The Myth of the Generous Offer

“The seemingly endless volleys of attack and retaliation in the Middle East leave many people wondering why the two sides can’t reach an agreement. The answer is simple, according to numerous commentators: At the Camp David meeting in July 2000, Israel “offered extraordinary concessions” (Michael Kelly, Washington Post, 3/13/02), “far-reaching concessions” (Boston Globe, 12/30/01), “unprecedented concessions” (E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, 12/4/01). Israel’s “generous peace terms” (L.A. Times editorial, 3/15/02) constituted “the most far-reaching offer ever” (Chicago Tribune editorial, 6/6/01) to create a Palestinian state. In short, Camp David was “an unprecedented concession” to the Palestinians (Time, 12/25/00).

But due to “Arafat’s recalcitrance” (L.A. Times editorial, 4/9/02) and “Palestinian rejectionism” (Mortimer Zuckerman, U.S. News & World Report, 3/22/02), “Arafat walked away from generous Israeli peacemaking proposals without even making a counteroffer” (Salon, 3/8/01). Yes, Arafat “walked away without making a counteroffer” (Samuel G. Freedman, USA Today, 6/18/01). Israel “offered peace terms more generous than ever before and Arafat did not even make a counteroffer” (Chicago Sun-Times editorial, 11/10/00). In case the point isn’t clear: “At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an astonishingly generous peace with dignity and statehood. Arafat not only turned it down, he refused to make a counteroffer!” (Charles Krauthammer, Seattle Times, 10/16/00).

This account is one of the most tenacious myths of the conflict. Its implications are obvious: There is nothing Israel can do to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors. The Israeli army’s increasingly deadly attacks, in this version, can be seen purely as self-defense against Palestinian aggression that is motivated by little more than blind hatred.

Locking in occupation

To understand what actually happened at Camp David, it’s necessary to know that for many years the PLO has officially called for a two-state solution in which Israel would keep the 78 percent of the Palestine Mandate (as Britain’s protectorate was called) that it has controlled since 1948, and a Palestinian state would be formed on the remaining 22 percent that Israel has occupied since the 1967 war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem). Israel would withdraw completely from those lands, return to the pre-1967 borders and a resolution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee their homes in 1948 would be negotiated between the two sides. Then, in exchange, the Palestinians would agree to recognize Israel (PLO Declaration, 12/7/88; PLO Negotiations Department).

Although some people describe Israel’s Camp David proposal as practically a return to the 1967 borders, it was far from that. Under the plan, Israel would have withdrawn completely from the small Gaza Strip. But it would annex strategically important and highly valuable sections of the West Bank–while retaining “security control” over other parts–that would have made it impossible for the Palestinians to travel or trade freely within their own state without the permission of the Israeli government (Political Science Quarterly, 6/22/01; New York Times, 7/26/01; Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, 9-10/00; Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, 8/9/01).

The annexations and security arrangements would divide the West Bank into three disconnected cantons. In exchange for taking fertile West Bank lands that happen to contain most of the region’s scarce water aquifers, Israel offered to give up a piece of its own territory in the Negev Desert–about one-tenth the size of the land it would annex–including a former toxic waste dump.

Because of the geographic placement of Israel’s proposed West Bank annexations, Palestinians living in their new “independent state” would be forced to cross Israeli territory every time they traveled or shipped goods from one section of the West Bank to another, and Israel could close those routes at will. Israel would also retain a network of so-called “bypass roads” that would crisscross the Palestinian state while remaining sovereign Israeli territory, further dividing the West Bank.

Israel was also to have kept “security control” for an indefinite period of time over the Jordan Valley, the strip of territory that forms the border between the West Bank and neighboring Jordan. Palestine would not have free access to its own international borders with Jordan and Egypt–putting Palestinian trade, and therefore its economy, at the mercy of the Israeli military.

Had Arafat agreed to these arrangements, the Palestinians would have permanently locked in place many of the worst aspects of the very occupation they were trying to bring to an end. For at Camp David, Israel also demanded that Arafat sign an “end-of-conflict” agreement stating that the decades-old war between Israel and the Palestinians was over and waiving all further claims against Israel.

Violence or negotiation?

The Camp David meeting ended without agreement on July 25, 2000. At this point, according to conventional wisdom, the Palestinian leader’s “response to the Camp David proposals was not a counteroffer but an assault” (Oregonian editorial, 8/15/01). “Arafat figured he could push one more time to get one more batch of concessions. The talks collapsed. Violence erupted again” (E.J. Dionne, Washington Post, 12/4/01). He “used the uprising to obtain through violence…what he couldn’t get at the Camp David bargaining table” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12/21/00).

But the Intifada actually did not start for another two months. In the meantime, there was relative calm in the occupied territories. During this period of quiet, the two sides continued negotiating behind closed doors. Meanwhile, life for the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation went on as usual. On July 28, Prime Minister Barak announced that Israel had no plans to withdraw from the town of Abu Dis, as it had pledged to do in the 1995 Oslo II agreement (Israel Wire, 7/28/00). In August and early September, Israel announced new construction on Jewish-only settlements in Efrat and Har Adar, while the Israeli statistics bureau reported that settlement building had increased 81 percent in the first quarter of 2000. Two Palestinian houses were demolished in East Jerusalem, and Arab residents of Sur Bahir and Suwahara received expropriation notices; their houses lay in the path of a planned Jewish-only highway (Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories, 11-12/00).

