How did the Palestinians reach their current tragic state? Are the Israelis responsible? What about the other Arab states and the Palestinians’ own leaders? What part of the blame falls on them?
These are important questions. The answers are complex, requiring a historical literacy and a willingness to go beyond the simplistic notion of the international media that the Mid-east conflict is a matter of conflicting rights and Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian lands.
Early Oppression of Palestinian Arabs by the Ottoman Turks
The exploitation of Palestinian Arabs began more than 170 years ago, when Israel was still an impossible dream, and intifadas and suicide bombers were unimaginable. At the height of its rule in the early 19th century, the Ottoman Empire instituted “Tanzimat,” a series of laws promulgated over several decades which radically changed the nature of land ownership. As a result of the new laws, wealthy land owners, bankers, business owners, and money lenders anywhere in the Empire could now buy land formerly owned communally by the Arab peasants (fellahin) in the towns and villages of the region that would later become known as Israel.
From the mid-1830s to the late 1850s, wealthy Arabs (effendi) from Cairo to Beirut, Jaffa to Damascus, purchased land previously owned by hundreds of thousands of fellahin, who suddenly found themselves landless serfs instead of successful small farmers, now working what had once been their own land as tenants of the effendi.
In years of inadequate harvest, Arab money lenders granted usurious loans and took as collateral both future harvests and whatever land remained under communal ownership. When future harvests were insufficient to pay off the debt, with its astronomic interest rate, the money lenders confiscated more land and pushed the fellahin deeper into a modern-day version of feudal serfdom. In other words, the Palestinian Arab peasantry watched helplessly as their land was bought out from under them, by their own people, 50 years before Zionism.
From the 1830s onward, travelers such as Karl Marx and Mark Twain commented on the desolation and emptiness of the area. The Sultan could not collect taxes from unoccupied land. So the Turkish authorities forcibly relocated Bulgarians, Circassians, and Arabs from surrounding regions. Some stayed, worked the land, and assimilated into the local population. Others found a way to escape back to their homelands. The crown’s policy of forced resettlement impacted negatively on the indigenous Arab fellahin. The newcomers created competition for resources (especially water) and offered new sources of supply for agrarian markets. The Arab peasants, already reduced to subsistence agriculture, had to work harder simply to survive. (1).
The Benefits of Zionism to the Arab Peasantry
From the 1880s onward, Zionists bought land in ever-increasing amounts all over what would later be called Israel, and in trans-Jordan. They purchased land from two main sources: The crown and the wealthy Arab land-owners (Effendi), both local and absentee. The fellahin or peasants were already dispossessed.
Owned by the Sultan, crown land was largely unoccupied and un-worked. The Sultan was delighted to have someone purchase, develop, and pay taxes on it. The purchase of crown land rendered no one landless. In fact, it had a positive influence on the neighboring fellahin. The technologically advanced Zionist agrarian endeavors resulted in the reclamation of arid areas with modern irrigation. In addition to learning new agricultural techniques, the Arab peasants could graze flocks on the newly created grassland surrounding the Zionists’ fields. In the swampy areas of the Jezreel and upper Hula valleys, newly drained swampland created arable tracts beyond the holdings of the Zionists, and local Arabs worked those lands, albeit illegally as squatters as far as the crown and wealthy Arab landowners were concerned.
Unlike the wealthy Arabs who purchased land under the Tanzimat and kept the fellahin on the land as serf-like peasants, the Zionists worked the land they purchased themselves, as farmers, and thus had no use for peasant labor. Re-location of the Arab peasants was accomplished in several different ways. Zionist purchasers sometimes paid an additional fee to the wealthy Arab land owner, for instance, to help subsidize the peasants’ move. There was much un-worked land both in the land west of the Jordan River and in Trans-Jordan (the land to the east) that could be bought with these funds. The former Arab serfs could now once again become land-owners, thanks to the surcharge paid by the Zionist purchasers.
Sometimes, the wealthy Arab land-owner illegally kept the surcharge. When Arab peasants did not receive their payment, they complained and sometimes sued the Zionists in the Muslim courts of the Turkish administration. In many cases, the Zionists paid the surcharge again to the peasants rather than incur the expenses and risks of a court case, especially as Jewish plaintiffs in a Muslim court.
Sometimes, the Arab peasants demanded that other land be bought for them so they would not have to search for uninhabited farmland. The Zionists often did this to avoid confrontation. But after fulfilling their part of the deal, they often found their land suddenly covered with Bedouin tents or the shanties of squatters. Having no police or other armed force of their own, they turned to the Ottoman rulers of the region for justice. Sometimes honest neighbors would attest that the new occupants were indeed interlopers trying to extort money from the Zionists. At other times, in the absence of such witnesses, the Zionists had to pay off these squatters or buy land for them elsewhere. (2)
The Hope-Simpson report in 1930, addressing the question of uprooted Arab peasants under the British Mandate (imposed after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I), concluded that only a bit more than 800 families were actually rendered landless by Zionist land purchases over the decades from 1880 onward. While initially more than 3,000 Arab heads of households claimed such status in the hope of gaining land or money at the expense of the Zionists or the British, the Hope-Simpson staff found that only a fraction of that number were legitimate (3).
