Gaza: How We Got Here ... And the Prospects for PeaceHistorians/History
tags: Middle East, Israel, Hamas, Gaza, William Polk
This is the third part in a three part series.
In this concluding essay on "the struggle for Palestine," I propose to sort the complex and sometimes obscure events into nine categories. I must leave out much but will try to show how the main lines of development impact upon one another to create the pattern we face today. Then, in a concluding section, I will venture a guess on what lies ahead. I begin with the quest for peace.1
I The Early Quest for Peace
To address the quest for peace, I begin with events at the end of the 1967 war. In that engagement, Israel had occupied the Sinai Peninsula right up to the edge of the Suez Canal. It then seemed likely to me that in defeat the Egyptian government would be prepared to bend on the attitude President Nasser had proclaimed on the eve of the war. He realized that Egypt needed peace and wanted to recover its lost territory. He had been sufficiently shocked by his defeat that he had at least pro forma resigned.2
Henry Kissinger, newly appointed director-designate of the National Security Council asked me to discuss the possibility of a peace treaty with President Nasser. At his request, I flew to Cairo, spent some hours with Nasser and the head of his national security council, and returned to report that I thought a deal was possible. Kissinger then asked me to return to Cairo "and push as far as you can get toward a peace treaty."
The main issues to be included in such a treaty on the Egyptian side had to be: Egypt (1) adhering to the treaty that would make the Enterprise Passage at the Straits of Tiran legally an international waterway; 2) demilitarizing the Sinai Peninsula once it was returned to Egypt; 3) moving toward free trade with Israel; and (4) recognizing Israel with all deliberate speed. In our many hours of discussion, Nasser agreed with these points and corrected in red ink the draft I wrote between the time when we were actually meeting. He went further: he cabled Kissinger, who had moved into the White House, asking him to meet me urgently.
When I met with Kissinger and handed over the draft peace treaty, he expressed no interest and would not even read it. I was absolutely astonished. I pointed out that this agreement was what the US government had been seeking for many years and was a unique opportunity to bring peace to the Middle East. He said he was busy, but that if I left the treaty on his desk, he would read it when he had time. That time never came. The opportunity to move toward peace was lost. Fighting along the Canal continued. As a result in the following months, at least 30,000 more people were killed.
As I wrote in my second essay in this series, it was Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who took the next step in the summer of 1970, seeking a ceasefire on the Suez Canal. She asked me to mediate. I did. The ceasefire went into effect shortly before Nasser's death on September 28, 1970.
Nasser had been a jealous ruler. Most of the "Free Officers" with whom he had seized power in 1952 had long since retired; some were actually under house arrest; and during his 18 years in power no rivals had come to the fore. The old regime was dead; the only large political party, the Wafd, was just a memory; the Muslim Brotherhood, a phantom; and the always tiny Communist Party, a joke.
At his death, the two strongmen of Nasser's entourage compromised with one another by putting forward for the presidency a colleague whom they thought to be an amiable, unambitious, maladroit figure. Anwar Sadat had been publicly scorned by Nasser and was the butt of many an Egyptian joke. He was famous for affecting a military uniform illuminated with almost as much ribbon and brass as America's later General David Petraeus. One of the leading Egyptian commentators described him to me as "Charlie Chaplin playing James Bond." But it was Sadat who would carry the quest for peace to the next stage.3
Sadat was dealt a weak hand in that game: Egypt had catastrophically lost the 1967 war. The formerly industrialized cities along the Suez Canal were in ruins; the part of the army that was not bogged down in Yemen had been gutted; the economy was prostrate; Egypt's major oil field was being drained by the Israelis; the Suez Canal was closed; and the major source of hard currency, tourism, was dead. Hotels were empty. Worse, the trend was downward: the "postwar war of attrition" was hurting Egypt badly and preventing reconstruction along the Canal while the already terrifying population/land ratio was daily worsening. In foreign relations, Egypt had few friends. It was deeply divided from both Syria and Jordan. Finally, an Israeli army was just a hundred miles from downtown Cairo.
It would be hard to think of a worse combination, but there was yet another factor that was, perhaps, even more debilitating. It was Egypt's (and the rest of the Arab world's) psychological-ideological turmoil. The Arab quandary is so crucial to the events that follow -- right up to today -- that I must take a detour to explain it; indeed, without an understanding of it, the events of the next years, and those of today, make little sense.
