Shlomo Avineri is exactly correct on the history and he states it with sensitivity as a dovish Labor Zionist, in this Haaretz article published May 10. We undermine ourselves as Zionists if we don’t understand that the Palestinian decision to go to war in 1947-48, rather than accept partition or to even attempt to negotiate for a different deal, has caused them no end of misery. (I believe they repeated and compounded that error in 2000, but that’s another matter.)
Until they accept responsibility By Shlomo Avineri
The Palestinians will mark the annual Nakba Day on May 15, as they have done in previous years. We must listen to their voices. As human beings and as Jews we must listen and be attentive to the other’s pain, even if the other is – at the moment – our enemy. However, we must listen critically.
First and foremost we may ask, why May 15? It was on this day that the British Mandate on Palestine ended and the State of Israel was established. But the United Nations’ resolution of November 29, 1947 also stipulates that an Arab state was to be established on part of Palestine this very same day. This resolution gave the seal of international approval to erecting two nation states on the controversial territory of mandatory Palestine.
Do the Palestinians mention this along with their rejection of the compromise resolution proposed by the international community, in the form of the partition plan?
With all due understanding and empathy to the Palestinians’ suffering, the way the Nakba, the “catastrophe,” is presented in the Palestinian and pan-Arab narrative raises several questions. It is portrayed as something terrible and evil that happened to the Palestinians. There is not even an iota of introspection, self-criticism and readiness to deal with the Palestinians’ own contribution to their catastrophe.
We can understand – without justifying it – the Palestinians’ rejection of the partition plan, just as we can understand – without justifying it – the Revisionist Zionist position negating the partition. But most of the Jewish community accepted the idea. And if most of the Palestinians had accepted it, then an independent Palestinian state would have risen on part of Mandatory Palestine in 1948, without war and without refugees.
The Palestinians are not prepared to deal with this complex reality. After 1948 quite a few books were written in Arabic about the Arabs’ defeat in their war against Israel. To this day no book has raised the question of whether, perhaps, the Arabs erred in rejecting the compromise – painful as it may be – of the partition? Perhaps they would have done better if, like the Zionists, they had gritted their teeth and accepted the half-full glass?
A much used expression in Jewish tradition says “because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” This expression is religious, but it indicates that the Jews viewed their exile in a self-critical manner. It would have been easy, of course, to blame the Romans and the other nations for their fate. But the Jewish narrative did not do so and viewed both the destruction and exile as deriving, among other things, from the Jews’ own actions and shortcomings.
Every nation, especially a defeated one, sees itself as a victim. But most of the nations that were defeated – Germany after World War II is the classic example – also looked at themselves, at their society, values and actions.
Far be it from me to maintain that in 1948 the Jews were “right” and the Arabs were “wrong.” What troubles me and other Zionist Israelis wishing to be attentive to the Palestinians’ pain and willing to help rectify injustices and accept a historic compromise, is the Palestinians’ complete unwillingness to acknowledge that in 1948 they and their leaders made a terrible historic mistake – of both political and moral proportions – by rejecting the international compromise they were offered.
It is for this reason that the Palestinians’ customary comparison between the Nakba and the Holocaust is so outrageous. Did the Jews of Germany and Europe declare war on Germany? Were the world’s Jews offered a compromise that they rejected? Europe’s Jews were murdered by the Nazis because they were Jews. What does that have to do with the Palestinians’ decision to refuse the UN’s compromise proposal and go to war?
It would not be exaggerated to say that there will be no true compromise between Israel and the Palestinians without a readiness on their part – however minute and partial, for the “truth” is always complex – to admit that they, too, are partly responsible for what happened to them in 1948.
Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.