by Ruth Ben-Or
The Jewish representatives should say that they recognize that the majority of their immediate ancestors arrived in the area by a means that no country would accept today, and which the inhabitants of the area clearly did not accept at the time. They offer to give the land back to the Palestinians with the possible exception of land in Jerusalem, which it seems they may have had in their possession for a much longer time.
There is the problem that most of the population of present day Israel were born there, and will not want to leave the land in the same way that people don’t want to leave their land in other parts of the world.
The representatives on both sides must then seek a solution, and get that solution accepted in a referendum. Preferably 75% of Arabs should accept it, and also 75% of Jewish people should accept it. Those figures might be difficult to achieve, but if they are attained, then the result is a democratic one, and can be used against those on the fringes of both sides, who will not accept what is proposed in the referendum.
This I see as the only way forward – and to bring about peace.
Implications of Peace in the Middle East
Peace in the Middle East. Is it feasible for there to be peace in the Middle East? Will the two sides ever sit together and come to an agreement by a majority vote on both sides as to the future of the land now known as Israel?Will the Israelis and the Palestinians follow in the footsteps of the Irish Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, lay down their arms and agree to make peace between them?
Such peace will have major repercussions for the Middle East—and beyond. No longer will Iranian and Syrian leaders be able to fulminate against the state of Israel, or, indeed Jews in general. No longer will Al Q’aeda leaders be able to justify their world-wide terrorist acts by pointing to Israeli policies against the Palestinians and the echoes of this will be many and varied.
The Proposed Solution
And there is, of course, a “solution” waiting in the wings—one that the American President and his Secretary of State would like to be applied to the area: the two-state solution.
What, though, do the majority of Israelis and Palestinians think of the two-state solution? Do the Palestinians want the geographically restricted area known as the West Bank for a state? What of Gaza? Should Israel, for reasons of security hold on to this contentious piece of land? Would Israel accept a strong and thriving Palestine in the West Bank which could, eventually gain a strategic stranglehold over the Jews by dissecting Israel into two—North and South?
The Case for the Palestinians
Let us accept that the first statement in the opening declaration is true—that the Jews who moved to Palestine moved there against the wishes of the inhabitants, the Palestinians.
The Palestinians had, since the 14th–17th century BC, lived in the land now called Israel. From the first century AD, after the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jews of Palestine, the Palestinians lived on the territory under various hegemonies, Jewish rule not being one of them.
How is it that the Jews could imagine that the link had not been severed when, for 19 centuries, they did not, in substantial numbers, live in the same country?
The Case for the Jews
There are, however, Jews who will assert a long and close association with the land now known as Israel. These Jews will say that there were several “aliyahs”—“the going up” or “ascent” (emigration) of Jews to Israel—during those 19 centuries and that the links established between the Jews of Palestine and the Jews of the Diaspora were indisputable.More pertinently, there will be those who will reject the argument that Israel has no legal or moral basis to its existence. Such protagonists of the state of Israel would point to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which recognised the right of the Jews to have a home in Palestine; they will point to the fact that the League of Nations was only established in 1919-1920; that the United Nations was only set up in 1945. The League of Nations and its successor, the United Nations, of course, were formed around the precepts of peaceful means to peaceful ends. Morals changed by the mid-20th century, with self-determination and the peaceful formation of states coming to the fore; whilst the conquering of lands by brute force for varying reasons or the colonisation of other countries became outdated principles of behaviour, receding as they did for nations as maxims.
But in the early 20th century, these principles had not yet become entrenched (the Covenant of the League of Nations does not mention self-determination) and it could be argued that the several “aliyahs” of many thousands of Jews to what was then known as Palestine, were legal. The principle of “mandates” (including for the territories once governed by the Ottoman Empire), of rule, that is to say, by more “advanced” nations in the interests of the local population, was recognised, although the wishes of the local population were to be adhered to.
The area now known as Israel was the “mandate” of the United Kingdom, for following the First World War, the lands once ruled by the Ottoman Empire, were shared out amongst the Allies. Palestine was therefore the United Kingdom’s to dispense with—and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Arthur Balfour, declared in 1917 that “His Majesty’s government viewed with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jews”.
As an aside, it is worthwhile noting that the Palestinians had never governed themselves as a state.
Another, perhaps incontrovertible, argument for Jewish settlement in Palestine, was that the long history of religious persecution before, throughout and beyond the Middle Ages in Europe; as well as the decimation of the Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe by Hitler provided a very special raison d’etre for the State of Israel, or at least for “a home” for the Jews in Palestine.
Here, the question, “Why Palestine”? may be asked. Why did the Jews have a special case when it came to the territory called Palestine?
