A Mandate for Israel

September 1, 1993 Topic: Security Regions: LevantMiddle East Tags: Cold WarGulf WarZionism

A Mandate for Israel

Mini Teaser: The ultimate success of the current Arab-Israeli negotiations will hinge on how they deal with the legal and moral essence of the conflict: the longstanding Arab legal and moral arguments used to oppose Zionism and Israel.

by Author(s): Douglas Feith

Has a conflict evolved into peace when fighting between the opposing
armies has ceased? In one sense, yes; but a cease-fire, or even a
formal armistice, falls short of true peace. Should the description
"true peace" be reserved until the antagonists have signed treaties
requiring exchanges of ambassadors and other visible signs of
"normal" relations? Perhaps, but again the essence of peace is not
paper. Neither is it embassies, business deals or tourism. Vicious
wars--including World Wars I and II--have erupted between countries
actively engaged with each other in diplomacy, trade and cultural

True peace, as opposed to a mere cease-fire or a balance of power, is
bound up with concepts of justice--that is, law and morality. It
describes, for example, relations now between the United States and
Canada, but not relations during the Cold War between the United
States and the Soviet Union. It has to do with attitudes of
mind--with a mutual belief that each state has sovereign rights and a
shared conviction that no party should take what belongs to another.
The ultimate success of the current Arab-Israeli negotiations,
therefore, will hinge on how they deal with the legal and moral
essence of the conflict: the longstanding Arab legal and moral
arguments used to oppose Zionism and Israel.

The negotiations known as the Madrid Process have been under way
fitfully since October 1991. There are high expectations for new
peace agreements, thought to be attainable as a result of recent
global traumas, principally the demise of communist regimes in Europe
and the Soviet Union and the Desert Shield/Storm coalition action
against Iraq. Though not the first negotiations between the parties,
the current talks are the first that have been open (that is, not
conducted secretly) and direct, and that purport to seek a final
settlement. U.S. officials attribute much importance to these new
elements. They are said to signify that the Arab parties want peace
with Israel, are willing to conclude peace treaties, and intend to
abide by them.

It is devoutly to be wished that this reading is correct. But, while
negotiations have on occasion ended conflicts, they have also
sometimes served as the continuation of war by other means. Has the
Arab-Israeli conflict truly changed from an existential quarrel not
susceptible to diplomatic resolution into a simpler,
non-philosophical dispute over subjects like boundary lines, water
rights and security arrangements--or not? Have the relevant Arab
powers transcended their ideological objections to Zionism and
permanently resigned themselves to deal with Israel as a legitimate
state? Or is there a calculation at work that negotiating, at a time
when other good options are lacking, is the only realistic means of
getting from Israel territorial concessions that may be exploitable
in the future?

Statesmen and states beg such questions at their peril. The American
"full partner" in the Madrid Process needs the capability to gauge
the parties' actual intentions and evaluate the legitimacy of their
claims, requests and actions. This requires, if the job is taken
seriously, a plunge into the conflict's political and legal history.

Late in 1917, Allied forces under British General Edmund Allenby
fought hard in their advance on Jerusalem through the hilly region of
central Palestine designated on their maps as "Judea." On December 9,
they reached the goal. The city's surrender ended a period of Turkish
dominion of precisely 400 years, one which had begun with the Ottoman
Empire's conquest of Palestine from the Mamluks in the year 1517.
Immediately after the war, British officers at the headquarters of
the Egyptian Expeditionary Force published an account of the
Ottomans' retreat from Jerusalem:

"On this same day 2,082 years before, another race of
conquerors...were looking their last on the city which they could not
hold, and inasmuch as the liberation of Jerusalem in 1917 will
probably ameliorate the lot of the Jews more than that of any other
community in Palestine, it was fitting that [it] should have
coincided with the national festival of the Hanukah, which
commemorates the recapture of the Temple from the heathen Seleucids
by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C."

The Bible-reading British were conscious of Palestine's ancient
history. David Lloyd George, Britain's wartime prime minister, said
that as a result of his childhood religious instruction he was more
familiar with the place names figuring in Allenby's reports from
Palestine than those in the military dispatches from Europe. The
British associated Palestine with the Bible and with the Jews. These
associations inspired the Balfour Declaration, which led to the
Palestine Mandate, which created the legal framework within which
(and against which) Jews and Arabs have conducted diplomacy and war
from 1920 to the present day. Though one can listen for years without
hearing a U.S. official even mention the Mandate, the fact remains
that nothing rigorous can be said about the rights or duties of the
parties to the Palestine conflict without reference to that
fundamental document.