The Intifada began on September 29, 2000, when Israeli troops opened fire on unarmed Palestinian rock-throwers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, killing four and wounding over 200 (State Department human rights report for Israel, 2/01). Demonstrations spread throughout the territories. Barak and Arafat, having both staked their domestic reputations on their ability to win a negotiated peace from the other side, now felt politically threatened by the violence. In January 2001, they resumed formal negotiations at Taba, Egypt.

The Taba talks are one of the most significant and least remembered events of the “peace process.” While so far in 2002 (1/1/02-5/31/02), Camp David has been mentioned in conjunction with Israel 35 times on broadcast network news shows, Taba has come up only four times–never on any of the nightly newscasts. In February 2002, Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz (2/14/02), published for the first time the text of the European Union’s official notes of the Taba talks, which were confirmed in their essential points by negotiators from both sides.

“Anyone who reads the European Union account of the Taba talks,” Ha’aretz noted in its introduction, “will find it hard to believe that only 13 months ago, Israel and the Palestinians were so close to a peace agreement.” At Taba, Israel dropped its demand to control Palestine’s borders and the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians, for the first time, made detailed counterproposals–in other words, counteroffers–showing which changes to the 1967 borders they would be willing to accept. The Israeli map that has emerged from the talks shows a fully contiguous West Bank, though with a very narrow middle and a strange gerrymandered western border to accommodate annexed settlements.

In the end, however, all this proved too much for Israel’s Labor prime minister. On January 28, Barak unilaterally broke off the negotiations. “The pressure of Israeli public opinion against the talks could not be resisted,” Ben-Ami said (New York Times, 7/26/01).

Settlements off the table

In February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel. Sharon has made his position on the negotiations crystal clear. “You know, it’s not by accident that the settlements are located where they are,” he said in an interview a few months after his election (Ha’aretz, 4/12/01).
They safeguard the cradle of the Jewish people’s birth and also provide strategic depth which is vital to our existence.The settlements were established according to the conception that, come what may, we have to hold the western security area [of the West Bank], which is adjacent to the Green Line, and the eastern security area along the Jordan River and the roads linking the two. And Jerusalem, of course. And the hill aquifer. Nothing has changed with respect to any of those things. The importance of the security areas has not diminished, it may even have increased. So I see no reason for evacuating any settlements.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak has repudiated his own positions at Taba, and now speaks pointedly of the need for a negotiated settlement “based on the principles presented at Camp David” (New York Times op-ed, 4/14/02).

In April 2002, the countries of the Arab League–from moderate Jordan to hardline Iraq–unanimously agreed on a Saudi peace plan centering around full peace, recognition and normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders as well as a “just resolution” to the refugee issue. Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath declared himself “delighted” with the plan. “The proposal constitutes the best terms of reference for our political struggle,” he told the Jordan Times (3/28/02).

Ariel Sharon responded by declaring that “a return to the 1967 borders will destroy Israel” (New York Times, 5/4/02). In a commentary on the Arab plan, Ha’aretz’s Bradley Burston (2/27/02) noted that the offer was “forcing Israel to confront peace terms it has quietly feared for decades.”

 

The Myth of the Generous Offer

 

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61 responses to “The Myth of the Generous Offer

  1. “Mike Fryer’s daughter Grace is to sing a blessing in English and Hebrew. Does Mike’s naming of hiss daughter tell you something about the doctrine he believes? ”

    No. The lies and propaganda that come from Mike’s mouth tells me everything i need to know about his doctrine. No doubt his daughter has been brainwashed too.

  2. Can you also give answers to the follwing.

    Can you also post up Wilson’s 14 points?

    Can you link me to page 136?

    Can you show me a relevant document [ie san remo/mandate] where the OPINIONS of British Prime Ministers from Lord Palmerston to Lloyd George as well as Napoleon are included?

    “According to Trevor’s earlier remarks there was no talk at this period of a Jewish state. Well, I’ve just disproved that with this reference.”

    No what you have proved is that the term “state” was in use before San Remo but nowhere can the term “State” be found in the mandate proving that there was no state sanctioned by the “irrevocable” treaty.

  3. Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

    Point 12. “The Turkish people should be governed by the Turkish government. Non-Turks in the old Turkish Empire should govern themselves.”

    Article 22 LoN.

    “Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.”

    Not only does this confirm Palestine as a country it also gives all rights to those living in that country who were ruled by the Turks….ALL RIGHTS!

  4. From Wikipedia.

    “President Woodrow Wilson then recommended an international commission of inquiry to ascertain the wishes of the local inhabitants. The Commission idea, first accepted by Great Britain and France, was later rejected. Eventually it became the purely American King-Crane Commission, which toured all Syria and Palestine during the summer of 1919, taking statements and sampling opinion..”

    I’ve already posted the findings twice, but i’ll post them again.

    “King-Crane Commission Report noted:

    “For ‘a national home for the Jewish people’ is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the ‘civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’ The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.”