II The Intellectual-psychological Context
The intellectual-psychological context in which Arabs have operated evolved in five stages: first, centuries-old teachings and more recent organizations to resurrect Islamic "purity;"4 second, through early Twentieth century, partly Christian-led particularistic nationalism (Arabic: wataniyah); into, third, secular pan-Arabist (Arabic: qawmiyah)andBaathist (Arabic: Bacath) nationalism; fourth, into "Arab socialism" (Arabic: ijtimaciyah); and finally into today's Muslim "militantism" ( Arabic: jihadiyah).
Toward the end of the Eighteenth century, Muslims were experiencing the "impact of the West." That is, they were beginning to be challenged commercially by the growing European economy, culturally by Western-inspired changes in taste and style and militarily by the intrusion of Western soldiers. In response, a number of independent, non-official religious scholars and missionaries set in motion social and intellectual movements that, with intermissions, remain strong today. Although they differed from one another in their interpretation of their traditional norms, these scholars and missionaries all took positions in what is known today as Fundamentalism (Arabic: Salafiyah).
The Salafis went back for their inspiration to the dour Eighth-Ninth century scholar Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad who preached a strict interpretation of the Islamic heritage and sought to prevent innovation (Arabic: bidac ah). His most influential successor was the uncompromising Fourteenth century jurist Ibn Taimiyah. These were the Muslim thinkers who laid the basis for the thought of the Egyptian theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood and today’s Muslim Fundamentalists including Gaza's HAMAS, Sayyid Qutub .
In the view of such men as Hanbal, Taimiyah and Qutub, Islam was a coherent system in which the distinctions Westerners draw between the secular and the religious were themselves travesties. For them Islam was an all-encompassing way of life. Since they believed that it had been laid down by God in the Quran and was elaborated by the actions and saying of His "Messenger" Muhammad, the pattern of life and belief were, by definition, perfect and immutable. To change or even to allow change5 was, therefore, a sin against God. Additions which had occurred over the centuries since the Quran was delivered needed to be purged. There was no justification for adaptation to changing circumstances. What God decreed had nothing to do with ephemeral human foibles; it was eternal and immutable.
Islam, the revivalists pointed out, is exact. It demands affirmation of the unity of God (tawhid) and denial of any sharing (shirk) of His majesty; men are not to exploit one another so taking interest (riba) is forbidden; Muslims are enjoined to help one another so everyone must pay a welfare tax, (zakat); all must abide by the law (shariah)6 which derives from the Quran or from the actions and sayings (hadith) of the Prophet; as brothers (Ikhwan) Muslims are forbidden to kill one another; they should perform the pilgrimage (hajj) in which Muslims from all over the world assemble to express their faith, exemplify their unity and draw strength from one another; and Muslims are commanded to struggle (perform jihad) in the cause of God (fi sabili’llah) to create the community (ummah) He had ordered.
And Islam was not only clearly set out in the Quran but had evolved over the centuries an impressive body of law -- as did Judaism and Christianity -- that anchored its beliefs in practice. Thus, just as Christian theologians reached back for precedent to such early Church fathers as Tertullian in the Second-Third centuries, Saint Augustus in the Fourth-Fifth centuries and Saint Dominic in the Twelfth-Thirteenth centuries, so traditionalist Muslims drew on Hanbal and Taimiyah. They did not know the inspirer of the Inquisition, Dominic, but, in his emphasis on original meaning, ritual purity and stern discipline, he was not far from Hanbal or Taimiyah. Dominic agreed with the Muslim salafis on an uncompromising rejection of innovation (Arabic: bidacah ; Church Latin: innovatio).
Like Judaism, Islam contained vestiges of earlier beliefs and practices. The Old Testament and the Quran both reflected primitive tribal Hebrew and Arab societies, and the codes they set forth were severe. The Old Testament aimed at preserving and enhancing tribal cohesion and power while the Quran sought to destroy the vestiges of pagan belief and practice. Both were authoritarian theocracies.
Over the centuries, Islam outgrew its original isolation and came to deal with or incorporate diverse societies and beliefs. Thus, in practice, it became more ecumenical and put aside or modified some of its original concepts. A major adjustment was tolerating Hindus, who as polytheists were the ultimate enemy of the unitarian Muslims. Despite their beliefs, they were eventually treated as though they were "People of the Bible."
Among themselves, Muslims fragmented into sects and so violated the injunction of unity of faith, even fighting one another despite their proclaimed brotherhood. And local customs were incorporated into the practice of Islam. These and other modifications were seen by "true believers" as perversions. So, from time to time, some Muslim jurists have sought to “go back” to the original or “pure” message as they believed their ancestors had received it. Similar attempts at “return” were advocated by Protestants in Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries Europe, Old Believers in Seventeenth and Eighteenth century Russia and Middle Eastern reformers in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries.
