Palestine - Problem & Prospect
Terrell E. Arnold

"And God spake unto Moses, I am the Lord" (Exodus 6:2).
"And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob" (Exodus 6:3).
"And I have also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan" (Exodus 6:4)
Canaan was the Promised Land, and the travails of the Children of Israel in first gaining and then losing the Holy Land are well known to most Christians and to many Muslims. However, the next decisive move toward a Jewish national home occurred nearly 3,000 year later and is not so well known. On November 2, 1917, under pressure from Jewish leaders to find a safe-haven for Jews then being widely persecuted in Central Europe, the British issued the Balfour Declaration. As shown in that Declaration, God and the King of England were about equally terse in gifting a national home to the Children of Israel. The Declaration simply says His Majesty s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

That Declaration, as worded, certainly appeared reasonable and workable, and the idea of a Jewish national home was adopted as a mandate of the League of Nations shortly after the end of World War I. However, under the League of Nations mandate, the Jewish people had to achieve a majority of the population before the national home could come into being. To meet this need, vigorous migration was undertaken through the 20s, 30s and 40s, disrupted only by the British effort under Arab pressure to block achievement of the required majority. In 1947-48, in a whirlwind series of developments, the mandate was withdrawn, the British blockade was overcome by Israeli resistance, Palestine was partitioned, the Israelis declared the creation of the new state of Israel, and the United States immediately recognized the new state.

From the beginning, to build their new National Home, the Israelis could proceed by two means: (1) Share the new state of Israel with the Palestinians by observing the caveat in the Balfour Declaration, or (2) Continue migrations while displacing the Palestinians, the fastest and most assured way to achieve the majority required by the mandate. Beginning with the Arab-Israeli wars that started not long after the state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israelis focused on displacing the Palestinians, in the process confiscating their lands and property without compensation. When the mandate was declared at the end of World War I, there were about 50,000 Jews in Palestine. By mid 1955, there were 1,200,000 Jews in the new state of Israel. However, to reach that point, many people were killed, and by UN estimates, about 750,000 Palestinians were displaced, mainly into refugee camps. These camps persist today as the primary homes of many refugees, but the refugee numbers have grown to more than 2,000,000 in the West Bank and more than 900,000 in the Gaza Strip.

The United Nations, the United States and other major world governments, the Arab governments, the Palestinians, and the Israelis all share the blame for the situation. The shared crime is failure to resolve the stateless condition of 3,000,000 Palestinians. Many of them are in an impoverished refugee condition. The great majority of them are young people with limited skills, limited opportunities, and great vulnerability to recruitment and training by extremists.

One can play the blame game around the current situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but that serves no useful purpose. At any one moment, whoever cast the last stone, threw the last bomb, or fired the last shot is to blame. Twice in the past decade, for stated security reasons, the Israelis have sharply curtailed traffic between Palestinian and Israeli areas, causing abrupt and severe damage to the Palestinian economy. This has increased the misery of many Palestinians, and the most recent curtailment has stoked the volatility of the past 18 months. Palestinian leadership, principally Arafat, is blamed for failing to take advantage of the last Israeli offer to move toward peace, but pressure on Arafat from other Arab leaders to give no ground on demands respecting Jerusalem is probably the culprit here. Arafat s dubious control over Palestinian extremists is certainly a problem. Jerusalem is sacred to three religions, and the Israeli effort to hold it exclusively is another problem. The critical path from here is dangerous, but it is not complicated.

Israeli leadership cites each suicide bomber as the excuse for the next Israeli military attack, but the Israeli attacks are in themselves an intense terrorism generator. They are building the recruitment pools for extremists all over the region. Even if it were possible to assuredly wipe out all the present known terrorists in Palestine, the attacks now in progress will create the next two or three generations of terrorists and suicide bombers.

A dangerous part of this campaign is the Israeli effort to emasculate Arafat. In its present form the situation may be monstrous, but if the Palestinians lose any effective core leadership, the situation will turn hydra-headed and become infinitely worse.

It is futile to expect any way out of this situation short of a balanced approach and restraint from both sides. To get that done, both must be assured there is a real opportunity to live in peace. Both sides need the help of outsiders to succeed.

The tasks for now and the next several months are clear. First, as President Bush has said, the Israeli campaign must end. Second, the United States and other major powers must apply concerted pressure on Israeli leadership to make sure that happens. Third, Arafat and other leaders of the Palestinians must act together to shut down the attacks in Israeli territory, and to get that result, they must do whatever necessary, including wholesale arrests of Hamas and other groups. Fourth, Arab governments and any other governments who can help, including the United States, must be prepared to help get that done. Fifth, both sides must exercise restraint in the presence of future incidents. It is truly doubtful that either the Palestinian or the Israeli leadership can guarantee that no Israeli or Palestinian will try to disrupt the peace effort. Such an attack must not be used as an excuse to retaliate. Disruption of the peace process has historically been caused by Palestinian terrorist activities or by Israeli military or colonizing activities, and that pattern must be broken by restraint, since there is no other way to move toward peace.

Beginning immediately, the United Nations should take the lead in marshalling the resources and expanding or initiating the programs necessary to stabilize and improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people. The UN must make a special effort to help young Palestinians to find training and constructive employment. Every government and organization with a role in Middle Eastern affairs should engage or support the task of finding a solution to the Palestine problem. Finally, the boundaries of Israel and a Palestinian state must be settled once and for all. The mere fact of 3,000,000 people with anger, frustration, deep loss, or anxiety in their hearts, and only a tenuous hold on where they are is a ticking bomb.

Israelis and Palestinians will surely be big losers in all of this, but the United States can be the biggest loser. If it is not seen unequivocally to handle the Palestine situation effectively and fairly, disaffection from the United States is virtually certain. Organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or remnants of al Qaida could find it much easier to recruit for attacks on the Unites States or Americans abroad. The war on terrorism will widen, as we find ourselves increasingly isolated and alone in fighting it.
Terrell E. Arnold is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Director of the U.S. State Department Office of Counterterrorism.

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