  5. Joan Peters, whose book the hasbarristers rely on, is totally debunked with this.

    “Mrs. Peters’s Palestine’ by Yehoshua Porath

    “For centuries the future of the place called Palestine was the subject of a bitter struggle. Even the name was controversial. Where the Arabs transformed the Roman name of Palestine into the Arabian name Filastin, the Jews insisted on the traditional Hebrew name Eretz Israel, “The Land of Israel.” Zealots of both sides continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the name used by the other side. In the early days of the British Mandate, for instance, the Arabs successfully convinced the British that even in Hebrew the name should be Palestina and not Eretz Israel. The British added the initials “El” to Palestina only over heavy Arab opposition. On the other hand, some Israeli educators of the 1950s wanted only a transliteration of the Hebrew name to appear in the textbooks that were used in the Arabic-speaking schools. Along with armed struggle, ideological and propagandistic warfare of this sort has proliferated in the Arab–Jewish conflict over Palestine.

    One feature of this battle of words and of history writing has been the two contrasting mythologies that the Arabs and the Jews have developed to explain their situations. Like most myths these generally contain some element of plausibility, some grain of historical truth, which through terminological ambiguity is then twisted into a false and grotesque shape: The unfortunate thing about Joan Peters’s From Time Immemorial (1984) is that from a position of apparently great learning and research, she attempts to refute the Arab myths merely by substituting the Jewish myths for them. Although she claims to have uncovered facts that show the historical accuracy of the Jewish myths, there have appeared during the last year and a half, in addition to many favorable reviews, a number of articles that dispute her collection and interpretation of this data.1 I do not propose here to go over the ground that these criticisms have already covered. Rather, I shall discuss both sets of myths in the light of the political and social history of Palestine as it is currently understood.

    T
    he Arab side tried to prove that first of all the Jews were not a nation in the modern sense of the term and consequently did not require a state of their own. In the tradition of both Western liberal and doctrinaire socialist thinking, the Arabs argued that the Jews were only a religious community; that peoples could not return to their ancient homelands without turning the entire world upside down; and, most important, that Palestine had been settled since the seventh century AD by Arabs. Over the years many Arab ideologists even claimed that Arabs had occupied the land in pre-Biblical times because of the “Arab character” of Canaanites.

    Zionism, the Arab argument continued, if it had any grain of historical justification at all, emerged only in a European setting. It came about as a reaction to Western Christian or secular and racist anti-Semitism, with which the Arabs had nothing to do; therefore, they should not be required to pay the costs of remedying it. In Arab and Islamic countries Jews suffered none of the terrible treatment that Western Jews had suffered. On the contrary, the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular treated their religious and ethnic minorities with full equality and enabled both Christians and Jews to take part in public life, to rise to high positions of state, and, in recent times, to become full members of the modern and secular Arab nation living in its various states. The Jews living in the Arab and Muslim countries, moreover, did not take part in the Zionist movement. They even actively opposed it and did not want to emigrate to Israel. That most of them eventually did so the Arabs attribute to the machinations of Israel working with corrupt Arab rulers who were “stooges of imperialism.”

    After the 1948 war Arab propaganda added an important new claim: since the Jews wanted Palestine empty of Arabs, they used the opportunity of the war to systematically expel the indigenous Arab population wherever they could do so. Some Arab writers, and others favorable to their cause, have gone so far as to claim that the war itself was set off in December 1947 by the Jews in order to create the right circumstances for the mass expulsion of Palestinian Arabs from their homeland.

    Until the mid-1960s the Arab claims were usually presented as part of the ideology of Arab nationalism. Palestine was (and ideologically speaking still is) considered part of the greater Arab homeland and the Palestinians part of the greater Arab nation. The aim of the Arab struggle was to preserve the Arab character of Palestine from the Jewish-Zionist threat. The Palestinian case was at best secondary when it was made at all. Only since the middle of the 1960s and particularly after 1967 has the distinctively Palestinian component become relatively stronger among the factors that shape the identity of the Palestinian Arabs.

    J
    ews, and Zionists especially, developed their own myths about Palestine. First they interpreted ancient Jewish history according to the ideology of modern nationalism, equating the old Israelite and Judean kingdoms with modern nation-states. The Maccabean revolt and the period of Hasmonean rule were seen as typical manifestations of the struggle for modern national liberation. During the years when most Jews lived in exile, it was argued, they always kept a separate national identity: they never converted of their free will to another religion, and they preserved the memory of their ancestral land, to which they always hoped to return. Indeed, against all odds, some never left.

    Special emphasis was put on this last group. Every bit of evidence that could be found, however trivial it may have been, was used to prove the continuity of the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel and to show that it was central to the life of Jews in exile. Very little was said of the Muslims who meanwhile had become the great majority of the population and the masters of the land. The Zionists argued that Jewish identity and the yearning to return to Palestine were strengthened by the persecutions of the Jews in all parts of the world, including the Islamic and Arab countries.

    The return itself was mainly perceived as a matter of Jewish resolve to establish a homeland, which required struggle against Palestine’s foreign rulers—the Ottoman Empire first, and then the British Mandate. The Arab population was not presented as a major obstacle since, it was said, it was so small. Palestine during the late Ottoman and early British periods was portrayed as a barren land, hardly inhabited, whose tiny Arab population consisted mostly of wandering Bedouin tribes whose presence was only temporary.

    According to the Zionist myth, only modern Jewish colonization brought about the economic development of Palestine and improved the hard conditions there. These developments, it was said, attracted poor Arabs from the stagnant neighboring countries. Their numbers grew faster than the Jewish immigrants because the malicious British authorities always encouraged them to come and did much to help to absorb them, both economically and legally.