In America, New England Puritans implemented a draconian, Biblically-based legal code, complete with lashings, burnings and stoning to death for such crimes as adultery, sodomy and blasphemy. Today’s militant Muslim Fundamentalists, similarly, have insisted on a literal interpretation of early Islamic practice or even, like the Taliban, implemented pre- or non-Islamic tribal customs (Pashtu: ravaj) or, like some African Muslim societies, such non-Islamic practices as infibulation.
As we see throughout history and in today's events, "true believers," each in his own religion, have little tolerance for those who follow other gods or who worship the same gods in different ways or under different names. Until quite recently, Catholics and Protestants hated one another with more fervor than either hated Jews or Muslims. In the Seventeenth century Thirty Years War, they virtually destroyed Europe, killing nearly four in each ten of one another. Similarly, throughout the history of Islam, Sunnis and Shiis have massacred one another. Today's Sunni Muslim "ISIS" regards Shia Muslims just as the Catholic Inquisition regarded Protestants. Among "true believers," difference is often lethal.
Even worse than difference is "near belief." Throughout history, heretics have everywhere been considered more dangerous than true outsiders. We perhaps forget that The First Crusade was not against Muslims but against a European Christian heresy, the Cathars. The Inquisition spent most of its energy sniffing out Christian deviation, crypto-Jews, and Muslims who only pretended to be Christians. Today, what so infuriates the Fundamentalist Muslims about the Druze, Alawis, Yazidis and other Shia sects is that they are “almost Muslims.” That is, they are deviants within, but on the fringes of, the Islamic family. So Islamic revivalists struggle, often violently, for unity anchored in religious purity.
With this background, I can now turn to how these fundamental aspects of the Muslim experience were manifested.
III The Arab Search for Guiding Principles Begins
I begin, as Muslim Middle Easterners did, with the basic concept of salafiyah. Salafiyah is a difficult concept for outsiders to comprehend. The word itself comes from the Arabic verbal “root,” salafa, that can be translated as “to take the lead” but also “to keep pace with” and “to return to origins.” (Arabic delights in such complexities.) Westerners usually place the emphasis on “return,” that is, on "backwardness." There is justification for this interpretation, but the implication as shown in the three seemingly contradictory translations I just gave is “return to first principles in order to advance.”
If this seems awkward or unlikely, consider the European counterpart of Salafiyah. Protestant reformers in Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries Europe also thought that going back to origins was necessary in order to advance. That concept sparked the great commercial and intellectual revolution in Holland, Belgium and North Germany that laid the basis for modern Europe.
The Salifis were not so interested in commerce as the Lutherans, Calvinists and their various offshoots; their underlying objective was to recapture the power and dignity of the days when Islam was a world leader. They believed that by stripping away the shroud of dark ages and returning to "purity," that is to the original, God-given practice, they could advance toward a dignified, powerful and religiously-ordained future. Several of these Salifis created vast, enduring and far-flung societies -- virtual religious empires -- that were the most vigorous and popular movements of their times. And, as I will illustrate, what they thought and did, for better or for worse, remain significant today.
Among their leaders from the Eighteenth century were the Arabian Ahmad ibn Abdul Wahhab (the founder of Wahhabism); the Algerian/Libyan Muhammad bin Ali as-Sanusi (the founder of the North African Sanusi Brotherhood); the Sudanese Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi (the founder of the African Mahadiyah movement) ; the Iranian Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (who inspired nationalist movements all over the Ottoman-Turkish, Qajar-Iranian and Mughal-Indian empires); and the Egyptian theologian Muhammad Abduh (whose students taught millions of young Muslims all over Asia and Africa).
Until fairly recently, we in the West have known little of these men and their movements, but they were as influential among their peoples as Luther and Calvin were among Westerners. And, as we shall see, their influence is growing among today's 1 billion Muslims.
The early Muslim movements did not stop the "impact of the West" nor did they appeal to the Christian and Jewish populations of their areas. The Christians and the Jews eagerly accepted the Western intrusion and generally profited materially, intellectually and politically from it. However, toward the end of the Nineteenth century some, mainly Lebanese Christian members of the small educated elite, began to try to find a system of belief that could overcome religious difference. The cause remained essentially the same as earlier salafiyah: protection again Western intrusion but they focused more sharply on the political challenge. They thought -- or at least hoped -- that, if they dropped or at least obscured the criteria of religion and focused on something they all could share, they could gather together and become strong. The philosophical or emotional answer, they thought, was the same one that was then rallying Christians in Italy, Germany and France and the Jewish peoples of central and eastern Europe -- nationalism.