Over all, the Zionist endeavor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was highly beneficial to the indigenous Arab population ruled by the Turks. Among the benefits were the agricultural advances the Zionists brought to Arab peasants and Bedouins who migrated in from surrounding areas in considerable numbers from the 1880s onward. Wealthy Arab land-owners enriched themselves at the expense of the Zionists who were willing to pay inflated prices with double and triple surcharges in order to procure land for the creation of a Jewish homeland. And some Arab peasants were able to reverse the tragic consequences of the Tanzimat land-grab and regain their status as land-owning farmers thanks to the Zionists’ willingness to pay them or buy land for them, often in trans-Jordan (4).
Arab Jew-hatred Under the British Mandate
British involvement in the Holy Land began in the early decades of the 19th century. When the French assisted Mehmet Ali and Ibrahim Pasha in Egypt during their revolts against the Turks, England worked with the Sultan to counter the Egyptian rebellion and thus limit the extent of French influence in the Middle East.
English political and cultural representatives now filtered into the Holy Land to build schools, hospitals and other cultural centers. British exploration of Christian holy sites began at this time. The result was a rapidly growing sphere of British influence on the Eastern Mediterranean litoral from Beirut to Gaza by the late 19th century. With the opening of the Suez Canal and discovery of petroleum in “Mesopotamia” (later Iraq), British interest in the region skyrocketed. Eventually Britain would build oil refineries in Haifa and a railway connecting the Eastern Mediterranean port with Iraq.
This British activity translated into massive economic growth. Thousands of Arab peasants were given an education and exposed to modern medicine. Between the Zionist development in agriculture and medicine and British industrial and cultural advances, the economy of the region grew rapidly. Infant mortality plummeted, life expectancy increased, migration to the region continued unabated, and the Arab peasant could find employment that paid him in a month what his peasant father earned in a year. Arab agricultural techniques improved as well, and for the first times, farming in the region changed from subsistence to commercial, with the Arab tenant farmers producing enough to meet their own needs and have excess for marketing (5).
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the League of Nations’ created “British Mandatory Palestine,” which encompassed all of the Holy Land west of the Jordan River and what would later become the Hashemite Emirate of Jordan to the East of the Jordan River (Trans-Jordan, now known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The goal of this arrangement was for Britain to assist the Arabs and the Jews who lived there to become able to govern themselves autonomously, at which point Britain’s mandate would end.
In 1922, Britain established Trans-Jordan in the area east of the Jordan River (which constituted 74% of the entire Palestine Mandate) and declared it the Hashemite emirate. The majority of the population were Arabs from the Palestine region, but the rulers were Hashemite Arabs originally from Arabia. Jews were forbidden by law to enter this new emirate, and the existing Jewish farming settlements east of the Jordan River were dismantled and relocated in areas to the west. In other words three quarters of the Palestine Mandate were declared Judenrein (ethnically cleansed of Jews) by the British in order to appease the Arabs.
Under the Palestine Mandate, the economy of the remaining area continued to prosper. Rather than using the draconian methods of the Ottoman army to keep order, British officers encouraged the growth of a local indigenous leadership. Thus, the infamous and pro-Nazi, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, although indicted by the British for his role in the anti-Jewish riots of the early 1920’s, was appointed the “Grand Mufti of Jerusalem” by the British High Commissioner. Even the lethal anti-Jewish riots of 1929 and 1936, sparked in large part by the Hajj’s incendiary anti-Jewish preaching and behind-the-scenes machinations, did not undermine the British determination to assist the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine to develop institutions of leadership in preparation for self-rule at some point in the future (6).
The Arab War Against the Jews and their State: 1936 to 1947
Although the Zionist endeavor, along with the British contributions to the region’s economy, brought unprecedented prosperity to the region, and created the environment in which the Arab population could more than triple between 1855 and 1947, Arab leadership resented Jewish progress and feared the growth of the Jewish population. Despite efforts by leading Zionists to develop modes of cooperation and joint programs with industrial and agrarian leaders, the Hajj and other Effendi provoked anti-Jewish sentiment and pressured the British to put a complete stop to Jewish immigration. The British agreed to reverse their stand on the concept of Palestine as a homeland for the Jews, and a series of “white papers” limited the number of Jews that could enter the country. But rather than appeasing Arab leadership, these attempts at mollification emboldened the Hajj to preach a full-scale revolt. In 1936 Arab riots took the lives of dozens of British and hundreds of Jews. With World War II looming, the British moved swiftly to quell the revolt (7).
At Parliament’s behest, Lord Earl Peel visited the region in 1937 to find a way to satisfy Arab demands. His conclusion was that the Arabs and the Jews could not live together, and the only option was partition. Thus was created the “Peel partition plan” in which the Arabs in the area west of the Jordan River would receive about 85% of the land, and the Jews 15%. The division was based on the areas in which each group had the most population. In other words the Jews were being offered 15% of the remaining 26% of the original Palestine Mandate, the other 74% to the east of the Jordan River having already been given to the Hashemites. The Jews accepted this arrangement. The Arabs rejected it –the 92% of the original Palestine Mandate they would now have was considered inqdequate -- and they went to war.
