I don’t disagree with Ron Skolnik’s analysis, but I’d like to amplify it. Mahmoud Abbas essentially does two things in “The Long Overdue Palestinian State“: one negative and one positive.
The negative is in omitting the historical fact that the Jewish community within Palestine accepted the UN’s 1947 partition plan for two states (one primarily Jewish and the other basically Arab), while the Arab side–including native Palestinian militias–violently rejected this solution and attempted unsuccessfully to destroy the Jewish state in its infancy. It is as a consequence of this war initiated by the Arab side that the tragic Palestinian refugee problem emerged.
But the positive aspect of this article is that Abbas affirms a two-state solution now, with a readiness of the Palestinian Authority that he heads to accept statehood on 22 percent of what was the British Mandate when it ended in 1948. As long as a “just solution for Palestinian refugees” is understood to be one that encompasses financial compensation and resettlement within the new Palestinian state and not a massive influx into what is sovereign Israel today, peace could be at hand.
Unfortunately, the current Israeli government will dwell on the negative rather than the positive in the position laid out by Abbas. And the
possible ambiguity of this notion of a “just solution” for the refugees needs to be clarified to accord with, and not to undermine, the historic principle of self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians, as defined by the formula of two states for two peoples.
In connection with Abbas’ distorted rendition of history, I’m adding a reference to NY Jewish Week editor/publisher Gary Rosenblatt’s column this week. Although I don’t fully endorse his view of the Palestinian Authority as recalcitrant, there’s much in his “Looking to Bibi, As The World Closes In” that I do agree with. For example, in the context of discussing the violent “Nakba Day” protests along Israel’s borders:
While the media has been careful to note that the Nakba refers to the Palestinians’ perception of “the catastrophe” of Israel becoming a state, few if any have pointed out that the real catastrophe was brought about not by the declaration of statehood but by the Arabs’ refusal to accept the UN partition plan for Palestine, their all-out attempt to destroy the fledgling Jewish state in 1948 and the subsequent military defeat of the Arab armies.
The Nakba could have been avoided had the notion of accommodating a Jewish state in the region been accepted. That refusal remains the crux of the problem more than six decades later. [Although one can argue against this second sentence (because of the Arab League’s peace proposal, on the table since 2002) even while agreeing with the first.–RS]
“The term ‘Nakba’ initially focused on the failure of Arab government and armies to vanquish the nascent state, not on the devastation that befell the Arabs of Palestine,” noted Ilan Troen, professor of Israel studies at Brandeis University, writing in the May issue of the journal Sh’ma.
He went on to point out that “neither early nor recent accounts of the Nakba include self-criticism or critique” for how the situation was tragically mishandled by Arab leaders, who still maintain, according to Troen, that “war was and remains justified; Palestinians were/are victims who bear no responsibility for their situation. What happened to them is the fault of others.” ….
There is a chance that you are flirting with a more nuanced argument, but you appear here to be repeating an unfortunate, and critical historical distortion – suggesting that Arab states attempted to destroy the newly created state of Israel in its infancy, and implying that only as a result did Israel expel Palestinian refugees and destroy their villages:
“The negative is in omitting the historical fact that the Jewish community within Palestine accepted the UN’s 1947 partition plan for two states (one primarily Jewish and the other basically Arab), while the Arab side–including native Palestinian militias–violently rejected this solution and attempted unsuccessfully to destroy the Jewish state in its infancy. It is as a consequence of this war initiated by the Arab side that the tragic Palestinian refugee problem emerged.”
If you are flirting with a more nuanced argument than my summary above, it is lost in your linguistic elisions (for example your use of “destroy the Jewish state in its infancy” suggests you are refering to the post May 14 attacks, and implying that Palestinian expulsion occurred only after that date).
In reality, perhaps as much as 50% of Palestinian refugees were forced to flee their homes by Zionist militias prior to Israel’s declaration of statehood on May 14, 1948, and prior to the attack by Arab armies.
This has been well documented by many respected historians, including your favorite, Benny Morris, in Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem. I can’t hyperlink to his information because it is not online, but just refer to the pages where Morris details the dates when each village was depopulated. Don’t forget that the Deir Yassin massacre, as just one of many examples, occurred on April 9, 1948, well before Israel’s declaration of statehood and the subsequent attack of the Arab armies.
So it is simply dishonest to claim that Palestinian refugees were expelled only in response to Arab aggression, though it is true that prior to May 14, both sides were engaged in attacks, and observers may disagree about who committed the majority of attacks and which were offensive and which were defensive.
