States of mind

What would have happened had Arabs settled down to build a state with the energy Jews invested in theirs?

fatah armed to teeth 298 (photo credit: AP)
fatah armed to teeth 298
(photo credit: AP)
Of all the anomalies in the Hebrew language the term "kaf-tet be'November" sticks out as one of the strangest. For some reason, the date on which the UN General Assembly voted on the Partition Plan has remained in the intervening 61 years with the Hebrew figures and English month, as if it doesn't quite dare to let go of the British influence. Many younger Israelis probably think of "kaf-tet be'November" as a street name, rather than November 29, 1947. It is the address of the former home of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem's Katamon neighborhood. The sale of the residence has been more in the news than the UN vote which approved - by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions - the end of the British mandate of Palestine and partition of the land into two independent states, one Arab and one Jewish. In effect it created the final push for the establishment of the State of Israel. And for the War of Independence. While Jews in "Palestine" danced in the streets and set about the serious business of building a country which, miraculously, is still thriving, the Arabs (not yet known as Palestinians) rejected the "two-state solution" and launched a war which has not yet ended. And Israel's relationship with Britain remains ambivalent, despite official speeches made during President Shimon Peres's visit last week. In 1947, Great Britain largely ignored the UN plans and barely bothered to hide its partiality to the Arabs. Lawrence of Arabia had evidently granted them a much more romantic nature than the bands of ragged Holocaust survivors struggling to join their brethren in the Jewish national homeland, a dream come true after 2,000 years filled with miserable collective memories. November 29, 1947, remains one of the most significant dates in Jewish history, not least for the way it managed to unite various sectors of the community in Eretz Yisrael. Even today, although Israelis argue how best to proceed with the "peace process," the majority believe in some kind of two-state solution. And that the country has a right to exist. History sometimes seems like a series of "what ifs": What would have been had the Arabs accepted the Partition Plan and settled down to building their state with the energy that the Jews invested in theirs? Without the wars, terror attacks and diplomatic manipulations born out of that rejection, perhaps both Israel and Palestine would be the Mideastern equivalents of Singapore. Sixty-one years after that fateful vote, the "two-state solution" is more in fashion than ever. Although given the current Palestinian divisions, it might have to be a "three-state solution." Gaza and the West Bank are separated by a few kilometers and a whole different world outlook. GAZA IS not a good example of statehood. It decries the "siege" placed on it by Israel while not only continuing to shell the Jewish communities of the Negev but aiming for the city of Ashdod in the not-distant-enough future. Hamas begs that the border with Israel be opened. The border, of course, could also be opened with Egypt - were Egypt not so fearful of the Islamist threat from its poor, besieged Palestinian brethren. It has to tread carefully. Hence it was not surprising that a Cairo court last week suspended a deal for Egypt to supply Israel with natural gas. Perhaps, we should stage a black-out - a la Hamas - and show poor, candlelit children suffering from cold. But when the world sees pictures of Israeli children struggling to live to a rhythm dictated by Palestinian-launched Kassams, the country is usually taken to task for the "occupation." A hint to Hamas: Gilad Schalit is the only Israeli soldier in Gaza. Let him go and the occupying force will just disappear. Not that that would mean the end of a military presence in Gaza. While journalists everywhere tend to mindlessly quote the description of Gaza as one of the most densely populated areas in the world, they rarely note that the ratio of policemen/militiamen to civilians is among the highest anywhere. Ask PA leader Mahmoud Abbas: The reason he keeps requesting, and receiving, more released security prisoners from Israel is to boost his own forces. You could ask him in Ramallah or perhaps catch him at Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem. You'd find him in Gaza only over his dead body. So much for two states. Olmert and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni want to strengthen the moderates. Who wouldn't? But how moderate is Fatah? Admittedly, in the topsy-turvy world which is opting for the Saudi peace initiative, Fatahland does seem tame: They don't go in for official beheadings, stonings or publicly whipping women who were foolish enough to get themselves raped. Compared to Saudi Arabia, I suppose, that counts for something. Hence the calls to provide more weapons to Abbas's forces - as if this will balance out the arms Iran and Syria are providing Hamas in Gaza. But guess who's caught in the middle? Israel. The Arab countries which rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947 did not fight Israel because of the "settlements." As far as they were concerned in 1947 all Israel was a settlement. What has changed? Israel grew bigger and stronger. No wonder they've not lost any of their animosity. It's been fueled by envy. Fatah might fight Hamas today but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out who would be next. Although, 16 months after taking over Gaza, Hamas is definitely a very real problem. With nearly 1,000 tunnels in operation under its de-facto borders, the "blockade" can hardly be said to be hurting the movement. The tunnels are not a secret. The only ones who don't seem to be aware of them are those international do-gooders braving the waves on PR ships to drop off "humanitarian aid." Perhaps they're too claustrophobic to travel by tunnel. And they could die of boredom waiting for Egypt to let them cross from their side. In 1947 Britannia ruled the waves (cf: the Exodus); now it is pirates in the Gulf of Aden and bleeding hearts in the Mediterranean. So where do go from here? The principle of two states for two peoples laid down in 1947 is probably still the best option. The concept of two sovereign entities living side by side in peace and prosperity remains a worthy dream. But unless it is a vision shared by "peoples" rather than politicians it stands about as much chance as the average house hit by a Kassam. In the search for peace, it is easy to be dazzled by the light at the end of the tunnel. But circumstances require we check it is not being held by a Hamas gunman.