As I have written in my second essay, nationalism, as understood by the Arabs, was at first a geographically limited concept. The word adopted to encapsulate "nation" also meant "dwelling" or by extension "village" (Arabic: watan). Ironically, it is a reasonable Arabic translation of the word "national home" used by the early Zionists (Hebrew: heimstaät). The Zionists used "national home," as they said, to avoid frightening the British by admitting that they aimed to create a nation-state in Palestine. That was not the intent of the Arabs. They wanted to frighten the British and French into leaving their lands. For that purpose they had to devise a different concept and use a different word. It took them years to find a stronger rallying point, concept and word.
A different rallying point, concept and word came into use more or less coincident with the rise to power of Gamal Abdul Nasser. The word, taken to mean "pan-Arabism," was also drawn from classical Arabic. It was qawmiyah.
Qawmiyah was a curious choice because it is the abstract form of qawm. A qawm is a "clan," an even smaller group than a village, but it was the group to which each individual owed absolute loyalty. That loyalty was the quality that the greatest of the early Arab historians, Ibn Khaldun, called "social cohesion" (Arabic: c assabiyah). When it existed, societies became powerful; when it faded, they perished. So in that fundamental sense it suggested what the Arabs hoped that nationalism would mean to their society: unity.
Arabs are more devoted to their language than any other people I have ever known so not surprisingly another word came to men's lips in the 1940s. The word was "baath" (Arabic: bacath), meaning roughly "awakening," and as it became filled with meanings and associations, it signaled the rise of a new movement, a new answer, to the Arab dilemma.
The Baath movement grew out of a discussion group that was formed in Damascus on the eve of the Second World War by French-educated Syrian intellectuals. Immediately after the war, they formed a small but vigorous political party. Authoritarian -- it agreed with Rousseau that men had to be forced to be free -- and like some contemporary European ideologies, it was somewhat mystical. But above all, pan-Arab unity (Arabic: ittihad'ul-Arab) was its goal. To move toward this goal, it defined "Arab" culturally rather than religiously. Thus, in the quest for unity, it sought to efface the old distinctions that, it believed, were the principal cause of Arab weakness. Also exciting to the postwar generation of Middle Easterners was that it took up social and economic issues and thought of itself as a Socialist movement. What it meant by that is somewhat vague -- it identified with the then popular movements associated with men like Nehru -- and like them was determined to root out both the European colonists and their native heirs. The Baath movement spread to Iraq in the 1960s and was taken up by some of the Palestinian leaders.
Like the other nationalist quests -- the particularistic nationalisms of the several states, wataniyah, and the pan-Arabism of qawmiyah -- Baathism sundered on the different problems, cultures and objectives of the Arab states. The reasons were profound but allow me an anecdote illustrating the divisive results of the colonial-imperial heritage:
In 1952, the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored a meeting of prominent Arab intellectuals from around the Middle East. Few had ever met any of the others. All were Arabic speakers, but much of the discussion had to be held in English or French because the Iraqis and Jordanians were accustomed to English terms; the Syrians and Lebanese were accustomed to a French vocabulary; the Egyptians were divided between French for intellectual matters and English for dealing with the goods and services of the West; and the one Libyan, to Italian. This is a common experience throughout Asia and Africa. Up to the present, the Indians, Pakistanis and people of most of the former African colonies similarly think in and are more familiar with the languages of their former European masters than with their own heritage or the language and thought of their neighbors. This heritage of colonialism permeates their cultures, their economies and their politics. So it was with the Arabs. Everyone believed in ittihad'ul-Arab but each defined it and sought it in his own "vernacular." While this may seem recondite, it cuts to the quick of modern politics.
Nationalism under whatever namefailed to meet the popular objectives of achieving strength, dignity and unity. Many modern Arab thinkers drew the lesson from their failures that their society had to be revolutionized from the bottom up: peasants and the urban poor had to be educated; standards of living had to be improved; diseases wiped out; industries created; land distributed and a new sense of belonging cultivated. To many this suggested what was understood as socialism (Arabic: ijtimaiyah); to some, as very briefly in Iraq around 1960, it required even more radical means like Communism or at least some sort of model inspired by the Soviet system.
Nationalism of various varieties and "Arab socialism" were the prevailing ideas and thrusts of movements of the 1960s. Each had its adherents and its aspirations. Each failed to deliver what the Arabs sought. If one could pick a date for the dividing line, it was the catastrophic defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war. It is perhaps germane that 1967 marked the 40th year of Moses' "time in the wilderness" to remake his people. I turn now to look at what was happening apart from the Palestinians in the Arab states.