The leaders of the 1937 revolt imagined that the British would buckle under sustained attacks, and that Jews would stop immigrating. But their terrorism, hit-and-run tactics, and relentless attacks on Jewish civilian populations created a situation that the British could not allow to continue. By 1937, as war clouds gathered in Europe, they quickly augmented their military strength and over the next year killed somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 Arabs, ending the revolt in 1939 (8).
While Arab historians decry Britain’s use of overwhelming force to end the revolt, it is important to remember that before they resorted to force the British attempted to find a solution via a negotiated compromise. Had Arab leadership accepted this compromise, and created Palestine alongside of Israel as the Peel Commission recommended, the Palestinian people would have had their own state in 1937 on about 85% of what is today Israel and Palestinian Arabs would be living on 92% of the original Palestine Mandate (in a new Palestinian state west of the Jordan River and in the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan east of the river).
By preaching Jew-hatred and provoking the revolt against the British, the Hajj and his cohorts betrayed the interests of their own people and condemned them to a war they could not win and to the loss of a Palestinian state. After their defeat, the Arab leaders of the revolt who escaped the British dragnet initiated their own “night of the long knives,” executing as many as 3,000 of their own people whom they accused of collaboration.
In the post-war era, the British, fed up with the costs of empire, handed the “Palestine question” over to the newly formed United Nations. The UN undertook a thorough and in-depth evaluation of the partition proposal. Several fact finding missions went to Palestine and found in the Zionists a willing and cooperative group. Lengthy and uninhibited interviews with leaders, rank-and-file, rich, poor, new-comers, and even refugees on board the immigrant ships that had been held up by the British all resulted in the impression that the Jews, especially after the Holocaust, needed a state. It was clear as well that there was enough land legally owned by Jews and the Jewish Agency for a state to be cobbled together. In order to avoid infringement upon land owned by Arabs, this Jewish state would be rather odd looking and problematic. It had a segment in the south connected to a sausage-like segment in the middle and a third piece that was just barely contiguous to the other two in the north. It was an administrative, managerial, and security nightmare. Nonetheless it was a state, and the Jews accepted it.
But the Arabs remained adamantly opposed to any solution that included Jewish self-determination. The Arabs avoided the UN representatives, insisted that the UN had no jurisdiction over the Palestine Mandate, refused to meet with fact-finding committees, or sometimes agreed to meet with them and then did not show up. With the British gone, the Arabs were confident that they could ethnically cleans the Jews from the Palestine Mandate, and the Palestinian state to emerge would be an Arab country.
By a tiny margin, the UN partition plan (Resolution 181) was passed on November 29, 1947, creating a state for the Jews, on the three slivers of land (the Negev, the northern part of the coastal plain, and the eastern Galilee), representing about 55% of what is today Israel (or about 1/8th of the original British Mandate on both sides of the Jordan). The territory which the UN apportioned to Israel was primarily land that Jews had purchased and developed over the past 100 years, plus the desolate Negev south of Beer Sheba, almost completely uninhabited and deemed uninhabitable. The Arab state on the remaining 45% plus the Hashemite emirate in Trans-Jordan gave the Arabs a total of 7/8th of the land that the Balfour Declaration had originally committed as a homeland for the Jews. The Arab state was to include much of the southern coastal plain from the Sinai border up to Jaffa, all of the West Bank’s central hill country, and the western Galilee. Jerusalem was to be an international city shared by both groups and administered by a UN commission (9).
Zionists and Jews everywhere rejoiced. Had the Arab world accepted the partition, there would have been a Palestinian state in 1947, and peace for the next fifty plus years. But the Arab leaders had no interest in such a state and launched a war to destroy the new mini-state of Israel instead.
The Arab Responsibility for “an-Nakba” – the “Catastrophe” for Palestinians
The creation of Israel is referred to as “an-Nakba” (the catastrophe) in Arab historiography and the political pronouncements of Arab leaders and their supporters. But the catastrophe experienced by the Arabs of Palestine was the result of Arab policies, and the Arab rejection of any solution that would include a Jewish presence in the Middle East. Five Arab armies invaded the three slivers that were Israel in an attempt to destroy the new state. Under threat of annihilation, Israeli forces defended the slivers that had been assigned to them by the United Nations. Part of that defensive action included driving Arab civilians from their homes in a few Arab villages located at strategically important sites or which sat upon major arteries, especially the road to Jerusalem. These actions, both legal and commonplace in wartime (Mohammed is praised for doing the same thing to Jewish villages near Mecca), have been reframed by Arab propaganda into the fictional history of Israel’s “aggression” against the Palestinians (10).
In fact, the flight of Palestinian Arabs began months before the shooting started. Tens of thousands left the Galilee and areas from Jaffa south and fled to Lebanon and Egypt. Tens of thousands more fled after the shooting started, and long before the Jewish army had taken any measures against strategic villages. It is well documented that Arab leaders, military, political and religious, urged the peasantry to flee so that the Arab armies could enter unencumbered and quickly do away with the Jews (cf. Meir-Levi, “Big Lies” for documentation). By the spring of 1948 almost 350,000 Arabs had left their homes.
