Sunday, July 31, 2011

Back Where It All Begins: Jewish Immigration under the British Mandate

In continuation of my pre-Israeli Jewish history in Palestine, it is important to start again by indicating that Arabs had not exercised political control over Palestine since the Mamluk defeat in 1517. Indeed, while Arabs continued to live in Palestine after Selim's conquest, there were no serious disruptions to Ottoman control of Arab lands until the Wahhabis who formed a breakaway state from 1744 to 1818. Palestine, however, remained firmly within Ottoman control for 400 years, from 1517 to 1917. In 1917, led by General Allenby, the British took Jerusalem and established control over Palestine. With the Ottoman Empire in collapse and the Young Turk government in limbo, Turkey would not achieve political stability until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's consolidation of power in 1923.

The British received a Mandate over Palestine from the League of Nations at the San Remo Conference, which incorporated the stated goals of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Of course, the British had made other promises. In exchange for their instigation of the Arab Revolt, which proved crucial to defeating the Ottomans, the family of Sharif Hussein bin Ali, were given substantial control over the lands newly freed from Ottoman hands. the Sharif's son Abdullah was given the Eastern part of the British Mandate of Palestine, Transjordan, while the Sharif's other son Faisal became the King of Iraq. Hussein himself became the King of Hejaz and claimed sovereignty over all Arabia, but was eventually overthrown by his opponents: the House of Saud.

There are important implications to this history. The Zionists were not marching into lands that were under the political dominion or control of the Arabs. Indeed, there had not been Arab control over Palestine in 400 years. In the decades since Israel's founding, Palestinian Arabs have lamented the role the British played in controlling Jewish immigration into Palestine and their supposed siding with the Jews and helping them found their state. In reality, the British, after their initial support for Jewish sovereignty west of the Jordan river, quickly reneged on their promises and took many actions to aid the Arabs at the expense of the Jews. The formative moment was the appointment of Hajj Amin al-Husseini as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and de facto leader of the Arabs west of the Jordan River. Ironically, this appointment was made by Governor of Palestine Herbert Samuel, a British Jew.
 Husseini was vehemently anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic and anti-British. He saw himself as the leader of the Arab state, as the new Caliph. Soon after his appointment by the British, Husseini changed sides and flew to Berlin to meet German leader Adolf Hitler. He would form strong relationships with several famous Nazis: Adolf Eichmann, Joseph Goebbels, Henrich Himmler and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Husseini saw his chance for Arab sovereignty over Palestine with a Nazi victory, and his dreams of an Arab state under the Nazi sphere of influence died with the British victory over Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corp as El Alamein. 

While Husseini was still in control, he incited a series of riots in 1923, 1929 and most famously, from 1936 to 1939, during which hundreds of Jews, Arabs and British died. The British, however, following a policy of appeasement that would end disastrously at the Munich Conference a few years later, attempted to placate Arab concerns and al-Husseini's boisterous and violent behavior by curbing Jewish immigration. In 1939, after the riots finally ended, the British government issued the White Paper, which curbed Jewish immigration to Palestine, restricting Jews' rights to buy land and most importantly shelved the idea of a Jewish state in favor of a binational state in which Jews and Arabs would govern "according to their proportion." With the significant reduction in Jewish immigration, the White Paper sounded the death knell for a Jewish State in Palestine. The restrictions on Jewish immigration became particularly deadly when Jews fleeing Auschwitz and other concentration camps were turned away at the gates of Palestine to be killed back in Europe (after infamous the Evian Conference, no country agreed to take Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust). 


In many ways, the next years of history reflect what both communities perceived as a joint betrayal. The Jews saw the British repudiate their 1917 promise and responded with a concerted program of illegal immigration, continued political activity and an eventual turn to violence. Jewish groups such as Irgun and Lehi began to target British forces, and to the extent they attacked civilians, to terrorism. While Hajj Amin al-Husseini fled Palestine after the end of the riots, he continued to incite and direct activities there. He returned to the Middle East in the late 1940s and began to make preparations for the end of the British Mandate, the formation of an Arab state west of the Jordan river, and the slaughter of all Jews in Palestine. For the next few years, Jewish and Arab forces consolidated until May 14, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared an independent state of Israel and the 1948 war began. 


Two very interesting patterns emerge here. The first is that the Arab Riots of 1936-1939 began a continuing pattern wherein Western powers have rewarded Arabs for their violent behavior by caving in to their needs. Indeed, it was the British appeasement policy that emboldened al-Husseini and other leaders to continue their violence, knowing that it was the best way to extract concessions from the British. Since then, Arab nationalists in the Middle East have discovered that rioting, war and terrorism are the most effective way to get concessions from European powers, especially when couching such acts in the guise of anti-colonialism. The best contemporary example is, of course, the Arab desire to return to the 1947 Partition Plan. The Arabs unanimously rejected Partition in 1947, launching a campaign to destroy Israel and liquidate the Jews. They missed their chance for an Arab Palestinian state, and continued to wage a 60 year campaign of violence. Those 60 years of violence toward Israel have actually improved the Arabs' negotiating position, now many states support their desire for a state and argue that Israel must remove Jews from Arab lands as a precondition to peace. Israel has been pressured to give away land to the Arabs despite the fact that the Palestinians refuse to even acknowledge the Jewish right to self determination. The rest of the world sits idly by and applies pressure on Israel as though Israel was the beneficiary of special treatment by the British or other Europeans and were improperly given land for their home, which must now be rectified by stripping away land from the Jewish State.


The second interesting feature is that we assume that the Jewish state was ripped from an Arab state or Arab homeland. As previously noted, there was no Arab sovereignty over Palestine for 400 years. To the extent that there was an Arab majority in British Mandatory Palestine, 70% of the Mandate was used to create a state that ended up having 100% Arabs and 0% Jews: Transjordan. The idea of creating a second state for the Arabs of the British Mandate arose primarily because the Arab leaders in Jerusalem were not willing to submit to the Hashemite leaders in Transjordan (who were foreigners from Hejaz). Indeed, except in Saudi Arabia, where there had already been two attempts to create a Saudi State, and Egypt, which had become a British Protectorate and eventually an independent state in 1922, Arab nationalism did not arise in Palestine until the Jews arrived and until al-Husseini began to foment it. In many ways, Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism in that part of the world came about at largely similar times. At the time of the first Zionist Congress, only Saudi Arabia had truly made major strides toward becoming independent of the Turks. 


This is a lot of history...but why is it important? We are bombarded with imagery about the conflict and with discourse that frames Jews as foreign invaders stealing land from a place that would otherwise have been a proud and flourishing Arab state. Indeed, we are taught to believe that but for Zionism, Palestine would have existed as a state. And indeed, that might have been so. But the simpler fact is that the Arab leader from Palestine did nothing to endear themselves to either the British or the Ottomans, while the strategically thinking Hashemites from Hejaz catapulted themselves into power in Jordan and (until the Ba'ath Revolution) Iraq. We cannot sit and blame the failings of the Arab nationalist movement of the 1920s and 1930s on Jews, we can blame it only on their complete unwillingness to compromise with the Zionists or the British or their unwillingness to bring about change in Transjordan to allow Palestinian Arabs to control their own destiny, the way the Iraqis and Syrians overthrew British imposed Hashemite monarchies. It's much easier to blame the Jews than look into the past and understand their own flawed path, but unless we are willing to examine how we got to where we are today, we will have no idea how to move forward.



