“Interesting but kind of depressing” – Part II: Do the Right Thing?

Ok, on to part 2 of my series on “the Palestinian problem.” Here I am going to discuss the various value judgments usually used in the course of arguing about the current situation. I will discuss later how much all of this should be taken into account, when actually trying to deal with the situation. I must request the apologies of the reader that I am not doing the requisite research required to footnote and annotate all of this, arguably the most responsible way to present this information. Such is both the benefit (and detriment) of the blogger over the so-called “conventional media”: we can say just about anything we feel like saying. That said, I hope you understand that my words are not expressed out of some vast ignorance, at least not one that I myself am aware of. If I have made an error of facts, I hope that those reading this will correct me.

The general idea put forth by the Palestinian side is that a person living in a certain place – for whatever reasons, for a certain amount of time – has some sort of claim of ownership to that place. In a general sense, I think we can agree that this is valid, all else being equal. On occasion, the Palestinians may reference the centuries-defunct claim of ownership conveyed by their connection to the ancient Philistines (who bear a nomenclatural resemblance to the Palestinians, but no more) but more often the claim is simply: “we lived there from [some time, say in 1800-1900] until 1948, when the Zionists kicked us out, we deserve to have our homes back.” The factual nature of the first part of this statement seems to not be disputed too much. Yes, there were many Arabs, who now define themselves as Palestinians (or even did so then) who do not live currently in Israel proper. The second claim is the more controversial one.
Side note: when I say “Israel proper” a slight confusion may arise. This is partly due to my own ambivalence, and partly due to the long-standing ambivalence of the state of Israel itself. You see, technically speaking, with the exception of Jerusalem, Israel never formally annexed what is known as the “West Bank” in some circles, and “Judea and Samaria” in others. This land was last internationally recognized as the property of one single country back when the British owned it as part of the Palestine madate, up until 1947. Since then it was controlled by Jordan from 1948-1967, and by Israel from 1967-present, with certain parts of it under Palestinian control at various times. From 1967 until now, the Israeli government’s attitude towards that territory has been a confusing one, alternately encouraging/supporting and discouraging/uprooting Jewish settlement in the area. The attitude of the Palestinians (for as long as one has been able to speak coherently of an entity called “the Palestinians”) has generally been that they own the area, and like much (or all) of the current state of Israel, they should have jurisdiction and everything that goes along with that.
So now the basic question arises: what do various people or groups of people deserve, land-wise? It’s the question not of what will make people happy, or what will stop violence on either side but what is fair. And this is where things get very, very complicated. Because on one hand, you have the Jews who claim some sort of ownership/connection to/sovereignty over the area as far back as King David, around the 10th century BCE. (Those claims are only disputed by arguing that those calling themselves Jews nowadays aren’t the same group of people as those in King David’s time. I don’t think that this theory is really accepted by many, and besides, that starts getting into ideas about self-identification and group consistency that just muddle everything up further.) On the other hand, Arabs constituted the majority of the population of the Palestinian Mandate up until the Israeli War of Independence. Even though the gap in numbers between the Jewish and Arab populations was closing at that point, the Arabs were a majority. The British, for their part, see-sawed a lot between being pro-Jews and pro-Arabs, due to a long list of pressures from each side. Consequently, nowadays, Jews will point to the pro-Jews moments (e.g. the Balfour Declaration) and the Arabs will point to the pro-Arab moments (e.g. the 1939 White Paper). Let’s be honest, this doesn’t really get anyone anywhere.
Nevertheless, various historical ownership claims come into play in the public discourse about these issues (and basically any land dispute worldwide), so I thought it might be useful to kind of “zoom out” and categorize them:

1) Religious claim. This is very simple. It’s usually some variation on the argument that God gave the land to one group or another, and therefore they deserve it. Needless to say, this argument doesn’t really hold much water in modern diplomacy, the truth of the matter notwithstanding.
2) Ancestral claim. This argument says nothing about recent history, but claims that land is the ancestral property of a group. Somehow, it would seem, by living in a place for long enough, that place becomes ethnically ‘owned’ by that group, even if they are later displaced. It’s kind of a “we were here first/longest” argument, as are a couple others in this list.
3) Demographic claim. This is what I hinted at above, when I discussed the demographics of the area prior to statehood and post-statehood. The argument is that based on self-determination ethics and such, the group that constitutes the majority should be in control of the area. Since both Jews and Arabs were the majority demographically at some point, each side easily brandishes this one.
4) Ownership claim. This is a slight variation on (3). It says that whichever group owns the most land (presumably under some mutually recognized rules for land ownership) should have control of the area.
5) Group ownership/sovereignty claim. I wasn’t sure whether to separate these two, but decided to keep them together, because the idea that a group owns land is basically the same as saying that the group controls the land, and vice-versa. This argument claims that since the ethnic group at one point controlled the area and effective owned the land as a group, they should once more.
6) Third-party claim. This one argues that a third party that has some say about the fate of the area has bequeathed the area to one group or another. This argument would be the easiest to use in public discourse, due to the explicit written nature of the various declarations of the involved parties (usually the British Empire or the U.N.). However, problems arise from the simple fact that the various third parties contradict each other and themselves.

The main reason I’m going through all this is to get to one point, a point that I will expand upon in the follow-up to this post: the various historical claims can be made with various degrees of accuracy by both sides, and besides, history never forced anyone’s hand. So the relevance (not the truth) of these claims to any attempts at peace-brokering is in question. Like I said, more next time.
Ok, so if you’ve made it this far, I’ll acknowledge that this little essay (or whatever it is) wasn’t constructed in the best manner, for many reasons. But if I took the time to go through and add in references and edit for structural coherence, etc, I probably wouldn’t get around to posting it for a while. So I figure you can take this for what it’s worth, and let the comments roll.

6 Responses to ““Interesting but kind of depressing” – Part II: Do the Right Thing?”

  1. cuz dys says:


    The West Bank was captured and annexed by Jordan, and the 1949 Armistice Agreements defined its interim boundary. From 1948 until 1967 the area was under Jordanian rule, though Jordan did not relinquish its claim to the area until 1988. (wikipedia)

    As to the general topic – It is nice to look at it from the historical view, but that does nothing for anyone.
    I agree that the Arabs might have had some claim to some land simply by being there. However, their flight, spurred by claims of complete ownership upon return, is directly to blame for their present situation. Like always, they mess themselves over. Does this put a responsibility on us to deal with their mistakes? No. That is the answer we must start from. The fact that no one else in the area has done anything for them, as the world has not either, has left the problem unsolved.
    The refugees and Israel in general are a whip for the masses in the surrounding arab countries, therefore the leaders keep the Palestinians (I hate that term – everyone who knows anything, knows it is made up, but uses the word for simplicity) poor, ignorant and disenfranchised. This keeps constant pressure on Israel to do something about a problem they had nothing to do with (directly!!).

    Any actions Israel takes are above the letter of the law, and must be recognized as such. There are Israeli-Arabs who stayed and they enjoy citizenship (fine, it is not full, but they do support Israeli’s enemies in general even though they want to live here).
    I think it is ridiculous to say that Gaza had anything to do with our conscience on this topic; knowledgeable people realize it was their own actions. Gaza was Sharon’s out of a criminal investigation, and to a small degree, something proactive in the peace process. It does seem now that the pullout was a mistake from this second point.

    Back to my point – the history does nothing for anyone. Fine. Forget everything we know. We have a huge population that wishes to enter and be granted rights in a State which are against and wish to destroy.
    Even without their violence, the democratic part of Israel would destroy itself as the Arabs became the majority and voted to rename Israel to Palestine and kick out or persecute all the Jews as almost all other Arab countries have.

    So fine. We are left with a population in other countries which have been there for decades without anything. What to do, what to do?

    The options are as follows –
    1. Have the other countries give them rights. (yeah, right, like they care)
    2. Have Israel accept all of them back and cease to be (no.)
    3. Dunno.
    The problem is that I only know the possibilities that will defiantly not work. You want to say create a Palestinian state and have them all go back there. Umm, I am not confidante they Arabs can manage another state. Look what they have done so far with what they have. That’s right, a whole lot of nothing. So what is another option? Like I said above – I don’t know. They can come back if they swear loyalty to the State. We already have citizens who want to destroy it with no promise (Bishara anyone?)

    From Daniel Gordis – There’s a small facet of this conflict that seems to have escaped your attention — this war isn’t about territories, or settlements, or the Green Line.
    It’s about Israel’s existence. That’s why the issue of refugees wasn’t
    resolved at Camp David or in Taba. Israel couldn’t compromise, because
    that would mean the end of a Jewish State. And the Palestinians
    wouldn’t compromise because the end of the Jewish State was exactly what
    they wanted.