IV The Role of the States
None of the Arab states was comfortable with the Palestinians. Even when they agreed with the long-term aim of recovering Palestine, they feared that the Palestinians would act precipitously and so get them into conflicts with Israel for which they were unprepared. Consequently, the Palestinian leaders periodically traded the drawing rooms of presidents and kings with prison cells.
The King of Jordan was the most consistently involved in Palestinian affairs. Following the 1949-1950 war, he realized that the Jordanian army would never be able to defeat the Israeli army. His army was a primarily bedouin force that had been established to keep order among the desert tribes. It lacked the manpower, the weapons and the skills for modern warfare. Consequently, King Husain, following in his father's footsteps, undertook virtually nonstop secret negotiations with Israel to work out one modus vivendi after another. Like all Middle Eastern secrets, these covert operations were discussed in every cafe.
King Husain also suffered from the fact that the relatively secure principality of Transjordan had become the kingdom of Jordan by the incorporation of the Palestinian West Bank. While most land was still Jordanian, most of the population had become Palestinian. The Palestinians were less interested in protecting Jordan and its king than in recovering their homeland. Thus, Jordan became the first center of the Palestinian militant groups; they, in turn, justified their existence by their conflict with Israel; that in turn made it more necessary for the King to deal with the Israelis. The cycle was vicious and soon led to the attempt by the Palestinians to take over Jordan in 1970. In "Black September" 1970, Husain released his army against the Palestinian and killed perhaps 10,000 of them before securing agreement with the Palestinian leadership that it and its armed groups would leave Jordan for Lebanon.
In Lebanon, there were already about 300,000 Palestinians. While most of them were congregated in huge camps and did not participate directly in Lebanese politics, they constituted about one in each six inhabitants. With the arrival of the leadership, they gradually became a state within the Lebanese state. This, in turn, frightened the Lebanese and threatened to upend the delicate balance that the French had established among the Lebanon's religiously defined ethnic groups. The Lebanese army, itself a reflection of Lebanon's social mosaic, simply broke up. Each community formed its own militia. The most vigorous was the Maronite population which spawned armed forces known as the Kataib (Arabic for "regiments").
Worried by this development, the president of Lebanon who, by the Constitution was a Maronite Christian, invited a Syrian army peacekeeping force to establish virtual control over the country in 1976. But one section of the Kataib led by a disaffected army major broke away and was armed, funded and established a separate military fief on the Israeli frontier, out of reach of the Syrians, by Israel.
The Kataib was an authoritarian, ultra nationalist militant movement modeled on the Falange Fascist movements in 1930s Europe. It viewed the Palestinians as the obstacle to its domination of Lebanon. To overcome them, it had to make common cause with Israel.
The Palestinians precipitated conflict with Israel in a long series of "incidents," among which was a significant raid on northern Israel in March of 1978. A few days later, on March 15, the Israeli army invaded south Lebanon. The move astonished the Carter administration, then in the midst of the Camp David peace negotiations. Acting with unusual determination, the US took the matter to the UN and secured both a motion demanding Israeli withdrawal and creating "the United Nations International Force in Lebanon." UNIFIL was to monitor Israeli withdrawal but was given authority only to protect itself and was not even given adequate arms to do that. Israel paid it little attention. Israel did not withdraw and refused to allow UNIFIL into the frontier zone.
Emboldened by the entry of Israel into Lebanon, the Kataib began to try to push the Syrians out. The Syrians struck back and, for the first time, an Arab state asked Israel to come to its aid. Israel did, but its limited actions solved nothing and, after a long series of clashes in June 1982, Israel massively invaded Lebanon. Brushing aside UNIFIL and paying no attention to an almost unprecedented unanimous Security Council resolution demanding withdrawal, it reached the outskirts of Beirut. There it ran into Palestinian forces.
During these events, Syria warily watched. What happened in Lebanon was not only economically crucial to Syria but the Syrians remembered that the French had earlier used Lebanon as a bastion from which to control their country. They believed that Lebanon was rightfully a part of "Greater Syria." So their intervention, at the request of the Lebanese government, had seemed a historically justified event.
Lebanon was a risky place for Syrian action. While it might act as a buffer to Israel, its increasingly active Palestinian community could turn it into a battle ground with Israel.
