Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 December 2007
Issue No. 874
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In Focus:

Galal Nassar

Recognising what?

It's not that Israel's borders are porous. They don't exist at all, writes Galal Nassar

Perhaps seeking to distract attention from the crisis facing his government, or hoping to exploit the weakness of the Arab regional system, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is asking the Arabs to recognise Israel. Unfortunately, such a move may be a prelude to ethnic cleansing in Palestine.

Zionist ideas are a mixture of racism that exists in symbiotic relation with Western imperialism -- something made clear in Theodore Hertzl's book The Jewish State. Hertzl ignored the fact that Palestine was already inhabited by a people with an extensive history, something he sees as a minor hurdle. "Supposing, for example, we were obliged to clear a country of wild beasts, we would not set about the task in the fashion of Europeans of the fifth century. We would not take spear and lance and go out singly in pursuit of bears; we would organise a large and active hunting party, drive the animals together, and throw a melinite bomb into their midst," he writes. It was on the basis of such formulations that the Basel Conference endorsed Zionism as its strategy in 1897.

In 1911, notes historian Walter Laqueur, Zionist leaders were wondering if they could persuade Palestinian Arabs to settle in neighbouring Arab countries, buying land with the money they get for selling their land in Palestine. The Zionists actually thought of buying land to settle Palestinians outside the country. And yet when Balfour issued his declaration in 1917, the number of Zionists did not exceed 45.8 per cent of Palestine's inhabitants.

During the peace conference in Paris in 1919, US president Wilson sent two envoys, Henry King and Charles Crane, to explore the situation in Palestine. After a tour lasting from 10 June to 18 August 1919, the two men submitted a report saying that Arab citizens were unanimously opposed to the Balfour Declaration and wanted unity with Syria. Should the peace conference reject that option, the Arabs said they would prefer an American to a British or a French mandate. President Wilson ignored the report, endorsing instead the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine under a British mandate.

In his memoirs Chaim Weizmann says that Britain had promised that Palestine would become a Jewish state by 1935, though by that year Zionists comprised just 28 per cent of Palestine's inhabitants, and owned only four per cent of the land, including the state property given to them by the Mandate authorities. The Palestinian people, meanwhile, continued to resist British immigration policies and tried to stop the sale of land to Jews.

The partitioning of Palestine was first recommended in 1937. A British committee suggested that the Zionists should take control of a portion of the land inhabited by 325,000 Arabs, who owned 75 per cent of Palestine. The Arab-controlled section would also host 10,000 Zionist settlers. The committee also proposed a population swap. In other words, the Arabs would be displaced, voluntarily or involuntarily, from their homes to provide a racially pure Zionist entity. The Arab revolution of 1936-37 foiled the plan.

In 1940 Joseph Weitz, who was in charge of setting up Zionist colonies in Palestine, declared that there was no place in the country for two nations, proposing the displacement of the Arabs. Neither the Americans nor the British were shocked by his assertions. US President Hoover favoured the deportation of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq. The British Labour Party also spoke in favour of such a move.

As soon as the British mandate ended in 1948, Chaim Weizmann sent a cable to president Truman calling for immediate recognition of the new state. The Americans obliged. It took the US administration 11 minutes to recognise the new state.

The 1948 war led to the displacement of 65 per cent of the Arab inhabitants, and yet the Arabs still constituted 11 per cent of the inhabitants in 1949. Today, and despite the immigration of millions of Jews to Israel after its creation, Arab Israelis comprise 20 per cent of the entire population. It has been 110 years since the Basel Conference laid the foundation of a Zionist state. But the Palestinians are still demanding their rights and ethnic cleansing remains a distant Israeli dream.

Now Israel wants the Palestinians, and eventually all Arabs, to recognise Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. That is the demand it makes at every gathering addressing Palestinian rights. The fact that Israel has to voice this demand so often is extraordinary. Countries recognise one another in a routine manner. They do so without references to the "right to exist" and without noting their being Islamic, Christian, or even secular countries. So why does Israel repeat itself in this fashion? What does a Jewish state entail?

Apparently, Israel wants Jews and only Jews to live on the "land of Israel". In other words, non- Jewish sovereignty is out of the question in all, or even part, of Palestine. But without recognising a non-Jewish sovereignty on at least a section of the historic land of Palestine, diplomatic and political efforts are pointless. Israel wants non-Jews to be second class citizens and it treats Israeli Arabs accordingly. This is the main reason Israel has no constitution so far. A Jewish state is one that remains open to immigration by Jews living abroad, and we all know that such immigration would take place at the expense of the Palestinians.

So how about Israel's "right to exist"? This right is accorded to states that exist within recognised borders. So when Israel demands recognition of its "right to exist", one has to start wondering about its final borders. How can you recognise a country that has no clear borders? Once Israel draws borders it will imply an admission that what lies within them belongs to all its citizens, including non-Jews. It would thus be abandoning its Zionist ideals. So far, it has been reluctant to do so.

Israel is demanding recognition of its "right to exist" and yet it is in no mood to discuss borders. Yet since 1947 Israel's borders have changed repeatedly. Which are the ones it wants recognised?

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