Archive for December, 2007


Israel/Palestine: the 70% 70 year old solution

December 9, 2007

The problem of Israel/Palestine was solved 70 years ago. Amazing but at least arguably true. It was determined then that the establishment of two states within the land then known as Palestine was the only feasible or practicable way to resolve the murderous impasse between Arabs and Jews. Depressingly enough, that prospect seems as distant now as it must have been back then.

What has inspired this train of thought was a very interesting book I was reading over the weekend, Mandate Days, by A.J.Sherman, published ten years ago. Sherman based his book primarily on the hitherto unpublished private correspondence, records and diaries of British officers and other ranks deployed to Palestine between 1918 and 1948 to execute the Mandate with respect to Palestine conferred on Britain by the League of Nations following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

To my reading, Sherman is scrupulously fair, as unflinching about Jewish terrorism in the immediate post-WWII period as he is about Arab terrorism during the Arab Rebellion of 1936-39.

The Mandate, as is well known, was based on the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Over the years of the Mandatory Government, it became clear that it was impossible to reconcile the two wings of the Declaration: a national home for the Jews, and preservation of the rights of the indigenous Arabs. Yet Britain was bound by the Mandate to struggle for the achievement of both.

The British officers posted to Palestine to implement the Mandate saw clearly their task was impossible. The hatred between Jews and Arabs could, even then, be cut with a knife. It smouldered below the surface like an inextinguishable fuse.

The British didn’t care for the Zionists by much. Accustomed to the more amenable “natives” of India and Kenya (even if such existed only in their imaginations), they found the Jews — especially those born in Palestine — hard, brash, arrogant, pushy. Most of all, and quite unlike the Arabs, they lacked the proper spirit of deference. They didn’t know their place. To the upper-middle and upper classes of the Empire, effortlessly possessed of a sense of their own social and cultural superiority, this was both puzzling and offensive. In the words of Reader Bullard (see this post), the unintellectual, sport-loving British found a natural affinity with the Arabs, and reserved their distrust for the “intellectual, complicated Jew”. Sherman’s correspondents are almost universally pro-Arab.

From the first, the British on the ground tried to turn Palestine into the kind of colony they were familiar with, complete with hunts (for jackals!), parties, “at homes” and the endless social round. They seemed not to understand that the Mandate did not confer upon them imperial powers, but only administrative responsibilities.

For their part, the Zionist Jews were uninterested in becoming the subjects of Empire. They busied themselves, instead, with fulfilling their part of the Mandate — the construction of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. They bought land from absentee Arab landlords, usually domiciled in Damascus or Cairo, drained the swamps, rescued the sand dunes and, as even the British grudgingly recognised, really did make the deserts bloom. They built a state within a state, with its own schools, language (Hebrew), administrative machinery and taxation to fund their education and health infrastructures. Undoubtedly this was in preparation for the formal establishment of a Jewish state (as opposed to a mere “homeland”).

Meanwhile, the Arabs of Palestine too had their aspirations. Like Arabs elsewhere, they longed for national self-determination. This they had been promised by the British in return for their help in defeating their overlords, the Ottomans. By the late 1930’s, Syria and Iraq were on the verge of achieving it. But in Palestine, the terms of the Mandate made it impossible, for their land had, perforce, to accommodate a national home for the Jews. This the Palestinian Arabs hated above all else. They watched the increasing pace of Jewish immigration and land acquisition with fury and fear, as their land was sold from under them, and the remorseless logic of demographics foretold they would soon be a minority in their own land. The dream of self-determination would be gone like drifting smoke.

The British in Palestine, torn between pro-Zionist policy directives from Whitehall and a profound local conviction that both the Mandate and the Declaration upon which it was based it were profoundly mistaken and unworkable, tried hopelessly to keep the irreconcilable parties apart. Violence erupted throughout the 1920’s, with a series of massacres perpetrated against Jewish populations of Hebron and and other towns in 1929, and culminating in a serious, territory-wide uprising by the Arabs beginning in 1936, urged on by the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini.

It was then, in 1937, that the solution to Israel-Palestine was proposed: partition. Lord Peel was appointed to lead a Royal Commission into the causes of the Arab Rebellion. The Commission’s report is a model of impartiality, diligence, good sense and good governance. The summary of the report is here.

In short, Peel concluded that the Mandate had failed, that the differences between the peoples were irreconcilable, and that the only feasible solution was the establishment of two states, one for the Arabs, and one for the Jews.

The problem cannot be solved by giving either the Arabs or the Jews all they want. The answer to the question which of them in the end will govern Palestine must be Neither. No fair-minded statesman can think it right either that 400,000 Jews, whose entry into Palestine has been facilitated by the British Government and approved by the League of Nations, should be handed over to Arab rule, or that, if the Jews should become a majority, a million Arabs should be handed over to their rule. But while neither race can fairly rule all Palestine, each race might justly rule part of it.

Seventy years later, now as then, it remains the only solution. And seventy years later, now as then, the Jews accept it, and the Arabs do not.

Other highlights of the Peel Commission’s findings are below the fold. They’re rich in insight and well worth reading.

Read the rest of this entry ?


Chavez goes down

December 3, 2007

Hollywood’s favourite full-on-dictator-in-waiting, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez —

Graphic via Gateway Pundit.

