by Hugh Fitzgerald
There’s a lot that has already been said about John Kerry’s appalling speech defending the Obama Administration’s abstention on the anti-Israel Resolution 2334 in the U.N. Security Council. Prime Minister Netanyahu noted tartly that Kerry gave insufficient attention to the long record of “Palestinian” terrorism, that he “obsessively dealt with the settlements” and ignored “the root of the conflict– which is Palestinian opposition to a Jewish state in any boundaries.” (Both Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Julie Bishop, Foreign Affairs Minister of Australia, have deplored Kerry’s attack on Israel, his obsession with the settlements and failure to grasp the full horror of “Palestinian” terrorism).
Others have pointed out that by allowing the passage of such an extreme resolution, one that describes East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, on the Mount of Olives, as “occupied Palestinian territory,” the Obama Administration, far from promoting that “just and lasting peace” that Kerry refers to almost as often as he does to the “two-state solution” (a “solution” only because it keeps being described as such, to be taken on faith), has now made it difficult for the Arab states, much less the “Palestinian” Arabs, to accept anything less than the return of all of East Jerusalem. And that is a demand that no Israeli administration could ever accept.
Israel has had to fight three major wars – in 1948, 1967, and 1973 – and two minor ones (the first, the Sinai Campaign of 1956, put an end to thousands of cross-border attacks by Egyptian fedayeen; the second, the Gaza War of 2008-2009, ended rocket attacks by Hamas), as well as having to endure an endless series of “Palestinian” terrorist attacks, on schoolchildren and schoolhouses, supermarkets and open air markets, restaurants, cars, busses, bus stops, bus stations, airports, airplanes, hospital personnel and hospitals, houses and apartment buildings. No wonder that Israelis agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu that they have more than earned the right to decide for themselves the minimum conditions of their own security. And just possibly John Kerry might take the time from his busy schedule of self-righteous scoldings to study the sheer number and variety of terrorist attacks that Israelis have endured, by reading the record here.
Israel has been remarkably generous in its demonstrated willingness to “take risks for peace,” though Obama and Kerry hardly seem to have noticed. Israel decided, for example, that it could risk giving back the entire Sinai, in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. So far, taking that risk seems to have paid off, at least as long as Al-Sisi stays in power and the Muslim Brotherhood is held in check. Israel gave up all of Gaza, too, hoping that the Gazan Arabs (“Palestinians”), now masters of their own fate, would choose coexistence and possible prosperity, beginning with the greenhouses the Israelis delivered to them intact. Instead, the Arabs smashed up the greenhouses, Hamas took over in Gaza, and the rockets on which Hamas spent so much of the aid it received began to be fired into the towns and cities of Israel. That was a risk that did not work out, and the Gaza War was required to bring Hamas to its temporary senses.
Israelis also ceded control of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, even without receiving the hoped-for quid pro quo, that is, recognition of the right of the Jewish state to exist. Far from stubbornly holding onto territory, as Kerry appeared to imply, Israel has given up fully 95% of the territory it won in the Six-Day War. But that should not be taken to mean that Israel is therefore obligated to give up the 5% that it has kept if, in its judgment, in order to have “secure and defensible borders,” it needs to hold onto what now remains under its control.
Kerry maintains that it is “extremist” and “religious” settlers who are insisting on keeping land that should go to the “Palestinians” in a “two-state solution.” No doubt the settlers do include a large number of the religiously-motivated. But so what? Isn’t the Arab claim to “all of Palestine” based on Islamic doctrine, and thus “religiously motivated” as well? The religious settlers in the West Bank fulfill a dual function. One is to engage in the “close Jewish settlement on the land,” as specifically encouraged by Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine. And Article 6 in turn rests on the legal, historic, and moral claims of the Jews to their historic Jewish homeland, from the Jordan River to the sea, that the League of Nations’ Mandates Commission recognized. But the settlements of the “religious” settlers are also defensive military outposts; their civilian inhabitants act as an early-warning system, are armed and prepared to fight in order to slow down any Arab invading force, giving the largely civilian army in Israel time to assemble, and are thus critical to helping ensure that Israel has “secure and defensible borders.”
What Kerry apparently finds outrageous is that some of Israel’s settlements are indeed located so as to prevent large contiguous blocs of land populated by Arabs. But that’s just the point: Israel has a legal right, under the Mandate, to plant settlements everywhere in Mandatory Palestine, including what became known as the “West Bank”; that right was not extinguished by the dead letter of the Partition Plan, and has only been reinforced by another right, derived from U.N. Resolution 242, for Israel to have “secure and recognized” borders which, in a formulation repeatedly used by both the American and Israeli governments, has been taken to mean “secure and defensible borders.” President Bush, for example, in 2004 reiterated his government’s “strong commitment to Israel’s security including secure and defensible borders.” Whatever else the settlements do, some have also been deliberately situated so as to promote those “secure and defensible borders” which, in the West Bank, necessarily means control of the Jordan Valley and of the Judean and Samarian hills.
John Kerry finds it unsporting of the Israelis to want to make it possible to defend themselves by acting in accordance with both the provisions of the Mandate and Resolution 242. Why is Israel so stubbornly unwilling, when it already lives in conditions of peril greater than those endured by any other country in history, to imperil itself still further?
