BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Peace Process, Part 1

In the beginning . . .
Interestingly enough, the peace process between the Arab states and Israel dates back to November 1947. It is then that the UN General Assembly passed what would turn out to be the first of many resolutions on the conflict, Resolution 181, partitioning the territory of Palestine between its Jewish and Palestinian Arab inhabitants. I said interestingly enough because Israel wasn’t even independent at that time. It was ruled by Great Britain under a mandate given it by the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations. Independence wouldn’t come for another six months after Resolution, on May 14, 1948.

What was Resolution 181? It called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. It was approved on November 29, 1947 with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, 10 abstentions and one absent (see list at end of document). The Jews in Palestine accepted the resolution, despite the fact that thousands of its nascent citizens would be forced to move or fall under Palestinian rule, and despite the fact that the resolution represented a second reduction in the territory promised them by the Treaty of San Remo.

The Arabs in Palestine and the Arab states rejected the resolution. Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen all voted against the resolution. In addition, the Muslim, but non-Arab states of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey voted against the resolution. India, which has a significant Muslim population and had just ended a war with Pakistan, as well as Cuba and Greece voted against the resolution also. Following Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1947, the armies of five Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) invaded Israel.

Who were the Palestinians?
The Ottoman Turks had dominated economics and politics in pre-Mandate Palestine. In fact, “Palestine” did not even exist as a political designation for the territory. Instead, it was divided into three administrative units centered respectively around Acco, Jaffa and Beersheva. Despite the arrival of new rulers, the British, in1918, the Arabs in Mandate Palestine were slow to organize themselves. British rule was grudgingly accepted, but Jewish presence in the country grew so did opposition. Although Jews had always lived in the region, and had a achieved a majority status in Jerusalem in 1860, they were not part of either the economic or political elite.

In 1936 the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) was formed. It never achieved the widespread presence or numbers that its Jewish counterparts, such as the Israel Worker’s Party, Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Movement or the various religious Zionist factions had. Its leadership never numbered more than two dozen members, and local sheiks in Arab villages were as likely to be antagonistic to their advances as they were to the British and the various Zionist parties. Most of its membership was either imprisoned or fled to Egypt after the AHC assassinated the British district commissioner of Galilee, Lewis Yelland Andrews in Nazareth on September 26, 1937.

On the same day that David Ben Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, the Arab League based in Cairo announced that it would setup a single Arab civil administration throughout Palestine. This government was officially declared in Gaza on 1 October 1948, partly as an Arab League move to limit the influence of Transjordan (later known as Jordan) over the Palestinian issue. The former mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was appointed as president. The government was recognised by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, but not by Transjordan or any non-Arab country. It was little more than an Egyptian protectorate and had negligible influence or funding.

Israel’s War of Independence
The newly formed, poorly equipped Israel Defense Forces (IDF) repulsed the invaders in fierce intermittent fighting, which lasted some 15 months and claimed over 6,000 Israeli lives (nearly one percent of the country’s Jewish population at the time). For comparison sakes, the US has a population of approximately 300 million today. A loss of 1% of the population would be the equivalent of 30,000,000 souls or 1000 times the number lost on 9/11.

Indigenous Arab forces, acted at the behest of the Arab Higher Committee, independently or at the behest of whichever Arab army was closest. Generally, their attacks came by way of ambush on road traffic and convoys and harassment of outlying Jewish kibbutzim and small villages. As IDF forces advanced, they generally retreated or threw away their weapons and melted away into the general population.

The Armistice to end all Armistices
During the first months of 1949, direct negotiations were conducted under UN auspices between Israel and each of the invading countries (except Iraq, which refused to negotiate with Israel), resulting in armistice agreements which reflected the situation at the end of the fighting.

• Israel-Egypt: February 24, 1949
• Israel-Lebanon: March 23, 1949
• Israel-Jordan: April 3, 1949
• Israel-Syria: July 20, 1949

These armistice agreements were endorsed by the UN Security Council resolution S/1376 on August 11, 1949. Accordingly, the Coastal Plain, Galilee and the entire Negev were within Israel’s sovereignty. The West Bank came under Jordanian rule and was subsequently annexed by the Jordanians; however neither the UN nor any other state recognized this unilateral act. The Gaza Strip came under Egyptian administration, and was ruled as a separate territory; Egypt deciding not to annex it, but also opted not to grant it independence.

The fighting was over, agreements were signed, Jews were ruling primarily over Jews and Arabs were ruling almost exclusively over other Arabs. Under normal circumstances – an oxymoron in the Middle East – one might have expected all the parties concerned to have negotiated formal peace treaties.

So what happened?
This might have been a happy ending for all involved, if not for the problem of the Palestinians who ended up living under Egyptian, Jordanian or Israeli rule, or as refugees primarily in Jordan with smaller populations in Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War by the UN under resolution 302 of December 8, 1949. It is the only refugee agency the UN has ever established that is dedicated specifically to refugees created by a particular natural disaster or war.

UNWRA also has a unique definition of the term “refugee.” Its definition also covers the descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948 regardless of whether they reside in areas designated as refugee camps or in established, permanent communities. This is a major exception to the normal definition of the term. According to UNWRA’s 1950 census, Palestinian refugees numbered 711,000. Today, due to UNWRA’s unique definition of the term, Palestinian Arab “refugees” now number close to four million.

Regardless of the semantics or juridical appropriateness of the term, UNWRA’s unique status and unique definition have created a self-perpetuating global welfare program that has, for over sixty years, in large part subsidized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is global in nature because the Arab states, that have insisted on UNWRA and its peculiar definition have never contributed more than 2% of its annual budget. The rest of the world, through its annual contributions to the UN and other donations, has effectively been subsidizing the refugee problem.

Resolution 194
Over the course of sixty years, Palestinians have internalized the notion that they are entitled to return to their “home,” even though this supposed home is one that over 70% of them have never set foot in even once! Palestinians, first on the basis of UN Resolution 194 then as a tenet in their political organizations, have claimed a “right of return” to “Palestine.” Resolution 194 states that:

The refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors 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.

Israel, which absorbed close to 900,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries after 1948, has obvious problems with this. It has contested the meaning of the wording almost since its adoption. Most objections center on the phrase “and live at peace with their neighbors.”

Palestinian Arabs, with the support of Egypt and Jordan began organizing as fedayeen – resistance fighters – and raiding Israel’s border communities. Civilian airlines, buses, pizza parlors and supermarkets in Israel have been attacked for sixty years, with thousands of casualties. Setting aside the obvious inability to “live at peace,” there are several practical difficulties associated with Palestinian Arabs “returning.”

First, the influx of 700,000 – let alone four million Palestinian Arabs – would seriously upset the demographic applecart. Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. Second, in all likelihood, it would cease to be a democratic state. One only has to watch the newsreel footage of Hamas “activists” tossing Fatah “activists” off the roofs of high rise apartment buildings in the summer of 2007 to glean how Palestinian political movements treat the loyal opposition. Third, Israel lacks the carrying capacity to absorb such numbers. Its economy would simply collapse. Finally, based on statements that Palestinian leaders have made since signing the Oslo accords committing themselves and Israel to a diplomatic solutions to the problem, they still do not accept the existence of Israel.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment