When considering solutions to the vexing conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Levant, the goal that is usually defined by diplomats, academics, and journalists is peace; but as John Ruskin said “You may either win peace or buy it – win it, by resistance to evil; buy it, by compromise with evil.”[i]While peace is certainly a laudable goal, too often, all else is sacrificed to this end and with disastrous consequences. History is replete with examples of a peace, declared prematurely, or defined by a third party, which cannot hold. The current standoff at the 38th parallel between the United States and North Korea is more than a half-century old now, and the cease-fire declared there resolved nothing, while arguably condemning millions to die of starvation and execution at the hands of communist tyrants. The premature cessation of hostilities by the U.S. and its allies in Operation Desert Storm similarly left the dictator Sadaam Hussein (who was strongly supported by Palestinian Arabs) in power to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, finance suicide attacks in Israel, and necessitate a large U.S. presence in the Saudi desert, inflaming militant Islamic anger at the west. Peace alone cannot be defined as victory; rather victory is a means through which peace may be achieved.
Historical Jewish claim to Judea
The ancient Hebrew’s, ancestors to today’s Jewish race were among the first people to establish permanent settlements on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. This area, known variously to history as Judea, Palestine, the Levant, and Israel was the land originally promised by God to the Jewish people through the Prophet Abraham, Patriarch of the great monotheistic western faiths. Since antiquity the Jewish settlers there have been periodically massacred, enslaved, dominated, and driven off their land by the likes of the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Crusaders, and Turks. One such oppressor, the Romans coined the term Palestine, in around 135 A.D. in a vain attempt to extinguish forever the Jews’ connection to their land after a revolt against their pagan overlords was crushed in particularly brutal fashion.[ii] However, despite these repeated attempts to exterminate and permanently disperse their people, a core group of Jewish inhabitants have remained there for over 3 millennia. These stewards of the Jewish homeland have, at great personal peril, retained their peoples’ claim to the Promised Land ever since.
In the late 19th century, a new “Aliyah”, or return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land began, which culminated in 1948 with the creation of the modern state of Israel. Among the many reasons for this emigration were the brutal treatment of Jews in Arab lands where they are considered “Dhimmi”, or second-class citizens; in fact, many thousands of Jews were forcibly expelled from their homes in Arab lands, most settling in Israel, their property confiscated by their former governments.[iii] In Europe, Jews were subject to discrimination and occasional pogroms, or outbreaks of violence that peaked with the holocaust in the late 1930’s. In this mass-liquidation of Jewish civilians, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of Palestine’s Muslim community, aided the Nazi-German architects of the final solution. As historian Joan Peters put it “The Grand Mufti…staunch friend of Hitler and coordinator with Germany in the final solution to the Jewish problem-was personally responsible for the concentration camp slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews, if not more.”[iv]
Once these Jewish pilgrims arrived in Palestine they generally purchased land there from largely Arab absentee-landowners. Later, as Zionism, or commitment by the world’s Jewry to a return to the land of Zion (or Israel) became a more formal and organized movement, blocks of land were purchased collectively by Jewish organizations. These lands were improved and irrigated and whole communities developed on them. This influx of industrious new Jewish settlers soon drew increasing numbers of poor Arabs to Palestine in hopes of finding work on the newly cultivated lands. This dual Arab-Jewish immigration into the heretofore largely uninhabited region, described by Peters as “under-populated land, its revolving populace perennially depleted in number because of exploitation, reckless plundering, nomadism, endless tribal uprisings, and natural disasters.”[v] Would soon flare up into sectarian violence, as both groups would claim the land as their own.
Israel’s legal claim to its homeland
The fall of the Ottoman Empire, which had controlled the Middle East for the previous 400 years to the Allies in WWI, created a power vacuum in the region. To address this, the League of Nations tasked the victors with Mandatory authority, or administrative control in various areas of the region. The intent of the mandate was to create local municipal governments and to eventually transfer sovereignty to the people indigenous to the region. The Jews of Palestine quickly complied, establishing the institutions necessary to administer a modern state. The Palestinian Arabs, consistent with their behavior throughout, refused because, in the words of historians Ian Bickerton and Carla Klausner “The Arabs did not wish to legitimize a situation that they rejected in principle.”[vi]
The British were given Mandatory authority in Palestine, which, contrary to current understanding of geography, extended well beyond the current borders of Israel. The area defined as Palestine then extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Syria and Lebanon to the North, The Hejaz (or Saudi Arabia) and Iraq to the east, and to the south, Egypt. By virtue of the Balfour Declaration, which formally declared that the British government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”[vii], all of Palestine was designated as the Jewish homeland. The inclusion of this document in the preamble to the Palestine Mandate, by the League of Nations gave this view the force of international law. [viii] Despite this, as Peters puts it “Britain nevertheless quietly gouged out roughly three-fourths of the Palestine territory mandated for the Jewish homeland into an Arab emirate, Transjordan, while the mandate ostensibly remained in force but in violation of its terms.”[ix] This act created a de-facto Arab state in Palestine, arguably in violation of international law. This state – Jordan still exists today, nullifying Arab complaints of the lack of a homeland in Palestine.
