Two Articles by Boris Shusteff:
OSLO REVISITED and UNORTHODOX SOLUTION
The Oslo process was born in the quiet halls of the Israeli Academic institutions. It is hard to say which computer was used by its architects to create their "peace" model but it appears that there was a memory glitch, and the history of Israeli-Arab relations incorporated in this model began only from 1988. To be precise it started in December 1988 with Yasser Arafat's "two-state solution" initiative put forward in the UN General Assembly. This tactical move of Arafat's was accepted at face value and became the cornerstone of the whole model. His September 9, 1994 letter to Itzhak Rabin, appeared to prove the validity of the model. The letter repeated Arafat's 1988 statement that "the PLO recognizes the right of the state of Israel to exist, and renounces the use of terrorism." As nothing tangible could have been requested from the PLO, the letter crowned Arafat's part of the deal. It was Israel's turn to exchange substantial pieces of territory for this piece of paper. Had it not been for Arafat's impatience it is possible that the PLO would have received almost 90% of Yesha and Gaza by now. The Oslo agreement was for the PLO like heavenly manna. Israel was simply forfeiting its biblical, historic and strategic assets. Arafat should have simply sat and waited until the land was delivered to him on a silver platter. However, to abstain from using terrorism was beyond his capability. Especially because it appeared to be working, as Israeli troops were retreating accompanied by stabbings, shootings and explosions.
By the time Arafat realized that the PLO's "peaceful overture," which resulted in many hundreds of killed and maimed Israelis, had gone too far, the Israeli government changed. The PLO suddenly arrived at a situation, in which, in order to get more from the Israelis, it was necessary to give back. The free lunch was over. The peace model developed by the Israeli Academics was the worst possible mutation of UN Resolution 242. It is important to note that in 1973, prior to Henry Kissinger's departure for Moscow to arrange a cease-fire, the interpretation of Resolution 242 was a big concern to the Israeli Government. Matti Golan wrote in his book The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger that "Golda Meir requested absolutely no reference to Security Council Resolution 242, especially if the agreement were to be formulated in Moscow, because that would give extra weight to the Arab-Soviet interpretation of section 1(a) of the resolution."
While in 1973 Kissinger ignored Israel's concerns, in 1994 Israel cut the tree she was sitting in by herself. The Jewish state undertook to "withdraw armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) for nothing. The second inseparable principle of Resolution 242 that envisioned Israel's right to "live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force" was replaced by Arafat's empty promises. Moreover, Israel was well aware that the PLO interprets Resolution 242 like all Arab countries do: for them it is "all occupied territories," not a single inch less.
The shifting of the "issues of Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, military locations, borders and Israelis" to "permanent status negotiations" was another grave mistake. Contrary to common logic the abandonment of Gaza and Yesha was considered by the Oslo architects to be helpful in resolving these issues. Not surprisingly, handing these territories to the PLO toughened its stand. The Arabs do not perceive Israel's retreat as a "good will gesture," for them it was another victory in their battle against Zionism. On January 15, 1998, London's Arabic newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat published an interview with Fatah Central Committee Member Sakhr Habash. He explained how the Arab world sees recent events. "It is our organization which forced Binyamin Netanyahu to succumb to Palestinian will and determination[and] forced him to withdraw from Hebron, which he considers the land of his forefathers and ancestors and which is more sacred to them than Jerusalem."
As an immediate result of the Oslo process, the PLO expects to get all the lands of Gaza and Yesha. On January 22, 1988, Dr. As'ad 'Abd-al-Rahman said, "If we start speaking of new agreements which contain less than the previous ones, then we will find ourselves going downhill and instead of having Palestine partitioned on the basis of Resolution 181 or, in the worst of cases, in accordance with Resolution 242, we will find ourselves facing the partitioning of only the West Bank instead of all of Palestine."