The Baathist Syrian regime was at least as hostile to the Palestinian "freedom fighters/guerrillas" as the Jordanians and Lebanese. Early in his campaign, Yasir Arafat had been a guest in a Syrian prison and later the Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, had not only stopped his air force from assisting the PLO when it was being attacked by the Jordanian army in 1970 but in 1976 even assisted the Kataib in its vicious attack on a refugee camp that cost thousands of Palestinian lives. Later, in 1983, it invited to Damascus Arafat's arch enemy, Abu Nidal, the man who had organized the murder of Arafat's "ambassador" to the Israeli peace party, Issam Sartawi.7
Beyond personal antipathies -- always so evident in Arab affairs -- were strategic considerations. The PLO existed to fight Israel and that above all the Syrian regime did not want. Hafez al-Assad feared that a new war might be the end of his regime or even of Syrian independence. Although its agricultural area on the Golan Heights had been conquered by Israel, it was determined that Golan not be a theater for Palestinian guerrilla warfare and essentially banned the PLO and other Palestinian groups from activity there. Additionally, it tightly controlled its 300-400 thousand Palestinian residents, and where possible it sought a compromise with Israel according to the resolutions of the United Nations. At the same time, it turned to Russia for resupply of the equipment it had lost in the 1973 war and for protection through what became a mutual security treaty.
During these years, Egypt had gone its own way. Following the death of President Nasser, his place was taken by Anwar Sadat. From being the weak, compromise candidate, Sadat was transformed by the structure of the Egyptian state and the nature of the Egyptian tradition into a pharaoh. When those who had chosen him, tried to recoup their power on May 13, 1971, he used the army to squelch them. The price he had to pay for his victory was giving the army the equipment it needed to rebuild after the debacle of 1967.
Sadat wanted peace. But, he realized that to have accepted Israeli terms for peace before the Army had tried and failed to avenge the 1967 defeat, would probably have caused some "younger Sadat" to overthrow him. Even if that did not happen, the Israeli terms would have turned Egypt into an Israeli economic colony. So he applied to Russia for arms and to the UN for support. From Russia, he got the arms along with large numbers of "advisers," technicians and guardians. From the UN, despite American opposition, in July 1973 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted to "deplore" continued Israeli occupation of Egyptian territory; but the United States vetoed the resolution. That was the end of the peace initiative.
Seeing Sadat's weakness, as General Itzhak Rabin told me, Israel upped the price of peace. As Rabin admitted, the Arabs could not accept these terms so they must, in effect, surrender and accept what Israel would give.8
Rabin was right. Sadat could not accept Israeli terms and, on the advice of his general staff, prepared for war. Egypt lost the 1973 war, but his having given the army its chance freed Sadat to try another approach. He offered to go to the UN with all the Arab states' leaders (and some unidentified Palestinians) to negotiate a peace "based on respect for the legitimate rights of all the people in the area," to stop the fighting "provided Israel returned to the June 5, 1967 lines." He got nowhere.
Sadat was desperate. The Egyptian public was increasingly hungry and blamed the government for food shortages, massive unemployment and corruption. So, Sadat set in motion a series of secret meetings with Israeli officials that set the terms for his remarkable diplomatic gesture: Sadat flew to Jerusalem in November 20, 1977 to address the Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and urge the cause of peace. I turn now to what he encountered in Israel and faced in its strategy.
V The Strengthening of Israel and the Continuing Israeli Policy
As we have seen, Israel was already a unified, modern society by the middle of the 1930s. All that changed thereafter was a continuing growth of capacity. Population soared at the end of the Second World War and received major infusions in the following years. After 1989, when Mikhail Gorbachev allowed emigration, about one and a half million Jews left the Soviet Union and nearly a million of them went to Israel.
According to the Orthodox Rabbinate, about one in four of these people were not "Jewish" but were a mixture of Jews and others, and both biological and historical studies indicate that many were not of Semitic heritage.9 But the Israeli "Law of Return" considered them to be Jews and so rightful immigrants. That 1 in 6 Israelis who are culturally Russian has profoundly affected Israeli society and politics. The Israel of the Twentieth-first century is very different from the Israel of the Twentieth century.
By 2014, the Israeli Jewish population reached approximately 6,200,000. Most Jews now live in the area designated by the UN resolutions as Israeli, but about 540,000 live on the West Bank and East Jerusalem which were designated by the UN resolutions and ceasefire agreements as Palestinian. An additional 20,000 live in the disputed Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. About 1,700,000 Israelis are Palestinians. (Jordan's population was then roughly 8 million and Lebanon's 4,500,000.)
