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.
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.