Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

Do Arabs really refuse a Jewish state in Palestine?

by Peter A. Belmont / 2010-10-16
© 2010 Peter Belmont


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It is widely supposed that Arab (and especially Palestinian) intransigence regarding Israel’s expansive presences in Palestine is a reflection of their intransigence regarding ANY AND EVERY POSSIBLE Jewish state in Palestine.

I suggest that this is confused thinking.

If anyone ever actually asked Palestinians (say the PLO) if it would agree to the presence within Palestine of a Jewish State, whether theocratic or merely Jewish-only by population), I believe the PLO would say “Yes”, amplifying by saying “if it were only as large as needed for its population, and not as large as that population might desire.”

New York City has a population larger than Israel’s and occupies 305 sq. mi. Jews owned between 600 and 800 sq. mi. of Palestine in 1947. I think the PLO could say “Yes” to a Jewish State if it retracted to such an area. That would leave almost 10,000 sq. mi. for the Palestinians, including the refugees from 1948 to return to.

In a recent editorial ”An End to Israel’s Invisibility” (NYT, October 13, 2010),[1] Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren seeks to mislead his mostly American readers from his very first paragraph. Way to go, Mr. Ambassador! I quote:

NEARLY 63 years after the United Nations recognized the right of the Jewish people to independence in their homeland — and more than 62 years since Israel’s creation — the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state.

Why is this misleading? I discuss this question at length below.

Oren concludes (more of this, also below):
The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal [of Palestinians] to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government.

The remark about “the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” raises an interesting question: Has any Israeli government ever, ever, asked the PLO (or even asked anyone else, perhaps rhetorically, but out loud and in public where the question could be heard) this question:
Would the Palestinians ever, under any circumstances, recognize the Jews as a people indigenous to the region and endowed with a right, which the Palestinians ought to recognize, to self-government within a state inside the boundaries of Mandatory Palestine?”

My guess is that no prominent Israeli has ever asked this question, for the reason that no such person would want to hear the obvious answer. My guess, as to the likely answer, is that many Palestinians, and even the PLO, would answer this question “Yes!” For a few Jews certainly have lived in Palestine throughout recent centuries, and surely space could be made for the Jews of Palestine—who lived there before 1922 when the English began to sponsor massive Jewish immigration to Palestine—to live in Palestine. if they felt they needed a state of their own, which many orthodox Jews profess not to feel, and even space for some of the Jews of the rest of the world could also be made, but probably not space for all of the latter, and especially not for the indefinite future, for Jews (like Palestinians) are very numerous even today and Palestine is a small country, and lacks water.

(I only mention “water” because most other commentators decline to mention it.)

The real issue, to me at least, is whether the request of the Jews to be granted (to be granted, mind, and not take as spoils) a right to reside as a self-governing country in Palestine refers to a right to have the smaller space and other resources that they need or to have the larger space and resources that they desire. (After all, if Israel is and was entitled to take whatever it wanted by force of arms—as spoils, then it is, on that argument, entitled to take and hold whatever it has the power to take and hold.)

It is, at least for me, a question, in part, of “needs” versus “desires”. And what is the nature of such a question, and how should it be decided? It is, for me, a question of morality, on the one hand. versus power on the other. There is a “legitimacy” that springs from widely agreed human nature, widely agreed morals, and widely agreed law, and another “legitimacy” that springs from power and the barrel of a gun. Israelis talk much about “legitimacy”, so it is important to know what they (and what others) are talking about.

Did the UNGA in 1947 grant “legitimacy” to today’s Israel?

What the UNGA did, in UNGA 181 (1947), was to propose a particular division of Palestine into three geographical parts, one to have a predominantly Jewish population based on the demographics of the moment, one to be predominantly Arab (or non-Jewish), and one to encapsulate Jerusalem, this division explicitly [a] subject to “necessary” action by the Security Council [2] (action which never took place then or since) and [b] requiring the active participation of all the people involved[3] (active participation which did not occur then or since).

I say “predominantly Jewish” and “predominantly Arab” here, because there was no proposal for population transfers, expulsions, ethnic cleansing, etc., indeed, quite the contrary.[4] And I say “subject to agreement”, because the UNGA did not invite (or appear to grant permission or approval) to either the Arabs or the existing non-Arab population of Palestine[5] to do anything unilaterally.

So, my answer is, that the UNGA Res. 181 imagined a different Israel than the one which thrust itself into being. It imagined one based on UNSC action and on cooperative Jewish-Arab action, neither of which happened. UNGA 181 did not authorize unilateral action and did not authorize the ethnic cleansing which Israel inflicted on the Palestinians.

Did UNGA “legitimize” Israel? Well, no. Not the Israel that created itself and overcame the Palestinians at the barrel of a gun. It imagined something else entirely. The Israel of today owes nothing to UNGA 181.

Returning to the good Ambassador’s first above quoted paragraph, he endeavors to mislead when he combines in one sentence the UN’s recognition of Israel’s right to independence, which might fairly be read as at least suggested by UNGA 181, with the notion of “Israel’s creation”, an event unrelated either territorially or legally (or by the means adopted for its creation) with UNGA 181’s proposal for an agreed, cooperative, and peaceable division of the land by necessary action of the Security Council, mind, which would leave in place and undisturbed the people then living in each part of that land.