Here are two other good examples of efforts to debunk similar arguments to the one you appear to be making, Jeremiah Haber in response to Jeffrey Goldberg, and Youssef Munayer in response to Ethan Bronner:
The problem with the argument you appear to be making is that it is a basic historical distortion, and one that is used to wrongly suggest that Palestinian refugees “got what was coming to them” and were only expelled as a result of Israeli defensive actions, post May 14, in response to an attack by Arab armies. Many observers, including me, believe that the Zionist leadership fully intended to expel as many Palestinians as possible, and that the expulsion of Palestinians is part of what led to the Arab attack.
Here’s to hoping that you will now revise your argument to correspond with the basic hisorical facts.
No Ted. As Benny Morris documents in detail, Israel’s independence war began about a half a year before its declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. It began with a wave of Palestinian- Arab attacks, including a siege against the Jewish population of Jerusalem, almost immediately after the UN’s vote for partition in November 1947 (what Morris calls a “civil war”).
It was in March or April of ’48 that the Jews began to win this civil war (after initially being on the defensive) and the flight of Palestinian Arabs began. They fled under different circumstances, depending upon where they were: some fled of their own accord to escape the fighting, others were terrorized into fleeing, while others were run off at gunpoint.
Some Jewish communities (especially in East Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc, but also elsewhere) were similarly driven off or suffered atrocities. But no, I do not mean to ignore the fact that about half the Arab refugees had fled by the time the regular Arab armies attacked.
What Ted totally ignores, however, is that the Palestinian Arab community was already engaged in a brutal war with Palestine’s Jews for a half year before the other Arabs joined the fight.
To add on to Mr. Selinger’s list of authors, I believe Yehoshua Porath has reached the same point; i.e. that the reason the Palestinians fled was due to many factors. Fear of war, and the collapse of Palestinian society due to the flight of the upper class, are two of the reasons he mentions.
I would like to ask you, Ted, what you think the armies that invaded the Mandate would have done to the Jews, assuming they won the war. I have my own assumptions on the matter, i.e. that the Arab armies would have forced them out of the Mandate.
Of course, even if they didn’t, the Jews would most likely be at the mercy of the Arabs, something that the 1948 flight of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews proved, was often fickle.
I guess from your response, your emphasis on events pre-May 14, 1948, and your apparent efforts to distinguish yourself from Jeffrey Goldberg and Ethan Bronner’s “historical anaysis,” that your original statement that the Arab side “attempted unsuccessfuly to destroy the Jewish state in its infancy” actually should read, “attempted unsuccessfuly to destroy the Jewish state before its birth.” So much for precise use of language.
In reponse to your claim:
“What Ted totally ignores, however, is that the Palestinian Arab community was already engaged in a brutal war with Palestine’s Jews for a half year before the other Arabs joined the fight.”
I wish to remind you that I wrote this in my original comment:
“it is true that prior to May 14, both sides were engaged in attacks, and observers may disagree about who committed the majority of attacks and which were offensive and which were defensive.”
And I wrote, “Many observers, including me, believe that the Zionist leadership fully intended to expel as many Palestinians as possible, and that the expulsion of Palestinians is part of what led to the Arab attack.”
There’s being precise, and then there’s being annoyingly picky about the fine print. Israel, or for you, pre-state Israel, was already embroiled in a civil war between the Arabs and Jews, the result of decades of failed initiatives, belligerency, and differing viewpoints and ways of life.
Ted, since you’re back, I want to ask you again: What would have happened had the Arabs won the conflict? They committed massacres and used, shall we say, hostile language in the context of the war that exasperated the fears of the Jewish community. And the behavior displayed afterwards by the Arabs (continuing to confine the Palestinians in camps to this day, supporting terrorists/war efforts, language, ect ect) doesn’t paint them in the most glamorous of lights.
Again, I’d like to hear your answer on the question. Obviously, we’ll never quite know what happened, but an educated guess would be nice.
“It is as a consequence of this war initiated by the Arab side that the tragic Palestinian refugee problem emerged.”
The above is false, for two reasons.
First the “Arab side” did not initiate a war. Following the Partition Decision there were violent Arab riots in which Jews were killed. These riots subsequently died down, to be followed by escalating violence on both sides by sides jockeying for position. To call this “initiating a war” is a risible and anachronistic rationalization — nobody saw these riots at the time as initiating a war.
On the contrary, Moshe Shertok/Sharet, interviewed by the New York Times at the time, stated flatly that the riots following the Partition announcement were the work of the followers of the Mufti, and that the majority of the Arabs living in the area intended for the Jewish state, wished to live in peace with the Jews. This statement was echoed by subsequent Jewish speakers and for good reason; there was a fear that partition would be delayed if it appeared that the Palestinian Arabs did not accept Jewish sovereignty. So the same people who subsequently argued out of expedience that the Arab populace was dangerous for the Jewish state argued out of expedience that it was not at all dangerous. What had changed? The Zionists saw that pressure to take back the refugees was not so great. When it was — as for a brief period in Lausanne — the Zionists were willing to take back a significant number.