Friday, July 29, 2011

Back Where It All Begins Part I: Jewish Immigration during the Ottoman Period

In my attempts to get to the core of Zionism and the origins of the modern Jewish/Arab Muslim conflict, which is to be separated from ongoing conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims since Islam's birth, I realized that it is necessary to look back, before the founding of Israel in 1948 and even before the first true Arab Intifada in the 1920s against the British Mandate. What dawned on me was that it was necessary to look back and see what the territory later called Palestine looked like before and during Zionism's infancy, and to look at the circumstances that led to Zionism.

There have, of course, always been some Jews that have lived in Palestine. These people are called the Old Yishuv, Jews who were concentrated primarily in Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed (Tzvat) and Tiberias (Tver). The members of the Old Yishuv came from a variety of locations, many arriving in the 15th century after being expelled from Spain. For most of their time in Palestine, the residents of the old Yishuv, and indeed the rest of Palestine lived under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim conquered the Mamluk Empire in 1517, which led to the annexation of Palestine, Egypt and, of great significance at the time, the Muslim Holy Places of Mecca and Medina as part of a general conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. This was a watershed moment in Islamic history because the Holy Places were no longer in Arab hands, now the Ottoman Turks assumed control of the Holy Places and the Ottoman Sultan became the Caliph.

Of course, the Turks were not Arabs and were later comers to the faith, so over the course of the next 400 years, there was substantial tension between the Ottoman overloads and the Arabs, who frequently sought their own independence only to be constantly put down. The Ottomans gradually weakened under the rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909), who was eventually overthrown by the Young Turk Revolution, leading to the end of the Sultan as the true head of government (the Caliphate was abolished in 1922). The Young Turk government, which still controlled the majority of the Ottoman Arab lands despite losing significant lands to Europe (many of which had been lost by the Ottomans in the centuries after their abortive attempt to conquer Vienna in 1683). The Young Turks threw their lot in with the Central Powers in World War I, mostly to get at its longtime northern nemesis: Russia.

But before the Ottoman Empire finally fell in 1917, it controlled Arab lands, among them Palestine, from 35 years that were of great significance to the later establishment of Israel. In 1882, an event that later became known as the First Aliyah happened. Some 30,000 Jews, mostly fleeing Russia's rampant anti-Semitism and the Alexander III's anti-Jewish pogroms, which began because he blamed the Jews for killing his father, Tsar Alexander II, in 1881. In addition, Jews from Yemen began to arrive in Palestine around the same time. The First Aliyah began 16 years before the First Zionist Congress in 1897, and took place under the control and auspices of the Ottoman Empire. While the local Arabs undoubtedly became concerned as the Jewish population of Palestine (then part of Greater Ottoman Syria) doubled in the course of about 15 years. Yet, the Ottomans had bigger concerns at the time and in any case were not at all concerned with advancing Arab nationalism...indeed quite the opposite was true, as the Ottomans had always held a tenuous grip on the Arab territories and feared breakaway attempts.

World War I created a far more interesting situation. In 1916, the Sharif of Mecca orchestrated a mass uprising against the Turks, seeking to once and for all free the Arab majority regions from Ottoman rule. Mainly, the Sharif wanted to reestablish Arab control over the Holy Places. The British Empire, seeking to defeat the Turks and increase its control over the Middle East when the Turks were defeated, sent an agent to foment unrest in the Arab Middle East and assist the Revolt. That man was T.E. Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame). Lawrence ended up allying himself and aiding a theretofore unknown Emir from Hejaz, a Hashemite named Abdullah. He and his brother Faisal, who became King of Iraq, coordinated with the British to drive the Turkish forces away. In exchange for their support, the British promised the Hashemites dominion over British controlled lands after the war. These promises were only partially fulfilled, but Faisal was given control of Iraq and Abdullah was given control of the eastern part of the British Mandate of Palestine: Transjordan.

By 1917, though, the Second Aliyah had already taken place. According to many sources, as many as 40,000 more Jews moved to Palestine, bringing the total Jewish population to approximately 100,000. The Kibbutz movement was started by these immigrants, many of whom were driven out of Russia after the 1905 Revolution and the ensuing pogroms, most famously the Kishinev Pogrom.

All of this history has led me to ask two very important and fundamental questions, the first one being: why would the Islamic Turkish state allow Jews to immigrate to Palestine, especially after the First Zionist Congress of 1897, when the Ottoman government (and later the Young Turk government) would realize that Jews moving to Palestine did so with the intent of founding a Jewish homeland?

The Turks were not pro-Zionist, the Young Turk government that controlled the Ottoman Empire from 1908-1917 was known to be anti-Zionist. There is no way that the government was simply unaware of what was going on, because Sultan Abdulhamid II, a paranoid and suspicious ruler, had established a network of thousands of spies across the Empire and could not be caught unawares as to the purpose or goals of this movement, especially during the Second Aliyah, which had many influential Zionist leaders among its members. Of course, the Ottomans had an ambivalent historical relationship with Jews in their midst, sometimes tolerating and sometimes mistreating the Jews, but it makes little sense as to why the Turkish government would allow an influx of Jews with nationalist ambitions into Palestine when so many of their other territories were attempting to break away. After all, while Palestine was not of great importance, it was an old territory, conquered in 1517 by Selim I and was not one of the later conquered European territories.

Of course, while the Turks had disdain for the Jews, they also had a questionable relationship with the Arabs. Many Arab leaders in Hejaz, Egypt and other territories were not too keen on Turks maintaining the Caliphate. It seems unlikely that the Ottoman and Young Turk authorities would be so thrilled to respond to Arab complaints about encroaching Jewish settlers who were, for example, driving up real estate prices in Jaffa by buying up substantial land with support from the Rothschilds and other donors. It is certainly hard to tell what reasons the Young Turks or Sultan Abdulhamid had in essentially ignoring the wave of Aliyah into Palestine, especially when those Aliyot were so key to the accomplishment of the Zionist dream.

I do think it is, ironic, that while the British take primary blame from the Muslim world for enabling the infiltration of Jewish settlers into Palestine (despite the British eventually taking a fairly pro-Arab stance by the end of the 1930s), it was an Islamic Turkish government that allowed the ball to start rolling and give Jews hope about returning the Palestine. It was in those years that Hebrew was reborn, that Jewish political parties started to develop and that Jewish defense groups began to form. Perhaps it was the eternally testy relationship between the Arabs and the Turks that kept the Turkish government from taking serious measures against the Aliyot. Whatever it was, the influx of Jews into Palestine before 1917 cannot be blamed on Western Imperialists seeking to undermine Islamic rule.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Uniqueness of Palestinian Nationalism

There are several aspects of the history of the Palestinian people that are unique. Their refugee crisis is the longest running refugee displacement in modern history, largely because of the unwillingness of other nations to truly absorb their Palestinian populations because they do not want the urgency of a Palestinian state to lessen, because the Palestinians represent a powerful weapon against Israel. Another interesting aspect of Palestinian nationalism that is unique is that it is the only current nationalist movement whose primary goal is to destroy another nation and prevent another people from having any self determination.

