Rewriting history

May 19, 2014 | Ahron Shapiro

Rewriting history

Part two of a two-part blog. Part one can be found here.


Pro-Palestinian propagandists often allege that measures such as checkpoints and the Security Barrier are not necessary for security but are rather there merely to subjugate Palestinians. They also claim that Israel never seriously considered returning the land to Jordanian control or, alternatively, weighed the possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state. Such claims ignore mountains of evidence to the contrary – dating back to 1967, including the eyewitness accounts of journalists which form part of the historical record of the period.

Just one example would be the column “Returning War’s Spoils” (15 July 1967), written by Washington Post Mideast correspondent Alfred Friendly and published just over a month after the Six Day War. (Friendly, it should be noted, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in for his work on the 1967 War and its aftermath.)

Wrote Friendly:

According to the standard regulations of war-which, to be sure, have never been codified into an official Spaulding handbook but which are sanctified by five or six millennia of practice – the victor annexes the lands he has conquered and gives them back, if at all, only in return for a large payment.
But Israel, which irritates a large number of people by often disregarding the rule book, does not wish to hold any of the land it has conquered except the eastern part of Jerusalem and a few square miles to straighten out the border on the way there. It is prepared to give back all of the Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria, exacting only the rather modest price of effective guarantees of peace from the former proprietors.
Furthermore, some of the nation’s leaders think that Israel should not only return the most important piece of land it overran, the Palestinian West Bank, to Jordan, but also pay King Hussein to take it back.

The sweetener that Israel would add is the promise of joint economic development, not only of the West Bank but of Jordan itself, with grants of the Middle East’s scarcest commodity-agricultural, technical and administrative know-how. Israel would probably also offer Jordan rights to a free port on the Mediterranean.

Middle East commentary in the post-war period recognised the fact that Israel’s peace overtures after the war had been spurned by the Arabs. As Terence Prittie wrote in his article for the UK’s Guardian titled “Vain search for peace in wake of June war” (29 October 1968):

On every count, Israel’s present position is a worrying one. But what can she do about it? – She wants to negotiate with the Arabs, but cannot do so. At last year’s Khartum summit the Arabs refused to recognise Israel, to talk, with her, or to seek a final peace settlement.

Moreover, journalists universally understood that the obstacle to the return of the West Bank to Jordanian occupation was King Hussein’s refusal to make peace with Israel, as Friendly wrote his article “Big Question on the West Bank: Arabs’ Attitudes Toward Israel” (16 August 1967).

The possibility of the creation of a Palestinian state was considered – but was only a possibility and it would only come about with Israel’s help. King Hussein was against it.

Wrote Friendly:

If the present status of the West Bank continues for some years, and Israel holds out the opportunity, the Palestinians may begin to think of a state of their own. In economic and military cooperation with Israel, it may be much more appealing than a return to Jordan, whose Hashemite rulers and Bedouin population were generally unpopular among Palestinians.
And that may happen if King Hussein does not act soon to bring about the return of the West Bank by negotiating a treaty. The longer he waits to act, the less Jordan’s chances are for the return of the West Bank.

This hope for a Palestinian state that would emerge from the Six Day War extended to West Bank Palestinians themselves, as Francis Ofner of the London Observer wrote in an article titled “Autonomy being urged for Palestinians” (16 November 1967).

Israel, Ofner noted, did not want to take a public stand either for Palestinian independence or for returning the land to Jordan because it understood that Arabs would attack any deal that would be seen to be in Israel’s interest.

The Israeli administration is keeping away from this inter-Arab argument. This is in conformity with the government’s policy to interfere as little as possible with life in occupied territories. It also follows from the Israeli policy of not revealing its plans before the start of peace negotiations.
The Israelis are also convinced that, even if they wanted to stimulate developments in a certain direction, their support would be likely to compromise Arab partisans of such a project in the eyes of their compatriots.
Although the Jordanian government is at the moment opposed to any independent Palestine Arab movement, political quarters here do not exclude the possibility of some softening of Amman’s policy.
Jordanian efforts to paralyze life in the West Bank by calling on the Arabs to boycott the Israeli administration have shown little results so far. King Hussein may eventually come to the conclusion that his future might be better secured if he seeks some accommodation with the advocates of Palestine entity – as well as with Israel.
Such a development, it is held here [Israel], could then transform the Palestinian Arab community from the principal victim of Arab-Israel enmity into a bridge of understanding between the two peoples.