In 1905, the Zionist Congress had declined the suggestion of an alternative country—“the Uganda Project” —the British offer of a homeland for the Jews in East Africa. And although various other countries—or parts of countries, such as in Africa, Asia, Australia and America – had been mooted by the Jewish Territorialist Organisation, these, too, were found wanting.
For some, the attachment of the Diaspora Jews to Palestine was incontrovertible. The Jewish presence in Palestine, it was claimed, could be traced back to the wanderings of Abraham (variously dated as occurring anywhere between the 18th—21st centuries BC). For religious Jews, the promise of God to give Abraham’s successors the land known as Palestine (and lands stretching out as far as the Euphrates) was a real promise, to be fulfilled by Jews, or God—it did not matter which.
The Case for the Palestinians Again
On the other side of the wall, there are those, however, who would revert to the late 19th century proposal that Israelis should now relinquish their present “title” to the land known as Israel and that Jews, en masse, should emigrate to another country, which it has or has not been agreed internationally to give them. Let Palestine be a country to be inhabited and governed by Palestinians.The Jewish state of Israel, although it has existed for 60 years, would be no more, at least not in its present location.
On two occasions in history, a Jewish state had been created in Palestine:
David had been the King of Judah and King of Israel in the 11th and 10th centuries BC and, in the second and first centuries AD, after an interval of Persian and Greek rule, Jewish rule returned once more to Palestine.
And so, it can be argued that Jewish self-determination could not be said to have existed for many years in Palestine and that in effect a “state”, in its modern sense of a self-governing population with a defined territory, did not exist for many years.
The Future of the World’s Jews
Will the present Jewish state of Israel now disintegrate never to re-form? Will the Jews agree to hand over the land that they “occupied” (to use a current Palestinian term) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because they now agree that the Palestinians had the right to reject the principle of the Balfour Declaration: reject the right of a home for the Jews in Palestine?Is it the forlorn and tragic destiny of the Jews to wander the world for the rest of time—or create a state in a completely strange and foreign land, a land with which there are no links or associations for the Jews and a land that will probably have to be developed in the same way that Palestine was, in order to make it habitable?
The Case for the Palestinians Continued
The argument outlined in the first paragraph of this essay and the solution proposed are premised on the hypothesis that part of self-determination is a component known as the will of a people. If it is the will of a people that their land should not be inundated with foreigners, well, this is but the first step towards the forming of a state exclusively for the former—in this case, Palestine. The argument takes it as a given that self-determination was a principle generally accepted by the majority of states by the late 19th and early 20th centuries and that the Palestinians were exhibiting this “will”—a component part of their wish for a state called Palestine during the early 20th century. This argument would point to Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations which states:-
To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant.
Above all, the “well-being and development of such peoples” was paramount and the mass immigration of Jews into Palestine could not have had regard to the well-being and development of the Palestinians in Palestine.
In this essay, however, it is argued that self-determination—and all its various components—did not become generally acceptable by the states of the world until the middle of the 20th century and the end of the Second World War.It is not here argued that the wish for self-determination does not have a very long history, going back, as it does, to perhaps 3,000 BC and the formation of Mesopotamia. It is further not denied that the 18th and19th centuries—the heyday of imperialist Europe—saw a concomitant growth in desire by those who were ruled by the imperialists to break away from their rulers’ sway and create their own countries.
It is, however, argued that it was first necessary for these peoples to break away for states’ opinions to be sympathetic to the principle of self-determination.
By 1945-1948, it may be said, self-determination was accepted as a principle, not only in the Charter of the United Nations, but also by the nation states who had signed up to the Charter and were now members.
Had the movement of vast numbers of Jews from Europe to Palestine begun in the mid-20th century and had the Palestinians objected, it would not have been seen as acceptable by the majority of the world’s nation states.
Had the movement occurred in the 19th century, it would not have been frowned upon.
The movement—“aliyahs”—in fact gained momentum in the early 20th century—a time of uncertainty and transition from one type of world opinion to another.
A New Solution
It is, nonetheless, to be suggested in this article that, If the Jews, as the nation whose forefather, Abraham, claimed to speak to God and whose patron, Moses, claimed to have received the 10 commandments from God, yet consider themselves the moral standard bearers of the world, it is now incumbent upon them to accept that they are in part responsible for the present situation of the Palestinians.The author of this article would ask the Jews of the world and particularly the Jews of Israel to accept the argument that the Palestinians did not wish the Jews to immigrate to their homeland, Palestine in great numbers—and to accept the right of the Palestinians to reject the immigration of the Jews to their homeland, notwithstanding the prevailing international political situation.
This new acceptance of the will of the Palestinian people is not to be forced on Jews in Israel in retroactively —i.e., because of the “new” international political mood which recognises, above all, the right of nations to express their will—the right of self-determination.