Before going further, I must admit that do not believe that the goal of Palestinian nationalism is a state in the West Bank and Gaza. All historical indications point to the Palestinian goal of national liberation "from the river to the sea." Hamas makes this pronouncement quite clear, and the history of Fatah/PLO is full of their internal pronouncements of dissatisfaction with a Palestinian state in anything but all the land west of the Jordan river. Indeed, the PLO's spiritual leader, Yasser Arafat, was a protege of Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who starting in the 1920s spearheaded anti-Jewish attacks in Mandatory Palestine and began the path of "no negotiations, no peace." I do not believe that Fatah has moved away from this position despite their lip service pronouncements otherwise. Their unwillingness to waiver on the right of return issue is strong evidence of Fatah's intentions for the Jewish state of Israel.

So let us look at the elements of Palestinian nationalism. The achievement of Palestinian nationalistic aims requires the destruction of another state. This situation can be viewed in comparison to most other nationalist movements of the last 50 years. While many national liberation movements involved liberation from European colonialism, there are a few examples of national liberation struggles that provide better analogies to the Palestinian struggle. The best example, in my opinion, is the 30 year nationalist conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka's national liberation struggle was driven by its Sinhalese population, and the subsequent independent state empowered the Sinhalese at the expense of the Tamil minority. The Tamil insurgency, even at its most violent and anti-Sinhalese, never professed its intention to destroy Sinhalese nationalism completely, the vision for Tamil Eelam foresaw a contiguous Tamil state coming into existence in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The idea of the Tamil insurgency was not the same kind of "Phased Plan" that the PLO adopted in 1974 because all indications were that the LTTE was satisfied to control Tamil majority-territory and leave the Sinhalese their state. Indeed, the entire point of the Tamil insurgency was to separate themselves from Sinhalese Sri Lanka, not to create a Tamil state in addition to imposing a Tamil "right of return" for those displaced during the civil war.

Other nationalist movements are generally similar to Sri Lanka. The 30 year insurgency in Timor-Leste (East Timor) was characterized by the East Timorese desire to take control of Christian majority parts of the island of Timor and leave Muslim majority Western Timor as part of Indonesia. Perhaps the most interesting is the story of Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean that is quite close to Israel. Long divided into Turkish and Greek populations. When Cyprus sought to free itself from Britain, the Greek Cypriot community sought to unify the island with mainland Greece, much to the consternation of Cyprus' Turkish population. Even the invasion and reinvasion of Cyprus by Greek then Turkish forces sought to partition the island into two instead of creating a binational Turkish or Greek state (the latter being the goal of the 1974 Greek coup that attempted to unify Cyprus and then unify the island with Greece). While the Republic of Cyprus claims sovereignty over the whole island, the partition has become de facto accepted and the right of return issue has been shelved in a way that has promoted the national aspirations of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Right of return is out of the question despite large scale displacements of both groups.

Palestinian nationalism is different because its realization would require Jews to either leave Israel or be subject to second class status in a Palestinian state as dhimmi. There is no place for Jewish self determination in the Palestinian state, and there never has been. The best analogy would be for indigenous peoples of the United States, Canada or Australia demanding not only their own state within those countries, but the destruction of those countries as part of the realization of indigenous native ambitions. As much as the founding of the U.S., Canada, Australia and most countries in the Americas involved terrible tragedies for natives living in those places and the loss of their national sovereignty, no one in modern society calls for the upheaval and return of nations to their "original" owners (whoever they may be). Indeed, the history of the world is so rife with ongoing changes of land and sovereignty, that it would be a fool's errand to try to piece it all together again. Indeed, the only realistic way to move forward is to accept what has come to be and move on from that with some semblance of compromise.

We live in a world where Europeans moved to the American and the Australian continents and a world where Jews returned to their ancient homeland after a 2000 year Diaspora. The existence of these facts necessarily tempers the nationalist aspirations of those already living there, or risk all out war as happened in Cyprus. Indeed, if modern history has taught us anything it is that sometimes separation is the best medicine to resolve internecine conflicts between ethnic or religious groups who cannot live together. The recent independence of Southern Sudan from its Muslim oppressors can be seen as the South Sudanese Christians and Animists realizing the dream of not being ruled over by Muslims who sought for years to slaughter them and destroy their way of life. The South Sudanese did not want to, in turn, expel or rule over the Muslims of the North, they simply wanted to make their own path and control their national destiny. The history of the Palestinian liberation movement is marked by the unwillingness of the Palestinians, or indeed any Arabs, to accommodate the nationalist aspirations of the Jews in the Jews' ancestral lands. Even before 1948, Arab nationalists tried hard to dispel any alleged connection between the Jews and Israel, claiming variously that modern Jews are "frauds" who killed off the real Jews and took their place or that archeological and historical evidence linking Jews to key places in Jerusalem, Hebron and Jericho were simply fabricated. From the beginning, accommodating the Jewish homeland was simply out of the question, and in many ways, it still is today.

Palestinians view the creation of Israel as a nakba (catastrophe) and have spent so much time and energy plotting how to destroy the Jewish state that they have spent little time considering how to build their own. Arab nations have spent so much energy keeping Palestinians in refugee camps as a demographic weapon to be unleashed against Israel and its Jewish majority that they have stifled the advancement of Palestinian society in any form. The stubborn unwillingness of Palestinian leadership to give up demands for their side that would require the end of Jewish self determination in Israel. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has on several occasions offered solutions for the Palestinians to have self-determination in certain territories, offers that have been continuously rejected because they do not allow the Palestinian leadership to fulfill their true goal: the destruction of Israel and Jewish self determination. So long as that is the goal, it is difficult to imagine how Israel can consider ceding land to Palestinians when all prior land grants have led to those territories being used as bases of operation to attack Israel and Jewish civilians.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Annexation vs. Re-Partition

Come September, if Fatah successfully petitions the UN for statehood over Hamas opposition to going to the UN, Israel will be faced with a real choice assuming that Fatah actually is foolish enough to try to push the IDF out of the West Bank and risk being killed off by Hamas. Israel cannot afford the same unilateral withdrawals that it executed in Gaza or Southern Lebanon because of the West Bank's proximity to Israeli population centers and Hamas unrepentant desire to kill and expel Jews from Israel. So what are the options for Israel?