One should pay attention to the usage of the terms "West Bank" and "all of Palestine." While "West Bank" was never legally defined, and can encompass all of the territory to the west of the Jordan River up to the sea, what is meant by "all of Palestine" or "historic Palestine" is unquestionable. Article 2 of the Palestinian Covenant clearly describes it as the "indivisible territorial unit with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate." On November 12, 1997, Chief PLO representative to Washington Hasan Abdel Rahman said: "We have, us Palestinians, renounced our right in 80 percent of historic Palestine...Palestinians are building in the West Bank and Gaza. ... This is 20 percent of historic Palestine..." Rahman was seconded by Dr. Zakariya al-Agha member of the PLO Executive Committee. As reported by Al-Quds, on January 4, 1998 he said that "the Palestinian side accepted the partition of historical Palestine but does not accept the partition of the West Bank. He noted that the West Bank and Jerusalem constitute 23 percent of historical Palestine."
This manipulation of words and numbers is intended to implant in the heads of na´ve Westerners that the PLO wants "only 20-23% of historic Palestine" but that "Greater Israel" resists this "just partition." To anyone who can count and knows history these statements are very ominous. Israel does not occupy 80% of historic Palestine. Since 76% of "historic Palestine" is now Jordan, and the Palestinians claim a minimum of 20%, it is only 4% that the most generous of the above suggestions leaves to the Jewish state. This is exactly the size of the territory that was allocated to the "coffin size" Israel by Count Bernadotte in 1948.
However even this "coffin size" Israel doesn't fit into Arafat's design. If one tries to forget his famous, "Peace for us means the destruction of Israel and nothing else," one should listen to other PA leaders. In early January 1998, Abdul Anis Shaheen, the PA Minister of supplies, told the PA's official newspaper al-Hayah al-Jadeedah: "The Oslo Accord was a preface for the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Authority will be a preface for the Palestinian State, which, in turn, will be a preface for the liberation of the entire Palestinian Land."
On February 1, 1998 U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said at a news conference in Jerusalem: "It is time to make the difficult decisions." She is absolutely right, every party has to make difficult decisions. The United States of America must reduce its dependency on foreign oil. Senator Jesse Helms told the Senate on January 29, 1998 that Americans rely on foreign oil for 55% of their consumption, while in the 1970s, foreign oil accounted for only 35% of America's oil supply. According to Helms, "The situation today is worse than ever before in our history and the U.S. has become perilously dependent on hostile to U.S. interests foreign countries."
Israel must declare the Oslo Accords intrinsically deficient and extremely dangerous to Israel's existence. All unilateral Israeli measures such as withdrawal from Yesha and a freeze on new settlement construction should be stopped. It is time for the only Jewish State to exercise its sovereignty and start acting in its own interests. However the most difficult decision is to be made by the Palestinian Arabs. It is time for the arrival of a Palestinian prophet with a vision. This prophet can repeat what Avi Erlich wrote in his book, Ancient Zionism:
"Enough," he might say. "Let us return to the traditions of our father Abraham and our brother Israel. Let us permit the Jews their Land. Let us give land for peace. We kept the world on its ear because our people claim a nation on top of Israel. This is a fable. We have fulfilled the prediction of our prophet Moses that the Jews would be hounded by those who 'are not people.' Let Palestine pass, even though it now wins more support than ever, as our posturing breeds minions to please us. Let us settle amongst our brethren, in Jordan and in Gaza Let the Jews have their corner."
The Arab countries must make a difficult decision too. It is time for them to recognize "the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine." It is time to stop using words like "colonialists, occupiers, aggressors, usurpers" when they speak about the Jewish state.It is time to recognize that the Jews returned to their homeland of right and not of suffrage. [2/6/98.]
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.
On August 11, 1919 in a memorandum to Lord Curzon, Lord Balfour stated that "whatever be the future of Palestine, it is not now an 'independent nation,' nor is it yet on the way to becoming one." Professor of history Reverend James Parkes wrote in Whose Land that "before 1914, ... the mass of the population [in Palestine] had no real feeling of belonging to any wider unit than their village, clan or possibly confederation of clans." He stressed the point that "up to that time it is not possible to speak of the existence of any general sentiment of nationality, and the word 'Arab' needs to be used with care. It is applicable to the Bedouin and to a section of the urban and effendi classes; it is inappropriate as a description of the rural mass of the population, the fellahen."