The Israeli attack on Deir Yassin has been singled out and falsely presented by Arab historians as the quintessential example of Jewish barbarism in which “Zionist thugs” brutally massacred hundreds of innocent civilians. In fact, Iraqi soldiers had occupied the village, dressed as women, and hid in the villagers’ houses. Survivors of the attack admit openly that none of the atrocities ascribed to the Jews ever actually occurred. These atrocities were the invention of Dr. Khalid Husseini, director-general of the Arab radio station “voice of Palestine.” As he explained, he broadcast his own fictionalized account of the battle in order to shame the Arab states into sending more troops to wipe out the Jews.
To the degree that the battle at Deir Yassin sowed panic among the Arabs throughout the rest of Palestine, that panic was the result of Dr. Husseini’s lies, not the Israeli actions. But most important, the battle occurred on April 9, 1948, almost 6 months after the Arab flight had begun by which time more than 300,000 Arabs had already left Israel (11).
In the south, close to 300,000 more Palestinian peasants were forced to flee at gunpoint by the Egyptians, according to Yasir Arafat himself. The Egyptian army forced the Arabs of southern Palestine into what Arafat called “concentration camps” in the Gaza Strip. Today we know these as the refugee camps into which nearly 1,000,000 hapless, homeless, helpless, hopeless Arabs are crowded together under abominable conditions, thanks to the Egyptians (12).
But Arab responsibility for “an-Nakba” goes even further. The Arab forces of Jordan occupied the West Bank, and King Abdullah unilaterally and illegally annexed it to his Hashemite kingdom. King Farouq of Egypt declared Egyptian sovereignty over the Gaza Strip. Both actions were illegal in terms of international law, and in high-handed defiance of UN resolutions 181 and 194. When the war was over, and armistice lines drawn, the land which the UN had apportioned to the Arabs of Palestine had been seized by the Arab states that had invaded, supposedly to help the Palestinians. When Israel offered to return land taken in its defensive actions and to negotiate fair settlement of the refugee issue, but only in exchange for peace, the Arab states refused. Better the Palestinians remain refugees than the existence of Israel be ratified (13).
Jordan and Egypt not only illegally occupied the land that was supposed to be the Palestinian state; they and other Arab States forcibly maintained the helpless Palestinian refugees in concentration camps as a living grievance against Israel and the West.
The Arabs who stayed and became citizens of Israel (about 170,000 in 1949, today in excess of 1,400,000) prospered. Today Arab Israelis serve as members of Parliament (Knesset), as faculty in universities, as highly educated professionals in just about every field of endeavor, and enjoy a standard of living, political and personal freedom, and economic opportunity unparalleled anywhere in the Arab world.
Israeli Generosity to the Arabs Who Attacked Them
In his very detailed and comprehensive “Records of Dispossession,” Michael Fischbach documents Israel’s desire to offer reparations as part of the resolution of the refugee problem (14). Israel was unwilling, in the absence of a state of peace, to permit hundreds of thousands of members of a potentially hostile population to re-enter the country during wartime. So repatriation was possible only after peace; but reparation offers could be made.
At the Rhodes conference (1949) individual refugees and whole groups tried to discuss reparations with Israeli representatives. But Arab leaders prevented their own refugees from meeting with the Israeli delegation. The USA and the UN insisted that restitution and resettlement elsewhere would be a fair and reasonable resolution. But the Arab states refused. Some Arab leaders expressed openly their lack of concern for the refugees, and many refugees were openly hostile to the Arab delegations (15)..
Later, Israel offered restitution and the return of frozen bank accounts and safe deposit box contents. But under pressure from Arab governments, refugees refused to fill out forms needed to verify ownership, because that might imply recognition of Israel. Israel rewrote the forms to placate the refugees; but only a tiny fraction submitted the requests (16)..
In 1960, Israel was still trying to find ways to pay reparations to refugees via secret contact through Cypriot authorities; but Arab states again intervened to prevent a settlement. As late as 1964 when the US Department of State developed a “technical program” based on reports estimating the value of refugee property, Israel agreed to use this program as basis for negotiations for just compensation. Again the Arab states refused to meet, refused to negotiate, rejected the report; and they kept the whole opportunity secret from the refugees (17)..
The 1967 Arab Aggression and the Immense Benefits of Israeli Occupation
Egypt and Syria started the Six Day war with the USSR’s help by massing troops on Israel’s borders, evicting the UN and USA peace-keeping forces from the Sinai, re-militarizing the Sinai with thousands of tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers, closing the Straits of Tiran, and doing illegal fly-over incursions into Israeli airspace. When they dragged Jordan into the campaign and prepared for a three-pronged simultaneous invasion, Israel struck. Israel’s lightning victory created a new wave of Arab refugees. Some estimates assert that as many as 200,000 Arabs fled the West Bank as Israeli forces entered, seeking refuge in Jordan (18).
