The Two State Solution: Israel and ?....

Do we know what would have happened had Israel lost and the Arabs won the 1948 war? What flag would now flutter at the United Nations?

Steve Apfel

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אבו מאזן ובאן קי מון

World leaders continually slam Israel over its settlement policies, claiming they threaten the ‘two-state solution.’ As day follows night it’s taken for granted that one of those two states will be "Palestine".

‘Ignore history at your peril,’ is an old but prescient warning. A case in point could well be the two-state solution. Go to history, ye foolish; consider her ways and be wise.

The ways of history point where?

Take the class of 1947 - 48. They’re the years of the Partition Plan and aftermath. Granted, it’s common knowledge that the UN plan was aborted when neighbouring Arab states tried to abort the Jewish state by invading it.

But do we know what would have happened had Israel lost and the Arabs won that war? What flag would now flutter at the United Nations?

Those who put up their hands for the flag of Palestine are wrong. That’s not the lesson from the class of 47-48.

The true lesson is that territory captured by the victorious Arab armies would not have been handed over to Palestinian Arabs. Rather, the Arab scramble for Palestine would have divided it among the invaders: Transjordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon. Google all you like, but not a single Arab regime looked upon the Palestinians as a distinctive people worthy of self-governance. And neither did the Arab-siding British, before turning off the lights on their Mandate.

“It does not appear that Arab Palestine will be an entity,” wrote one official, “but rather that the Arab countries will each claim a portion in return for their assistance [in the war against Israel]...”

In Ephraim Karsh’s book, ‘Palestine Betrayed’ we also come upon the British High Commissioner, Sir Alan Cunningham, telling Britain’s colonial secretary that, “The most likely arrangement seems to be Eastern Galilee to Syria, Samaria and Hebron to Abdallah (of Transjordan), and the south to Egypt.”

The Arabs would have agreed. Philip Hitti described their view to an Anglo-American commission in 1946. "There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not.”

So the 47- 48 class is mandatory for Western leaders who continually harp on the two-state idea. Only look at what happened when Gaza and the West Bank fell into the hands of Egypt and Jordan. Were those spoils of war given over to the Palestinians for a state? They most decidedly were not. The British, whatever their failings, were adept at reading history’s wayward pulse.

What lessons might the class of ‘64 hold for two-state punters? Remember, at this time Israel is not the occupier of the West Bank and Gaza; Jordan and Egypt still are. And the Palestinians feel more than comfortable with the arrangement. It’s there in the National Covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, May 28, 1964:

“This Organization does not exercise any regional sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in the Gaza Strip or the Himmah area.”

So Palestinian Arabs accepted that Judea, Samaria, the eastern part of Jerusalem, and Gaza belonged to Arab states; not only accepted but liked it that way.

Then there’s the class of ’67. What may be taken from that vintage year? The Six-Day war had ended in a stunning victory for Israel, and the UN Security Council passed Resolution 242. Land for peace would be the cornerstone of Arab-Israeli dialogue from there on. What land was that? Our ears prick. Was the UN preparing the ground for a Palestinian state?

Absolutely not – or it would have been a perfect case of putting the cart before the horse. Not even the UN could plan for a Palestinian state before there were a Palestinian people to govern it. They, if you attend the class of 68, were still a year away from being born.

So it was that the UN took it for granted that territories evacuated by Israel would be returned to their pre-1967 Arab occupiers: Egypt and Jordan. UN resolution 242 spoke of the need "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem" – not the Palestinian problem, mind. Who were the problem refugees? The Palestinian Arabs certainly, but also the larger group of 850 000 Jews expelled from Arab states during and after the 1948 war.

The entire international community saw it the UN’s way. Western democracies rejected the idea of Palestinian nationhood; so did the great Arab-supporting Soviets, and even the Arab world recoiled at the idea of nationhood.

Professor Karsh relates how the Hashemite rulers of Jordan viewed an independent Palestinian state as a mortal threat to their own kingdom, while the Saudis saw it as a potential source of extremism and instability. Pan-Arab nationalists were as adamantly opposed, having their own designs on the region. In 1974, Syrian President Hafez al Assad openly referred to Palestine as "not only a part of the Arab homeland but a basic part of southern Syria."

What of the Palestinians themselves, who now threaten a unilateral bid for statehood? If no one in history wanted them to have a state, surely they wanted one? Not a bit of it.

For a really fine lesson attend the history class of Zahir Muhsein, one-time head of the PLO Military Department and member of the PLO Executive. “In reality, today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”

We’ve no reason to gape – unless we’d bunked the class of 48-50, attended by diligent Ephraim Karsh.

“The collapse and dispersion of Palestinian society following the 1948 defeat shattered an always fragile communal fabric, and …prevented the crystallization of a national identity. Host Arab regimes actively colluded in discouraging it. Upon occupying the West Bank …King Abdallah moved quickly to erase all traces of Palestinian identity...”

As for the Arab inhabitants of Gaza, no one gave them a second thought. We don’t rightly know if Gazans wanted to be citizens of Egypt, but for the occupying power that option would have been the furthest thing on its mind.

Western leaders who flog the two-state solution may have skipped, or forgotten, a history class or three, but it’s highly doubtful the Arabs did.