Parkes wrote that during the nineteenth century independent studies of the fellahen were performed, which gathered "reliable information about their customs, religion and origin." It was discovered that "the oldest element among the peasants were not 'Arabs' in the sense of having entered the country with or after the conquerors of the seventh century, but had been there already when the Arabs came." Further evidence of this was provided "by the presence of customs which were not the product of Islam, but which recalled in some cases pre-Israelite religion and in some the laws of the Mosaic code." Parkes further wrote,
The newcomers where never sufficiently numerous to displace the existing population. ... Of the Muslim peasant stock of today it is possible to say that its oldest elements composed in the main of ex-Jews and ex-Christians.... There are villages that today are Muslim, which were Christian or Jewish within the last couple of centuries.
A Palestinian Arab, Professor of history Rashid Khalidi recently confirmed Balfour's and Parkes' statements that the population of Palestine at the beginning of this century did not represent a distinct nation. In his book Palestinian Identity, he wrote that only at the beginning of the twentieth century did the Arabs of Palestine start to see "themselves as part of other communities, both larger and smaller ones. This identification certainly did not include all sectors or classes of the population. But it did constitute a new and powerful category of identity that was simply nonexistent a generation or two before, and was still novel and limited in its diffusion before World War I."
Thus the Zionist slogan "The Land without a people for the people without a land" was absolutely correct. The slogan did not mean that there were no inhabitants at all in Palestine, it just indicated that the non-Jewish population constituted a conglomeration of dozens of heterogeneous groups of residents having very little in common, i.e. not constituting a single nation, a people. These residents were not united by any specific national idea. Parkes wrote that the Balfour declaration for the first time established a "unit called Palestine on a political map. ...There was no such thing historically as a 'Palestinian Arab', and there was no feeling of unity among 'the Arabs' of this newly defined area."
They had certain attachments to the fields they were cultivating but at the same time they were destroying the Land. Parkes stated that "in the wars between villages it was far too common a practice to cut down fruit trees and olives and to destroy crops, and this in the end caused as much loss of life through hunger as was caused by the actual casualties of fighting." He concluded that "in spite of the immense fertility of the soil, it is probable that in the first half of the nineteenth century the population sank to the lowest level it had ever known in historic times."
Curzon, a staunch supporter of Arabs, arguing in 1917 against the wording used in the Balfour declaration, defined the population of Palestine quantitatively: "here is a country of 580,000 Arabs and ...60,000 Jews." (Quoted in the UN document "The Origins and Evolution of the Palestinian Problem, Part I: 1917-1947). It is important to remember that this number related to the population of all of Mandated Palestine. Subtracting the 230,000 people inhabiting the area that was transformed into Trans-Jordan, one can easily arrive at the 350,000 people that constituted non-Jewish population of Western Palestine at the time when the Balfour Declaration was issued. Avi Erlich wrote in his book Ancient Zionism:
"A Palestinian Arab claim to the Land of Israel cannot rise above a claim to houses, lost from the larger Arab Empire. Neither Moorish homes in Cordoba nor Arab homes in Jerusalem can reasonably constitute lost nations... Homeland represents the grafting of a specific place with a specific national idea. No Palestinian idea beyond the claim to land or other lost property has ever been articulated. Borrowed and usurped nationhood does not count."
This is why it is not a coincident that the non-Jewish residents of Palestine tried to don several different identities. First, they attempted to become Ottomans. This attempt failed after the defeat of the Ottoman army and subsequent withdrawal of Ottoman authority from Palestine. As Khalidi wrote, "in a period of a few years, Ottomanism as an ideology went from being one of the primary sources of identification for Palestinians, to having no apparent impact at all." Then came the turn of the Syrian identity that did not last long either. When the French crushed the two-year-old independent Syrian state in 1920, the elite of the Palestinian Arabs decided to change orientation again. Khalidi quotes the nationalist leader Musa Kazim Pasa al-Husayni, who said, "Now, after the recent events in Damascus, we have to effect a complete change in our plans here. Southern Syria no longer exists. We must defend Palestine."