One consideration is to annex the West Bank and take control of the territory. The main objection and concern about this is that it will increase the Arab population under Israeli control and will make Israel 33% Arab. This, however, is a major problem primarily if Arabs in the West Bank would receive the same political rights that Arabs in Israel proper have. There is no reason for this to be the case. In fact, Israel can follow America's own example with the annexed territory of Puerto Rico, where residents receive local political rights but do not have the right to vote in U.S. federal elections or to have federal legislative representation despite paying U.S. income taxes (Washington D.C. has similar features). Indeed, Puerto Rico represents an example of an annexation that has not been met with widespread international criticism, and Puerto Ricans have some level of autonomy over internal affairs. Indeed, while certain annexations, such as Indonesia's annexation of East Timor and Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara have met with widespread condemnation, Israel's political and security needs would be strong justification for such an annexation despite any international criticism. Indeed, this would not be the first time that the West Bank was annexed, since Jordan undertook an annexation of the West Bank from 1948 to 1967 and severely restricted the political rights of the Arabs therein to prevent drastic changes to the Hashemite Kingdom's demography.

Of course, annexation need not create a static or stable demographic situation, just as it did not during Jordan's occupation, as Palestinian Arabs moved in and out of the West Bank during that time. Indeed, much like the Arabs "encouraged" Jews to leave the Arab states in the wake of Israel's independence in 1948, Arabs from Palestine could be "encouraged" to move back to their real homeland: Jordan.

Because that's what this is really about. Indeed, the greatest deception the Arabs ever perpetrated on the world was convincing it that Palestinian nationalism is separate from Jordanian nationalism. Who perpetrated this myth? Why the British and the Arab leaders in Mandatory Palestine, of course. The Mandate covered modern day Israel and Jordan, and the original vision outlined after the 1917 Balfour Declaration saw the mandate being split, the land east of the Jordan River (Jordan) going to be the Arab homeland and the land west of the Jordan (Israel) going to the Jews. So how did "Palestine" evolve as a distinct third entity? The problem was that the British promised the Hashemites control of the eastern part of the Partition territory because of their pro-British leadership during the anti-Ottoman Arab Revolt of 1916. When Abdullah, one of the Hashemites from now Saudi Arabia, sought to carry his anti-Turkish fight against the French (British allies), the British convinced him to stop by promising him his own kingdom south of Damascus (France's sphere of influence), a kingdom which was within British conquered territory that would later become the Mandate in 1920: Transjordan.

Of course, newly created Transjordan did not become the homeland of all the Arabs in Palestine, and for good reason. Countervailing political forces west of the Jordan River, primarily one Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, had no desire to see the foreign Hashemites from Hejaz rule over the local Arabs. This was despite the fact that Abdullah himself sought to control the Arab territory west of the Jordan (a fact proven by his invasion and Jordan's 19 year occupation of the West Bank). In essence, local political figures, primarily the virulently anti-Semitic al-Husseini, refused to accept that Transjordan was the Arab state for Mandatory Palestine and fought back against the presence of Jews in Mandatory Palestine. What followed were the 1936 Arab riots, which saw hundreds of Jews killed and the first talk of partition within the already divided Mandate west of the Jordan river. Indeed, it was the Arabs' violent response to Jewish immigration that led to the Peel Commission, an initial proposal to give Jews approximately 20% of the territory west of the Jordan river, complete with a plan for a population exchange of Jews and Arabs. Of course, Husseini was not satisfied and demanded that all Jewish immigration to Palestine cease and rejected the Peel Commission proposal. The Jews were reluctant, but indicates at the Zionist Conference were that they would have accepted the proposal. The British did not push the issue because by then they had thrown their lot in with the Arabs as part of their strategy of appeasement and were giving concessions to the most radical Arab leaders in order to calm the hostile Arab population and al-Husseini, who had staged anti-Jewish uprisings in 1923, 1928 and 1936. This policy of appeasement became a central feature of British foreign policy, with the more famous example being Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler at the Munich conference, where the British feed Czechoslovakia to the Nazis. 

For the next 10 years, desperate Jews tried to flee Europe for Palestine, especially after only the Dominican Republic expressed willingness to take Jewish Refugees at the Evian Conference. After his role in the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt, the British realized that there was no appeasing al-Husseini and he fled to Lebanon and then Iraq. Despite Husseini's departure, the British continued their policy of appeasement and al-Husseini's impact on British policy was undeniable. After the revolt was put down in 1939, Jews within Palestine tried to fortify their positions, knowing full well that the British would leave eventually and that the Peel Commission, despite its failure, had made the idea of a subsequent Partition inevitable and made Arab rejection of such a partition equally inevitable. By then, the British were convinced that the Arabs west of the Jordan had to have their own state. And in 1947, it was so. The Arabs rejected the UN Partition and invaded Israel. And the rest...is history.

But what does all of this teach us? What it tells us is that to the extent that any singular national identity can be gleaned, there is certainly commonality between the Arabs west of the Jordan and those east of the Jordan. While the Hashemites were a foreign tribe chosen to rule because of political alliances (much in the way that the Alawis were chosen for Syria and Morocco because of their political connections and support for the French), the choice in the government leadership does not mean that the territory of Jordan is indeed not the homeland of the Arabs of the former British Mandate. Indeed, Jordan is by all accounts majority "Palestinian." The Queen of Jordan is Palestinian.

In fact, the only other example that is similar to the way the Partition happened in the Mandate of Palestine is the Partition of the Mandate of India and the Partition of Bengal. In 1947, India took over the Hindu majority areas, including the western parts of Bengal, while Pakistan became divided into two territories: West Pakistan (now just Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). East Pakistan spent 30 years dissatisfied with the political governance it was receiving from dominant West Pakistan, and in 1971 staged a move for independence, at which point it became Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country governing the Eastern section of Bengal. Now, the equivalent of this in the British Mandate of Palestine would have been to partition Transjordan into a Hashemite run state and a Palestinian run state. The territory that became Bangladesh was not removed from the Hindu State of India, because that did not address the leadership grievances that Bengalis had with the West Pakistani government. So it should be with Palestinian dissatisfaction with Hashemite rule.

Which brings me to the true and final realization. The 1967 borders are ridiculous basis for partition because they were unstable and led to three wars in 19 years. However, there has been a real willingness to reach back into time for demographic and border arrangements that could provide some sort of solution to the problem. And in many ways, the best solution was the first solution: Jews to the left of the Jordan River, Arabs to the right. We have become conditioned to believe that the 1967 or the 1947 borders are the solution and that Partition requires the creation of a second Palestinian state to satisfy the nationalist goals of the Palestinians when the state already exists and has for 65 years right across the river. That the Palestinian Arabs are dissatisfied with the current Jordanian government does not lessen this fact, much in the way that Syria is still a homeland for the Arabs living in the French Mandate despite the fact that minority Alawites govern Syria.