Within a few days of the June 10 cease-fire, Abba Eban, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, made his famous speech offering to negotiate the return of captured territories in exchange for three Arab concessions: diplomatic recognition of Israel; negotiations to decide on universally recognized borders and other issues; and peace as a final outcome. Western countries expressed amazement that the victor was offering to negotiate with the vanquished and was willing to make concrete concessions (return of territories) in exchange for symbolic and diplomatic ones. To formulate a response to this unexpected new reality, the Arab states called a summit meeting in Khartoum (capitol of Sudan). The result was the now infamous three Khartoum NOs: no recognition, no negotiations, no peace. Thus Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was caused first by Arab aggression and then by Arab refusal to negotiate a peace after the Arab armies had been vanquished (19).
After the war, Israel began what is sometimes called its “mini-Marshall plan” for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to bring them both into the 20th century with regard to infrastructure, roads, sewerage, electricity, phones, radio and TV broadcasting, water purification and water supply. World Bank records indicate that the GDP of the West Bank grew at the average rate of 13% per year between 1967 and 1994. Tourism skyrocketed, unemployment almost disappeared as hundreds of thousands of Arabs worked in Israel’s economy earning far more than their counterparts in other Arab countries. Seven universities grew up on the West Bank in place of the three teachers training schools that existed before 1967.
And, perhaps most telling of all, free and unencumbered access to Israel’s medical infrastructure resulted in a declining infant mortality and a rise in longevity. The infant mortality rate was reduced from 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000. Under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases such as polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated. During the two decades preceding the First Intifada, the number of schoolchildren in the territories grew by 102%, and the number of classes by 99%, though the population itself had grown by 28%. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14% of adults over age 15 (compared with 61% in Egypt, 45% in Tunisia, and 44% in Syria). The rapid growth in population as a result of access to Israeli medicine, in addition to Arab immigration into the territories from “Diaspora Palestinians” all over the Arab world, resulted in a tripling of the Arab population from around 950,000 in 1967 to more than 3,000,000 in 1994 (20).
All this time the Arab nations remained formally at war with Israel. In 1979, Egypt alone among the Arab states agreed to sign a peace treaty with Israel. In response to Egypt’s willingness to sign the peace, Israel withdrew its forces and settlements in the Sinai.
The peace signed with Egypt also offered a new opportunity for Palestinians. Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar es-Sadat invited Arafat to their peace table. Arafat refused, and in doing so, squandered what could have been yet another opportunity for Palestinian statehood. Sadat was then assassinated by Muslim radicals for making peace with the Jews.
Arafat Takes Over and Destroys Palestinian Prosperity and Peace
When the 1993 Oslo Accords allowed Yasir Arafat to set up shop in the West Bank as the head of the newly created Palestinian Authority, the robust economy created in partnership between Israel and the Arabs ground to a halt and then went into a steep decline. By 2002, the West Bank’s GDP was one-tenth of what it was in 1993. Israel has been blamed worldwide for the economic plight of the Palestinians when it is entirely the responsibility of Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Yet, the record as registered in annual UN Human Development Reports, clearly shows that the Palestinian people were much better off under Israeli occupation than under the Palestine Authority’s control.
Data provided by the UN Human Development program of 2005 (21) indicate that the economic difficulties experienced by the Palestinian Arabs were largely the result of policies of the Arafat regime and not from any oppression by the State of Israel. Looking at what it calls “The Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT),” the UN report cites many examples of how positive trends in human development have been reversed. For instance, the second Intifada beginning in Sept. 2000 resulted “…in a sharp deterioration in living standards and life chances.”. The poverty rate nearly tripled from 20% in 1999 to 55% in 2003. The report notes that because of the Intifada, the town of Nablus a prosperous commercial hub prior to September 2000, became an economic basket case. Shops were closed; to survive, workers had to sell their tools, and farmers were forced to sell their land. It was Arafat’s war, not Israeli rule, that destroyed Palestinian prosperity and bled its people (22).
Even with the disruption of their economy that the Palestinians suffered as a result of the Intifada, the Palestinians are still listed as seventh in a list of 103 developing countries, on a par with Cuba, Singapore and Columbia. A number of other Arab countries rank far below the Palestinian territories. Even more ironic is the fact that while the Palestinians receive more aid per capita than any nation in the world except one--Cape Verde--because of Arafat’s terror war and his embezzlement of huge amounts of this money for himself and his terror armies, the Palestinian people have experienced a severe decline in economic well-being. The UN report suggests that Arafat diverted almost all of the aid money to his various militias. So the aid money, rather than helping the economy and thus creating conditions that would end violence, actually promoted violence (23). The picture that arises from the UN 2005 report is a clear continuation of trends documented in the 2004 report (24).
The Post-Oslo Terrorist War against Israel
The Oslo Accords of 1993 created what would turn out to be the last best offer of statehood and peaceful co-existence alongside of Israel. As with every other opportunity since 1937, Israel accepted the agreements, recognized and supported the concept of Palestinian statehood, and fulfilled its obligation under the Oslo Accords to create and arm a Palestinian Authority. But before the ink was dry, Arafat was betraying the agreement he had just signed to renounce violence. To be sure, he spoke words of peace in English to the West. But in Arabic he began preaching Jihad and rejecting every one of his Oslo commitments. By early 1994 he had joined with the Islamic terrorist group Hamas in beginning a “low intensity” terror war operating in Israel and in Lebanon.