The land of Palestine has always been short of water, and, despite large-scale efforts at water management and massive draw-downs of aquifers -- Israelis use at least three times as much water per capita as Jordanians -- the Israelis have not been able to "make the desert bloom." Less than 14% of the land is classified as "arable," and less than 4% can be permanently cropped. (This compares to Jordan's 1.97% of arable land and slightly less than 1% of permanently cropped area. Most of Jordan, like Egypt, is desert.) The demand for more water is a key factor in Israeli policy.
The Israeli population is young with a median age of just under 30; 4 in each 10 Israelis are below the age of 25. These figures give Israel a large military potential. Taking the portion of the population aged 16 to 49 as fit for military service, Israel can draw on 1.8 million males and 1.7 million females. Each year an additional 62 thousand males and 59 thousand females reach military age.
The Gross domestic product (GDP) of Israel in 2013 was $274.5 billion (roughly 8 times the GDP of Jordan or Lebanon) which made it the world's 49th richest country.
As these figures indicate, Israel is a rich, technologically advanced country which has captured world markets in advanced military equipment, pharmaceuticals and the more traditional cut diamond trade. It actively encourages (particularly Jewish) tourism both to earn foreign currencies and as an aspect of its security and economic policies.
Israel benefits greatly from foreign investment and even more from the overseas Jewish communities' donations. These benefits have resulted in recent years in a growth rate of nearly 5% per annum. Absent major war, the economic future appears bright. Perhaps the most significant new development has been the discovery of large deposits of natural gas off the Mediterranean coast.
Despite these favorable conditions, about 1 in each 5 inhabitants (mainly Oriental Jews and the Israeli Arab citizens) live below the poverty line. In mid-2011, significant protests were mounted about income inequality and inflation. In fact, income inequality and poverty rates are among the highest of OECD countries.
The basic resource of Israel is a highly educated, strongly motivated and cultural unified Jewish majority of its population. As I have mentioned in the previous essay in this series, this enables the government to mobilize military forces in hours that would require weeks or even months in its Arab neighbors. The small size of the country enables it to shift its military force from front to front. to achieve "theater dominance."
Moreover, Israel holds the military "trump card." From the early 1960s, if not before, Israel was working on the design and production of nuclear weapons at a secret site at Dimona. In a variety of ways, including espionage, it acquired crucial information and materials from France, the US and South Africa. Relations with South Africa, then a repressive, segregated state that viewed its black population much as the Israelis viewed the Palestinians, were close. South Africa also offered help on developing and testing nuclear weapons and even sent troops to help patrol its West Bank frontier.10
A major additional resource has been Israel's ability to draw financial, education and commercial preference from governments. American contributions of various kinds to date total well over $100 billion. Israel has also received preferential treatment on contracts with the US Department of Defense and at least one branch of its government, its intelligence organization, is largely funded by the CIA.
To address how these attributes impact upon relations with the surrounding Arab countries and with the Palestinians, I turn to the Israeli national strategy.
As I have laid out in the second essay in this series, the fundamental Zionist strategy has been continued by the state: it was and is to acquire land on which to settle Jewish immigrants. This was embodied on the eve of the 1947-1949 war in what was known as "Plan D." Tactical implementation of the Strategy varied according to circumstances over the years, but the central thrust of the policy remained: Israel wanted land without non-Jewish people. To accomplish this goal it was prepared to adopt any tactics regardless of legality or world opinion.
In addition to hundreds of separate actions -- attacks on villages, confiscation of land, expulsion of populations and planting of settlements -- the strategic guidance of the principal Israeli officials and statesmen can be seen in the following statements.
During the build-up to the 1973 war, when Egypt alienated the Western powers by seeking a military alliance with Russia, Prime Minister Golda Meir set the terms of what Israel would demand in a settlement. Israel would 1) retain that part of Syria it had conquered (the Golan Heights); 2) would keep control over the West Bank and probably force much of the Palestinian population out; 3) would tie the Jordan economy to Israel by allowing Jordan access to its ports at Haifa and Gaza; 4) would keep and perhaps incorporate the Gaza strip; and (5) would retain a sizable area around Sharm ash-Shaikh adjacent to the Straits of Tiran where the war had begun. At that time, Israel appropriated an additional 400 square miles of the occupied West Bank.