Some will say that imposing this simple Partition will be too difficult, to which I say bullshit. India and Pakistan performed a population exchange of millions of people after the British Mandate of India was partitioned, and more relevantly, the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders would cause a mass exodus of Palestinian Arabs from Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as those governments emptied their refugee camps. We need to break down the idea that the unstable and nonsensical 1967 borders, which were never the borders (and were never proposed to be) of the Arab State west of the Jordan and realize that demography and history both point to Arab resettlement to the nation of Jordan is the best way to fulfill the nationalist aspirations of the Palestinian Arabs and provide greater security to the Jews west of the Jordan river.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Response to a Comment

I understand the purpose of the boycott bill - but I think it would have been more strategic to make the bill include all boycotts of Israelis and Israeli products. Netanyahu's statement on being "against all boycotts" was a much smarter political statement than than the political language used in this bill. If the bill had included calls to boycott Israeli Arabs (ie calls for excluding them from housing), calls to boycott military service in the territories, calls to boycott settlement evacuation, etc. Each of these 'delegitimize' Israel because they chip away at the rule of law and circumvent democratic decision making.
Clearly the point of the law was to make a political statement. However, I think the law was somewhat misguided. Even most of Israel's liberal NGOs are against the BDS movement and have called out the movement's leadership on the true goal of the movement: one bi-national, secular state. In passing this bill, Israel gave the BDS movement 'more proof' of Israel's 'unfair, undemocratic' process AND great publicity. What made Zionism so successful was that the movement (and later government) always realized that the PR/narrative of Zionism was JUST AS important as the substance/institution building. In some ways, I think that realization has been lost in the past decade.
I also question the wisdom of conflating the settlements and 'Israel proper.' They are not the same - they don't operate under the same legal code and they have not been officially annexed by Israel. A significant number of the settlements are illegal even under Israeli law - I think it is reasonable for people to have the right to protest and refuse to support actions which are illegal in their own country. Conflating criticism of actions which are illegal (even in Israel!) with criticism of Israel's entire existence seems odd...
Personally, I disagree with this law - and the Nakba bill, loyalty oath bill, NGO transparency bill, Supreme Court Appointment bill - because it's based on a principle of populism rather than liberal, democratic values. Israel NEEDS a constitution. And, I honestly think that discussion will be even harder than the decades of discussing the peace process.



It is not surprising that you oppose these laws. It is very easy to say that Israel should do this and shouldn't do that in terms of restricting the rights of Arabs or its opponents. Israelis and the Israeli government are reactionary and aggressive in these situations for a very good reason: they have been under attack since Day 1. When I say under attack, I don't mean by the Arab neighbors who fought wars against it, I mean the Europeans and Americans who have bought into the false Arab narrative of Israel as a colonial holdover and land grabber and Jews as having little to no connection to the land and no basis for being there. The ease with which narratives like "the Nakba" are accepted in European and American academic circles and the intellectual laziness with which people accept the "Arabs as victims" story has shown Israelis and Jewish supporters of Israel that Israel cannot get a fair shake in the court of global opinion. To this day, the only nationalist movement that has been condemned as "racist" is Jewish nationalism.

Economic boycotts of Israel are just the latest in a series of campaigns against Israel. It started with conventional war, and when that failed, the Arabs used Palestinian nationalism as their primary weapon against Israel. However, the Palestinians proved corrupt, disagreeable and unfocused (often focusing their attacks on other countries) and their nationalist movement has pretty much been a failure because their goal and the goal of their supporters was never to form a state, but to destroy Israel. Economic assaults have been another weapon in the arsenal, used with great power during the 1973 Oil Embargo.

Another great example is the language of settlements. You say that it is improper to conflate settlements and "Israel proper" because they are not governed by the same laws. This is of course true, but the same can also be said of Puerto Rico and Washington DC, whose citizens do not have voting rights and no Senate or House representation. There are plenty of other examples of territories with ambiguously defined legal status, such as Western Sahara, Kashmir, Tibet, and the Spratly Islands to name a few. But even if I grant your point, I think you are wrong about the fact that criticism of settlements is not the same as criticism of Israel.

Ask yourself this, why do "settlements" exist as they do? Well, before Jews lived in cities in the West Bank in cities like Hebron and Nablus for thousands of years. When Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank in 1988, it ceded the land away with taking any specific actions to ensure that it actually went to the Palestinians. While it would obviously have been preferable for Jews to simply live in cities with Arabs and live among them, this was clearly not possible given the large scale anti-Jewish violence that had historically taken place. So unless your contention is that it is illegal for Jews to live in the West Bank, it is difficult for me to see how else they can live in those territories. They must live in fortified cities because otherwise they will be killed. The fact that Arabs in Israel don't need to live in fortified cities is a testament to the relative tolerance that Israeli Jews have for the Arab population. Or would you consider Arab cities in Israel to be "settlements" too?

Demanding that Israel remove all settlements and withdraw Jews from the West Bank is an extension of the Nazi policy of Judenrein, the creation of areas in which Jews do not and cannot live. Gaza is now Judenrein, as are most of the Arab states surrounding Israel. It's easy to say "settlements are bad" without thinking what underlies that comment, which is an assertion that it should be improper for Jews to live in any presumptive Palestinian state or, better yet, that the international community has the right to tell Jews where they can and cannot live.

I would accept the removal of all Jews from the West Bank on one and only one condition: the immediate expulsion of all Arabs from Israel. Arabs have made it de facto illegal for Jews to live in their countries, or at least any Jews living there must be second class citizens (or dhimmi). How is that not a greater injustice than the presence of Jewish cities in the West Bank?

I'm also not sure what you mean by Zionism's success relying on its message over its institution building. Successful with whom? Zionism has pretty much failed as a compelling narrative in most of the world and much of the world has no vested interest in Israel's survival and many see its existence as a pain in the neck or a problem to be solved. Many more see it as a colonial holdover and a state whose very birth was a mistake (like the founder of J Street, who said that Israel's founding is act that was wrong). If your point is about Zionism's success among Jews and Israeli's I think you are only partly right. The idea itself was great, but it was the purchases of territory in the Holy Land that made it possible. The idea was great, but it was defeating the Arabs multiple times and getting their hands dirty and taking actions that the UN or other international organizations didn't like (the Osirak bombing, for example). At this point, I don't care and I don't expect anyone else to understand Zionism or support it. They said it was a racist ideology, and there is really no turning back from that despite the much belated renunciation of that UN resolution. If Jews have to step on a few toes to get their nationalist goals to happen, so be it. America stepped on the toes of a lot of Native Americans and Mexicans to realize their nationalist dream, and nobody is calling for us to go back now and renounce what we did.

However, I find your last point far more interesting: the idea that Israel needs a Constitution because its laws improper under some vague "liberal democratic" standard. I'm not going to focus on the fact that America's Constitution based government is far, far from perfect and has led to all sorts of funny business with Justices making up rights and calling them "Constitutional rights" (for better or worse) and the entire amendment process. Many liberal people are often frustrated with America's Constitution because of entrenchment concerns and the inability for it to stay current. The fact is, one system isn't better than another, they are just different. To say that Israel needs a Constitution is an easy thing to say just because you disagree with a particular policy or because you don't like that Israel is trying to protect itself economically, but I very much doubt it would make a big difference. A Constitution did not prevent the United States from passing the Export Administration Act of 1979, which has been used to prevent U.S. companies from carrying out or supporting Arab boycotts of Israel.