Ofner’s quote also puts a spotlight on my next point – that it is a matter of record that Israel’s policy in the months after the 1967 war was to interfere as little as possible in Palestinian affairs and use only the minimum of army personnel to keep the peace the West Bank and Gaza. This policy only changed – and then only gradually – when Palestinian terror groups took advantage of the IDF’s minimal presence in the territories in order to perpetrate attacks on Israel!

Washington Post columnist Joseph Alsop’s article, “Moshe Dayan faces issue of Israel’s million Arabs” (11 September 1967) illustrates this well, as it allowed Defence Minister Dayan to explain the policy in his own words. (The misleading headline was actually referring to the Arabs of the newly occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip). Here, I’ll quote liberally, due to its historical importance.

[Dayan said] that the problem’s real essence was not the danger of Arab resistance on the West Bank – a danger which he does not rate very highly [in the short term]. The real essence of the problem, rather, was to insure the right relationship between the West Bank people and their Israeli occupiers. And it was on this subject that he was at once most lucid and most surprising. 
“Take Hamdi K’nan, the mayor of Nablus,” Gen. Dayan began. “He doesn’t like us-why should he?- but he is a good mayor. He came to me saying he must resign because he could not serve under an Israeli occupation. ‘I told him that his resignation was something for the people of Nablus to worry about, that I could not stop him and that I would not replace him. If he and the Nablus people wanted no public administration in Nablus,’ I said, ‘that was entirely their choice, and I would not interfere with it.’ So he thought for a while and did not resign.”
Occupation without administration is the best summary one can offer of the singular formula that Dayan has adopted. All that Israel needs, he points out, is to insure that no enemy troops cross the Jordan; and for this purpose, Israel only requires the use of the main roads and a few strong points on the heights above the river.
“That much is easy enough to secure,” he remarked, again with a certain grimness. “So it is not a question of their cooperating with us. I tell the West Bank leaders all the time, ‘We are not the British. Many things they cared about, we do not care about at all!’ If they want to write protests or close their shops or schools, let them! I am not interested. But if they want fuel and teachers salaries and electricity and everything else they need, it is up to them to cooperate with us in the very small way we need.”
HIS MOTTO, near-passionately spoken, is simple though strange. “We must not interfere, become involved, issue permits, make regulations, name administrators, become rulers. For if we do, it will be bad for us.”
Did he then believe that this unique system could work forever, lie was asked.
“No,” he replied crisply, it could not last more than two to four years. But that, he added with just a shade less certainty, should be long enough to gain the grand objective “which is peace.”
“I do not care whether we make peace with King Hussein or with the Arab leaders of the West Bank. Some of the West Bank leaders are thinking about this already. Real peace will be a blessing to the West Bank, for there are a thousand things Israel can do to make life better there. But whatever Israel does, the West Bank people, or King Hussein if he likes, must manage their own affairs. In this way, if we are brave and patient, I think we can get the peace we need, at least on the West Bank where it matters most.”
A more original approach to the problem of the occupiers and the occupied could hardly be imagined. But it just might work.

In the words of Dayan himself, Israel expected the Arabs to agree to negotiate over the fate of the territories, did not expect a lengthy occupation there, and had no interest in interfering in the lives of Palestinians whatsoever.

The Arabs themselves privately conceded that Israeli “occupation” was minimal in its impact, while publicly complaining loudly. Moreover, the possibility of a Palestinian state created with Israel’s blessing lingered for years after the war, but had particular buzz through the end of 1969. Always, the biggest obstacle was in Jordan, both from King Hussein and Fatah, who were intimidating West Bank Palestinians, as Walter Schwarz reported in his Guardian article “The waiting game” (2 May 1969):

After the war, the first shock of defeat was accompanied by the greater shock at finding that the Israelis did not murder, rape, and loot, but seemed anxious only to do business. “So we fought the war and lost. Now at least we shall have peace,” was the prevalent feeling, still wistfully remembered.
Then came the cold wind from Amman. There was money from Hussein’s Government for its leading supporters, – who are especially strong in Nablus. Then came the fedayeen, on the lookout for collaborators. And to complete the vicious circle, there was the new note of hawkishness among the Israelis, with the implied threat that they had perhaps come to like their new frontiers and meant to stay on.
Under most military occupations, a casual visitor hears only nice things about the occupiers, and must dig deeper before he gets at the real complaints. In Gaza and the West Bank it is the other way round. The arrival of a Western correspondent in Nablus is sufficient for an instant press conference by the local worthies in the mayor’s office. Headmasters leave their schools, doctors leave their surgeries, to attend it.
They come ready with stories, of oppression, economic strangulation, torture in the prisons. Only later, in private, and when they are assured they will not be quoted, will they admit that the picture is greyer. Pressure from Jordan is clearly stronger than pressure from Israel. Apart from the money and the fedayeen, everyone remembers what happened to “collaborators” after the Egyptians returned to Gaza in 1957.
Palestinians are chronically divided. Some want a State of their own on the West Bank, others want to return to Jordan. The only thing they all agree on is dislike of being occupied. This is a political sentiment; the more tangible grievances of everyday life are harder to be specific about.