It is proposed to the Israeli nation with a historical motive—that they should re-establish their moral high standing in the world by making amends with the Palestinians.
This is not to say that the Jews should relinquish their right to the land now known as Israel.
As the proponent of the opening argument rightly points out, the majority of Israelis would probably reject such a solution.
Neither, however, is it to say that a two-state solution would be the best alternative—with the Palestinian state being confined to the stranglehold of the small territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The new proposal would be for the recognition of the fallen condition of the Palestinians—their dispossession and displacement—by a “moral tax” or “rent” or combined payment, which would pay back the Palestinians in kind for their losses—(in terms of land and possessions) and their dispersion to other lands.
With this “moral tax” it is proposed that Israel will purchase a piece of land from Jordan, Egypt or Syria, large enough to accommodate the present world Palestinian population.
It is further proposed that this land will be cultivated and improved by Israel, to a standard comparable to that of its own land. In this way, it will be made habitable by the Jews for the Palestinians.
Additionally, the tax (to be agreed by an international gathering of nations, as well as a majority of Palestinians and Israelis) will continue to be collected and paid to the new Palestine, as a reminder of the dispossession of the Palestinians by the Jews in Israel.
All this, of course, is dependent on the acceptance of the plan by Jordan (a possibility more likely), Egypt or Syria.
It is also subject to the approval of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, as the first argument in this article rightly points out.
It is not at all doubted that there will be Jews in Israel—and beyond—who will object to this arrangement, for it will be argued that a strong Palestine will present a threat to the state of Israel; that Palestinians will never forget that they were ousted from the land now known as Israel; and that they will claim their right to it in the future, when they are strong and can muster the means for a war against Israel.
Peace, it will be seen, will be purchased at the future price of war.
It may be that there will be Palestinians too, who will object to this idea. Will Hamas and its followers, for example, agree to such a solution?
The above suggestion, however, is only that—a suggestion and as such must be voted on.
If a majority of Palestinians and Israelis vote in favor of putting it into practice, the first hurdle will have been overcome.
The next hurdle is for the status quo—and peace between a future Palestine-in-Jordan or –Syria to be guaranteed by major world players, if necessary by the Chinese (whose economic and political star is presently rising), the United States of America, all the European states (including Russia) and as many Asian countries as can be harnessed into the project as possible. The inclusion of the Arab states which presently support the case of the Palestinians is to be particularly welcomed.
Thus, if either of the two partners in peace turns into belligerent foes and one attacks the other, the international community, in order to honour its guarantees, will step in to maintain the peace.
It may be argued that an appropriately-worded resolution could be passed in both the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations and that the United Nations’ peace keeping forces could be sent to the area in case of a breach of the peace.
The history of United Nations and its resolutions, however, is a very chequered one in the Middle East, with one side using the organisation as a means towards its ends and the other mistrusting the outcome on many an occasion.
This solution, then, would appear to be the best of the options available.
What, it will be asked, are the options?
There are, in total, four.
The first option is for the present, no-peace, no-war position to hold, where Israel, predominantly, is a state comprising a Jewish population and the Palestinians being marginalised in the West Bank, but not being given nation-state status.
The second option is for the Jews who live in Israel to relinquish the land now known as Israel and to find another country in which to put up their national flag. This option would have the Palestinians rule over the area.
The third option is to have a state which accommodates both Palestinians and Israelis, where, it is hoped, both sides would live together in peace.
And finally, the fourth option is the two-state option, with which both sides are presently being sounded out. If, it is argued, the majority of both Palestinians and Israelis would prefer this option out of the four, presently-available solutions, they would be more likely to favor the fifth option whereby possibly the Palestinians will keep the West Bank and gain other lands (perhaps contiguous to the West Bank, in Jordan) at the same time.
In the opinion of the author, all four options have very grave drawbacks and the only solution which would overcome these drawbacks is the solution proposed above: that is, a land, paid for and developed by the Israelis for the Palestinians, to be purchased from either Jordan, Egypt or Syria.
This option must, however, be voted on by both Palestinians and Israelis in a referendum. If 75% of both sides vote for the proposal, it should be put into effect immediately.
Will there ever be peace in the Middle East?
The author of this essay would contend that peace in the Middle East is a realistic hope if it is based on the fifth option outlined above.
It is now for the Palestinians and the Israelis to choose.
The views expressed by the author are her own.
American Diplomacy is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to American Diplomacy.
Ruth Ben-Or is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, holding a BSc (Econ) International Relations, 2(i) Honours.
She also assisted, then researched, at the BBC, where she worked (although it did not seem like work to her) on the radio programmes, “You, The Jury”, “The Christian Centuries” and on the life of Mohammed and other religious output.
Espicom plc paid her to write and in her spare time. She has written articles about the Middle East, the Jewish faith and five Midrashic novels.