It is important to note that the nationalist movement among the non-Jewish residents of Palestine did not originate on its soil, but was imported from Egypt, Turkey and France. Parkes wrote that it was "exclusively political in the narrowest sense, and showed little awareness of the day-to-day problems which would arise if its political objective were reached." Illiterate fellahen became the pawns in the game of power-thirsty Arab nationalists who tried to repeat King Abdulla's success in Jordan at a smaller scale in the remaining part of Palestine. Khalidi involuntarily admitted that the Arab leaders exploited their people for political gains when he wrote that "intifada...probably had as devastating an impact on the Palestinian economy as did the 1936-39 revolt." Although the Arab nationalists had enough time to thrust the Palestinian identity upon the non-Jewish residents of Palestine they were not successful over a long period of time. In his book The Politics of Dispossession, Edward Said, America's most outspoken advocate for Palestinian self-determination, quotes the noted Palestinian thinker Ibrahim Abu-Lughod. He admitted that "Palestinians for a decade after 1948 adopted a politics of accommodation to the Arab and Israeli realities all around them: they became Egyptian Palestinians or Israeli Palestinians."
Moreover, after the Six-Day War, when Yasser Arafat and Fatah tried to establish their infrastructures in what they referred to as the West Bank they were rejected by the Arabs themselves. Neil Livingstone and David Halevy wrote in Inside the PLO, "The effort, however, turned out to be one of Fatah's greatest failures, not so much because of Israeli efficiency in ferreting out the secret network as because of Palestinian apathy. At that point many Palestinians living in the West Bank were actually relieved to be out from under the oppressive yoke of Jordanian rule and simply wanted to find some kind of accommodation with the Israelis. Within months Arafat was forced to leave the West Bank on the run."
The Arab leaders are well aware of the fragility of the Palestinian identity for the majority of the Palestinian Arabs. This is the main reason why they have not allowed the Palestinian Arabs living in the refugee camps, for almost half a century, to intermingle with Arabs of their countries Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri confirmed this on February 5, 1998 in an interview with London MBC Television. He said the following; "We do not want to fall into the trap of resettling the Palestinians. This would lead to resettling the Palestinian refugees and their eventual assimilation. The Palestinians themselves have consistently rejected this approach so that their cause and characteristic identity might not be lost."
When Al-Hariri said, "the Palestinians themselvesrejected this approach," he missed one important word - leaders. It is the Palestinian leaders who try to prevent the assimilation of the Arabs among the Arabs. It is the Palestinian leaders who today more and more openly declare the Israeli Arabs to be their "property," to be an unquestionable part of the "Palestinian people." If Israel does not confront this dangerous tendency she arrives at an extremely perilous situation. There is a way to deal with this matter. Edward Said wrote that, "Unlike other peoples who suffered from a colonial experience, the Palestinians do not primarily feel that they have been exploited but that they have been excluded, denied the right to have a history of their own." Israel has an excellent chance to mend this problem. As was stated earlier, the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine tried to take on several different identities; none of them brought relief or happiness, most likely because all of them were artificial. It is very probable that the only identity that was never tried by these people since they were forced into Islam - the Jewish one - will really work.
At first glance this transformation appears to be an impossible task. However, the idea deserves a thorough consideration. First of all, the demographic threat for the Jewish character of the state will completely disappear. Secondly the "Palestinians" will finally have a real "history of their own." The glorious history of the Jewish people will heal all the sores of the people who so desperately search for their identity. The Jewish identity that will be offered to them is attractive enough to counter the one described by Rashid Khalidi. He wrote, "If the Arab population of Palestine had not been sure of their identity before 1948, the experience of defeat, dispossession, and exile guaranteed that they knew what their identity was very soon afterwards: they were Palestinians."
The "defeat, dispossession and exile" are well known to the Jews too. This common bridge is strong enough to allow these non-Jews to make it into Judaism. Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, in their book Why the Jews? suggest seeking converts as a way to prevent anti-Semitism. They state that we should make it known "that the Jews accept and desire converts," and that we should "educate the general public about Judaism with its distinctive values and way of life." They indicate that contrary to common belief "Judaism desires converts, and when Jews were free to do so they actively encouraged would be converts."
The idea of returning a Jewish identity to the non-Jewish residents of Palestine is viable. By developing this idea Israel will create additional reasons to annex Yesha. Obviously, the non-Jewish residents of Eretz Yisrael should be given a choice to retain their current status, if they prefer. However it should be made clear to them that Israel is a Jewish state and, when she eventually adopts a Constitution, the right to influence the political future of the country will be granted only to its Jewish citizens. [2/20/98]
Boris Shusteff is an engineer in upstate New York. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.