— has lost his attempt to change to the constitution to allow him to be president for life (and other important measures).

Venezuela celebrates.

The BBC grits its teeth.


Arguing for God

December 2, 2007

It’s (or he’s) a hot topic these days, what with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens weighing in for the negative. Does God exist, and why should we believe in him, her or it?

There was an interesting debate a couple of days ago in the US at The Tufts Freethought Society, between Daniel Dennett, atheist (whom I admit I’d never heard of) and Dinesh D’Souza, Christian, of whom I had, but generally vaguely bad stuff.

It’s about God. The nominal topic of the debate was “God is a manmade invention.” (Rather along the lines of Voltaire’s aphorism that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”) Daniel Dennett argued the affirmative, and Dinesh D’Souza the negative. But the debate did not really address that question. It was more about whether it was rational, or not, to believe in God.

You can catch all the whole thing at Richard Dawkins’ website. It’s worth the hour or so it takes to watch all 15 YouTube videos.

Or there’s audio of the debate here (thanks to Solomonia, who was there, and with whose readout of the debate I agree).

I didn’t take too much to D’Souza’s megaphone style, but I’d say intellectually he won the day and the debate. For the first time since I read St Anselm of Canterbury, I’m thinking there may be a compelling philosophical case for the existence of God.


The villain of the peace

December 2, 2007

David Kopel at The Volokh Conspiracy describes the history of the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA), set up in 1949 to assist the Palestinians who who fled or were expelled from Israel, but which has only served to ensure they maintain their refugee status in perpetuity.

Established in December 1949, UNRWA began operations the next May. The UN Agency’s job was to help settle the Palestinians who had left Israel because of the 1948-49 war. According to General Assembly resolution 302(IV), UNRWA’s mandate was that “constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.”

Over half a century later, UNRWA’s annual budget is nearly half a billion dollars, including nearly $150 million from US taxpayers. As UNRWA’s website explains, “In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate.” Stated another way, UNRWA’s bureaucratic existence depends on making sure that the Palestinian refugee problem is not solved, and that “international assistance for relief” is not terminated at an “early date,” or ever.

Well worth a read, as are the comments.

One commenter, Prof. Ethan, makes some important observations, which echo an argument advanced by Bernard Lewis prior to the recent Annapolis conference:

The Palestinian refugee situation is hardly unique, neither in suffering nor in scale.

There was a lot of these events at the end of WWII and during decolonization:

About ten million Germans had to flee their centuries-old homes in eastern Europe in 1945. A million died; another million were raped. They were not welcomed in western Germany, and there was much suffering. None of these people or their descendants is blowing up discos in Danzig.

About seven million Hindus had to flee from what became Pakistan (and an equal number of Muslims fled from India). No Hindus are blowing up schoolyards filled with students in Islamabad.

The number of Palestinian refugees resulting from the Nakbah of 1948 is about 750,000. Bernard Lewis is right: the number of Jewish refugees expelled from Muslim states between 1948 and 1960 was larger: about 850,000. These Jews were forced to leave everything behind (uncompensated). Some Muslim is enjoying their property even as we speak (perhaps this illegally-seized property could be a source of compensation for the Palestinians!). None of these people is blowing up supermarkets in Marakesh or Aden.

About 300,000 Greeks were intentionally forced from Egypt by the Nasser government policies 1953 and 1960–in order to Egyptianize and Muslimize Egypt; ethnic and religious cleansing to the max. Most of these Greeks had come to Egypt in the early 19th century; but some had been in Egypt for 2,300 years. The refugees weren’t happy, nor was it easy for them to assimilate where they ended up. They had to leave everything behind (uncompensated); some Muslim is enjoying their property as we speak. No Greeks are blowing up buses in Cairo.

Millions of Greeks were forced from western Turkey in 1922; the ethnic cleansing of Greeks by the Turkish government went on as late as 1955 in the area called “Pontus” on the south coast of the Black Sea; the refugees remain bitter and when a Greek “Pontic” refugee girl won a gold medal in the Olympics in 1992 the bitterness in Greece was very public. None of these Greeks or their descendants is blowing up restaurants in Ankara.

About 50,000 Hindu Indians were driven from Uganda in 1972 by Idi Amin in a program of ethnic and religious cleansing. Their property was confiscated (uncompensated). None of these people or their descendants are intentionally shooting rockets at civilians in Uganda.

When I pointed out these parallel tragedies to a Palestinian, his response is revealing: “None of these people is as honorable as the Palestinians are.”

I wish I was making up this psychologically revealing story. I assure you that, unfortunately, I am not.

As far as I can see, there was no just solution to the problem of Palestine in 1947 — at least, not one that would be just to both sides. A solution just for the Jews involved an injustice to the Palestinians. And the opposite was equally true.

The British were tired of of the burden of their Mandate, and wanted out. The Jews had fought for the establishment of a Jewish state against the Mandate, and their struggle was not going to stop. The Arabs did not accept the Jews in Palestine, and their struggle was not going to stop. The only possible solution was what the UN in fact proposed: two states, one for each people. The Jews accepted, the Arabs did not.

And still do not.


Sexier than heaven

December 1, 2007

Erin Gray as Colonel Wilma Deering in the 1979-81 sci-fi TV series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

Sexier. Than. Heaven.