Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back to the Future: The 1947 Partition Plan

A recent New York Times article discusses resurrecting the 1947 Partition Plan, which called for the division of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River into two states: Israel and Palestine. This Partition followed the prior division of the British Mandate into Transjordan, which made up 78% of the territory of the British Mandate, and Israel/Palestine, which occupied the remaining 22%. While the Arabs were to receive the vast majority of the British Mandate of Palestine (all of Transjordan and 45% of the territory of "Palestine"), they rejected the Partition plan, leading Israel to unilaterally declare independence one day before the expiration of the British Mandate. What followed would later be referred to as Israel's War of Independence, when Israel's fighting forces defeated 5 Arab armies and established a state while Palestine's national movement was suppressed by Jordan and Egypt.

63 years later, we are now seriously talking about going all the way back to the Partition Plan. At this point, neither Friedman nor anyone outside of a few Hamas leaders is discussing the 1947 borders as a basis for the two states. However, there are no other internationally recognized borders that exist. While Friedman and many others, notably President Barack Obama, continuously refer to the "1967 borders" (the "borders" that existed before the Six Day War) as a basis for a final settlement. Friedman discusses the 1967 borders as a basis for updating UN Resolution 181. One problem: there were no "borders" at that time. When the war ended in 1949, none of the nations bordering Israel (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt) recognized Israel or its borders. Indeed, the 1949 "borders" were armistice lines that only signified the location of where hostilities ended, nothing more.

There is an erroneous belief that Israel's conflicts with its neighbors were discreet events: War of Independence, Suez Conflict, Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, First Lebanon War, First Intifiada, Second Intifiada, Second Lebanon War, Gaza War. However, Israel's existence from 1948 to 1967 was marked by ongoing small scale border skirmishes, especially in and around Jerusalem. The belief that going back to a proposed Partition plan that failed to garner support for ANY neighboring Arab state in 1947 seems like a pipe dream because there is absolutely nothing that shows that the same conflict that occurred in 1948 would not occur again. I think that the implementation of such a Partition would in fact exacerbate conflict in the Middle East for two reasons.

The first has nothing to do with Israel. If a Palestinian state was formed in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians living in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon would face a fate substantially similar to what Jews in the Middle East faced after Israel's founding: mass expulsion from their homes. One must ask oneself a simple question: why would the neighboring Arab states be so in favor of forming a Palestinian state when they had no interest in creating one for 19 years when Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza (which combined made up about 80% of the territory promised to "Palestine" in the Partition). The reason is quite simple: when the Palestinian state is formed, the neighboring states can finally evict their Palestinians. What if Palestinians didn't want to leave and move to Palestine? The Kuwaitis didn't wait on the Palestinians to decide, evicting 300,000 Palestinians in 1992 after they supported Saddam Hussein's invasion. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have systematically prevented Palestinians from integrating into their societies. They have always viewed Palestinians as a threat to their societies, leading to campaigns against their nationalist movements in both Jordan (Black September, 1970) and Lebanon (Lebanese Civil War, 1978). Moreover, there is no reason to believe that a Palestinian state would be able to absorb or deal with a mass influx of refugees, considering that Israel had to undergo 10 painful years of austerity and integration programs for the 800,000 refugees it received in 1948. Considering their lack of support for Palestinians in the last 63 years, I very much doubt that the Arab states will provide substantial support for the Palestinians beyond empty words.

The second has everything to do with Israel. We must ask ourselves a very simple question: what will lead to stability in the Middle East? Reading the history of the conflict and the rhetoric on both sides, I cannot believe that going back to a situation that produced ongoing conflict for 19 years is a good solution. Nothing that Barack Obama or any other pundit has said makes me believe that the creation of Palestine will solve the animosity. I do not believe that the Palestinians will abandon their right of return demand and I do not believe that certain elements within the Palestinian Authority and Hamas will always seek to destroy Israel because they do not accept any Jewish sovereignty. Giving away territory has historically led to conflict against Israel, both in Gaza and in Southern Lebanon.

The question is not whether we can go back to 1947, but whether we would want to. We are facing a situation where leaders and activists around the world are demanding a return to a situation that led to two wars. Given the present instability facing several regimes, notably the Syrian government's repression of its pro-democracy activists and the Lebanese government's repression of its non-Hezbollah elements with death threats. There is a high risk of recreating the conflicts that arose in 1947 and thereafter because there is no reason to believe that giving the Palestinians what they want will placate or satisfy them. The PLO rejected Israel's offer of 95% of the West Bank and all of Gaza in 2000 at a time when Hamas was not part of the government. Why would they accept an "inferior" offer now? And even if they accepted it, do we really think it will prevent a future conflict or create peace?

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