Dr. Bill Duerfeldt
What’s the big deal about a Palestinian State?
A recent letter to the editor of the Portland Oregonian asked this question – “If Israel was created by a U.N. resolution, what’s the big deal about another U.N. resolution creating a Palestinian State? This question reminds me of a famous quote by the 18/19th century philosopher Georg Hegel -- “What history teaches us is that people…never learn anything from history...”
In point of fact, the Palestinians already have their own State and have had since 1922; but I’ll come back to that in a minute. First, let’s take an abbreviated trip through history, and maybe – despite Hegel’s cynical remark -- we can learn something.
Prior to the Allied victory which ended World War I, all of the Levant (what is today Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel) as well as Egypt, Sudan, Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, and Armenia were part of the Ottoman Empire. (It is important to understand that there were no independent “Palestinian Peoples” at this time, nor have their ever been. All peoples living in the Levant -- whether Arabs, Jews, or Christians -- were “Palestinians” by definition.)
During WW-I the Ottoman’s had aligned themselves with Germany in the pact called the “Ottoman-German Alliance”. At the end of the war (1918) the Allies occupied Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire essentially collapsed.
Prior to the Allied victory, in 1917, Lord Balfour, Prime Minister of Great Britain wrote the now famous Balfour Declaration, which said – in part -- "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…”
In an effort to fill the governmental vacuum caused by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Treaties of Sevres and Lausanne sought to chop up the remains of the Empire into several different zones of influence and control. By 1923 this had resulted in Thrace going to Greece, the expansion of Armenia, the creation of Kurdistan, and the independence of Persia and Ottoman Turkey. In addition, the French controlled Syria and Lebanon (the French Mandate) and the British controlled Iraq (the British Mandate for Mesopotamia) and Palestine (the British Mandate for Palestine).
In 1922, the British divided the Palestinian Mandate into two administrative areas. East of the Jordan River this area of Palestine was called Trans-Jordan. Originally the plan called for the territory west of the Jordan to go to the Jews, and the Trans-Jordan would go to the Arabs. Remember that Arabs, Jews, and Christians lived on both sides of the Jordan River at this time. In that same year the League of Nations recognized Palestine Trans-Jordan as a state under the British Mandate, with Emir Abdullah as the titular ruler of the state. (This was Abdullah’s reward from the British for working in league with Lawrence of Arabia in bringing about “the Great Arab Revolt” against Ottoman rule during WW-I.) The country remained under British supervision until 1946, when the United Nations recognized the new Palestinian Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as an independent country, and Abdullah went from being Emir to becoming King. Here then, was the birth of the Palestinian State; an independent nation which exists to this day!
However, during this same twenty six year period, on the west side of the Jordan River, the Mufti of Jerusalem was refashioned into the Grand Mufti of Palestine, and the office was held by one Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini. In the 1920s and 1930s El-Hussenini actively opposed both the British rule in Palestine and the renewed Jewish Zionist immigration. He instigated Jewish massacres in 1921 and again in 1929. The Grand Mufti allied himself with the Germans during WW-2 and also opposed Emir Abdullah for his efforts to expand Trans-Jordan as the Palestinian state at the expense of the Mandate territory west of the Jordan River. After the Second World War the struggles between Arabs and Jews continued, with the British – generally siding with the Arabs – caught in the middle of the escalating conflict.
By 1946 Great Britain had been dealing with nearly three decades of continual unrest and had decided to end the Mandate. However, it was unclear what to do with the territory west of the Jordan River – now generally called “Palestine” – conveniently forgetting that Trans-Jordan / the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was also “Palestine”! The British turned the “Question of Palestine” over to the United Nations and the eleven nation UNSCOP committee. Despite the fact that the Palestinian Kingdom of Jordan already existed for the Arabs and that the Jews had originally been promised the territory west of the River, UNSCOP recommended two independent states – one Arab, one Jewish – with Jerusalem to be placed under international administration. On 29 November 1947 the U.N. General Assembly voted 33 to 13 (with 10 abstentions) in favor of the Partition Plan. The Jewish Agency accepted the Partition. The five Arab nations who were voting members at the time, unified under the League of Arab Nations, voted against the Partition, and refused to accept it. Meanwhile, the British government announced that the Mandate would end at midnight on 14 May 1948.
On the afternoon of Friday, 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion announced the creation of the Jewish state, to be called Israel, effective at midnight following the end of the British Mandate. The United States, the Soviet Union, and eleven other nations immediately recognized the new nation. The Arab nations did not. Within days the new nation of Israel was invaded by Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. Interestingly, the Jordanian troops were led by 38 British officers who resigned their commissions in the British army in order to fight for King Abdullah!
During those initial months of war in 1948 and 1949 – now known in Israel as the War of Independence – approximately 750,000 Arabs fled what is now Israel and entered surrounding Arab countries. At the same time, about 600,000 Jews fled those same Arab countries and entered Israel. The Jewish immigrants were immediately absorbed into Israeli society. The Arab immigrants were placed in refugee camps and held as political pawns for decades. The decaying remains of some of these despicable refugee camps – those which were under the control of Jordan between the 1949 Armistice and the 1967 Six Day War – can still be seen today in areas of Israel. It was these camps which became the breeding grounds for terrorist organizations such as the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah. But that’s another history lesson for another time.
So…what about the “Palestinians”? Shouldn’t they have their own state? In reality, they already do. It’s called Jordan and it is more than three times the size of all the territory west of the Jordan River, both Israel proper and the “disputed territories” of the West Bank and Gaza combined. And those are the facts!
Dr. Bill DuerfeldtAsheville, NC