In the case of Fatah, certainly the intimidation included murdering prominent West Bank Palestinians who dared to consider making peace with Israel. One such Palestinian who was threatened with murder was Hebron mayor Mohammed Ali Jabari. (“Fatah planned to kill Hebron Mayor”, Itim/Jerusalem Post, 6 Feb. 1968). While he avoided assassination, a relative of his who shared his views was, in fact, murdered by suspected Palestinian extremists a decade later. (“Detente backer murdered“, The Age, 4 Jan. 1978) 

In another story for the Guardian, titled “Israel means business” (5 May 1969), Schwarz again discussed the potential for Israeli peace talks with the local Palestinians, and noted that the local leaders of the time had expressed flexibility about borders which you never hear today in Palestinian circles:

The problem that really matters is how to convince the Arabs-both occupied and unoccupied that Israel is serious about peace. Digging deeper than can be done at those instant press conferences in Nablus, one finds a surprising reasonableness on the West Bank and in Gaza.
Nobody expects the Israelis to withdraw from an inch of territory in advance of a peace settlement. Nobody asks them to negotiate, or promise to negotiate, on any basis that does not reflect the reality of Israel-and they mean the Israel of today, not of 1947.
But they do wait for a clear signal that negotiating with Israel will be better than merely suing for surrender terms. Some people, like the Ramallah lawyer Mr Aziz Shehadi, are ready to start negotiating immediately with Israel for a Palestinian State on the West Bank. Others, would prefer to wait for a green light from across the river.

The Guardian itself – a paper which has never been accused of taking Israel’s side over the Palestinians – also shed light on Israel’s early support for a Palestinian state in its editorial “A state for Palestinians?‘ (16 December 1968), while also calling attention, once again to Israel’s non-intrusive policies regarding the Palestinians. The editorial also, perceptively, recognised the risk of Palestinian “guerrilla organisations” sabotaging the peace.

The idea of giving autonomy to the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank is not new. Some, if not most, Israeli Ministers envisage it as an eventual solution. In spite of harshness in some much publicised incidents, Israel has tried to make its presence on the West Bank as easy to bear-and as profitable-as military occupation can be. This is based on the belief that the popularity of the guerrillas is not as great as it seems, and that the ordinary, citizen, whose voice is rarely heard in time of crisis, wants peace and is prepared for compromise to get it. The proposal has some Palestinian support too: the Mayor of Hebron, at least, has long advocated it… 
The idea has merit… The plan also has difficulties and dangers…
A demilitarised Palestinian State would look like a client of Israel’s, though its economy would be closer to Jordan’s. What would be the role of the guerrilla organisations? Israeli withdrawal would remove their most potent grievance, but they are also committed to the abolition of the State of Israel. Would they not be even more disruptive in the new State than they have been in Jordan?

Unfortunately, history has answered the Guardian’s rhetorical question in the affirmative, in light of the lead role the PLO took in the first and second intifadas.

It is ironic that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority continues to promote a narrative that Israeli policies have been preventing a peace agreement with the Palestinian people, when the record shows that Fatah’s campaign of violence and intimidation against Israelis, Jordanians and moderate Palestinians alike in the aftermath of the 1967 War prevented any hope of the advent of a Palestinian state at a time when it would have been easiest to create.

Furthermore, it is duplicitous for Fatah to ascribe terms like “apartheid” to security measures that Israel had been forced to apply in self-defence against violence perpetrated by Fatah and those it has incited, inspired and encouraged. The record shows – and let it not be forgotten – that this violence undid years of Israeli efforts to cultivate good will and foster coexistence through an occupation policy that, by design, sought to be as benevolent and unobtrusive as possible until which time the Palestinians (or alternatively, the Jordanians) were prepared to end their conflict with Israel in a secure way that would allow for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Pointing out Fatah’s hypocrisy on this point is no mere quibble. Rather, it calls into question the credibility of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s allegations against Israel that extend far beyond these issues.

Ahron Shapiro





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