    The 1948 war, the Jewish argument continues, erupted because the Arabs rejected the UN partition plan although it offered them much more land than they deserved. And since most of the Palestinian Arabs were in fact aliens, they quickly left the country to return to their permanent homelands. Only the persistent refusal of the rulers of the Arab countries prevented them from being absorbed there. The Jewish refugees from the Arab countries were, on the other hand, cared for and rehabilitated. The result was an “exchange of populations” which should have been confirmed in a political agreement; only Arab intransigence has kept this from taking place.

    B
    oth the Arab and the Jewish myths I have described have circulated widely for years. Nothing in either of them is new or revolutionary. The more extreme you were in your Zionist beliefs the more thoroughly you propagated the Jewish mythology. What is surprising is that Joan Peters still writes as if the Zionist myths were wholly true and relevant, notwithstanding all the historical work that modifies or discredits them. The surprise is even greater when one considers her claim to have done original research in the historical archives and even to have discovered “overlooked ‘secret’ (British) correspondence files” in the Public Record Office in London, among other sources of “neglected” information. Indeed, by looking for the “right” evidence and by reading documents selectively one can “prove” virtually anything. But substituting Jewish-Zionist myths for Arab ones will not do. Neither historiography nor the Zionist cause itself gains anything from mythologizing history.

    I will deal here only with the main historical questions raised in Mrs. Peters’s book. No doubt, as she claims, the Jews in Muslim countries were neither regarded nor treated as fellow countrymen and equal citizens. Islam protected their lives and most of their religious rights but also kept them in a distinctively inferior position. Legally, their status was defined by the famous “Covenant of Umar,” which listed the various restrictions and special taxes imposed on the “people of the book.”

    But the true historical situation cannot be described simply by referring to that covenant, as Mrs. Peters does, or by citing the occasions and places where its provisions were most severely carried out. There was better and worse treatment, and local considerations usually influenced the policy pursued by various rulers. It is typical of Mrs. Peters’s methods that she largely overlooks the position of the Jews under the Ottoman Empire—one of the most important phases of all Islamic history. The reason would seem a simple one: the attitude of the Ottoman authorities toward the Jews was generally fair and decent, and in some parts of the empire many Jews held prominent positions.2 This could not be squared with her description of the oppression of Jews under Islam. (The few references Mrs. Peters makes to the Ottoman rulers emphasize their “anti-Jewish” activities and give a distorted impression of conditions under the Ottomans.)

    P
    art of Mrs. Peters’s confusion derives from her misunderstanding of Zionist history. Zionism was basically a modern secular ideology and movement, a response to the situation of European Jews after their emancipation early in the nineteenth century. Although they had been promised equality as fellow citizens many of them found themselves rejected. That they were ready to adopt their countries’ languages and cultures and sometimes even religions did not help them. Instead of—or in addition to—being rejected on religious and cultural grounds, as they had been since the end of the eleventh century, they were now rejected racially. Zionism offered an alternative. Its ideologists stressed that although in the post-emancipation period most Jews had stopped practicing their religion, they still remained a corporate unit, a distinct people. In order to safeguard their national identity and defend themselves from anti-Semitism the Jews had to return to their ancestral land, restore their national independence, and revive their language and culture.

    This position was directly opposed both to the traditional religious attitude of waiting for the Messiah and to the belief in God’s miraculous intervention in history that produced such false messianic movements as Shabbetai Zevi’s. Because Zionism was predominantly a European and secular phenomenon, many Oriental Jews in the Middle East and North Africa have never felt at ease with it and have tried to derive their own sense of Jewish history and identity. In Israel, under the guidance of the former Israeli minister of education, Zevulun Hammer, they have formulated a new Zionism that belittles the ideological and political revolution of European secular Zionism and argues that Theodor Herzl and the Zionist organization had hardly any effect on Jewish history. According to this interpretation Zionism began with Abraham and has been continued by practically all the Jews who have come to the Holy Land, whether to spend their old age and be buried there, or to engage in study or in business. All these are now regarded as Zionists in Oriental Jewish religious circles.

    Most historians now consider this view as in fact the opposite of Zionism, but, astonishingly, it has been adopted in its entirety in Mrs. Peters’s book without any serious discussion of its implications. What seems to have been decisive for Mrs. Peters is that the conception fits the myth of Oriental and religious Jewish history she has adopted: since in her view Oriental Jews were always persecuted, they must always have been active Zionists. For her there was no fundamental difference between, on the one hand, a prayer to return to Zion made in Wilna or Marrakesh or the messianism of Shabbetai Zevi, and, on the other, a modern movement that actively organized immigration, established youth organizations, and launched a political struggle for getting political rights in Palestine.

    M
    uch of Mrs. Peters’s book argues that at the same time that Jewish immigration to Palestine was rising, Arab immigration to the parts of Palestine where Jews had settled also increased. Therefore, in her view, the Arab claim that an indigenous Arab population was displaced by Jewish immigrants must be false, since many Arabs only arrived with the Jews. The precise demographic history of modern Palestine cannot be summed up briefly, but its main features are clear enough and they are very different from the fanciful description Mrs. Peters gives. It is true that in the middle of the nineteenth century there was neither a “Palestinian nation” nor a “Palestinian identity.” But about four hundred thousand Arabs—the great majority of whom were Muslims—lived in Palestine, which was divided by the Ottomans into three districts. Some of these people were the descendants of the pre-Islamic population that had adopted Islam and the Arabic language; others were members of Bedouin tribes, although the penetration of Bedouins was drastically curtailed after the mid-nineteenth century, when the Ottoman authorities became stronger and more efficient.

