What the Israelis Have Learned and What the Palestinians Have Not

(Cross-posted at Lord of the Karmafishes.)

When it comes to I-P we hear an awful lot about "competing narratives." Narratives in this context have little to do with history and much to do with self-serving propaganda. There is, we are to understand, an Israeli narrative and a Palestinian Arab narrative. The question is not whose narrative is true, or closest to the truth, but whose narrative will prevail in the public imagination?

At the center of these narratives is the '48 war. In the original Israeli narrative the Palestinians fled the fighting at the behest of Arab leaders who assured them that after they drove the Jews into the sea they would be free to return to their homes. In the original Palestinian narrative militaristic Jews ethnically cleansed the Palestinians from their traditional homeland resulting in the Nakba, or "catastrophe," along with the misery, oppression, and poverty of refugee status.

In the never-ending vitriolic I-P debate these two narratives, with all their various permutations and interpretations and historical implications, continue to butt heads. One thing that is often overlooked, however, is that the narratives have not remained static in the last 60 years. In the mid 1980s, Israeli historians such as Benny Morris, among others, the so-called New Historians, began to seriously question the Israeli narrative. In The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem (1988), Morris took aim at the prevailing Israeli narrative and shot it full of holes.

Morris, and the historians that followed him, discovered that the Palestinian refugees did not merely flee the fighting at the behest of Arab leadership, but were often driven from their homes by Jewish military forces, precisely as the Arabs had always claimed. And while some scholars tend to focus more on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and others focus more on the Palestinian violence that preceded that ethnic cleansing, the Israeli "narrative" has moderated.Most historians of Israel and the I-P conflict now understand that some Palestinians left at the behest of the leadership, some were pushed out by Israeli troops because they were fighting Israeli troops, and some simply fled out of a rational fear of war... an option that the Jews did not have.

It is not only Israeli scholars who have moderated their views, but the Israeli public, as well. If the 1948 war represents one vital crux of the matter, the 6 Day War and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza represents another vital crux. Between 1967 and the First Intifada of the late 1980s, the majority of Israelis considered the idea of a two-state solution to be nothing less than a dagger at the heart of the Jewish state. In 1948, Arab governments, with the full backing of their people, sought to destroy the Jewish state and failed. In 1967, Arab governments again sought to destroy the Jewish state and failed. And in 1973, Arab governments yet again sought to destroy the Jewish state and yet again failed. Israelis were, and for good reason, convinced that a Palestinian state cozied up right next to a Jewish state would be nothing less than a terrorist country intent on violence toward Israel. For this reason the Israeli right-wing encouraged Jewish settlement in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, as they would say) as a buffer between themselves and a hostile Palestinian population.

The intifada of the late 80s, however, represented a major wake-up call for the Israeli public. It was the violence and the suicide bombings and the chaos of those years that taught most Israelis that the occupation was untenable, unsustainable, and counterproductive. Thus by the 1990s the Israeli consensus became pro-two-state solution. Even hard-line right-wing Likudniks like Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon eventually came around to the idea. The center of Israeli thinking on the subject had shifted in a significant way and the public came to favor Palestinian autonomy in a Palestinian state.

Thus in at least two major ways the Israeli narrative has shifted and moderated itself. The myth of complete Israeli innocence in '48 was busted and the acceptance of a two-state solution became the consensus. Likewise the Palestinian narrative has also shifted. If the Palestinians believed that the militarist Jews unjustly drove them from their homes in '48, they are now even more convinced of the rightness and truthfulness of this simplistic view. If the Palestinians saw themselves as mere victims of the struggle, they are now even more convinced of their own innocence and the righteousness of their cause. In short, while the Israelis have moderated their views, the Palestinians have, year after year, decade after decade, bolstered their original narrative.

The Palestinians still refuse to accept any responsibility for the events of 1948. Missing from their narrative is the historical fact that they launched a civil war against the Jews of the Yishuv in November of 1947, directly after UN Resolution 181, the partition resolution. Directly after the Holocaust the Arabs of the mandate, who had allied themselves with Hitler and the Nazis, sought to slaughter the Jewish population in the traditional homeland of the Jewish people.Furthermore, if the Israelis came to accept the idea of a two-state solution, with a state of Palestine living in peace next to a Jewish state, the Palestinian leadership has never accepted the idea and apparently still has not.