The stated basis for this partition was a letter from Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, to Emir Feisal, the son of “Sherif Hussein of Mecca, ruler of the Hejaz, perhaps the Arab figure at that time with the greatest prestige and power.”[x] Feisal claimed that in this letter, dated October 24, 1915, the British promised an Arab homeland in Palestine. McMahon, for his part, explicitly denied this claim in 1937 saying “It was not intended by me in giving this pledge to (then) King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised.”[xi] Arab sovereignty was promised rather, and granted in the Hejaz, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Since Palestine was never intended by any earlier agreements to be an independent Arab homeland, and since 75% of Palestine already is a Palestinian state, the remaining portion of the British Mandate west of the Jordan River is, by any legal definition, the indivisible Jewish homeland guaranteed by the Balfour Declaration, and codified in the League of Nations Mandate – that is, Israel.
Why then, did the British carve out an Arab homeland from its Palestine Mandate, heretofore legally promised to the Jews? Partially to re-pay the Arab leaders, Emirs Hussein and Abdullah (who was promptly named King of Transjordan) for aiding the Allies by leading the Arab revolt against the Ottomans in the First World War; and partly to appease the Arabs who even then were engaged in terrorism. Indeed in 1939, shortly after Chamberlain declared “peace in our time”, thus condemning the Polish people, and soon the rest of Europe to Hitler’s Wrath, a white paper, or British policy statement was issued, which severely restricted Jewish Immigration into Palestine. This act of appeasement which, they felt would reduce Arab terror attacks while earning the Arab loyalty they’d need for the coming second world war, condemned many thousands of Jews to their fate under Hitler. And British and U.N. acts of double-dealing, whether self-serving, anti-Semitic, or due to outright incompetence coupled with Arab intransigence and belligerence further stoked the flames of discontent.
In 1948, after several attempts to mediate a plan for disposition of the Palestine Mandate agreeable to all parties were met by Arab refusal to compromise or even negotiate, the U.N. proposed to partition the area west of the Jordan into Jewish and Arab sectors, with Jerusalem as a special international zone. The Arabs rejected this sensible compromise and instead, in May of 1948, invaded Israel. This attack marked the beginning of the Arab refugee issue; as Peters puts it “The invading Arab governments were certain of a quick victory; leaders warned the Arabs in Israel to run for their lives.”[xii] With the notable exception of Jordan, these Arab governments have since refused to grant displaced Arabs citizenship, exposing their expressed concern for Palestinian Arab welfare as the self-serving ploy it is. By wars end, with the subsequent annexation of the West Bank by Jordan, Israel was left with barely 17% of the area originally allocated to it by the League of Nations for the Jewish homeland.[xiii]
In 1967, after again being attacked by the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria, Israel took the West Bank from Jordan; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the Gaza strip from Egypt. These conquests, won in a war started by their enemies “provided Israel with strategic depth” and “more defensible borders.”[xiv] Moreover, these areas are now sovereign Israeli soil, not occupied territories. The Arabs then, have no legal or moral claim to that area of Palestine west of the Jordan River.
For true peace to prevail, in any conflict, a decisive and unambiguous victory must be achieved whereby the vanquished capitulates unconditionally, ceding to the victor the right to define an agreeable and lasting peace. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, premature peace negotiations and agreements, generally imposed upon them by outside powers, have deprived Israel, a western democracy, of total victory over their enemies, who cynically use each peace interval to rearm and regroup in the vain hope of future victory.
In this spirit the most just and practical solution to this heretofore-intractable problem is, however painful in the short-term, for Israel to view the recent landslide election victory of Hamas, a terrorist organization whose principal purpose for existence is the destruction of Israel, as a declaration of war. Israel should openly and clearly state this view and demand the clear and irrevocable renunciation of its stated goal by the Hamas leadership. If Hamas fails to do so Israel should use the next major terrorist attack on its soil as a pretext to the resumption of a state of all-out war with the Palestinian Arabs who, through their overwhelming vote margin against the “peacemakers” of the Fatah Party, have themselves functionally declared war on Israel. As a sovereign nation and full member state of the U.N., the Israeli government has a legal right, and a moral obligation to its citizens to defend its borders and quell domestic uprisings. In this new war, Israel should not relent until total victory is achieved even if that means driving the militant Arabs remaining west of the Jordan River over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan; or walling off those areas of the West Bank Israel is willing to cede to the Arabs, leaving them to their fate-whether annexation by Jordan, which has already granted citizenship to all non-Jewish Palestinian Arabs, or eventual statehood.
For Israel to allow a belligerent fifth column of Muslims dedicated to its destruction to remain within its sovereign borders is tantamount to national suicide and is unacceptable as a national policy. The results of such a policy are self-evident not only in Israel but can be seen as well in Indian Kashmir, where a similar minority of Muslim malcontents have been instrumental in inciting three wars between India and Pakistan in the past half-century. When peace is declared before victory, the result is a self-perpetuating standoff or an interlude between violent flare-ups as seen on the Korean peninsula, in Kashmir, and in Israel. The west must stand with Israel, the only Democracy in the area until a lasting peace may be achieved through victory.
[i] H.L. Mencken, ed., A New Dictionary of Quotations on Historical Principles, from Ancient and Modern Sources (N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 897
[ii] Joan Peters, From Time Immemorial (U.S.A.: JKAP Publications, 2002), 149
[iii] Mitchell G Bard, Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Md., U.S.A.: AICE, 2002), 24
[iv] Peters, 363
[v] Peters, 241
[vi] Ian J. Bickerton and Carla L. Klausner, A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 4th ed. (N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005), 52
[vii], Bickerton and Klausner, 60
[viii] Bickerton and Klausner, 44
[ix] Peters, 239
[x] Bickerton and Klausner, 37
[xi] Peters, 519
[xii] Peters, 13
[xiii] Bard, 35
[xiv] Bickerton and Klausner, 151