    As all the research by historians and geographers of modern Palestine shows, the Arab population began to grow again in the middle of the nineteenth century. That growth resulted from a new factor: the demographic revolution. Until the 1850s there was no “natural” increase of the population, but this began to change when modern medical treatment was introduced and modern hospitals were established, both by the the Ottoman authorities and by the foreign Christian missionaries. The number of births remained steady but infant mortality decreased. This was the main reason for Arab population growth, not incursions into the country by the wandering tribes who by then had become afraid of the much more efficient Ottoman troops. Toward the end of Ottoman rule the various contemporary sources no longer lament the outbreak of widespread epidemics. This contrasts with the Arabic chronicles of previous periods in which we find horrible descriptions of recurrent epidemics—typhoid, cholera, bubonic plague—decimating the population. Under the British Mandate, with still better sanitary conditions, more hospitals, and further improvements in medical treatment, the Arab population continued to grow.

    T
    he Jews were amazed. In spite of the Jewish immigration, the natural increase of the Arabs—at least twice the rate of the Jews’—slowed down the transformation of the Jews into a majority in Palestine. To account for the delay the theory, or myth, of large-scale immigration of Arabs from the neighboring countries was proposed by Zionist writers. Mrs. Peters accepts that theory completely; she has apparently searched through documents for any statement to the effect that Arabs entered Palestine. But even if we put together all the cases she cites, one cannot escape the conclusion that most of the growth of the Palestinian Arab community resulted from a process of natural increase.

    The Mandatory authorities carried out two modern censuses, in 1922 and 1931. Except for some mistakes committed in 1922 in counting the Negev Bedouins, which were corrected in 1931, the returns showed the strength of the “natural process” of increase. The figures for the last years of the mandate are based on continuous collection of data by the department of statistics. These figures showed that in 1947 there were about 1.3 million Arabs living in Palestine.

    The strength of the process of natural increase was finally proved not elsewhere but in Israel itself. In 1949 there were about 150,000 Arabs in Israel within the 1949 armistice lines. To that number, one has to add the 20,000-odd refugees who returned to the state as part of the government’s scheme for the “reunion of families.” The Israeli authorities cannot be blamed, as the British “imperialists” were, for helping the Arabs enter the country. And despite the strict control of Israel’s borders, the number of Arabs living in Israel proper has more than trebled since. The rate of the Israeli Arabs’ natural increase rose sharply (between 1964 and 1966 it reached the world record of 4.5 percent a year) and brought about the remarkable increase in the size of that community. No Egyptians, Bedouins, Syrians, Bosnians, etc. were needed.

    N
    o one would doubt that some migrant workers came to Palestine from Syria and Trans-Jordan and remained there. But one has to add to this that there were migrations in the opposite direction as well. For example, a tradition developed in Hebron to go to study and work in Cairo, with the result that a permanent community of Hebronites had been living in Cairo since the fifteenth century. Trans-Jordan exported unskilled casual labor to Palestine; but before 1948 its civil service attracted a good many educated Palestinian Arabs who did not find work in Palestine itself. Demographically speaking, however, neither movement of population was significant in comparison to the decisive factor of natural increase.

    Most serious students of the history of Palestine would accept that the number of Arab refugees from Israel during and after 1948 claimed by Arab and UN sources—some 600,000 to 750,000—was exaggerated. It is very easy to refute that estimate and many have already done it. Very few historians would accept the claim that all of the refugees, or even most of them, were deliberately expelled by the Israelis any more than they would accept the Israeli counterclaim that all left of their own accord. Mrs. Peters has gone to great lengths to collect the statements made by Arabs in which they admit that the Palestinian Arab refugees left Palestine because they expected Arab military victory, after which they intended to return. Nevertheless, although she admits that in sporadic instances Arabs were expelled, she ignores evidence of Israeli intentions to expel them. I would like to draw her attention to one document which proves that the Haganah did in certain circumstances have such an intention.

    As historians of the 1948 war know well, the Haganah prepared in March 1948 a strategic plan (the Dalet or “fourth” plan) to deal with the imminent invasion of Palestine by the Arab countries. A major aim of the plan was to form a continuous territory joining the lands held by the Jewish settlements. The plan clearly states that if Arab villages violently opposed the Jewish attempt to gain control, their populations would be expelled. The text was first made public in Israel in 1972 as an appendix to the last volume of the semiofficial History of the Haganah.

    I
    do not know why Mrs. Peters overlooked this important document. That the plan existed, of course, is not in itself evidence that it was carried out. Neither, however, is the admission of the Syrian leader Khalid al-Azm that the Arab countries urged the Palestinian Arabs to leave their villages until after the victory of the Arab armies final proof that the Palestinian Arabs in practice heeded that call and consequently left. Since Mrs. Peters supposedly took the trouble to read Khalid al-Azm’s Arabic memoirs, she at least should have consulted the appendix of the History of the Haganah‘s last volume.^3

    Mrs. Peters puts great emphasis on the claim that during and after the 1948 war an “exchange of populations” took place. Against the Arabs who left Palestine one had to put, in her view, about the same number of Jews, most of them driven by the Arab rulers from their traditional homes in the Arab world. And indeed there is a superficial similarity between the two movements of population. But their ideological and historical significance is entirely different. From a Jewish-Zionist point of view the immigration of the Jews of the Arab countries to Israel, expelled or not, was the fulfillment of a national dream—the “ingathering of the exiles.” Since the 1930s the Jewish Agency had sent agents, teachers, and instructors to the various Arab countries in order to propagate Zionism. They organized Zionist youth movements there and illegal immigration to Palestine. Israel then made great efforts to absorb these immigrants into its national, political, social, and economic life.