Towards the Balfour Declaration

The government that sent Allenby into Palestine was well briefed on
Jewish settlement activities there. These had burgeoned with the
influx of Jews who fled Russia following the pogroms of the early
1880s. The founding of new Jewish agricultural settlements in
Palestine, however, began even earlier, in the 1870s. Diplomacy to
facilitate the restoration of Jews to Zion had been attempted by
Jewish leaders and British officials as far back as the 1830s. Even
before that, the yearning of Jews for their homeland evoked sympathy
and fired imaginations among British statesmen and people of letters.
Lord Byron's "Hebrew Melodies," published in 1815, lamented:

"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast
How shall ye flee away and be at rest!
The wild-dove hath her nest, the fox his cave,
Mankind their country--Israel but the grave!"

Byron's era saw a blossoming of hope in Europe that enlightenment,
political liberalism and social assimilation would provide a happy
answer to the so-called Jewish Question. A century later, however, in
the early 1900s, antisemitism was intensifying, not disappearing,
throughout Europe. Eminent academic, ecclesiastical, cultural, and
social figures wrote books and gave speeches justifying not only
hostility toward the Jews, but legal disabilities and even violence.
And their words were heeded. Mobs attacked Jews, often fatally, and
Jewish property was destroyed. Especially disillusioning was that
these outrages occurred not only in the politically primitive empire
of Czarist Russia, but in advanced societies such as France and
Germany. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fled from the more
antisemitic countries to relatively hospitable lands, especially the
United States and Britain. Some became Zionist pioneers in Palestine.

The Zionist movement, formally organ-ized by Theodor Herzl in 1897,
argued that the Jewish problem necessitated a state for the Jews in
their ancient homeland, the Land of Israel being the one place where
a Jew could deal with the nations of the world as a host and not a
perpetual and often unwelcome guest. Zionist theorists reasoned that
such a state would provide the Jewish people with a refuge and a
dignified existence. The gentile powers should welcome it for taking
unwanted Jews off their hands. Also, to the extent that it would
normalize the status and raise the moral stature of all Jews, even
those remaining in the Diaspora, every country with a Jewish
population would gain from its existence. Finally, the Zionists
envisioned that a Jewish state in Palestine would benefit the Arabs,
there and in the surrounding territory, because it would bring to
these technologically undeveloped, politically repressed and
economically poor people the benefits of Western science, the
opportunity to share in the fruits of Jewish commerce and capital,
and an example--and perhaps a model--of national liberation and

For nearly a hundred years before World War I, Palestine received
innumerable visitors from abroad, especially from Britain. Nearly
all, it seems, wrote books, and these testified in unison to the
land's desolation, sparse population, and poverty. When the Zionist
settlers arrived, they farmed and developed Palestine far more
productively than the Arabs had, exceeding common expectations of
what was possible. But, it was widely believed that Palestine's
neglect over the centuries had ruined the land permanently,
precluding substantial population increases. This led some important
men in Britain to dismiss Zionism as an unrealistic cause.

Nonetheless, certain British political leaders, including Arthur
Balfour, David Lloyd George, and Winston Churchill, developed
enthusiasm for Zionism. All three of those men became acquainted with
political Zionism during the movement's infancy. In 1902, Balfour,
then prime minister, grappled with the consequences of Russian
pogroms and Jewish statelessness as Parliament debated immigration
legislation, a debate Herzl entered personally through his testimony
before a Royal Commission. While in Britain, Herzl initiated talks
with His Majesty's Government on what became a series of proposals
for a Jewish refuge within the British Empire--respectively, in
Cyprus, the Sinai, and Uganda. In those discussions, Lloyd George
served as the Zionists' lawyer. Responding to a question on these
talks, Churchill, as under-secretary for the Colonial Office in 1906,
endorsed Jewish aspirations: "I recognise the supreme attraction to a
scattered & persecuted people of a safe & settled home under the flag
of tolerance & freedom." In the view of such men, the Jewish
nationalist cause combined morality, justice, economic
practicability, and strategic advantage for Britain. This conviction
gained intensity after the Great War put Britain and the Ottoman
Empire on opposite sides, and especially after Lloyd George became
prime minister late in 1916.

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