As to Oren’s claim that, “the Palestinians are still denying the Jewish nature of the state,” this is also misleading or outright false. What the Palestinians are refusing to do is to grant their approval to two apparently inseparable (as Siamese-twins are—at least initially— inseparable) and equally offensive requests by Israel, namely, [1] Israel’s request that Palestinians acknowledge Israel’s right to exercise dominion to a state consisting of an unspecified but apparently ever larger portion of (Mandatory) Palestine and [2] Israel’s request that Palestinians acknowledge “the Jewish nature” of this somewhat amorphous state.

Why are these two requests equally offensive to Palestinians, especially in tandem, as they are always propounded?

Israel’s request that Palestinians acknowledge Israel’s right to exercise dominion to a state consisting of an unspecified but apparently ever larger portion of (Mandatory) Palestine is offensive to Palestinians who have their own legitimate claims to this territory, offensive to them because of the open-ended nature of the territory comprised under the claim of Israeli sovereignty now or in future, and offensive to them because they reasonably claim the protection of the UN Charter which proscribes the acquisition of territory by use or threat of force), as does UNSC Res. 242. (whose preamble says: “Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,”).

Israel’s request that Palestinians acknowledge “the Jewish nature” of this rather amorphous state is offensive to Palestinians because it demands that they ignore, first, that 20% of the population of Israel’s pre-1967 territory are already Palestinians and, second, that even Israel’s pre-1967 territory should by right, in the view not only of Palestinians but of almost all the world as expressed by UNGA Res. 194,[6] contain a great number more of Palestinians and would do so if the Palestinians who were denied re-admission to Israel after the war of 1948 (and their progeny) were allowed re-admission by Israel, which for 62 years it has refused to allow, even while expanding its de facto boundaries.

The Palestinians do not wish, by acquiescing to this dual demand, to appear to approve the removal of Palestinians from lands presently claimed as sovereign territory by Israel, to pre-judge the right of other Palestinians to return to that (or to such) territory after a peace treaty, or to agree to the “Jewish nature” of any substantially dominant portion of their homeland, Palestine.

Oren concludes his essay,
”The core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the refusal to recognize Jews as a people, indigenous to the region and endowed with the right to self-government. Criticism of Israeli policies often serves to obscure this fact, and peace continues to elude us. By urging the Palestinians to recognize us as their permanent and legitimate neighbors, Prime Minister Netanyahu is pointing the way out of the current impasse: he is identifying the only path to co-existence.”

To Ambassador Oren and to all Israelis’ I would say: such right as Israel had (and has now) to flood the already well-populated Palestine with new Jewish immigrants after 2000 years of general Jewish absence, chiefly on the basis of European sympathy and guilt after the horror of the Holocaust, is a right to succor, not a right to dominance. It is a right to acquire what—of land and water—these Jews need, not a right to what (in their maximal imaginings) they may from time to time desire. It is not a right to ignore the post WWII (and perhaps post WWI) international agreement that territory is not to be acquired by force or war. It was never seen, not by Balfour and not by UNGA 181, as a right to expel 85% of the non-Jewish population in order to create a “Jewish State”, whether “Jewish” by population or “Jewish” in the theocratic sense.

If Oren and his friends desire a “Jewish State” to be acknowledged by anyone, and especially by Palestinians, I suggest that the territory to which this characterization attach be as small as possible, reflecting need rather than desire.

Ten million people, roughly, live in New York City, a very expansive city (comprising 305 sq. miles), which, with 1/30th the area of pre-1967 Israel (8,367 sq. miles) contains about the same if not a greater population.

Israel could sustain its Jewish population within a Jewish theocracy and be as “Jewish” as its residents might desire on a far smaller territory than it occupied in 1967. There is a wide difference between “need” and “desire”.

Alexandre Dumas says, rather nicely, in “The Count of Monte Cristo” (see: http://123pab.com/blog/2010/10/The-Count-of-Monte-Cristo-sheds-light-on-US-Foreign-Policy.php) at p. 1359,
Mercédès had never known misery. She had often, in her youth, spoken of poverty, but between want and necessity, though synonymous words, there is a wide difference. Amongst the Catalans, Mercédès wished for a thousand things, but she never really wanted any.


[1] This editorial is analyzed at The “Israel as a Jewish State” Mantra, by M. J. Rosenberg


[2] Res. 181 clearly “Requests that [t]he Security Council take the necessary measures as provided for in the plan for its implementation”


[3] Res 181 “Calls upon the inhabitants [these being Arab and non-Arab] of Palestine to take such steps as may be necessary on their part to put this plan into effect”


[4] Indeed, 181 required the two new proposed states to “Guarantee[] to all persons equal and non-discriminatory rights in civil, political, economic and religious matters and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of religion, language, speech and publication, education, assembly and association.”


[5] I say “non-Arabs” here to echo, but to reverse, the ill-sounding words of the Balfour Declaration, “ it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.


[6] which provides, i part: “11. Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; “


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