    For the Palestinian Arabs the flight of 1948 was completely different. It resulted in an unwanted national calamity that was accompanied by unending personal tragedies. The result was the collapse of the Palestinian community, the fragmentation of a people, and the loss of a country that had in the past been mostly Arabic-speaking and Islamic. No wonder that the Arabs look at what happened very differently. When Mrs. Peters argues, as many Israeli and pro-Israeli spokesmen once did, that all refugees should live and be rehabilitated in their new countries, the Arabs reply that all refugees should go back to their countries of origin. When, in 1976, they invited former Jewish citizens to return, they did so not only from the mistaken belief that Oriental Jews’ attachment to Israel was weak, but also from the need to refute the Israeli argument, now repeated forcefully by Mrs. Peters, that there was a symmetry between the two movements of population.

    B
    y stressing and strengthening the claim of symmetry Mrs. Peters plays, at least from an ideological point of view and certainly against her own wishes, into the hands of Arab propaganda. Many Israeli agents in such Arab countries as Iraq, Yemen, and Morocco made courageous efforts to bring about the aliyah (ascendance, the usual Hebrew word for immigration to Israel) of the Oriental Jews of Arab countries. Did this dangerous work count for nothing? Were the immigrants merely ordinary refugees and not people ascending to Zion? By attempting to equate the Arab refugees with the Jewish immigrants, Mrs. Peters, in my view, tarnishes a heroic chapter in Zionist history.

    Mrs. Peters’s use of sources is very selective and tendentious, to say the least. In order to strengthen the impression that the “hidden hand” of history somehow brought about the reasonable solution of exchange of Jewish and Arab populations, Mrs. Peters evidently wanted to show that the concept had an honorable lineage. She quotes an “Arab leader” who talked of a population exchange in a leaflet distributed in Damascus in 1939, and gives his name as Mojli Amin. I challenge any reader to identify this “leader.” He is not mentioned in any of the books on Syria I know of, although I have read many. And if some wholly unimportant writer made such a statement, how can any serious importance be attached to it? But beyond that, I think that the leaflet is a fake. During the spring of 1939 internal dissent was at its most intense among the factions of the militant Palestinian Arabs, which included anti-British rebels, anti-Jewish rebels, and the “Peace Companies,” which opposed rebellion. In Damascus, where the headquarters of the rebels were located, faked leaflets were often distributed in order to add to the dissension. I suspect that this leaflet was another example of the same literary genre. If Mrs. Peters had more thoroughly investigated the files of the Arab section of the political department of the Jewish Agency, she would, I hope, have seen why the evidence she cites should be used more cautiously.

    One flawed source was not enough, however. Mrs. Peters claims that “the British had proposed the exchange of ‘Arab population in Palestine’ for Jews elsewhere.” If one looks for the evidence for this claim, one suddenly realizes that “the British” are none other than William Ormsby-Gore (not yet Lord) who had privately supported the idea. It is odd to conclude from this that “the British” supported such an idea, all the more so when one recalls that when Ormsby-Gore served as British colonial secretary in charge of Palestine he never used his official position to promote that idea as such. The only exchange of populations he officially envisaged was to have been a part of the 1937 partition plan that allocated 15 percent of Palestine to the Jews and recommended that the Arabs be forcibly removed from the territory on which the proposed Jewish state would be founded.

    If Mrs. Peters had spent more than “weeks” in the Public Record Office (the official British archives) or if she had read the relevant historical research she would have known that a similar offer was brought to the members of the British cabinet but rejected. We now know that between 1939 and 1941 Churchill favored a diplomatic initiative that would have included the transfer of the Palestinian Arabs to a federal Arab state under Ibn Saud. He had been convinced that such a transfer was desirable by Chaim Weizmann, who had discussed the possibility with H. St. John Philby. Churchill presented a version of Weizmann’s proposal to his colleagues on May 19, 1941. He succeeded only in provoking a hostile reaction on the part of the foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, who made his famous pro-Arab speech of May 29, 1941, in reaction to Churchill’s proposition. Several days afterward Eden’s speech was endorsed by the British cabinet. So much for the “British” origins of the concept of exchange of populations.

    O
    f course there was no separate state called Palestine before the British Mandate and there is no need to demonstrate this at length, as Mrs. Peters tries to do. Nonetheless a large majority of Muslim Arabs inhabited the land; and the desire to keep it that way was the goal of the Arab struggle in Palestine against the Jews and the British. Of what possible significance, therefore, is Mrs. Peters’s claim that Arab domination of Palestine after its conquest by the Muslims in 635 AD lasted only twenty-two years? Was the land empty of any population? Such a vague claim is typical of many others made in the book. What is more surprising is the authority on which it is based. We are told that a statement to this effect was made in February 1919 to the Paris Peace Conference by “the Muslim chairman of the Syrian delegation.” An innocent reader would take it that this delegation was representing the Arab population of Syria, who were then struggling for independence. In fact the delegation was organized by the French as a device to oppose the nationalist struggle, and its chairman would have said anything required by his masters. Whether the Palestinian Arabs saw their identity as having local roots or whether they saw themselves more as part of the larger Arab world, they undoubtedly wanted Palestine to remain Arab. That the name of the country in Arabic, as in most other languages, is derived from the name of the Philistines does not matter to them any more than the fact that the name of Jerusalem, even in Hebrew, is derived from the Jebusees. All such terminological claims, and there are plenty of them in Mrs. Peters’s book, are worthless.