Hamas, of course, remains a genocidal theocratic organization devoted to the violent overthrow of the Israeli government and the replacement of the Jewish state with an Islamist state grounded in Sharia law. Fatah, for its part, has refused offer after offer for a Palestinian state next to Israel. Just as the Arabs refused partition in 1937 under the British Peel Commission and just as they refused a Palestinian state next to Israel with UN 181 in 1947, so Arafat refused a Palestinian state comprised of 100 percent of Gaza, well over 90 percent of the West Bank in a contiguous area, with the Arab sections of eastern Jerusalem for a Palestinian capital in 2000. As recently as 2008, Mahmoud Abbas turned down Ehud Olmert's offer for state claiming that the offer was not good enough, despite the fact that it was an even better deal than what Ehud Barak offered Arafat when Bill Clinton sought to end the conflict.

The bottom line is that the Israelis have shifted their thinking over the years and have been willing to make painful concessions for the purpose of peace while the Palestinians have remained entirely intransigent and continue to refuse a state of their own. The only way the occupation can possibly end is with Palestinian acceptance of Palestinian statehood next to Israel.Until they are ready for that, and until they give up the dream of destroying the Jewish state, than they will continue to live in poverty and under occupation.

It's no longer up to Israel because the Israelis have long ago accepted the principle of two-states.

Only when the Palestinians also accept the principle of two-states for two peoples, only when they moderate their own narrative, can there be a resolution. Until they do their misery will continue even as the Jewish state thrives.

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4 Comments

Yes

It's all those darned Palestinians...why cant they be more reasonable and accept the tidbits offered to them !!  Why are they so opposed to peace ?

by Ravi Verma 2010-05-17 03:51PM | 0 recs
For truth seekers.
Kattan: Truman administration threatened sanctions against ‘brutal’ Israeli stance on refugees

by Philip Weiss on May 17, 2010

I am reading From Coexistence to Conquest, by Victor Kattan, an English journalist-scholar (or "hackademic," as Ilan Pappe once put it), an amazing work of archival archaeology, uncovering the trail of broken promises that is the history of international law and consensus on the Arab-Israeli conflict from Balfour to the Armistice Agreement of 1949.

One of Kattan's most riveting chapters is about the return of the Palestinian refugees, which all the world sought in 1948. As the Nakba was commemorated over the weekend, I sought Kattan's permission to reprint portions of that chapter. They follow my spiel.

Bear in mind a couple of points as you read. Leave aside the issue of the right of return in 2010. The right of return in 1948-9 was not controversial: the world recognized the principle and understood that equitable treatment of refugees, driven out by "terrorism," as the U.S. State Department stated, was essential to peace in the region. Even the United States embraced the principle and some in the administration were willing to undertake sanctions in response to Israeli refusal. But Israel was intransigent and gamed the international bureaucracy. It had gotten its way through the Nakba--a state with a strong Jewish majority--and it now proceeded in a Never-again/no-one-will-tell-us-what-to-do manner. Note Israel's political confidence in flouting U.S. policy.

In this way the argument absolutely mirrors the fight over the colonization of East Jerusalem. The world is against it, so is the U.S. Israel doesn't care.

Note that Harry Truman is for the right of return. And note that the strongest moral voice in the discussion, U.N. mediator Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish diplomat who freed thousands from concentration camps during the Holocaust, whose clear statement concludes Kattan's piece, was murdered by Jewish extremists in Jerusalem in 1948.

Kattan's scholarship begins with the Lausanne Conference of 1949, which convened to try and get at the very least the 250,000 refugees from the Jewish portion of Partition back to their lands.

The Lausanne Conference officially opened on 27 April 1949. A month prior to this, the Archbishop of York told the House of Commons that: 

"They [the Palestinian Arab refugees] have been driven out of the land they have occupied for nearly a thousand years and are asking when are they going back to their homes. In many cases their homes have been taken over by the State of Israel and given to Jewish immigrants or have been destroyed or looted. It would be breaking every law of justice if the United Nations accepted the position that these people must be permanently expelled from their homes."