When in June of 2000 at Camp David Arafat rejected what Saudi prince Bandar bin-Sultan described as the best offer the Palestinian people could possibly hope for, he threw away what proved to be his people’s last chance at a negotiated settlement that would have led to statehood and to peace. His reply to Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state on 97% of the land they had demanded, was to launch a Second Intifada. This terrorist war driven by suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians began in September 2000, and has led to the empowerment of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
Arafat created a massive thugocracy to oppress and terrify his people and to maintain his own power. He embezzled billions of dollars from the aid money pouring in from Arab states, the EU, the UN, the UK and the USA, to line his own pockets and fund his terror war. He exploited the maneuverability and the base of operations that the Oslo Accords gave him, to create massive graft and corruption in his crony-government, and to attack, intimidate, arrest torture and kill anyone of his own who objected (25).
By the end of Arafat’s life, Israel and America had concluded that there could be no peace with him at the helm. Realizing finally that they had no negotiating partner for a peace, Israelis has begun drawing their own boundaries with a fence to keep terrorists out. Arafat’s legacy is clear: the current Palestinian government has no leadership capable of putting an end to the terrorism, to the descent into chaos and lawlessness, and to the ascent of the terror gangs in both the Gaza and the West Bank.
So what are the answers to the questions with which we opened this essay?
Who is responsible for the plight of the Palestinians? From the data presented above, the answer is obvious. From the 19th century onward, Arab leaders, both local and external, have betrayed the Palestinian Arabs, forced them into poverty, cheated, intimidated, and oppressed them, condemned them to serfdom and stolen the land out from under them. Every opportunity for statehood was squandered by leaders who chose war and terrorism over peace and cooperation (see Addendum). Arafat’s totalitarian kleptocracy, his “democracy of the gun”, was most assuredly the very worst, most heinous, of all betrayals.
How did Palestinian leaders let their people fall into such a tragic state? They didn’t “let them,” they did it to them. A heartless, Machiavellian Arab leadership bent on violence, war, terrorism, destruction and genocide subordinated Palestinian hopes and aspirations to their own dark plans; even while Zionists in the pre-State period and the Israeli government thereafter accepted, supported, and attempted to assist the Palestinian people.
Why did the Palestinian people allow themselves to be reduced to this tragic state? It is true that Palestinian leaders ruled as tyrants, by terror, intimidation, and totalitarian repression. But even under a totalitarian tyranny, people have broken free. Today we are witness to the Ukrainian revolution, the Cedar revolution in Lebanon, and the rise of a courageous defiant democratic process in Afghanistan and Iraq (thanks to the USA coalition forces). So why have the hopeless, hapless, homeless, helpless Palestinians done nothing to take their fate into their own hands?
It would require psychiatrists or cultural anthropologists to venture an answer to this question. But one thing is certain: there are no leaders without followers.
APPENDIX: A Survey of the opportunities for creating a Palestinian state
Since the Peel Commission in 1936, there have been a total of FIFTEEN (15) attempts to create a state for Palestinian Arabs alongside of Israel. The British, the UN, the Israelis, Arab leaders, and the USA have all put forward plans for peace between Israel and the Arab world that included a state for the Palestinian Arabs. Each time, these offers have met with Israeli approval and Arab rejection. The Arab rejection has been expressed in unequivocal terms of war, terrorism, violence, and murder. Arab and Palestinian leadership have adumbrated most clearly their intent to create a Palestinian state instead of Israel, not alongside of it.
1.) The Peel Commission, set up in 1936 during the British Mandate. In 1937, Lord Earl Peel recommended that Her Majesty’s government partition Palestine and give c. 85% of Mandatory Palestine to the Arabs, and c. 15% to the Jews. The Jewish response was positive. The Arab Response was a 2.5-year war against the Jews and the British, with hundreds of Jews and British killed, and c. 10,000 Arab casualties at the hands of British troops (Israel then had no organized armed forces).
2.) The UN Partition Plan gave the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews their separate states on 11/29/47. The Palestinian Jews were ecstatic. The Arab response was a 15-month war of annihilation against Israel. Against all odds, Israel won.
3.) The Rhodes Armistice Talks, 1949: The Israeli negotiators indicated that “everything was negotiable” in exchange for political recognition, negotiations, and peace. The Arab representatives refused.
4.) The Israel Peace Initiative after the “Six Day War”: 6/5-10/1967 brought the remaining Palestinian land under Israeli control in the 3rd defensive war against the Arabs. Immediately after the war, Abba Eban made his “Israel Peace Initiative” speech at the UN. “Everything but Jerusalem is negotiable”.The Arab response was the Khartoum conference in August, 1967: “no recognition, no negotiation, no peace with Israel
5.) Aziz Shihadeh, 1967: Mr. Shihadeh was a Palestinian Arab from Jaffa, residing in Ramallah after the 1948 war, working as a human rights attorney. Following the 6-day war, and in response to Abba Eban’s speech, he wrote an article urging Palestinian leadership to engage Israel in negotiations for a “two state solution”. Mr. Shihadeh was murdered by the PLO.