General Moshe Dayan, the minister of defense during the 1973 war, later described what might be called by analogy to the Nineteenth century British policy in Afghanistan as the Israeli "Forward Policy." Focusing on the Golan Heights, he told a confidant that the Israelis "would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn't possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and it knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn't shoot, we would tell the tractor [driver] to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot. And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that's how it was." He anticipated that after the Israeli army, on his personal order, seized Golan in 1967, the "Israeli farmers would waste no time settling on the fertile land, making it difficult [for the Government] subsequently to withdraw...They didn't even try to hide their greed for that land."11
As I noted above, General Itzhak Rabin, the chief of the Israeli general staff and later ambassador to Washington and still later prime minister, told me, Israel had used its victory in the 1973 war to "up the price" of peace. It then included face-to-face negotiations to achieve "reconciliation" to the existence of a Jewish independent state; completely open frontiers with free trade and maintenance of Israeli overwhelming military superiority without any interference by UN peacekeeping forces. Rabin admitted that the Arabs could not accept these terms so they would be driven to surrender and accept what Israel would give.
Skipping ahead several years, General Ariel Sharon, then minister of defense, in a speech at Tel Aviv University on December 15, 1981, laid out the adaptation of the basic strategy to the new situation created by the growth of Israeli power and the transfer of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestine Authority to Lebanon. The strategy was expanded to occupy south Lebanon and completely destroy the PLO. In fact, although he did not spell this out, the objective was even more inclusive. According to the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, "The true objective of the war...was the destruction of the powerful political and intellectual center of Palestinian nationalism that had developed over the years in Beirut."12 That is, it was to "decapitate" and demoralize the Palestinians. That was the first part of Sharon's plan.
As Sharon laid out, the second part of his plan was to install a Maronite Kataib government. This government, owing its position to Israel, would sign a peace treaty. Then, third, Israel would "encourage" the remaining West Bank Palestinians to "transfer" to Jordan. This would have the effect of opening the entire West Bank to Jewish settlement, turning Jordan into "Palestine," and so ending Palestinian claims on Israel.
Sharon recognized that these moves would convulse Jordan; consequently, Israel would intervene there to install a government that would also sign a peace treaty. Finally, these moves would leave Syria isolated and would force Saudi Arabia to compromise, thus making Israel the predominant Afro-Asian power.13 As I have described above, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982, 6 months after Sharon's speech, set his plan in motion.
Overall, in each of the statements on Israeli strategy, it is clear that the American slogan of trading "land for peace" was never seriously considered; land was always the primary goal of Israeli strategy. Emptying the land of its Palestinian inhabitants was the goal of Plan D in 1948 and remains the underlying Israeli policy today. Everything else was tactics.
I now briefly focus on the experience of the Palestinians during these years.
VI FATAH, The PLO and the Quest for Statehood in Jordan and Lebanon
The failure of the Arab states in the 1973 war gave the Palestinians their first clear shot at achieving statehood. Before that time, they had been scattered, isolated and mutually hostile bands operating with little effect on the Israeli borderlands. It was the states, not the Palestinians, that mattered.
As I have written in my second essay, the national movement was composed of two major organizations. The first was FATAH (Arabic: Harakat at-Tahrir al-Falastini) Like a number of Middle Eastern political movements, it grew out of student discussion groups. Its early members were professional men among whom the leader was Yasir Arafat. He was to play the major role in Palestinian affairs for the next 30 years.
Very different in origin and character was the second group, the Palestinian Liberation Organization. (Arabic: Munazzama't-Tahrir al-Falastini). The PLO had been founded in 1964 by the Arab states and was more or less superimposed on the Palestinians. The stated aim was to engage in armed struggle against Israel while the unspoken purpose was to control the divergent groups of Palestinian militants. Its titular leader, who never really established leadership, was a Palestinian who had joined the diplomatic service of Saudi Arabia.
Also different was the way the two organizations mobilized themselves for the struggle. While the PLO formed a standing military force, the Palestine Liberation Army, FATAH was inspired by and tried to copy what its leaders thought had given the Algerian national movement its power. This turned out to be a misunderstanding and was so important in the development of the Palestinian movement that I must clarify it.
- Josh Hawley Earns F in Early American History
- Does Germany's Holocaust Education Give Cover to Nativism?
- "Car Brain" Has Long Normalized Carnage on the Roads
- Hawley's Use of Fake Patrick Henry Quote a Revealing Error
- Health Researchers Show Segregation 100 Years Ago Harmed Black Health, and Effects Continue Today
- Nelson Lichtenstein on a Half Century of Labor History
- Can America Handle a 250th Anniversary?
- New Research Shows British Industrialization Drew Ironworking Methods from Colonized and Enslaved Jamaicans
- The American Revolution Remains a Hotly Contested Symbolic Field
- Untangling Fact and Fiction in the Story of a Nazi-Era Brothel