What deserves more attention is the way that John Kerry has ignored, or misunderstood, or deliberately misstated, milestones in the history of the Jewish state and the unending Arab Muslim war against it. He mentions Theodor Herzl’s First Zionist Congress (1897), offers a few ready tears about European antisemitism, but then skips over both the Balfour Declaration (1917), and the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine (1922). Surely it is important to understand what the League of Nations thought it was doing when it set up the Mandate for Palestine, the foundational document of the Jewish State. Just as the mandates for Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria were intended to, and did, lead to the establishment of several independent Arab states, carved out of what had been part of the Ottoman Empire, the Mandate for Palestine had, as its sole purpose, the establishment of a Jewish homeland that would then become the Jewish state. As noted above (and it cannot be repeated often enough), Great Britain’s responsibility as Mandatory was to encourage “close Jewish settlement on the land.” When the United Nations was established, it “inherited” the Mandate from the now-defunct League of Nations and by Chapter 12, Article 80, of the U.N. Charter, known as the “Palestine article,” the U.N. affirmed Jewish rights, under the Mandate, to continue “close Jewish settlement” on the land, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.
Kerry skips over the Mandate, and with reason. For if the American public were to know what the Mandate for Palestine was all about, and became aware that the U.N. had inherited that Mandate and its express terms, many in that public would begin to understand that the phrase “occupied Palestinian territory” misstates reality, with a political rather than a legal claim. From 1922 on, the Jews were legally entitled to buy land, and to settle everywhere from the Jordan to the sea. And they did so, often paying exorbitant prices to absentee Arab landlords in Beirut and Amman. Until the 1948 war broke out, not a dunam of Arab-owned land was expropriated; every bit of private land the Jews acquired in Mandatory Palestine was paid for. “State and waste lands,” formerly the property of the Ottoman state, were inherited by the Mandatory authority, and then by the Jewish state, and also available for settlement.
Leaving both the Mandate for Palestine and Article 80 of the U.N. Charter out of his tendentious narrative, Kerry leaps from Herzl in 1897 to the U.N. Partition Plan of November 29, 1947, that is, General Assembly Resolution 181, by which the territory that had formerly been assigned to the Jewish state was now to be split between a Jewish and an Arab state, with Jerusalem placed under an international administration as a corpus separatum. Kerry mentions this Plan as having “paved the way to making the state of Israel a reality.” Actually what made Israel a “reality” was not any U.N. Resolution, but only the ability of the Jews of the newly-declared state to repel the attacks from three sides, by the invading armies of five Arab states.
It is true that the Jewish Agency had signaled acceptance of the Partition Plan; it felt it had no choice – hundreds of thousands of Jews had been arriving in Palestine from D.P. camps in Europe, the survivors of Hitlerism, and the Jews in Palestine had relatively few weapons to fight with, and were also subject to an arms embargo while there was no such embargo on the Arabs. Given this perilous situation, it made sense for the Zionists to accept the Partition Plan, despite its unfairness to them. But then the Arabs did two things. First, they unanimously voted against the Plan in November 1947, refusing to accept any Jewish state, no matter what its size. Second,on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, the Arabs invaded, sure that they would be able to snuff out the young life of the nascent Jewish state. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, the Egyptian Azzam Pasha, had declared the previous October that were the Arabs forced to go to war against the Jews (that is, if the Jews insisted on declaring a state), it would be “a war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.” The Arab rejection, and then attack on Israel, released the Jews from any previous undertaking to accept the Partition Plan.
Kerry mentions none of this history. He speaks as if the Arabs had not turned the Partition Plan down, nor invaded Israel. In his telling, the Partition Plan is still valid, providing for a “Jewish” and a “Palestinian” state. The “Palestinians,” of course, as a people had not yet been invented in 1947; they were still just “Arabs” or “Palestinian Arabs,” and would remain so until after the Six-Day War. From 1949 until the Six-Day War, Jordan held onto the “West Bank” and made not the slightest effort to create a “Palestinian state,” with or without Egyptian-controlled Gaza. Why not? What was preventing the Arabs from setting up a “Palestinian state” during that whole period? Kerry doesn’t answer this important question, much less raise it. Nor does he ask himself why, when there were no “settlements” in the “West Bank” between 1949 and 1967, Arab hostility to Israel was even stronger than it is today.
At the conclusion of the 1948-49 war, Israel offered to make the armistice lines of 1949 into permanent borders. It was willing, in other words, to accept what Abba Eban called the “lines of Auschwitz,” to live with a nine-mile-wide waist at Qalqilya, and to give up its rights under the Mandate to the “West Bank.” But in each of the agreements with Israel’s neighbors, the Arab side insisted that the 1949 armistice lines did not confer recognition of rights to any land, on either side. Those armistice lines were repeatedly violated by the Arabs, without a syllable of protest from the U.N. Since 1967, of course, those same armistice lines have been treated by the enemies of Israel as sacrosanct, the lines that Israel “violated” by having the bad taste to win the war that had been thrust upon it.
Kerry doesn’t mention this second example (the first being the Jewish Agency’s original acceptance of the Partition Plan) of Israel’s willingness to give up its rights to the “West Bank,” by making the armistice lines into permanent borders, only to have the Arabs reject that offer. For if he did, that would paint a different picture, of an Israel that time and again has been willing to give up territory that it either held, or had a strong legal claim to, for a promise of peace. And when, in June 1967, three Arab states – Egypt, Syria, and Jordan – tried and failed to destroy Israel, the result of the Israeli victory was that it came into possession, in a war of self-defense, of the Sinai, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the territory known as the “West Bank.” And Israel, as soon as the hostilities ended, “waited for a phone call” from the Arabs, assuming they would want to negotiate a peace treaty. Israel made clear that it would not return to the armistice lines of 1948-49, and would not allow Jerusalem to again be divided. Other than that, everything was negotiable. But the phone call never came.