I agree that this law was not a good idea because it creates bad publicity for Israel, not because I am concerned about the rights of those who live in Israel and want to cause economic damage to the country. It's difficult for someone in America to understand Israel's historical background and the fact that it is a country that has to fight for its existence and legitimacy on a daily basis.

Israel has long allowed for substantial freedom of speech within its society, certainly beyond the bounds allowed in its neighbors and indeed more than in many European nations (think about Britain's very strict libel laws or Germany's ban on denying the Holocaust). But there is a greater issue here and that is the clash of history. The Nakba Bill, for example, is an attempt to strike at a serious problem that continues to create clashes: the teaching of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic material in Arab schools. Just as Germany has the right to ban people from denying the Holocaust, Israel has the right to prevent people from claiming its very existence is a catastrophe because of its unique history and circumstances. And quite honestly, they don't need to justify to anyone else in the same way that Islamic countries don't feel the need to justify their sexist and discriminatory laws to anyone else. Israel does not have to live up to any other country's standards just as it has no right to demand other countries conform their laws to its own. Quite frankly, people can vote with their feet. Those who are dissatisfied with Israel and its policies are welcome to leave. It's not Gaza, where trying to leave can get you killed by Hamas.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Boycott Bill: Some Thoughts

The Knesset passed a bill establishing a private cause of action for Israeli citizens harmed by their fellow Israelis' incitement of boycotts against Israel or any Israeli companies. The rationale for the bill was that there were substantial numbers of left-wing organizations like Peace Now that were calling for boycotts of Israel in order to advance the Palestinian cause and that such boycotts cause tangible economic harm to Israeli companies and private citizens. The idea behind this bill seems somewhat odd because it attempts to make the boycott, a political activity that has been a core of American rights advancement, much more costly for individuals promoting it. For Americans who lived through the Civil Rights era and its attendant bus boycotts, this idea seems anathema to core ideas of freedom of speech and political action.

This law is probably a flawed way to address calls to boycott Israel primarily because the majority of the calls for boycotts come from Europe, not Israel. Indeed, this law seems like it will have only a minor impact on the overall calls for boycott but will hurt Israel's international standing by making it look like it is restricting free political action and speech instead of addressing the cause for the calls to boycott. Realistically, I think the point of this law, like the law passed earlier this year that sought greater scrutiny and audits on certain left wing NGOs operating in Israel, is to deal with what the Israeli government perceives as a growing Fifth Column in the state.

Israel has long dealt with a Fifth Column because many Arabs in Israel and many notable Arab members of the Knesset have been very outspoken in their opposition to Israel's very existence. Israel is unique in having members of its highest legislative body who openly collaborate with its enemies and support the state's destruction. Israel has always had to deal with the fact that its Arab minority has been ambivalent at best and openly hostile at worse. Indeed, Israel has received largely the same treatment (albeit with less violence) from its Haredi population. Now, however, Israel is facing an increase in hostility from its "secular" Jewish population. Conscription dodging is at an all time high and many soldiers in the IDF have been thrown in jail or faced other penalties for their unwillingness to act in "occupied territories" or protect "settlements."

The question is: what geopolitical changes have occurred in Israel that have mobilized this kind of movement and now caused the Knesset to take a very harsh reaction? Realistically, the situation vis-a-vis the Palestinians has changed surprisingly little since the PLO returned from exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia and gained international credibility in 1993 at Oslo. In fact, the level of external hostility toward Israel has substantially increased, with conflicts against Hizbullah and Hamas caused by those groups firing rockets into Israel. Iran is on the road toward a nuclear bomb and its President pledges to wipe Israel off the Earth. The Palestinians have, since Oslo, rejected every peace overture, including incredibly generous overtures from the Leftist Barak government in 2000 that would have given Palestine about 97% of the territory in the 1967 borders.

In my estimation, the rise in anti-Israel activity within the secular Israeli community can be best compared to the state of mind in Israel after the Six Day War. As to the Arabs (I am specifically excluding Iran), there is a sense that Israel's military and economic power is sufficiently strong that it does not face an existential threat from its Arab neighbors nor from the Palestinians. A natural extension of this thinking is that Israel can afford to be generous to the Palestinians and give them better treatment and more assistance. Because there are some Jews and Israelis who don't see the Arabs as a threat to Jewish sovereignty in Israel, they have bought into the narrative that focuses blame on Israel's policies as being the central cause of Palestinian suffering that Israel alone has the capacity to act to create peace in the Middle East.

In many ways, after 60 years, it is understandable that many Israelis are fed up with being viewed as coming from an oppressive and cruel state that supposedly steals land and displaces people. Israeli society and the Jewish community in general is getting far enough away from 1948 and the uncertainty that Israel faced in its formative years that they feel comfortable advocating against their own country for the rights of a people who wish to destroy Jewish sovereignty. It is mindboggling how quickly a generation so recently removed from the Intifada and from rockets being launched from Lebanon and Gaza can willfully turn its back on its homeland. This sort of behavior has long been the calling card of many Haredim, who oppose Israel's very existence and say so in no uncertain terms. Nevermind that they would be treated as second class citizens in most any other nation and would be once again subject to the whims of non-Jewish rulers.

More than anything, there are now Israelis who trust that "the international community" is interested in promoting Israel's interests and that any internationally proposed peace initiatives will promote Israel's security or create long term peace. The same international community that condemned Zionism as racist, condemned Israel's hostage rescue in Entebbe and attack on Osirak and criticized Israel for responding to rocket attacks on its civilians.

What is really telling about these boycotters, and indeed from organizations like J Street, is their fear of the UN vote or some individual action will so drive Israel into "pariah" status that it will become thoroughly isolated. Quite frankly, this premise is a laughable scare tactic employed by left wing Jewish groups to strong arm Israel into suicidal concessions. When Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, the U.S. cancelled F-16 sales to Israel (because Israel's use of U.S. bought F-16s for offensive actions violated the terms of its purchase) and the UN and many other nations roundly criticized Israel for its behavior. Shimon Peres, the Labor candidate opposing incumbent Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin, publicly chastised Israel and believed it would become a pariah for its actions. Neither the Osirak attack nor Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon turned it into a pariah.

Decades of failed peace talks, two Intifadas, a Palestinian declaration of independence and a variety of other anti-Israel proclamations have failed to turn Israel into a global pariah. Why? Two reasons. One is the resourcefulness of the Jewish community and the intense and effective global lobbying efforts of Israel's supporters. The second reason is much simpler: practicality. Israel is the world's fourth leading defense exporter, has the second most IPOs of any country in the world and has the most start ups per capita. It has a highly educated and intelligent population and many global software companies now a have substantial presence there. And while many nations aren't the most vocal supporters of Israel, they put their money down to buy Israeli goods for purely practical, not ideological, reasons. And as long as Israel has the ingenuity and pioneering spirit that made it a great country to begin with, most countries will not turn their backs. After all, only about 30 countries even have formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan), but Taiwan has made its place through its economic power and ingenuity. No matter how much political pressure the People's Republic of China puts on other countries, practicality and economics always win out over ideology.

