Israel and Palestine – Part I (of how many?)

I am annoyed at a T-U writer, and probably even moreso at the editor who failed to catch the factual errors. I won’t bother to give you the link because it’ll be stale in a week or so — the TU does not keep its archives available for very long — but here’s the beginning of the article.

From opposite sides, paths converge for peace

A former Israeli soldier and a Palestinian who was imprisoned for protesting promote “two-state solution”

Click byline for more stories by writer.
First published: Saturday, January 20, 2007

A decade ago, Elik Elhanan and Sulaiman Al Hamri were instruments in one of the longest raging conflicts in the world. Elhanan was a young Israeli soldier, fighting for the security of his country. Al Hamri was a Palestinian protester, battling for a country that no longer existed.

Before I continue, I want to be very clear: please remember that I write as a strong supporter of a two-state solution, and I found these two men were amazing to listen to. I believe, as they do, that the only way to ensure security for Israelis — as well as for Palestinians — is for each side to have an independent country. That will make them political equals, and this is a political conflict. No, it does not necessarily spell security immediately (for anybody) — but it’s clear that the current situation never will.

Nevertheless. Palestine is NOT “a country that no longer exist[s].” As a nation, with borders and a government and self-determination and international recognition, Palestine has never existed. Palestinians are non-citizens of a hope and a dream — one which, in some form, I share with them.

And when outsiders (folks who are neither Israeli nor Palestinian, nor Arab nor Jew) get the facts wrong like this, it feeds an anti-Israel sentiment, particularly among left-wing liberal groups and individuals, that is already problematic.

Never mind that this is by no means “one of the longest raging conflicts in the world.” Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland have us beat by at least 3 centuries.

Here are the facts, folks. And to understand just how poignant this is, I want you to understand just how small the piece of land we are talking about is. Here is Israel (I won’t apologize for calling it that, at the moment that’s it’s name, and I deliberately chose a map that recognizes the Green Line) and New York State, at the same scale (be patient, this map takes a little bit to load):

New York and Israel maps superimposedOK. Let’s begin.

Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire ruled over the sliver of land between the Jordan River and the sea, not to mention a great deal of the area around it. The boundaries that you can see faintly under the pink are countries that were created LATER:

Ottoman Empire in 1914, map from UK Govt Archives

It was much reduced from its former extent (click on a thumbnail to see a full-size image):

Ottoman Empire in 1792, map from Univ. of Texas library Ottoman Empire at its fullest extent, 1699. I don't know the provenance of the map

During WW I, the French and British negotiated a secret agreement about who would control what in the Middle East after the war. The map of the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 looked like this:
Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916

After WW I, there was no longer any Ottoman Empire; the Allies met in London in February, 1920 and in April in Sanremo (San Remo?) Italy to divvy up the Ottoman Empire lands. The map of the part of the area in question looked like this:

Map of British Mandate Palestine, 1920, from Wikipedia
There was already a commitment by the British to the idea of a “Jewish National Home” within their mandate, as expressed in the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Then they backed off from that commitment through a series of “White Papers” — or, you could say, attempted to placate both Arab and Jewish fears. (See this amazing White Paper of 1922, especially the attempt to redefine “Jewish National Home” as perhaps not a sovereign country of its own.) By 1924, the map looked like this (below), confirmed by the League of Nations. Note that the splitting of Transjordan from the rest of the Palestinian Mandate was done unilaterally by the British (see the White Paper of 1922 again. According to Wikipedia, the British gave semi-autonomous control to the Hashemite family, who had lost their war with the House of Saud for control of Mecca and Medina. After WW II, Transjordan became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). Also, in 1924 there was no Lebanon at all, and Syria and Iraq were not yet independent countries either:

Map of British Mandate and area allowed for Jewish settlement, finalized in 1924, Map and description from Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Fast forward to 1947 and the United Nations Partition Plan. This is an actual UN map, labelled “Majority Proposal” and dated September, 1947. The vote was November 29 of that year. I’m sorry it has to be this small to fit in the blog; it’s a beautiful map:

Map of Partition Plan, from Boston University

(If for some reason this map doesn’t load, you can see it here.)

But it’s a ridiculous proposal, notwithstanding the title “Palestine Plan on Partition with Economic Union.” I can’t imagine that anyone on either side was thinking about anything but complete independence and autonomy. The borders were drawn so that the areas with majority Arab population were Palestine (pink), and the rest, including the Negev Desert in the south, was Israel (blue-green); but how can you have countries that are split into pieces like this? Nevertheless, the Jewish leadership of the yishuv (the Jews who lived there) accepted the plan. There hadn’t been an independent Jewish country in nearly two millenia. It would have to do.

So the British pulled out on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was declared from a building in Tel Aviv now known as Independence Hall (exterior), and seven Arab nations attacked the new country. Following truce agreements signed in early 1949, the armistice line looked like this:
Map of Green Line, 1949, from 'Defensible Borders'

This border is known as the “Green Line,” because apparently someone drew it in green pencil during negotiations. Note that it’s an armistace line, but has served as a more-or-less recognized border for Israel.

What happened to Palestine? Jordan occupied (and I believe formally annexed) the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza. Israel had conquered the northeast. This was the moment when Palestine should have come into existence (if it wasn’t to be on May 14, 1948). Who prevented Palestine from coming into being at this moment? Not Israel.

1967, Six Day War:

1978, historic peace treaty with Egypt and return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. I recall reading somewhere that Menachem Begin wanted to give Gaza to Egypt too and Anwar Sadat refused.

Anyway, you see what I mean. There is not now a Palestinian State, and there needs to be. But there never has been one. And representing otherwise makes Israel out as an international bully, and we don’t need that kind of publicity.