The Region: Self-made <i>Nakba</i>

Who killed the independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that was part of the partition plan?

barry rubin new 88 (photo credit:)
barry rubin new 88
(photo credit: )
It's become fashionable to match the celebration of Israel's founding (part of the media can't even admit that Israelis are celebrating) with Palestinians' marking of their 1948 "nakba," or catastrophe. Yet whose fault is it that they didn't use those six decades constructively? And who killed the independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that was part of the partition plan? Answer: The Arab states and Palestinian leadership themselves. The mourners were the murderers. You can read details in my book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict. A summary: The key point is that in rejecting partition, in demanding everything and starting a war it could not win, the Arab side ensured endless conflict, the Palestinian refugee issue, and no Palestine. It wasn't murder - it was suicide. Or in the words of General John Glubb, commander of Jordan's army: "The politicians, the demagogues, the press, and the mob were in charge... Warnings went unheeded. Doubters were denounced as traitors." Briefly, the British tried to help the Arabs win; the Americans to assist them in finding a last-minute way out; and the soon-to-be Israeli Jews were ready to have a Palestinian state alongside Israel if their neighbors had accepted it. THE BRITISH government provided money and arms to Arab states (for Egypt, 40 warplanes and 300 troop carriers; for Iraq, planes as well as antiaircraft and antitank guns; for Saudi Arabia, a military training mission) while embargoing them to Israel. The British government also tipped off Arabs about the timing of its withdrawals (giving Arabs a head start to seize abandoned installations), subsidized the Arab League, blocked Jewish immigration and let British officers run Jordan's army in the war against Israel. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said later said, "It became clear to us that Britain viewed with favor the Arab aims regarding Palestine." It's well-known that President Harry Truman supported partition and quickly recognized Israel. But in March 1948 the US government offered the Arab states a serious plan to suspend partition, block a Jewish state, and create a new, long-term trusteeship. They considered but rejected it, even after Washington proposed an international peacekeeping force - including Egyptian troops - to maintain order. Finally, if the Arab side had accepted partition, the Jewish leadership would have accepted the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. Many Jewish leaders were desperate to get a state at all, lacked confidence they would win the war, and knew they could not buck an international consensus. WHY, THEN, did the Arab side, and especially the Palestinian leadership, reject partition, go to war, and trigger a 60-year-long crisis that was a disaster for their people? There are four basic reasons: • Palestinian leader Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was a man who thought like Hamas. Fresh from his stay in Berlin, where he cooperated with Adolf Hitler, he hated Jews, wanted to destroy them and could not envision compromise. • Pressure from radical forces and public opinion made it unthinkable, or suicidal, for Arab regimes not to go along with all-out war even when they feared the worst. • Arab states competed for influence, seeing the future Palestine either as their satellite or a place where they could seize land for themselves. • Finally, they thought they would win easily. Even the moderate Jordanian King Abdullah said, "It does not matter how many there are. We will sweep them into the sea!" Syria's prime minister warned that the Arabs would "teach the treacherous Jews an unforgettable lesson." The leader of Syria's client guerrilla force, Fawzi al-Kaukji, bragged: "We will murder, wreck and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American or Jewish." He explained that the holy war would be won not through weapons but through self-sacrificing Arab fighters. Sixty years later, radical Arab nationalists and Islamists frequently make the same claim. True, Arab armies were badly led, badly trained, and uncoordinated. Arab regimes distrusted and disliked the Palestinian leadership and bickered among themselves, striving for individual advantage. This was a pattern often repeated in later years. Abdullah secretly negotiated with the Zionists but they distrusted him, knew he couldn't control the other leaders, and he offered too little. Still, the consensus was, in the words of a US intelligence report, "The loosely organized, ill-equipped armies of the Arab nations do not have any capabilities against a modern opponent but they do have the strength to overrun Jewish resistance in Palestine...." IT DIDN'T work out that way. The nascent Israeli forces gained ground against the Husseini and Kaukji forces before the Arab states' invasion, then largely won the ensuing international war. Neither during the conflict nor after their defeat did the regimes help create an independent Palestinian Arab state. Egypt held the Gaza Strip; Jordan annexed the West Bank. Their rejection of peace so often thereafter made the conflict last until now. The continuation of these policies today by much of the Palestinian leadership - either explicitly or in practice - could make it last another century. Yet 60 years later, the Arab side has the hutzpa to complain - and a good part of the Western media echo - that they were Israel's victims in 1948. Back then, Kaukji explained that once the Arabs started winning, the Western media would proclaim, "The Arab cause is a just one." The Arab side made no secret of the fact that the Jews were the underdog, and everyone knew what happened to underdogs. As Arab League Secretary-General Abd al-Rahman Azzam explained, "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre...." BY THE way, what slogan were Palestinian schoolchildren told to chant at the Nakba Day demonstrations organized by the PA? Why, "Palestine is all ours!" of course, the same slogan as in 1948. Sad to say, the main complaint of Palestinians today is still not so much that they are Israel's victims, but that, so far, Israel hasn't been theirs, Azzam-style. What would Kaukji think to learn that, in fact, the Western media would proclaim: "The Arab cause is a just one" only after the Arabs had so thoroughly and repeatedly failed to gain such a bloody total victory, though long before they fully accepted the lessons of that failure? The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at IDC Herzliya and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.