The real lesson I take from the Boycott Bill is that Israel's government feels like it needs to fight back against a growing Fifth Column in Israel. I understand the need and I think that many people have become too secure in Israel's strength against the Arabs to allow themselves to believe that just giving up a little more land will resolve this intractable conflict. Instead of looking at what the Arabs have not done, they look at what else Israel can give up to try to get some sort of peace. I have always believed that Israel's greatest weakness and the way they have fallen behind the Arabs is in their lack of control over the narrative of the conflict. Rather than cracking down on boycotts, Israel's government needs to reassert control of its narrative, not just to try to get the international community on its side, but to refocus its own populace on the importance and justice of Israel's policies and actions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Israelis, Arabs and Water

As much as anything else, water has defined the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Mandatory Palestine was originally divided between a Jewish homeland (Israel) and an Arab homeland (Jordan) by the Jordan river. Israel's conflict with Egypt in 1956 was prompted by Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal and the casus belli for the Six Day War was Nasser's blockade of the Straits of Tiran. The climatic moment of the Yom Kippur War was Israel's daring crossing of the Suez Canal that encircled Egypt's Third Army. Israel's 1978 campaign against the PLO in Lebanon was based on securing a buffer zone up to the Litani River. A central issue in Israel's 1994 peace agreement with Jordan was water rights to the Jordan river.

After five years of relative quiet on the Lebanese border are now in jeopardy after Israel discovered substantial natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, Lebanon has laid claim to all of the natural gas find, claiming that the gas field come within its maritime borders. A diplomatic solution to this problem is almost inconceivable because Lebanon's government, now majority controlled by Hizbullah, will not negotiate with Israel and Lebanon itself has never recognized Israel. Moreover, Lebanon's new assertion of its maritime boundaries vis-a-vis Israel is in conflict with Lebanon's agreed upon maritime border with Cyprus as well as Israel's own negotiated maritime border with Cyprus. Lebanon was content with its delineated maritime border with Cyprus since 2007, but has now presented the UN with a map that indicating that Lebanon's zone of maritime control is substantially further south than what it had claimed in 2007.


Because the stakes are high, potentially $45 billion worth of natural gas. The UN has decided to get involved even after it first stated it would not get involved because resolution UN Resolution 1701, which called for Israel's withdrawal from Lebanese territory south of the Litani River, did not address the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. The UN promptly changed its mind after Lebanon submitted a formal complaint alleging that Israel was exploiting Lebanese maritime resources.

Unlike Lebanon and Cyprus or Israel and Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon cannot negotiate a solution to this situation because they are technically in a state of war and have no diplomatic relations. While this has been the case since Israel's independence in 1948, the fact that Lebanon's government is now run by Hizbullah means there is no chance of a diplomatic solution. The question is, how far will Hizbullah be willing to go to push its claim to those underwater gas fields?

Considering the potenial payoff, Hizbullah's overall lack of bluster is a bit surprising. Considering that Hizbullah considers the UN to be an arm of Western backed powers, as evidenced by its rejection of and threats regarding any indictments in the Rafik Hariri assassination probe, it is ironic that the Hizbullah backed government now turns to the UN to vindicate its rights against Israel. Of course, if the UN agency supports Israel's position as to the maritime borders, we can expect Lebanon to protest that the UN is pandering to Israel (despite staggering historical evidence to the contrary) and that Hizbullah may choose that moment to re-escalate hostilities against Israel, using the gas fields as a casus belli. Indeed, this behavior would be entirely consistent with Arab responses to most UN resolutions: refuse to enforce one's own obligations but demand rigid enforcement of Israel's obligations. Lebanon was vehement in demanding that Israel withdraw from Lebanon in 2000 and cease its operations in 2006, but has done absolutely nothing to disarm Hizbullah. In the years since Israel's initial forays into Lebanon in 1978, Lebanon has absolutely failed to uphold any of its obligations under any of the relevant UN resolutions passed. And there is no reason to believe that the situation will change now.

Of course, Hizbullah does not operate in a vacuum. There are increasing concerns that its supply line to Iran, Syria, is about to be severed if Bashar Assad and his Ba'ath Party are thrown out of power. Even if Assad's regime survives, Hizbullah has been surprisingly non-combative since demonstrations in Syria have begun. Hizbullah rise to power has been tied substantially to Syria's desire to promote Shia supremacy in Lebanon at the expense of Lebanon's other groups. If Syria's Alawi dynasty falls, there is a real concern within Hizbullah that a major financial benefactor and overland link to Iran will disappear. At this point, Hizbullah may be sufficiently entrenched that the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Army may not be able to toss of Hizbullah's yoke. However, without direct access to Iranian arms and Syrian support, it is difficult to believe that Hizbullah could survive another direct confrontation with the IDF or resupply itself with arms the way it did after the 2006 war.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, water issues are once again raising the chances of conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Whatever the UN decides on the maritime border, it is difficult to believe that either Israel or Lebanon will cede its right to the huge gas fields based on an opinion from an international body both view with suspicion and disdain. And while Israel was willing to part with the Sinai Peninsula and its substantial natural resources in exchange for peace with Egypt, there is no reason to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu's government would even consider ceding its claims to the underwater gas fields to a Hizbullah run Lebanese government. Since no diplomatic solution is possible and it is almost inconceivable that the UN will resolve this conflict, there is a very real chance that a dispute over water will once again bring Israel into military conflict with one (or more) of its neighbors.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mahmoud Abbas' Dilemma

In one of the least surprising developments in the Middle East, the Hamas/Fatah unity government that was going to represent all the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza and give Israel a legitimate counterpart with which to make peace has fallen apart. Actually, the government has not fallen apart because it was never formed to begin with. Mahmoud Abbas claims he is merely delaying the formation of the government to appease the West before the UN vote on Palestinian independence in September. In reality, attempts to form a unity government have failed over issues as fundamental as who will be the prime minister, as Hamas is fundamentally opposed to the appointment of supposed moderate Salaam Fayyad, at least in part because Hamas views Fayyad as being far to interested in U.S. and Israeli interests. Indeed, this would not be the first such collapse and will certainly not be the last. There have been no fewer than five rounds of Palestinian unity talks since Hamas won the Palestinian General Election in 2005.

Now with no chance of a unity government, we must look ahead to what will happen if Palestine is "accepted" at the UN. Of course, on its own, such acceptance/recognition means absolutely nothing in the abstract since the PLO already declared independence in 1988 and is recognized in some form by about 100 nations. The real question will be what will happen on the ground, and more specifically, what will happen with the West Bank. The situation in Gaza is not likely to change because there is no Jewish presence there, the only meaningful change would likely be an absolute halt to any and all aid to Gaza, to be presumably substituted by the same generous Arabs who have donated only $331 million of a promised $970 million to the Palestinians. One can only assume that Egypt will pick up the slack, even though they slammed the Rafah border shut within a week of making sweeping promises to open it and help the Palestinians.

