the foremost path to liberating "Palestinian" territory.  Ironically, despite having support from Hamas, the PLO is now playing both sides, asserting that its failure at the UN will also embolden them.  The reality remains that the dominant narrative in Arab circles remains that violent resistance is the path to success against Israel, and only the PLO, which has been in the fight for a very long time, has decided to shift tactics. But we see it even with Hamas, which ten years ago would never agree to any cease fire with Israel, but which now agrees to them. 

The shift in tactics has been used to create the impression that the end goal has changed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it was inciting mobs to riot against Jews in Jaffa in 1920, taking advantage of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza to launch rockets at Israeli cities, or negotiating a "two state solution," the end game is to use any means necessary and more recently, any means that can gain support from the international community, to consolidate power in any available territory in order to further the goal of liberating Palestine "From the river to sea." 

When Mahmoud Abbas said the Arabs were wrong to reject the 1947 Partition, he did not say it was a mistake because it would have allowed for peace between a Jewish and Arab state. Based on the history of the PLO, the mistake in their understanding would be that the vast territory granted to such a state would have made it very easy to snuff out a Jewish state in its infancy with the indefensible 1947 borders. Yet, if the mistake was truly that peace could have been achieved had the Arabs agreed to the 1947 Partition Plan, then why do Abbas and his party continue to refuse to acknowledge that any peace settlement with Israel requires the extinguishment of any putative "right of return" by the Arabs. Absent that, how could it be anything but delusional to believe that a "two state solution" along borders which led to near constant skirmishes starting in 1948 and culminating in a major war in 1967 be the recipe for peace in the region? 

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Deceptive Map of Israel

Apparently, this image has been making the rounds and has been prominently featured in numerous recent anti-Israel media campaigns, and in my view, a map this factually inaccurate and problematic, but one that simultaneously conveys a powerful message about the conflict, needs to be addressed and responded to.

What is this map trying to say? It attempts to simplify the narrative of the Arab/Israeli conflict and boil it down into a one directional progression of Jewish land taking of Arab land. Let's go map by map:

Map #1: This map could represent many things. It either represents the land that had been purchased by Jews prior to the 1947 Partition Plan or it could represent land roughly equivalent to the first (lesser known) Partition Plan, proposed by the British Peel Commission in 1937. The Peel Commission spent a year in Mandatory Palestine to attempt to resolve the animosity between the Arabs and the Jews, and for the first, suggested partitioning the land between then under the premise that the two could not live together in a binational state. The Commission noted many things in its year in the region, one being the inability of Arab leaders to keep local Arabs from selling their land to Jews. The lasting impact of the Peel Commission was the first attempt at Partition, and the map looked like this:

This map would have given the Arabs over 75% of the territory of the Mandate, which was meant to correspond roughly to the demographic makeup of the region at the time. In a moment that would be a prelude of things to come, the Arabs rejected this plan, while the Jews accepted it. Years later, David Ben-Gurion lamented the failure of this partition, which would have created a haven for Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Moreover, while contemporaneous statements by Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann indicated that they did not see the Peel Commission partition as a permanent resolution, it would at least give Israel control of certain key areas, like Haifa, Tel Aviv and the Galilee. Even assuming that the Jews intended to expand their borders beyond these borders, a not unreasonable assumption, the baseline state that the Arabs would have started out from would have given them vastly superior positioning in any future conflict. While it would have required a population exchange of Arabs and Jews, at the time, such an action was hardly unprecedented and the Peel Commission referred to the 1923 Greco-Turkish population exchange as precedent.

More relevantly, the first map is likely intended to show the locations of Jewish population at that time, in which case the Peel Commission Partition Plan would have most substantially incorporated those areas without any significant Jewish population into the Arab state. Of course, it became a moot point when the Arabs rejected the plan and renewed their violence. In many ways, this incident marked the best hope for partition, as it largely reflected the demographics and gave the Jews a small state. However, the categorical unwillingness to accept Jewish sovereignty led to significant negative consequences for the Arabs.

Map #2: The UN Partition Plan

By 1947, internecine violence in the British Mandate and the British failure to please either the Jews or the Arabs led the British to hand the issue over to the newly formed United Nations. At issue was the continued failure of the British to establish a solution to the Jewish/Arab tension in the Mandate and how to prepare the territory for independence, achieved by the eastern portion of the Mandate a year earlier in the newly formed Kingdom of Transjordan. The Partition Plan reflected a change in demographics over the past 10 years, with Jews entering the region and fleeing the Holocaust and its aftermath and changing the balance in the region. As the Jewish Agency continued to buy land from the Arabs, the demography changed, and along with it, the productivity and level of cultivation in the region.

