Photo: Ron Cantrell

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Israeli Concessions, Arab Rejections

ISRAEL, EGYPT, AND THE JORDANIANS have a keen understanding of ancient Middle East traditions that escape the West. Some traditions are quaint lending to the "land far, far away" feeling experienced by tourists that visit. Other traditions, however, cause wars.
The nations of the world have suffered disappointment after disappointment imagining with good intentions a Middle East peace solution. More than one U.S. President has had aspirations of being the leader that could quell regional tensions. Israeli concessions have been extensive during several administrations, only to be rejected outright by the Palestinians.

Hezbollah leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah hit the nail on the head in a famous speech caught in the documentary by Honest on the danger of militant Islam called Obsession. According to Nasrallah, the United States was responsible for the “unmarriageability” of Palestinian men. This accusation was masked by his normal screaming reactionary method of public address and easily overlooked or dismissed as absurd. However, it is the key to Middle East peace, asserting that regional peace is absolutely impossible without first removing Israel from the map.

Because of this tradition, Middle East peace will never happen.

Once A Palestinian Refugee
The problem centers around a Muslim Arab tradition regarding refugees. It answers why only displaced Palestinians have been relegated to poverty-stricken refugee camps for almost 60 years when other refugees of the world have been absorbed into host cultures. It centers around real estate holdings of Middle Eastern men. According to Islamic tradition, when a man is driven away from land given him by Allah, he is an outcast, unmarriageable, and this status is upon his children, and his children’s children permanently. The UNRWA supports this claim by clearly defining in their charter that descendants of Palestinian "refugees" remain refugees.

Under the Israeli administration of Ehud Barak, 92% of the West Bank, and up to 75% of the Old City of Jerusalem, including five Arab villages east of Jerusalem were offered to Yasser Arafat. The world caught its breath at the concession. Arafat found no problem in saying “No!” There was one small snag in the deliberations. It is known as the “Right of Return.” That clause means that Arabs who ran from their homes in Israel proper upon the radio urging from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan - who have been kept in refugee camps as pawns in this ancient chess game - would have the right to return to their properties in Israel proper. This would be above and beyond even the establishment of a Palestinian State. In effect, two Palestinian States would be in the making: The land Israel has been forced to give, e.g., Gaza and the West Bank, and the millions (according to Arafat’s calculations) who have been born to the 600,000 Arabs that fled in 1948.

Now, let’s leave the past in the past and consider Israel’s offer to Jordan this week. Israel stuck the idea of a Confederation consisting of the State of Jordan undergirding the future State of Palestine. Don’t forget that until the 1967 Six Day War, the West Bank was Jordan, not Palestine. King Abdullah’s reaction this week was caustic. “We reject the formula of confederation and federation and we believe that proposing this issue at this specific point in time is a conspiracy against both Palestine and Jordan!” The King added that he was "fed up talking about this issue.”

The United States think tanks have suggested that the idea of establishing a "federation" or "confederation" with Jordan was likely to be supported by a large number of Palestinians. Of course it would! Arafat declared Palestinian Statehood in Jordan in September 1970, and, voila! Black September. The late King Hussein’s reaction was massacre of his Palestinian population.

However, this move to create a confederacy would place the major problem of Palestinian holdings on King Abdullah’s plate. He then would be responsible to see to it that the “right of return” would be in any concessions that Israel would make.
If any tradition needs to be brought into the new millennium, it is this idea that a man is not a man without “his land.” A Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Edward Luttwak, in a recent article suggested to just “leave the Palestinians alone.” He believes they need to adopt "realistic solutions" and cease toying with "dreams" (this ancient tradition). And, says Luttwak, “if they do not help themselves, they will get nothing.”

The final piece of this complex puzzle has to do with borders and land. One need only to look at a map of the Middle East before the League of Nations took pen to paper after WWI. The demographics of the area was an empire known as the Ottoman Empire. The nations were created by the stroke of a pen to reward Arab clans that had aided the British in the conquest of the area from the Turks. Even the fledgling State of Palestine (the original name of the Jewish homeland) included in what is now Jordan. That gift was sliced to make way for Hussein who was to receive Lebanon, but an ugly uproar from France left him out. The solution was to cleave the Jewish State in half. Amazing that everyone was thrilled at that time with the Jewish land package. British papers widely published the back-slapping festivities at Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. (Click below for a presentation of the history produced by

Names too should be considered. Arabs of this region rejected British attempts to label them "Palestinians." It was the Jewish people who referred to themselves as Palestinians. The first Jewish newspaper was in fact, The Palestine Post, now called The Jerusalem Post.

The next phase in this drama undoubtedly will be the Israeli approach to Egypt to take their place in this complex issue. After all, it was Egypt who broadcast to the Islamic world that they had taken Gaza and were headed to Tel Aviv in 1967. Although they were lying, it galvanized Syria and Jordan, moving them into a war against Israel in which they were embarrassingly defeated. Sinai fell to the Israeli’s, Jordan’s West Bank fell to the Israelis, Syria’s grip on the Golan Heights was ended.

Even now, concessions are still forth coming from Israel. And, once again as it was so aptly put by the Israeli Statesman Abba Eban, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

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