6.) Camp David Accords, 1979: In the context of the peace agreement with Egypt, the Camp David Accords, Menahem Begin and Anwar es-Sadat urged Arafat, and related factions to renounce the three Khartoum “no’s” and the Palestinian Covenant’s declaration for commitment to the total dismantling of the State of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State in its place. The PLO and various terrorist factions escalated terrorist activities against the civilian population of Israel from inside of Lebanon.
7.) The Fahd Plan, 1981: At the Arab Summit in Fez, then Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia put forward the plan that the Arab states should call for a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. The plan was rejected by every other Fez summit participant, including the PLO representative, because it would have been a de facto recognition of the State of Israel.
8.) The Oslo Accords – 1993: Under President Clinton’s guidance, Israel agreed to the creation of an autonomous Palestinian entity. The PLO became the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Arafat was brought out of his Tunisian exile to head the PA, with its capitol in Ramallah. In exchange for agreeing to eschew terror, end incitement, disarm and dismantle the terrorist groups under his control, and settle all differences by negotiation (per his personal letter to Rabin on 9/8/93), Arafat was given independent and autonomous control over 96% of all Palestinians living in Israel, time during which to build the infra-structure of a functioning state, and the opportunity to negotiate with Israel for resolution of questions relating to the creation of an independent Palestinian entity. At that time, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza began. The last Israeli tank left Ramallah on 9/28/1995. Arafat immediately violated every one of the Oslo Accords and bean his terror war culminating in the 2nd Intifada.
9.) Ehud Baraq at Camp David II, July, 2000: The single most generous offer by Israel to the Palestinian leadership since Rabin’s promise in l967 was the “second Camp David” meeting in July, 2000, where Ehud Baraq made his historic offer of 97% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and a PA capitol in East Jerusalem, in return for an end to the conflict. To quote Tom Friedman, Israel extended the olive branch and Arafat torched it. Arafat’s response was to escalate his terrorist war on Israel by starting the 2nd Intifada
10.) Clinton’s “Bridge Plan”, December 2000: In an attempt to quell the 2nd Intifada, Clinton suggested a “bridge plan” to pave the way to a return to the negotiating table. This plan was similar to Baraq’s , but more generous. Arafat rejected it, and then had his spin-masters tell the world that actually the plan was not a good one, and besides, nothing was put in writing. So the Intifada continued
11.) The Taba Talks, 1-2/2001: Israeli and PA representatives were, by anecdotal ex-post-facto accounts, on the verge of agreement about many issues. Baraq was trying to negotiate in good faith, even though the Intifada was raging, and there were an average of 10-20 terrorist attacks per day.
12.) The Mitchell Plan: Israel would stop building settlements and return to the negotiating table if Arafat would put an end to terror and return to the negotiating table. Since an on-going PA complaint was the continued expansion of the Israeli settlement population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this was an ideal time for Arafat to leverage the opportunity created by Mitchell’s visit to get Israel to back down from settlement expansion. But it required him to restrain his terrorists and return to negotiations. There were three terrorist explosions in Jerusalem and six other attacks around Israel after the Mitchell plan was announced. Arafat had again chosen terrorism and warfare over negotiations.
13.) President Bush’s offer: 6/24/02. Stop the terrorism and elect untainted officials and the single most powerful person in the entire world will support the creation of your state. Sharon agrees. The Palestinian leadership and spokespersons say: “don’t tell us whom to elect”, and Palestinian terrorists start a new wave of terror attacks.
14.) The Road Map: 4/03: the first line of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first section of the Road Map says that the Palestinian Authority must unconditionally and immediately stop the terrorism and incitement. Palestinian leadership gave verbal acceptance of the Road map, but continued terrorism and invited Hamas to join the PA government.
15.) Sharon’s Unilateral Withdrawal: 4.14.04: “you get your state either way!”. If they stop the terror Israel negotiates a state with them. If they don’t stop the terror, they STILL get their state, but Israel will draw the borders unilaterally. Ahmed Qurei’a responded with : Unacceptable ! (26).
References are to sources in the bibliography, listed by author. Where pages are not noted, the information has been summarized from broad segments of the authors’ works.
1.) O’Brien, Mandel, Scholch, Shafir
2.) Almog, Avneri, Bard, Fischbach, Gilbert “History”, Shapira; Sankowsky
3.) Gilbert “History”, O’Brien, Sachar, Sufian
4.) Bard “Myths and Facts”, Sachar, Sufian
5.) Fromkin, Gilbert “History”; Karsch, E & I; McCarthy; Sachar
6.) AASOR, McCarthy
7.) Almog, Sankowskiy, Segev
8.) Gilbert “History”; Idem, “Arab Israel Conflict”, O’brien; Sachar; Sankowsky, Segev
9.) Bard “Idiots Guide”, Gilbert “History”, Idem “Routlege Atlas”, O’Brien, Sachar, Schlaim
10.) Bard “Idiots Guide”; Gilbert “History”; Idem “Routlege Atlas”; Karsch,E, “Fabricating Israeli History”; O’brien; Pappe; PBS; Sachar; Schlaim
11.) Meir-Levi, “Big Lies”; PBS; O’Brien.