    He has a better piece about visiting an Arab village and hearing Arab MKs speak about wanting to destroy Israel, but I was unable to find it.

    In conclusion. I hope someone out there has a better solution, because I see nothing in the future. This is part of the reason I supported the disengagement; at least it was a step in some direction. sigh well, so much for that opportunity.

    It does not matter how we got here, but I hope to God that there is a leader somewhere in Israel who has an idea how to get out.

  2. ilan says:

    Thanks a lot, cuz dys. You stated the situation differently and better than me. I’m sorry if it appeared otherwise, but I pretty much agree with everything you said. Like I said, the whole point of this post was to argue that the history is both too complicated and inherently useless in solving the problems. I’m working on the next post, but I’ve been busy with other things – like the redesign of the site. Do you like it, by the way?

  3. cuz dys says:

    I hate it when I am right; it is just so depressing… http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/798478.html

    The site looks a-very nice.

  4. Lauren says:

    I think a lot of people tend to overlook the JNF. Also, people tend to treat Native American history as being uniform. But ignoring that the Native Americans for a bit, we should remember that the principle of the JNF was that the Jews would buy ourselves a homeland. Jewish settlement was primarily in low-population density areas, which was why the 1947 plan was even potentially viable.

    Also, when you hear about these so-called expulsions, they all happened during the ’48 war. Now, forgive my squirrely ignorance, but it seems to me that, if 1 out of every 100 people (not soldiers, but total population) is dying, you don’t have the time or manpower to do extraneous evictions. Granted, mistakes were made, but it wasn’t a march to the border; many times, people just went to the neighboring towns. Also, let’s not forget that many people left at the behest of the Arab governments, who suggested that they stay away from the fighting until the Arab armies crushed the Jews.

    Furthermore, a lot of Palestinians aren’t actually Palestinian going back generations and generations. Due to the economic activity brought to the region by the Jews, many Arabs decided to move there.

    This, I think, ties in with the idea of language and ownership. If we were in 1946 instead of 2006, and we were talking about the Palestinians, we would be referring to Jews.

    I’m also in the camp of people that says that the problems of the Palestinians are mostly the fault of the Palestinians and naive left-wing activists. It was the king of Jordan, and later Yassir Arafat who refused to let Palestinians out of the refugee camps (since it would mean admitting that Israel was going to stay). There is very little value placed on secular education, and not much work ethic. It’s not nice to say, but it’s generally true of the modern middle east.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t issues. One of the major accomplishments of the war was that Israel got actual, tenable boundaries. As for the territories, you know my position on those, I think. Everything I’ve said so far only applies to within the Green Line. The trick is going to be how to leave them while making it feel like a total defeat/rejection to the Palestinians.

    In any event, if the Arab world is still insistant on considering Spain to be Arab land, Israel is in a very bad position.

  5. cuz dys says:

    Ummm, Lauren – What you said was nice, but completely irrelevant to the discussion, as I tried to point out in my first comment. Everyone made some mistakes over the past 60 years, Israelis and Palestinians, blah, b-blah, b-blah. Great, we can all agree that it is the Arabs’ own fault for not taking dealing with the situation; who cares?

    The Question we must be thinking about now is how to solve our problems. We have a hostile nation in and around us claiming land, a weak government, and no solution on the horizon.

    Any ideas?

  6. Charles says:

    I don’t know that there ever will be a solution unless it involves the dissolution of the Jewish state and the conversion of its people into “protected” dhimmis under Islamic rule.

    This is the crux of not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the conflicts with what people have variously called Islamofascists, Caliphists, Al Qaedists, Islamic terrorists etc throughout the world. For the movers and shakers in the Arab world, ideologically, are driven by a geo-political concept that is irreperably dualistic. Not to be completely reductionist (as I know there is a fair bit of nationalism and other isms involved with this situation) but the fact remains that for these people (Hamas, Hezbollah…and the others from Abu Sayyaf to Al Qaeda) all non-Islamic government is illegitimate, and it is their duty (fard?) to overthrow that government and replace it with Shariah Law.

    It is a shame that many people (Arabs) who don’t look at the world this way are caught in the middle, but that really is irrelevent when it comes to Israel’s existence (and the existence of the West in general). Just read the Hamas Charter. It explicitly states that the only legitimate government on earth is an Islamic theocracy.

    How can you come to a compromise with an uncompromising worldview like that?

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