    M
    rs. Peters puts forward yet another familiar Zionist argument—which has the advantage of being true—that already in the nineteenth century Jews made up the majority in Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. But if we say that having a majority is the key factor in determining the national character of any given town or area, why not apply this principle, the Arabs may ask, to the land as a whole?

    Surprisingly enough, Mrs. Peters does just this when she implies that in 1893 the Jews were virtually the majority community in the parts of Palestine where Jews had settled. Her very tendentious reasoning on this point has already been exposed.4 What she has done, to put it briefly, is to compare the figures for non-Jews in the 1893 Ottoman census of Palestine with the estimate of the Jewish population proposed by the French geographer Vital Cuinet in 1895. She dismisses the Ottoman figures for the Jews because, she says, “the Ottoman Census apparently registered only known Ottoman subjects; since most Jews had failed to obtain Ottoman citizenship, a representative figure of the Palestinian Jewish population could not be extrapolated from the 1893 Census.”

    This may sound plausible, until one discovers, first, that Cuinet’s estimates are generally considered to be unreliable, and, second, that Professor Kemal Karpat of the University of Wisconsin, whose analysis of the Ottoman census Peters relies on, does not find the census estimate of the Jewish population to be inaccurate in the way she claims. (Even with the numbers that she does arrive at, incidentally, Mrs. Peters does not make a case for a Jewish majority. Although she argues there were more Jews than Muslims or Christians—59,500 as compared to 56,000 and 38,000—there were more Muslims and Christians than Jews by her own account.)

    If the Arabs had indeed been as few as Mrs. Peters claims, one wonders why the letters, official reports, diaries, and essays of the early Zionist settlers—the “Lovers of Zion”—from the last two decades of the nineteenth century were filled with references to the Arabs surrounding them everywhere in Palestine. Those writings were collected many years ago and published by Asher Druyanov.5 Republished several years ago they are now easily accessible, but apparently not for Mrs. Peters. Similarly, she has overlooked two of the most important articles by Jewish writers dealing with the Arab problem, which even around the turn of the century troubled the Jewish immigrants to Palestine. The first was written in 1891 by Ahad Ha’am, perhaps the greatest modern Jewish thinker, and was called “Truth from Palestine”; the second, called “Hidden Question,” was written in 1907 by Y. Epstein and published in Ha-Shiloah. Both writers exhorted their fellow Jews in Palestine to take seriously the large Arab population and its feelings; the Ottoman Empire might go, they wrote, but the Arabs would remain. Anyone who believes Mrs. Peters’s book would have to conclude that these distinguished writers, a philosopher and an educator with close experience of life in Palestine, had simply invented the existence of the many Arabs there.

    I am reluctant to bore the reader and myself with further examples of Mrs. Peters’s highly tendentious use—or neglect—of the available source material. Much more important is her misunderstanding of basic historical processes and her failure to appreciate the central importance of natural population increase as compared to migratory movements. Readers of her book should be warned not to accept its factual claims without checking their sources. Judging by the interest that the book aroused and the prestige of some who have endorsed it, I thought it would present some new interpretation of the historical facts. I found none. Everyone familiar with the writing of the extreme nationalists of Zeev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist party (the forerunner of the Herut party) would immediately recognize the tired and discredited arguments in Mrs. Peters’s book. I had mistakenly thought them long forgotten. It is a pity that they have been given new life”.

    Some further reviews of Peter’s book

    “marred by serious flaws”, “numbers are used selectively to support otherwise baseless conclusions”, “The whole book is written like this: facts are selected or misunderstood, tortuous and flimsy arguments are expressed in violent and repetitive language. This is a ludicrous and worthless book, and the only mildly interesting question it raises is why it comes with praise from two well-known American writers” and,

    “This is a startling and disturbing book. It is startling because, despite the author’s professed ignorance of the historiography of the Arab-Israeli conflict and lack of knowledge of Middle Eastern history (pp. 221, 335) coupled with her limitation to sources largely in English (absolutely no Arab sources are used), she engages in the rewriting of history on the basis of little evidence. …The undocumented numbers in her book in no way allow for the wild and exaggerated assertions that she makes or for her conclusion. This book is disturbing because it seems to have been written for purely polemical and political reasons: to prove that Jordan is the Palestinian state. This argument, long current among revisionist Zionists, has regained popularity in Israel and among Jews since the Likud party came to power in Israel in 1977”

  6. Christopher Proudlove

    I’ve stated this before but Trevor Barclay has not inwardly digested this: Dictionary definitions of ‘homeland’ mean one’s native land, or a STATE, region or territory that is closely identified with a particular people or ethnic group.
    The Mandate did not create new rights. It acknowledged a pre-existing right, which in view of the League of Nations, had clearly not been forfeited by the Jewish people or suspended by international law after successive empires occupied and ruled Palestine in the intervening centuries. The Mandate documents called for the eventual creation of independent states. Specifically, the Palestine Mandate sought the establishment of a Jewish national home, in other words a state.
    If this were not so then United Nations members would not have voted in favour of a Jewish state in November 1947.