But the West Bank is where the real action will be. Israel maintains a substantial military presence in the West Bank, which is one of the main reason that it has been fairly quiet. But equally importantly, the IDF's continued presence in the West Bank is the only think keeping Mahmoud Abbas, Salaam Fayyad and their Fatah party from being overrun by Hamas and suffering the same fate they did in Gaza in 2006. Mahmoud Abbas and his men know exactly what kind of risk they are running with Hamas, which is why Fatah policemen are locking up Hamas members in the West Bank even while Fatah and Hamas are holding reconciliation talks in Cairo. This has been standard policy since 2006 because Fatah fears that Hamas will violently takeover the West Bank like they did Gaza, making Fatah politically irrelevant to the Palestinians. No doubt Mahmoud Abbas remembers how Hamas members threw Fatah members off of Gaza's rooftops during the 2006 takeover.

So the real question is this: if we take Hamas and Fatah's comments at face value and believe that there will not be any kind of unity deal before September or if we read between the lines and realize the unity is impossible because of the bad blood between the two sides, will Fatah try to evict the IDF from the West Bank or pressure Israel to remove its forces? Abbas has essentially worked himself into a corner because if he does not demand the IDF's departure, he will look weak on the Palestinian street and bolster Hamas' credibility. If he does demand the IDF's departure and for some reason this becomes reality, he is very much putting his head on the chopping block and putting his entire organization at risk. Abbas already suffers from significant image problems in the Arab world, as many hardliners perceive him as being far too moderate in his willingness to even sit down and talk with the Israelis to be a viable leader of Palestine.

Faced with this conundrum, there is a real question as to why Abbas and the PA are pushing for the UN statehood vote now. Beyond the internecine struggles between Hamas and Fatah, there are serious questions about the future Palestinian state's ability to absorb Palestinians from neighboring countries, create and functionally operate a government and be economically viable. Considering the lack of support the West Bank and Gaza receive (and by support, I mean actual financial aid and other assistance, not weaponry) from other Muslim countries, there is reason to believe that the September UN vote will be no more important than the 1988 Declaration of Independence, which symbolically created a Palestinian state in the same way that the Polisario Front has a symbolic state in Western Sahara (though in recent years Polisario has actually gained some real territory but virtually no Sahrawis live in that territory, preferring the safety of Tindouf).

For example, let's say the General Assembly votes in favor of a Palestinian state but the Security Council vetoes it. What will that mean? Any true attempt at statehood will depend on Abbas' willingness to change facts on the ground in the West Bank. To the extent that Abbas believes that he and Fatah are in danger from Hamas, any declaration of independence will change things no more than the 1988 Declaration or the Oslo Accords did. And if Abbas does try to change facts on the ground, then he is taking the same risk he took when he agreed to the Bush Administration's brilliant idea to have elections in Gaza. Perhaps the move for independence is Abbas last ditch effort to regain some credibility for Fatah and try to reestablish it as the true leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement.

Indeed, one must wonder if all of this is a huge bluff by Fatah to try to scare the Israeli government into negotiating concessions. Indeed, Abbas had previously attempted to offer to cancel the UN bid in exchange for an Israeli settlement freeze. At this point, Abbas is all bluster and little substance and quite frankly, Hamas has little to gain and a lot more to lose by hitching its wagon to him. Abbas is grasping at straws is and I would be shocked if he was really willing to carry out any meaningful change in the West Bank to bring Palestine closer to statehood.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What does Jordan want in September?

There is a great deal of controversy emanating out of Amman these days. A newspaper from the United Arab Emirates has quoted several prominent Jordanian officials who have stated that their government will vote against Palestinian state. Several Jordanian newspapers have denied this claim, so it is not clear at this point what Jordan will do. While we can only speculate on what Jordan will do because they do not act in a vacuum, we can look more closely on what Jordan wants to have happen.

To say that Jordan's relationship with the Palestinians is complex is a gross understatement. When the 1949 Armistice Agreements went into effect, Jordan occupied the largest swathe of territory that had been promised to Palestine in the 1947 Partition: the West Bank. By then, Jordan was already ruled by the Hashemites. For 19 years, Jordan controlled the West Bank and annexed the territory (an annexation recognized by only two countries: Great Britain and the United States). Since then, Jordan has been very ambivalent about integrating Palestinians into its society. Jordan's Hashemite government has been consistently worried about what will happen if the demographic balance tips too far in the Palestinians' favor and increases the likelihood of a coup. Over the past five years, Jordan has occasionally revoked citizenship to thousands of Palestinians, especially those that have recently migrated from the West Bank. Jordan, like Lebanon, has a very fragile demographic balance between its Palestinians, Bedouins and Hashemites. The government fears that any significant upset to this balance will likely create a civil war like Lebanon's. Indeed, this was part of the reason why Jordan renounced its claims to the West Bank in 1988 to avoid being saddled with an influx of Palestinian refugees if it was ever forced to exercise sovereignty over the West Bank.

So, what does Jordan want? On the one hand, the creation of a Palestinian state would allow Jordan to expel a large number of its Palestinians into the new Palestinian state. While many of Jordan's do not live in refugee camps, about 350,000 do. Even those who are not in camps are still given separate legal identification so they can be easily separated from non-Palestinian Jordanian citizens. The stated Jordanian goal of this "policy is to prevent Israel from emptying the Palestinian territories of their original inhabitants." Israel's Arab neighbors are "concerned" about Palestinians losing their identity by virtue of their being absorbed into mainstream Jordanian, Lebanese or Syrian society. 


On the other hand, while countries like Jordan have much to fear from the emergence of a new Palestinian state primarily in the West Bank. For thing, many Palestinians living in Jordan may not want to return to the West Bank and there may be substantial conflict. This is likely to happen because (a) many Palestinians have significant roots in Jordan now, (b) many Jordanian Palestinians may be concerned about the ability of a newly formed Palestinian state to absorb them and (c) many Palestinians may not want to live under a more religiously strict government under Hamas. 

To the extent that Jordan will want to empty itself of its Palestinians given the Hashemite animosity to Palestinians, the Jordanian government may also be concerned about the new Palestinian state's policy toward Jordan. For one, many senior PLO members remember the vengeance wreaked upon them by the Jordanian government in Black September. Second, the new Palestinian state will likely become an advocate for greater rights of Palestinians who remain located in Syria, Lebanon or Jordan and may be a source of tension, especially where the Jordan borders the West Bank and there may be attempts by Palestinians in Jordan to cross into the West Bank or vice versa. 


The sudden emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Jordan, a country with a substantial Palestinian population, may put the Jordanian government in great fear for its continued survival. Right now, the PLO in the West Bank is largely disarmed, but to the extent it becomes militarized, it may look east to Jordan to try to expand its sphere of influence and liberate the 3,000,000 Palestinians in Jordan from the Hashemite yoke. King Abdullah has been taught by his late father about the dangers of Palestinian nationalism, and he may be just as concerned about those nationalist dreams coming true right across his border as he was with Black September.