But the UN did not accept the position that the Palestinian Arabs should be permanently expelled from their homes and nor for that matter did the US Government. On 13 April, during the negotiations in Lausanne, Mark F. Ethridge, the US delegate on the Palestine Conciliation Commission (PCC) sent a secret memorandum to the US Secretary of State reporting on his talks with Comay, the second man at Israel’s Foreign Office in Sharett’s absence (Moshe Sharett was then the Foreign Minister of Israel). In the memorandum Ethridge pointed out to Comay that ‘since Israel had once accepted [a] state with 400,000 Arabs in it she should be prepared to take back at least 250,000 refugees and compensate others’. At the time, there were 150,000 Arabs remaining in Israel. Ethridge was making the point that if Israel had really been sincere about accepting the 1947 UN Partition Plan with its population of 400,000 Arabs, then it should not have a problem with repatriating at least 250,000 of those Arabs which had been displaced during the war. However, Comay responded by telling Ethridge that his suggestion was ‘completely impossible’. This prompted Ethridge to comment in his memo to US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson: 

"Israel does not intend to take back one refugee more than she is forced to take and she does not intend to compensate any directly if she can avoid it. Ben-Gurion and Comay have both argued that refugees are inevitable result of war and no state in modern history has been expected to repatriate them. Both cite Baltic states and Turkey. They contend also that number greatly exaggerated and they can prove it. Israel refuses to accept any responsibility whatever for creation of refugees. I flatly told Ben-Gurion and Comay that while Commission was not tribunal to judge truth of contentions, I could not for moment accept that statement in face of Jaffa, Deir Yassin, Haifa and all reports that come to us from refugee organizations that new refugees are being created every day by repression and terrorism such as now being reported from Haifa. I have repeatedly pointed out political weakness and brutality of their position on refugees but it has made little impression."

...it is clear from the Israeli archives that their Foreign Ministry was pushing for the Palestinian Arab refugees to be resettled in the Arab states rather than be returned to Israel. In a letter to Mr de Boisanger, the French chairman of the PCC [UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine] Walter Eytan [director of the Israeli Foreign Ministry] wrote:

"There can be no return to the status quo ante, as I have been at pains to demonstrate, since the destruction wrought by war and the changes brought about by immigration have decisively and unalterably transformed the whole aspect of the country. The clock cannot be turned back … If an Arab refugee counts upon living again in the house he abandoned, or plying his trade in the workshop he formerly rented, or tilling the fields in the vicinity of the village he once knew, he is living under an illusion which it seems to me essential to dispel."

On 29 May, Ben-Gurion received a letter from James G. McDonald, the first US Ambassador to Israel, by which the US President informed the Government of Israel that it was "seriously disturbed by the attitude of Israel with respect to a territorial settlement in Palestine and to the question of Palestine refugees". The letter continued:

"As a member of the U.N. Palestine Conciliation Commission and as a nation which has consistently striven to give practical effect to the principles of the U.N., the United States Government has recently made a number of representations to the Israeli Government, concerning the repatriation of refugees who fled from conflict in Palestine. These representations were made in conformity with the principles set forth in the resolution of the General Assembly of December 11th, 1948, and urged the acceptance of the principle of substantial repatriation and the immediate beginnings of repatriation on a reasonable scale which would be well within the numbers to be agreed in a final settlement."

The letter reiterated that the Israeli Government "should entertain no doubt whatever" that the US Government expected it "to take responsible and positive action concerning the Palestine Refugees". It then concluded:

"If the Government of Israel continues to reject the basic principles set forth by the resolution of the General Assembly of December 11, 1948 and the friendly advice offered by the United States Government for the sole purpose of facilitating a genuine peace in Palestine, the United States Government will regretfully be forced to the conclusion that a revision of its attitude toward Israel has become unavoidable."

