The irony of talking about how complicated the Israeli-Arab conflict is while simplistically blaming the Arabs for the whole thing has not been lost on the blogosphere (even if Goldberg, apparently, sees no contradiction there). One thing that hasn’t been discussed much, though, is Goldberg’s follow-up with Yglesias, in which the latter points out,
Well your “of course you can reach back much further into history and say that the Zionism itself was the cause of all this, and since Zionism was a reaction to European anti-Semtism…and so on” captures most of what I’d have to say on this. The cause and effect goes back and back and back. But sure, Arab rejectionism in 47-48 was a disaster.
The first part of this makes perfect sense, but it’s the last sentence that gives me pause. Of course, if one works from the assumption that Arab land was going to be taken by settlers who were promised the land by a foreign colonial occupier no matter what, and that the only decision was, or even should have been, between total and partial dispossession, then Yglesias’s sentiment makes sense in a depressing way. He continues:
One of the key psychological/political impediments to a deal is the unwillingness of Arabs today to embrace any kind of regret about the position they took on the partition plan. The “naqba” (sic) narrative, as conventionally presented, is a form of regret that the Arabs lost the war. You’re never going to get Arabs to celebrate Israeli independence day, but I think it’s plausible and necessary to have the disaster understood as one that was in large part of their own making.
So let’s get this straight. The nakba is really just a victimhood narrative that should be better understood in terms of a largely self-inflicted wound, rather than a foreign imposed dispossession. The idea, here, is that not only were the Arabs unwise for rejecting the partition of Mandate Palestine, but they were unjust as well. They got greedy, and instead of getting half, they’ve ended up with none at all.
Now this might work if we were talking about, say, an apple pie that two strangers simultaneously found on the road, but what we’re actually talking about are people’s homes. The map above is a UN map from 1950 showing land ownership in mandate Palestine in 1945 by Arabs and Jews, as well as public/collectively owned land. It shows that in no district was Jewish-owned land a plurality. In all but four of the districts, Arabs owned the majority of the land, and in three of those remaining four, they owned a plurality. In the southern desert of the Negev, Arabs owned 15% of the land, compared to 85% that was publicly owned and less than 1% that was Jewish-owned.
But what about population statistics? According to a report submitted by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, in 1922, Jews made up about 11% of the population (83,794 out of 757,182), compared to 17% in 1930 (162,069 out of 945,991). In other words, the Jewish population was steadily increasing in mandate Palestine, mostly due to immigration. The same document (appendix 22) shows that the change in demographics was due overwhelmingly to immigration, with 81,283 Jewish immigrants entering the mandate between 1922 and 1930, making up 92.5% of the total immigration into Mandate Palestine.
So we can see that the vast majority of property was held by Arabs and that the vast majority of people in Mandate Palestine were Arabs. But how can we know what those people wanted Palestine to look like after the fall of the Ottoman Empire following World War I? Well, as it happens, the US sent a delegation to do what was one of the first opinion polls in the region in order to find out what local opinions were about independence, a foreign mandate, preference of government and finally the Zionist question. Its findings were very clear (emphasis mine):
We recommend, in the fifth place, serious modification of the extreme Zionist program for Palestine of unlimited immigration of Jews, looking finally to making Palestine distinctly a Jewish State.
(1) The Commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in its favor, but the actual facts in Palestine, coupled with the force of the general principles proclaimed by the Allies and accepted by the Syrians have driven them to the recommendation here made.
(2) The commission was abundantly supplied with literature on the Zionist program by the Zionist Commission to Palestine; heard in conferences much concerning the Zionist colonies and their claims; and personally saw something of what had been accomplished. They found much to approve in the aspirations and plans of the Zionists, and had warm appreciation for the devotion of many of the colonists and for their success, by modern methods, in overcoming natural obstacles.