12.) Meir-Levi, “Big Lies”, Hart
13.) Gilbert “History”, Idem “Arab Israel conflict in Maps”, Idem “Routlege Atlas”, Karsch, E. “Fabricating Israeli History”, Meir-Levi “Big Lies”, O’Brien, PBS, Sachar, Schlaim
14.) Fischbach, pp. 87 ff
15.) ibid, 199f
16.) ibid, 210 ff
17.) ibid, 295 f
18.) Gilbert “History”, Idem “Routlege Atlas”, O’Brien, Oren
19.) Oren, Sachar
20.) Summarized from articles listed in “Economy of West Bank and Gaza Strip”
21.) UN Arab Human Development Program 2005
22.) Ibid, pp. 281 ff
23.) Ibid, pp. 312, ff
24.) UN Arab Human Development Program 2004
25.) Brown; Meir-Levi, David, “The Missing Piece is missing pieces”, Ibid, “Left Wing Monsters”, Ibid “Islamokaze war and Palestinian poverty”, Walsh
26.) The summaries of the first 10 offers is compiled from major historical works dealing with the period from 1937 to 2000. Offers 11-15 are summarized from a variety of major news media sources during the past 5 years.
Almog, Shmuel Zionism and the Arabs (Essays) 1983
AASOR (Annual of the American School of Oriental Research): survey of the Holy Land, Univ. of Chicago Oriental Institute, 1899
Avneri, Arieh Claim of Dispossession
Bard, Mitchell The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict
Idem Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Brown, Nathan Palestinian Politics
Fischbach, Michael Records of Dispossession
Fromkin, David A Peace to end all Peace (end of Ottoman Empire)
Gilbert, Martin The Arab-Israel Conflict in Maps (1977)
The Routlege Atlas of the Arab Israel Conflict: 2002
History of Israel
Hart, Alan Arafat: Terrorist or Peace Maker (Authorized biography)
Karsh, E. & I. Empires of the Sand: 1789-1923 (1999)
Karsh, E Fabricating Israeli History: The “New Historians” 1997
Arafat’s War (2003)
“Arafat's Grand Strategy”, Middle East Quarterly, 8.3.04
Mandel, Neville The Arabs and Zionism before World War I
McCarthy, Justin The Population of Palestine, 1990
Meir-Levi, David Big Lies (2005)
“Left Wing Monsters: Arafat” Front Page Magazine, 9/23/05
“Islamikaze War and Palestinian Poverty,” 9/15/04
“The Missing Peace is missing pieces”, 11/24/04
“Occupation and Settlement”, 6/24/05
“The Big Arab Lie”, 5/15/05
O’Brien, Conor. Cruise The Siege
Oren, Michael. Six Days of War
Pappe, Ilan. The Arab-Israel Conflict: 1947-1954
PBS. 50-year war: Israel and the Arabs (DVD 1993, 2000)
Sachar, Howard. A History of Israel: Rise of Zionism to our time (2003)
Sankowsky, Shoshana. "A Short History of Zionism (1947)".
Scholch, Alexander. "Palestine in Transformation: 1857-1882."
Segev, Tom. "One Palestine, Complete."
Shafir, Gershon. "Land , Labour, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: 1881-1914."
Shapira, Anita. "Land and Power: the Zionists resort to force: 1881-1948"
Shlaim, A. "The Iron Wall"
Sufian, Sandy. "Mapping the Marsh" (Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers Univ., 1999)
UN Arab Human Development Program, www.undp.org (2004).
UN Arab Human Development Program, www.undp.org (2005).
Walsh, Elsa. "The Prince”, New Yorker Magazine, 3.24.03
Bibliography: Economy of West Bank & Gaza Strip, 1967-1994 and 1994 to 2004
Abu Toameh, Khaled & Derfner, Larry, “A state of Corruption”, Nation and World, 7/1/02
Clawson, Patrick "The Palestinians' Lost Marshall Plans", deputy director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Doron, Daniel, “The Way forward for the Palestinians”, Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, 7/1/02, vol 7, #41
Ehrenfeld, Dr. D., "Where does the money go? A study of the Palestinian Authority", Testimony before the US Congress and the House Armed Services Committee.
Eidelberg, Dr. Paul, “Occupied Territories” firstname.lastname@example.org, 7/18/03
Karsch, Efraim, “What Occupation”, Commentary, 7/2002
“Who Ruined Gaza?”, National Post, 9/16/05
Marsden, Keith, “Another View: the Viability of Palestine,” Wall Street Journal, Europe, 4.28.02
MEMI special dispatch Series #390, A Kuwaiti Daily Reports Arafat Deposited $5.1 Million from Arab Funds into His Personal Account.
Pipes, Daniel, “Anti-Israel Terror Backfires”, New York Sun, 4/20/04
Wall Street Journal, Economy summary, 4.28.02 (Under the Israeli military occupation from 1967 to 1990, Gaza and the West Bank made enormous economic progress as a result of Israeli investment).
Zwick, Israel. “New UN Document Refutes Palestinian Claims”, TheRaphi.com in www.americancongressfortruth.com.
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