In an earlier post, I suggested that the Islamist current terrorist activity would lose most of its justification if a satisfactory solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict can be found. In this post, I would like to put forward such a solution, derived from historical circumstances and not biased towards either side in the conflict. Before I can do that, however, I would like to discuss briefly the nature of terrorism and its role in the conflict under discussion.
Let us return to the years immediately following the end of the First World War. Casualties in that war were appalling and the idea that any future wars should not result in comparable numbers of dead and injured promoted a great deal of discussion in the military staff colleges of Europe and the New World. One notion that was put forward and endorsed by many military thinkers, stated that it was acceptable to deliberately inflict civilian casualties on opposing combatant nations, in order that their will to resist would be reduced and that total casualties might be less when the war was concluded. This thinking was used to justify Hitler’s Blitzkrieg concept, the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan.
Now, let us apply this concept to the Israel/Palestine conflict. First of all, is the conflict a formal one, even though no declaration of war was ever issued ? I suggest that, as Israel is occupying the West Bank and investing the Gaza Strip, taking land by force from Palestinians and using it for Jewish settlements and cutting Palestinians off from essential services such as health care, the formality of the conflict may be taken as read. Israel is vastly more powerful in terms of military resources than Palestine and while it does not set out to kill Palestinians, it can be argued that its offhand and careless attitude to the killing of Palestinians has much the same psychological effect on the Palestinians as suicide bombers have on Israelis. In other words, either both sides employ terrorist tactics or both sides do not. While there is no doubt that the ideology of Hamas is terrorist in nature, its members are Palestinians, and the struggle against Israel lends its activities legitimacy until the conflict is settled in a manner fair to all Palestinians. Hezbollah has an even more tenuous legitimacy, until such time as the Golan Heights are returned to Lebanon. Al Qa’ida, of course, has no legitimacy at all, except in their own minds.
After the first world war, the Ottoman Empire was broken up and the rule over Palestine passed to Great Britain under a League of Nations mandate. Between the two world wars, the Jewish population in Palestine increased slowly under the sponsorship of various Zionist movements. This caused a degree of concern among the Palestinians, who felt threatened by the rise in influence of financial institutions established by the Zionists solely to promote the interests of Jews (not yet Israelis!) and particularly Jewish immigrants. It has been asserted that once a property fell into Jewish hands, it was never thereafter sold back to a Palestinian. I suspect also that the British authorities, who had had much more interaction with Jewish people of a European or American background, treated them with a degree of favouritism, which further alienated the Palestinians. Note that I am not criticising the actions of the Jews at this time – all people are entitled to pursue their own interests to the extent that the law allows.
After the second World War, the British Government became very concerned at the numbers of Jews coming to Palestine and took various steps to restrict this inflow. The flow continued surreptitiously with new settlers being brought in by ship and smuggled ashore. This activity was celebrated in books such as Leon Uris’ novel Exodus, later made into a film. The heroes were of course, Jewish, and the general acceptance of Exodus and similar writings by the European and American public provided great encouragement to the Jewish cause. However, its leaders became impatient and various guerrilla-type groups such as Haganah, Irgun Zwai Leumi and Lohamei Herut Yisrael (the “Stern Gang”) were established. They (and the Arabs, too!) indulged in terrorist activities causing death and injuries to people and damage to buildings and infrastructure. The most notable event of this type was the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. This is, of course, now old history, but I mention it to support my very important point that, until a solution to the Israel/Palestine problem is found, we should not consider one side to be terrorist in nature and the other not. Both sides are fighting for a very well-identified cause in accordance with principles adopted during the second World War, using all of the resources they have to hand (after all, a suicide bomber can be considered as a somewhat goulish delivery mechanism). If a solution can be found and agreed to by both sides, then any continuing hostilities by maverick groups will revert to terrorism as we understand it.