(3) The Commission recognized also that definite encouragement had been given to the Zionists by the Allies in Mr. Balfour’s often quoted statement in its approval by other representatives of the Allies. If, however, the strict terms of the Balfour Statement are adhered to -favoring “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights existing in non-Jewish communities in Palestine” — it can hardly be doubted that the extreme Zionist Program must be greatly modified.
For “a national home for the Jewish people” is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish State; nor can the erection of such a Jewish State be accomplished without the gravest trespass upon the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission’s conference with Jewish representatives, that the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine, by various forms of purchase.
In his address of July 4, 1918, President Wilson laid down the following principle as one of the four great “ends for which the associated peoples of the world were fighting”; “The settlement of every question, whether of territory, of sovereignty, of economic arrangement, or of political relationship upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned and not upon the basis of the material interest or advantage of any other nation or people which may desire a different settlement for the sake of its own exterior influence or mastery.” If that principle is to rule, and so the wishes of Palestine’s population are to be decisive as to what is to be done with Palestine, then it is to be remembered that the non-Jewish population of Palestine-nearly nine tenths of the whole-are emphatically against the entire Zionist program. The tables show that there was no one thing upon which the population of Palestine were more agreed than upon this. To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted, and of the people’s rights, though it kept within the forms of law
It is to be noted also that the feeling against the Zionist program is not confined to Palestine, but shared very generally by the people throughout Syria as our conferences clearly showed. More than 72 per cent-1,350 in all-of all the petitions in the whole of Syria were directed against the Zionist program. Only two requests-those for a united Syria and for independence-had a larger support This general feeling was only voiced by the “General Syrian Congress,” in the seventh, eighth and tenth resolutions of the statement. (Already quoted in the report.)
The Peace Conference should not shut its eyes to the fact that the anti-Zionist feeling in Palestine and Syria is intense and not lightly to be flouted. No British officer, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than 50,000 soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program, on the part of the non-Jewish populations of Palestine and Syria. Decisions, requiring armies to carry out, are sometimes necessary, but they are surely not gratuitously to be taken in the interests of a serious injustice. For the initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a “right” to Palestine, based on an occupation of 2,000 years ago, can hardly be seriously considered.
… In view of all these considerations, and with a deep sense of sympathy for the Jewish cause, the Commissioners feel bound to recommend that only a greatly reduced Zionist program be attempted by the Peace Conference, and even that, only very gradually initiated. This would have to mean that Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up.
So let’s review the situation leading up to the 1947 UN partition plan. The United Nations, made up of only 56 countries at the time, decided that the land owned and populated predominantly by Arabs should be split in half, giving the prime land (coastal areas) to a (for the most part) newly arrived minority settler population and turning the capital, Jerusalem, into a UN-run international city.
So the question arises: who would have accepted such a raw deal? Was the partition plan even remotely fair to the people living in Palestine? If the UN were to vote that the US should be split into two, giving one half to another people, would Americans accept the deal? Would Goldberg or Yglesias? Of course not. So while it’s arguable and probably even true that Palestinians would be in a better situation today had the 1947 partition plan gone ahead as planned, it doesn’t follow at all that it was in any way fair or just for the Palestinians, or as Yglesias says, that the nakba “was in large part of their own making.”
Let’s be clear here: the decision that Arabs in Palestine were faced with was either losing half of their land or being ethnically cleansed. Why should they be forced into such a choice in the first place? Because someone else’s holy book said that their land was promised to another people thousands of years ago? Because the British, as they were wont to do, had promised land that wasn’t theirs in the first place to three different groups of people? Is that reasonable at all?
But Goldberg and Yglesias tell us it is. Goldberg claims that everything is the Arabs’ fault from the get-go, because Arabs, the rejectionists that they are, refused to sit idly by while a Jewish settler state was built in their home. Whereas Yglesias would have the Palestinians not only come to terms with their ethnic cleansing but also say that for the most part it’s their own fault.
Is this really the level of discourse that we deserve from The Atlantic and the Center for American Progress?