  7. Christopher Proudlove

    Regarding Mrs Peters, what Trevor omits to point out that when she started researching for the book her inclinations were towards the Arabs.

  8. Christopher Proudlove

    There are holes in the arguments propounded by Yehoshua Porath which I will come to later. The cry of diaspora Jews at Passover has been ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ The Bible is replete with similar expressions of this longing.
    Porath: “The Arabs argued that the Jews were only a religious community; that peoples could not return to their ancient homelands without turning the entire world upside down.” He omits to mention that Jews have been domiciled in the Holy Land for 4,000 years. Jews are the real indigenous people.
    Look at the world being turned upside down in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Libya. Lebanon etc. Sunni versus Shia, Jihadist Muslim versus democratic Muslim are the real problems in the Middle East and North Africa.
    What Israel has achieved since becoming a nation is nothing short of a miracle. They have given much to the world in science, agriculture, medicine, information technology, water resources etc. Israel could give so much more to the world if Arabs would drop their genocidal intentions and hatred towards the Jewish state.

  9. “Dictionary definitions of ‘homeland’ mean one’s native land, or a STATE”

    Where in the Balfour Declaration can i find the term “homeland”?

  10. Christopher Proudlove

    The Balfour Declaration stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home (i.e. homeland/state) for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object …”
    In 1896, the Jewish journalist Theodor Hertzl, published Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”), in which he asserted that the only solution to growing anti-Semitism in Europe was the establishment of a Jewish State. A year later Herzl founded the Zionist Organisation which “called for the establishment of a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law”.
    During the first meeting between Chaim Weizmann and Balfour in 1906, Balfour asked what Weizmann’s objections were to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Britain’s Uganda Protectorate in East Africa, rather than in Palestine. According to Weizmann’s memoir, the conversation went as follows:
    “Mr. Balfour, supposing I was to offer you Paris instead of London, would you take it?” He sat up, looked at me, and answered: “But Dr. Weizmann, we have London.” “That is true,” I said, “but we had Jerusalem when London was a marsh.” He … said two things which I remember vividly. The first was: “Are there many Jews who think like you?” I answered: “I believe I speak the mind of millions of Jews whom you will never see and who cannot speak for themselves.” To this he said: “If that is so you will one day be a force.”
    According to the 1905 Encyclopaedia Britannica: “The dream of some Zionists for the revival of Hebrew as a living language has even less possibility of being fulfilled than the revival of a Jewish STATE in Palestine.” Wrong on both counts! ‘Trevor’, you should note here the word STATE.’ I have given other examples where government officials have used the term STATE in relation to the future restoration of Israel. If all along Palestine was not to include a Jewish state why on earth did the United Nations ask members to vote for the founding of a Jewish state in 1947? You are very good at twisting words. ‘Trevor,’ but we see through your diabolical anti-Israel, anti-God rants.
    This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains of Israel, that is Judea and Samaria aka the West Bank: “I will cause you to be inhabited as you were formerly … I will cause men – my people Israel – to walk on you and possess you, so that you will become my inheritance. … “ (Ezekiel 36:11,12 NASB)

  11. lol. let me type ‘National home definition’ into google and see why you use the term “homeland” which isn’t mentioned in any relevant document [and neither is state] instead of ‘national home’….i suspect shenanigans are afoot.

    Hmm no definition for ‘national home’ but i did find this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeland_for_the_Jewish_people

    From there i clicked on ‘Balfour Declaration’ and found this,

    “Jewish National Home vs. Jewish State,
    The records of discussions that led up to the final text of the Balfour Declaration clarifies some details of its wording. The phrase “national home” was intentionally used instead of “state” because of opposition to the Zionist program within the British Cabinet. Following discussion of the initial draft the Cabinet Secretary, Mark Sykes, met with the Zionist negotiators to clarify their aims. His official report back to the Cabinet categorically stated that the Zionists did not want “to set up a Jewish Republic or any other form of state in Palestine or in any part of Palestine”.[21] Both the Zionist Organization and the British government devoted efforts over the following decades, including Winston Churchill’s 1922 White Paper, to denying that a state was the intention.[22] However, in private, many British officials agreed with the interpretation of the Zionists that a state would be established when a Jewish majority was achieved.[23]

    The initial draft of the declaration, contained in a letter sent by Rothschild to Balfour, referred to the principle “that Palestine should be reconstituted as the National Home of the Jewish people.”[24] In the final text, the word that was replaced with in to avoid committing the entirety of Palestine to this purpose. Similarly, an early draft did not include the commitment that nothing should be done which might prejudice the rights of the non-Jewish communities. These changes came about partly as the result of the urgings of Edwin Samuel Montagu, an influential anti-Zionist Jew and Secretary of State for India, who was concerned that the declaration without those changes could result in increased anti-Semitic persecution. The draft was circulated and during October the government received replies from various representatives of the Jewish community. Lord Rothschild took exception to the new proviso on the basis that it presupposed the possibility of a danger to non-Zionists, which he denied.[25]”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration_of_1917#Jewish_National_Home_vs._Jewish_State

    You really are a devious individual.

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