The UN, realizing that under the circumstances a binational state was not a solution, again decided to partition the Mandate, and again the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected the mandate. At this stage, the key development was that with the partition rejected, the borders of a presumptive Jewish and Arab state in the Mandate were effectively undecided. And so on the day before the Mandate ended, David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of a new state, Israel, which was immediately invaded by Syria, Transjordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. But as the Arabs failed to defeat the new Jewish state, Israel took control of additional areas. Which leads us to...

Map #3: 1948-1967

This map has a notable and gross inaccuracy: it portrays the territory in dark green as "Palestine." In fact, "Palestine" never came into existence because its territory was occupied by Israel, Egypt and primarily, Transjordan. In late 1948, Egypt formed the "All Palestine Government," a government in exile headed by Hajj Amin al Husseini and based in Gaza.  However, at the Jericho Conference, Transjordan marginalized the All Palestine Government by holding a meeting with "Palestinian" delegates in which the desired unification of Judea and Samaria was expressed with King Abdullah sovereign over Transjordan and the newly formed "West Bank" territory. This situation met with extreme hostility from other Arab states, who felt that unification with Jordan would harm the self determination movement of the failed "Palestinian" state.

When the Armistice Agreements came into effect in 1949, Transjordan was occupying both Judea and Samaria, Egypt occupied Gaza, and Israel controlled the balance of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. In 1950, Transjordan formally annexed Judea and Samaria and gave the province the name it is mostly known by today: the West Bank. Not a single nation save for Pakistan recognized this annexation. The All Palestine government, powerless in Gaza, moved its base from Gaza to Cairo in the midst of the Suez Crisis of 1956 and was eventually dismantled by Nasser.

Indeed, the primary obstacle to the All Palestine Government was not Israel, but Jordan, whose King wanted to exercise sovereignty over the West Bank and did not recognize the All Palestine Government. As such, over the next 19 years, from 1948 to 1967, with an economically weak and militarily untested Israel in existence, none of the Arab powers felt it necessary to promote the Palestinian cause as a means of defeating Israel. It was not until after their catastrophic defeat during the Six Day War that the Arab states realized that their best hope for defeating Israel was to use the Palestinians.

Map #4:

The choice of date here is particularly significant. The year 2000 marked the Camp David 2000 Accords, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat, mediated by President Bill Clinton. Barak's government took as compromising a stance as any Israeli leader ever had, embracing a two state solution in all of Gaza and, eventually, approximately 93% of Judea and Samaria. The deal fell apart on the one issue that Palestinian leaders can never seem to give up on: the right of return. I have blogged extensively about why the right of return is fundamentally inconsistent with the two state solution and why its continued mention in conjunction therewith precludes the possibility of an effective two state solution. Yasser Arafat would not take the offer, made no counteroffer, and left Camp David. And with that, the best chance for a Palestinian state left with him.

A final, and more general comment is needed on all four maps. The reference to "Palestine" is inaccurate most egregiously in Map #3, but really in all of them. The original state that is shown in Map #1 was to be a separate state from Transjordan (the other Arab state in the British Mandate and which was, back in 1920, meant to be the only Arab state in the British Mandate) was due to the raging political dispute between the Hashemite King in Amman and Hajj Amin al Husseini in Jerusalem. The proposed "Palestine" was not proposed due to the Arabs west of the Jordan River having some ethnic, religious or cultural difference from their bretheren east of the Jordan River, but due to the political differences between the proposed governments and the unwillingness to agree to live under Jewish sovereignty anywhere.

The fact, quite simply, is that Palestine never came into existence because the Arabs opposed it every time it could have. And when Israel took control of Judea and Samaria and Gaza in 1967, it was not occupying "Palestinian" territory, it was occupying Jordanian and Egyptian territory. While retrospective wishful thinking makes many Palestinian nationalists (including Mahmoud Abbas himself) wish that things had played out differently in 1937, 1947 and 1967, the fact is that the Arabs dug themselves into a hole with their intransigence and failed to seize numerous opportunities to establish a state, if that was what they really wanted to begin with.