As a sidebar, I myself believe that wars should be fought between armies, who are adequately armed and trained and that any damage to civilians who are not combatants, are defenceless and may not even believe in the cause which provoked the war, is a crime against humanity. In particular, I believe that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks were immoral and at the very least, premature. The justification was that it would save lives (particularly US ones) but I would dispute this. America commanded the skies, so that Japanese soldiers, who had been fought to a standstill, could not be resupplied. It was open to the Americans to invite the Japanese, under a flag of truce, to witness a test detonation, or to deliver film of earlier tests to Japan. Instead, they delivered two nuclear bombs in quick succession, before the Japanese could react in any way. I believe that these attacks were essentially experiments, to judge the effects of the bombs. My reason for thinking so (apart from the hasty sequence of events – only three days between raids) is that the two bombs were of entirely different design. However, that is only my opinion and I am no anti-nuclear activist ! I only mention this to show how fragile is the morality which condemns only those terrorists who do not support one’s cause.
My suggestion is, therefore, that we put aside all arguments about who is a victim and who is a terrorist and try and find an objective formulation which would simultaneously protect the right of Israel to exist, but at the same time give the Palestinians hope of a future with no dependency upon Israel for jobs and services and allow them an independent engagement with the rest of the world culturally and commercially. It is clear that the events of 1948 were highly detrimental to the interests of the Arab population in Palestine. When the decision was made to partition the country, I suspect that the United Nations delegates simply thought that a line would be drawn on a map, that everyone would stay where they were, the people on the Israel side would quietly become citizens of a new country and everyone would simply get on with life. Of course, this was never going to happen. Apart from the cultural conflicts going back centuries and the (fairly well-founded, based on the propaganda of the day) belief that the Jewish people intended to take over the historic biblical area called Eretz israel), the assignment of the richest and most productive area to the Jews without any compensation was bound to release huge reactions of anger and envy. There is an eerie parallel here with the American decision to invade Iraq, under the false impression that the Iraqis would seize upon the opportunity to become nice little democrats, just like the Americans. The Sunni/Shia confrontation, hundreds of years old, was always going to derail that naive hope.
We all know that there is no way in which the clock can be turned back and a return to the pre-1948 situation achieved. However, what we can do, perhaps, is to look at the situation of the time and ask ourselves; if it was the will of the United Nations that part of Palestine should be ceded to the Jewish people, is there any way this could have been achieved, without loss to the Palestinians of the day. I would like to suggest that there was one way and that was for the United Nations to buy the land from the Palestinians and present it to the Jewish people. Funding could have come from all of the nations who voted in favour of the motion, with contributions pro rata to population, gross domestic product or any other measure deemed appropriate. Given that the Palestinians never received this compensation, it will have increased in value by a factor of about 32 (doubling every 10 or 12 years) and now be worth many billions of dollars. This money will be made available on demand for infrastructure and commercial development and for investment. It should not be considered aid.
There will, however, be some strings attached and this is where the impact on the terrorist situation might come into play. Here are some conditions which I would propose.
1. Israel has the right to all land up to the Green Line. The difference between this line and the original 1948 boundary can reasonably be considered to be reparations for the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973.
2. All Israeli settlements in areas outside the Green Line must be vacated, without exception. I did think of one situation where they might be retained by settlers and that is, if Israel and Palestine could ever establish an entente similar to the European Union, the settlers could pay compensation for the land (in effect purchasing it in the way many Arab sheiks buy houses in London, for instance) and thereafter pay taxes to the Palestine authorities. The same privileges would accord to Palestinians buying property in Israel.
3. Arabs must give up the right of return to Israeli territories, except as noted above. They must look to the future, which hopefully will be golden.
4. The funds lie on the table and will only be made available when ALL Islamic states have acknowledged the right of Israel to exist.
This last condition is the most important. The current proposals for the Palestinian state are quite miserable, leaving its occupants dependent on Israel for poorly-paid jobs and grudging services in perpetuity and any tacit support they may give to any continuing terrorist activity will be quite understandable. The only long-term solution is to make Palestinian interests totally opposed to those of the terrorists, so that they will not only desist from supporting them, but will have an active interest in curtailing their activities.
In preparing these notes, I came across a very good book: “1948: The First Arab-Israeli War” by Benny Morris. Although Mr. Morris is an Israeli and obviously viewing the war from an Israeli standpoint, he shows a considerable understanding of the Arab position (or rather, positions !) of the day and is brutally honest about the good and bad behaviour of parties on both sides (not to mention the British ! ). A very interesting read.