There Was A West Wing Episode About This, Me Thinks

Juan Cole:

The Oslo process of the 1990s, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, had aimed at establishing two states side by side, Israel and Palestine. Neither the Likud Party of Netanyahu nor Hamas among the Palestinians wanted to see that process succeed. Likud wanted all of the former British Mandate of Palestine to be permanently under Israeli control, including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which Israel occupied in 1967 and which have a stateless, rights-less Palestinian population of over 4 million persons. The Israelis have steadily and determinedly usurped Palestinian territory throughout the last nearly a century, and by now it is highly unlikely that what is left of the Palestinian West Bank and the besieged, half-starving Gaza Strip can plausibly be cobbled together into a ‘state.’

In my view, it doesn’t really matter if Netanyahu’s slap in the face to Biden derails the proposed indirect talks. The Likud-led government has no intention of allowing a Palestinian state, and there is now no place to put one. Israel-Palestine has unalterably entered the era of Apartheid (actually something worse), and it will spell both the end of dreams of peace in our generation, and probably over time the end of Israel as Netanyahu’s generation knew it. The Palestinians cannot be left stateless (the legal estate of slaves as well as of Jews under Nazi rule, i.e. people with no legal rights) forever. If they can’t have Palestinian citizenship, then they’ll have to have Israeli citizenship. The future of Israel-Palestine is likely to become a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state like Lebanon. Ironically, it is Netanyahu who is in no small measure responsible for this likely outcome, the opposite of the one he aspires to.

Israelis claim a ‘birthright’ to do things like colonize Palestinian territory, based on romantic-nationalist reworkings of biblical narratives. But Canaan was populated for millenia before some Canaanite tribes adopted the new religion of Judaism, and it was also ruled, as Palestine, for centuries by Romans and Greeks, and for 1400 years by Muslims. The Palestinian Jews converted to Christianity and then to Islam, so they are cousins of the European Jews (who appear to have gone to Europe voluntarily as male merchants around 800 CE,, where they took local wives). European Jews are about half European by parentage and all European by cultural heritage, and it is no more natural that they be in geographical Palestine than that they be in Europe (where nearly two-thirds of their mothers were from and about a third of their fathers). From a Middle Eastern point of view, European Jews planted in British Mandate Palestine by the British Empire were no different from the million colons or European colonists brought to Algeria while it was under French rule from 1830-1962. (Algeria had been ruled in antiquity by Rome, and the French considered themselves heirs of the Roman Empire, so it was natural that people from Marseilles should return to ‘their’ territory. Romantic nationalism, whether French or Zionist, always has the same shape). I don’t predict the same fate for Jewish Israelis as befell the French colons. Rather, I think they are likely to more and more resemble in their position the Maronite Catholics of Lebanon– i.e. powerful and formerly dominant population-wise, but increasingly challenged by other rising communities.

Andrew Sullivan:

I cannot read Netanyahu’s mind. But I can observe Israel’s actions. They intend to occupy and colonize the entire West Bank for ever.  They may allow some parceled enclaves for Palestinians, but they will maintain a big military presence on the Eastern border of West Bank, and they will sustain this with raw military power and force. I certainly cannot see any other rationale for their actions these past few years that makes any sense at all. Many Israeli politicians now use the term “apartheid” for this future.

(Map via Juan Cole.)

Matt Steinglass:

I don’t know who produced this thing, but it’s got the entire Negev Desert listed as “Palestinian” land in 1946, which somehow suddenly turns “Jewish” in 1947. How is that supposed to happen? What does this map claim to be representing? Is it Jewish/Palestinian-owned land? But the Negev isn’t “owned” by anyone, any more than the Sahara is; it’s empty desert. Is it Jewish/Palestinian-controlled land? But the Negev was controlled by British forces in 1946.

The same weird ambiguity plagues the entire representation; there are vast tracts of land in there that were just empty desert at the time, but are represented as Palestinian in 1946 (giving the impression they were privately owned by Palestinians) and then turn Jewish later (clearly meaning Jewish-controlled territory in the military/political sense). And you can’t tell from the map where the boundaries are between land that’s privately owned and land that’s empty. The general point is correct, Jews have taken a lot of land away from Palestinians, but the map is methodologically incoherent in a way that’s clearly designed to exaggerate the effect for propaganda purposes. Juan Cole, certainly, should know better.

David Frum at FrumForum:

He could have made the series even more impressive if he’d started in 1922, when some 2/3rds of the Palestine Mandate was shaved off to make the Kingdom of Transjordan.

You know what else would make an impressive series of contracting maps? A map of the loss of German land to Poles and others that compared the boundaries of Germany in 1914, 1920 and 1945.

german territorial losses1 Mapping Defeat

Hungary could tell a similar story.

I suppose the moral of the story is: If you want to keep your lands, don’t start wars. If you start wars, don’t lose them. And if you start wars and lose them – as the Palestinians and the Arab states did de jure or de facto in 1936, 1947, 1967, 1973 and 2000 … well, don’t expect a lot of sympathy afterward.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

The first map in the series of four is most egregious. It suggests that, in 1946, nearly all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was “Palestinian.” Land designated as “Jewish” in this map constitutes maybe five percent of the total. This map is ridiculous, not only because the term “Palestinian” in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs, but because there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate. Jews lived throughout the territory then occupied by the British, including, by the way, on land that today constitutes the West Bank (though in 1946 Jews did not live in Hebron; they were expelled in 1929, after an Arab massacre of Jewish religious scholars). The intent of this propaganda map is to suggest that an Arab country called “Palestine” existed in 1946 and was driven from existence by Jewish imperialists. Not only was there no such country as “Palestine” in 1946, there has never been a country called Palestine. Before the British conquered Jerusalem, Palestine was a sub-province of the Ottoman Empire. (And after the British left, of course, Jordan and Egypt moved in to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.)