It was only after the Palestinians left that the argument was made that their flight was due to their being ordered by the Arab high Command — in order to justify not allowing them to return, as if they left voluntarily.
The clear reason why Israel did not allow the refugees back was demographic — and later, the desire to use the lands for kibbutzim, etc, though that was a subsidiary reason. To this day Israel uses the demographic argument. That is why the refusal to let the Palestinians back had nothing to do with security and everything to do with demography and ethnic cleansing.
Would the Arabs have done the same? I have no doubt that they would.
Remember that the Arab leadership actively opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine for fear that it would lead to claims for self-determination and a state. They claimed that this immigration was against the wishes of the Arab majority, and that it was prejudicial to their rights. In hiindsight, of course, they were correct. Should the Arabs who experienced a rise in their standard of living because of the Zionists be grateful for that. Yes. Should they be even more resentful for subsequently being kicked out. Also, yes.
Second, even had the Arabs launched an all-out war against the Jewish communities, with all Arabs participating, they still would not be responsible for being driven out subsequently. For the idea that war necessitates and justifies subsequent exile in bizarre. Did we drive the Germans out of Germany or the Japanese out of Japan? Once active hostilities have ceased, international law allows refugees to return to their homes, should they desire, and forbids barring their return.
Had the Palestinians not initiated hostilities, there is no guarantee that they would not have been allowed to return. Palestinians who left Palestine *before* November 1947 were not allowed to return.
Let’s face it — if you favored a Jewish state, you could not have one with a significant number of its population — say, 30%-40% – Arab. Mr. Selinger believes this today. That is why there is no question in my mind that Ben Gurion’s acceptance of the Partition Plan was provisional and tactical, and that no Jewish state with a 40% Arab minority would have been declared by Ben Gurion. If six months after he had accepted 40% he was not prepared to accept 22%, tell me what happened in those six months that changed his mind? It cannot have been the fighting, because the Zionists expected and prepared for that.
Here’s another myth: Had the Palestinians accepted the partition plan they would have a Palestinian state today. Can anybody seriously believe this? Isn’t it more likely at the first provocation by Palestinian extremists, Israel, under the guise of self-defense, perhaps genuinely believed in, would try to expand its borders, if it thought it could get away with it? Look at 1956 and 1967. And, for that matter, the attempts to provoke the Syrians on the Golan heights prior to 1967.
I grant you that my last point is arguable, but what is not arguable, is that Israel has always translated land into security concerns in order to sell its need for land to the world. In that it is the same as many countries.
What surprises me is that intelligent liberal Zionists swallow hasbara lines that are incoherent. What I like about Morris is that he says it “dugri” — without ethnic cleansing you could not have an ethnic Jewish state. Israel bears sole responsibility for the ethnic cleansing — not so much much for the exodus of the Palestinians, but for its refusal to let them back to their homes.
That is the original sin of the ethnic state founded in 1948. And Zionists like Judah Magnes and Simon Rawidowicz saw this.
Of course, the fact that somebody is born in sin doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a right to exist. Jewish law doesn’t put to death mamzerim. But the first step for the liberal Zionist is hakarat ha-het.
Who is to blame for the Palestinian refugee problem?
The sovereign state that refused to allow the refugees back to their homes, despite UN GA Resolution 194 calling them to do so. That state decided that as long as the Arabs constituted no more than 20% of the population, they could be controlled, and their influence would be negligible. They opposed the return of Palestinian natives to their homes. The Arabs opposed the mass immigration of European natives to Palestine.
What’s not to understand here? And none of this has to do with war. it has to do with control.
Number of Jews left in Arab held Palestine after the war of Independence: 0
Number of Jews to be left in the West Bank and the Palestinian controlled section of Jerusalem, according to the position of Saeb Erekat and the Palestinian US Ambassador Rashid Erekat: 0
Mahmoud Abbas explained why his family fled Safed: His father was afraid that the Jews would do to the Arabs was the Arabs had done to the Jews in Safed in 1929.
There’s a certain karma to that. Should the Palestinians have had to suffer for that mistake for 63 years? No. But like the 3 million Sudetan Germans, the over 10 million refugees from the partition of Pakistan and India the 850,000 Jews forced out of Muslim countries and the 300,000 Jews in DP camps after WW II there was a choice. The Arabs chose to keep our cousins in camps waiting for the destruction of Israel. They could have chosen other dreams. We did.