Land for Peace

STANLEY A. BLUMBERG and GWINN OWENS

February 07, 1992|By STANLEY A. BLUMBERG and GWINN OWENS

Don't blame Israel or worldwide Jewry if the ''land for peace''slogan evokes only sardonic laughter. The Zionist movement has been surrendering land since early in the century, and peace has never been the result.

Palestine, the land upon which Israel was settled, is now regarded as being located west of the Jordan River. In fact, until the end of World War I, historic Palestine was not only the West Bank but all or most of what is now the Kingdom of Jordan.

Hence, when Lord Balfour's famous declaration was issued in 1917 -- ''His Majesty's government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish People . . .'' -- he meant the Palestine as defined at that time. In a subsequent memo to the Paris Peace Conference in August 1919, Balfour said ''Palestine should extend into lands lying east the Jordan.''

Most of the Middle East, including what are now Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, was wrested from the centuries-long rule of the Ottoman Empire, which had collapsed in World War I. As the lands were awarded to Arab princes, Balfour in July 1920, in a report to the Palestine Royal Commission, hoped that Arab leaders would not object to a ''small notch'' being given to the Jewish people.

All of this area was awarded to the British as a mandate by the League of Nations in 1920 and was designated as the prospective Jewish National Home by the League. At the peace conference, the official position of the United States, based on a congressional resolution, was that ''there be a separate state of Palestine . . . be the policy of the League of Nations to recognize Palestine as a Jewish state as soon as it is a Jewish state in fact . . . without sacrificing the rights of non-Jews.''

Unfortunately for the Jews, Britain needed to cultivate those Arab leaders who had supported the British campaign against the Ottoman Turks. Among them was the Emir Abdullah, a Saudi prince ousted from his home- land. Strategy took preference over the Balfour declaration; the land east of the Jordan was awarded to Abdullah, who became ruler of the new Kingdom of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan, under Abdullah's grandson, Hussein).

The prospective Jewish state was thus cut down from a potential 46,000 square miles to the mere 8,000 square miles west of the Jordan River, a move that the colonial secretary, Winston Churchill, said would serve the cause of peace. And indeed, Abdullah assured Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, of his peaceful intent. This might have been the first instance of ''land for peace.''

Between the world wars and during the emergence of oil diplomacy, Britain's policy, despite Balfour, tilted toward the Arabs. Jewish immigration into Palestine was first restricted, then in 1929 cut off completely, while Arab settlers were encouraged. In some cases Jews were not even allowed to buy land.

With the rise of Hitler and his persecution of European Jews, the immigration wave, legal or not, grew larger. By the onset of World War II, nearly a half-million Jews lived in Palestine. During the post-war period Britain physically challenged the transport of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Nazis as they tried to enter their promised land.

In November 1947 the United Nations, in a historic vote of the General Assembly, created separate Jewish and Arab enclaves. The incipient state awarded to the Jews was far smaller than the homeland the Zionists had envisioned, but they accepted it in another gesture of ''land for peace.''

Peace was not the result. The Arabs challenged the U.N. partition and the surrounding nations went to war against Israel. They were defeated, and in the midst of the fighting the state of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948. Successive plans for new boundaries offered through U.N. auspices were accepted by Israel -- again, the hope of land for peace -- but rejected by the Arabs.

Consequently the armistice in 1949 provided for an Israel considerably larger than the U.N. had drawn, the Arabs having lost land through their own intransigence. The remaining West Bank territory in Arab hands, historic Judea and Samaria, was claimed by Jordan, a claim never recognized by any major power.

In June of 1967 Egypt and Syria massed forces for the final obliteration of Israel. An Israeli pre-emptive strike smashed the attack in just six days. Jordan, warned by Israel to stay out (land for peace?), belatedly attacked and lost the West Bank. It was occupied, along with Egypt's Sinai desert and the Syrian Golan Heights. East Jerusalem was annexed. In October 1973 Egypt and Syria tried again, and failed again.

In 1977, after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's surprise peace initiative, Israel offered Egypt land for peace, namely the return of the captured Sinai Desert. Through the Camp David accords, the Sinai was returned, but the peace has been shaky.

The West Bank, now the home of a million Arab Palestinians and nearly 100,000 Jews, is what Israel may be asked to surrender in the current peace negotiations, with ''land for peace'' as the seal. Based on historical precedent and the covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization (to destroy Israel), Israelis believe giving up land will lead to war, not peace. Who can blame them for resisting? They want to survive.

Stanley A. Blumberg and Gwinn Owens are authors of ''The Survival Factor,'' a book on Israeli intelligence.

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