The next map in the series is a rendering of the U.N. Partition Plan, which would have divided the British mandate into two equal parts, one part for Arabs and one part for Jews. But Andrew neglects to mention that the Jews accepted this partition of Palestine, and that the Arabs rejected it. When Israel declared independence, the Arabs sought to physically eliminate the U.N.-supported Jewish state, but, to their chagrin, they failed. All that happens today flows from the original Arab decision to reject totally the idea that Jews are deserving of a state in part of their historic homeland.

I dont know why Andrew refuses to admit that Middle East history is complicated. Once, he was rabidly pro-Israel, and refused to acknowledge legitimate Palestinian Arab claims and grievances. Now, he is rabidly pro-Palestinian and refuses to acknowledge Israel’s legitimate claims and grievances. Perhaps it is malevolence that motivates his campaign to demonize the world’s only Jewish country. On the other hand, as our colleague Clive Crook noted earlier this week, “Andrew has so many opinions to ventilate, and so little time to think about them,” that the publication of this absurd map on his blog could simply have been a mistake.

Sullivan responds:

But there was a place called Palestine (among other things) under mostly Ottoman or British rule for a very long time before Israel came into existence. Wikipedia tells us that in 1850, for example, the population of the area comprised roughly 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. In 1920, the League of Nations reported that

Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000.

By the end of the British mandate, and an influx of Jewish refugees and Zionists, the proportions were roughly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Jews. Jews were concentrated in urban areas along the coast but, as the first map shows, some were indeed in the West Bank, although as a tiny minority.

This isn’t propaganda; it’s fact.

The maps show what has happened since – in sixty years in terms of growing sovereignty and accelerating Israeli control. The Muslim population is expanding as the geographic extent of their political self-government keeps diminishing. While Jerusalem was once in the center of Palestinian territory – and the Israelis agreed to this, while the Arabs refused – it is now not only in Israel but all of it will soon be under sole Israeli control, as Netanyahu continues, despite pleas from his American benefactors and allies, merely to freeze them.

The point of the illustration was to provide some background to the now-unavoidable fact that Israel has every intention of expanding its sovereignty to the Jordan river for ever, to segregate Palestinians into walled enclaves within, and to station large numbers of Israeli troops on the Eastern border. I notice that Goldberg has time to splutter against this blog but, until yesterday, no time to refer to the Israeli government’s contemptuous treatment of the US vice-president in his visit, a subject that has dominated the Israeli press but contradicts Goldberg’s view that my notion that the new Israeli that I have worried about this past year is real and is dangerous – to itself, the region, the world and, above all, the United States.

More Sullivan:

Wow. Did I get a blast from readers for posting the map that was merely designed to illustrate the current Israeli government’s indifference to the US and apparent determination to annex all of Jerusalem and the West Bank permanently. The main and valid criticism is that vast parts of the map designated ‘Palestinian” were actually just desert and run as public lands by the Ottomans and the Brits. The map, I’m told, has been used by anti-Zionists, but my intent was to show just how an apartheid system could become inevitable, if it isn’t already, if current policy continues. So below is what a reader proffers as a less inflammatory map. Think of it as the difference between the cruder red and blue maps in US elections, and the maps that show shades of purple in every state. It’s also clearer about land-ownership.

One thing apposite to the current attempt to force Palestinians out of parts of East Jerusalem and give their homes to extremist Israelis, celebrating the mass murder of Muslims at prayer, and to build Jewish settlements there as rapidly as possible, is that Jerusalem was 84 percent Arab in 1946 and well within Palestinian authority under the partition plan the Palestinian Arabs rejected. It is undoubtedly true that Palestinian and wider Arab refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist has been a huge part of this problem – arguably the central reason for this conflict. But it remains true to my mind that the current Israeli government needs an attitude adjustment, and soon.

Jeffrey Goldberg again:

Each time Andrew Sullivan writes negatively about Israel (which is to say, almost every day), my e-mail in-box becomes flooded with pleas that I respond. Sometimes I don’t, because I have other, better things, to do. But last week, after Andrew published an egregious and tendentious map meant to deny Jewish claims to virtually any of the land of Israel, I did respond, helped along by about 130 e-mails from readers who were as upset as I was that the Atlantic Magazine’s website featured such crude agitprop. I responded quickly, and angrily (even making a mistake in accusing Andrew of not attributing the map. He did, to the anti-Israel academic Juan Cole.) Then, of course, Andrew responded quickly and angrily, and I spent a good deal of time thinking of ways to respond to his response to my response. And then I realized that this is not how I want to spend my life.

Yes, it’s upsetting that Andrew Sullivan, a man of obvious intellectual gifts (and someone for whom I retain great personal fondness), has become an anti-Israel propagandist. But it’s not my job to counter everything he says. He’s not particularly interested in hearing fact-based arguments that undermine whatever argument he happens to be making, in any case. And even if he did care, it’s not in the best interests of The Atlantic, or of my journalism, or my sanity, to spend my time worrying about Andrew’s ever-shifting views on the Middle East.

So I’m unilaterally disengaging from this struggle. I pray, of course, that Andrew comes to see that his oversimplification of Middle East history and politics has caused real damage to real people, but it’s time for someone else to argue with him.

UPDATE: Jonathan Chait at TNR

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1 Comment

Filed under Israel/Palestine, New Media

One response to “There Was A West Wing Episode About This, Me Thinks

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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