In response to this letter, Foreign Minister Sharett wrote a stern reply, verging on a rebuke, to McDonald, in which Israel disclaimed any responsibility for creating the Palestine refugee problem. He also rejected any idea of territorial compensation for land the Haganah/Israeli Army had acquired beyond the boundaries established by the UN Partition Plan. An elderly Chaim Weizmann, who by 1948 had been elevated to the position of President of Israel, also joined in the fray, writing a personal letter to President Truman in which he claimed that the Palestinian refugees were ‘part of an aggressor group’. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he wrote: "It was not the birth of Israel which created the Arab refugee problem, as our enemies now proclaim, but the Arab attempt to prevent that birth by armed force. These people are not refugees in the sense in which that term has been sanctified by the martyrdom of millions in Europe". The US Government did not, however, accept Israel’s view of its role in the 1948 conflict. Instead it issued Israel the following aide-mémoire:

"The United States Government regards the solution of the refugee problem as a common responsibility of Israel and the Arab States, which neither side should be permitted to shirk. It is for this reason that it has urged Israel to accept the principle of substantial repatriation and to begin immediate repatriation on a reasonable scale, and has urged the Arab States to accept the principle of substantial resettlement of refugees outside Palestine."

The US Government envisaged a solution to the refugee problem, which involved both repatriation and resettlement as provided for in UN General Assembly resolution 194 (III). This show of strength from the US Government induced the Israelis to discuss figures for a potential refugee return between themselves. In July, Sharett sent a telegram to Aubrey Eban, Israel’s UN Ambassador in New York, in which he said that he had been authorised ‘to admit total 100,000 on peace’, which included 25,000 refugees they claimed had already ‘infiltrated’ back into Israel. In other words, they envisaged a net refugee return of 65,000 people. However, Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State did not think the Israeli offer of 100,000 met the provisions of paragraph 11 of UN General Assembly resolution 194 (III). On 13 August, Truman replied to Weizmann:

"With regard to the general question of the Arab refugees, you may recall that the General assembly resolution of December 11 provided 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. I am, therefore, glad to be reassured by your letter that Israel is ready to cooperate with the United Nations and the Arab states for a solution of the refugee problem; that Israel pledges itself to guarantee the civil rights of all minorities; that Israel accepts the principles of compensation for land abandoned by Arabs; that Israel declares its readiness to unfreeze Arab accounts under certain conditions; that Israel has set up a custodian of absentee property; and that Israel is ready to readmit members of Arab families."

Truman added that he ‘would be less than frank’ if he did not tell Weizmann that he was ‘disappointed’ when he read the reply of the Israeli Government written by its Foreign Minister Sharett. He wrote that he thought the views of the Israeli Government ‘are in many respects at variance with the General Assembly resolution of December 11’ and failed ‘to take into account the principles regarding territorial compensation advanced by the United States as indicated in our Aide-Mémoire of June 24’.

[Israel continues to be refractory, saying that the refugees must become citizens of the Arab countries.]

by MainStreet 2010-05-17 08:41PM | 0 recs
This statement reflects ignorance or deception.

"It's no longer up to Israel because the Israelis have long ago accepted the principle of two-states."

I wrote a diary here entitled: The Likud Charter: wiping Palestine off the map. It gave the Likud view of Palestine: no state. And if anyone actually believe Netanyahu's conformance to Obama's non-plan, he/she is a fool. After accepting two states, Netanyahu progressively provided conditions that could only lead to Apartheid, a state of Palestine consisting of a collection of bantustans.

Get smart. Left wing people, the ones you don't like, are not as stupid as you believe them to be.

by MainStreet 2010-05-17 08:46PM | 0 recs
RE: This statement reflects ignorance or deception.

The Israelis have offered the Palestinians their own state twice in the last decade, in addition to being open to offering two state since Israel proposed the Allon Plan a while back. No one is "wiping 'Palestine '''off the map''''". How can you do that when their population has doubled in a few short decades? Its a catch phrase, amazing you use because you're using a twisted version of the REAL story: Iran and their supporters want to wipe the Jewish State off the Map.

by Lakrosse 2010-05-18 02:02AM | 0 recs

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