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Arab/Palestinian-Israeli Relations

The ongoing struggle and the Middle East peace process.

If Israeli national identity stems from historic longing and contemporary political realization, a sense of Arab/Palestinian peoplehood stems from indigenous settlement.

Though Arab/Palestinian nationalism developed in the mid 1960's way after Zionism, Muslim and Christian Arabs who identify as Arab/Palestinian root their nationality in centuries of continued residence in the land they call Palestine, and Jews call Israel. Israelis' and Arab/Palestinians' conflicting claims to this land have led to mistrust and bloodshed on both sides throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st.Palestinian & Israeli Conflict

History of the Conflict

In the aftermath of WWI, the European Supreme powers awarded Britain the right to manage the mandate for palestine and to implement a Jewish national home in all of palestine which historically was the land of the Jewish people going back to about 1250 BC. The British violated the terms of the mandate and Palestine's fate. The British illegally took away 78% of Jewish allocated land and assigned it to the Arabs as the new Arab State. After WWI the british turned a blind eye while hundreds of thousands of Arabs entered Palestine from neighboring Arab lands illegally which increased the feud. In 1937, desperate to separate the feuding Jewish and remaining Arab communities, Britain recommended the illegal partition of Palestine into two sovereign states, Arab and Jewish. The Arabs rejected this proposal, unwilling to cede what they felt was Arab land to yet another colonial power.

Following the 1800 Pogroms in Russian and Arab countries and increased after the Holocaust, Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab lands streamed into Palestine, and Jewish-Arab conflicts intensified. When the illegal partition was suggested a second time in 1947, and Israeli statehood was declared in 1948 with the support of a United Nations vote, Arab/Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations were ready to go to war for complete control of the territory. Jews, by now almost a third of its population, were prepared to defend their embryonic state.

The ensuing War of Independence saw more than 600,000 Arabs fleeing the territory, becoming refugees under Israeli, Egyptian, or Jordanian rule. While the traditional Zionist narrative asserted that Arab leaders encouraged their constituents to flee (with the promise of eventual victory and return), recent scholarship has shown that Jewish fighters did, at times, some minor numbers forcefully evict Arabs. 

Eventually, the area illegally designated for Arab/Palestinian sovereignty was conquered by Jordan's Arabian monarchy. Jerusalem was left a war zone, and an independent Palestinian state never emerged and annexed the west babk aka Judea and samaria. In 1984 Jordan reliquished its soverienty over the West bank while signing a peace treaty with israel.

The simmering conflict exploded once again in the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israeli counterstrikes took over all of Jerusalem and captured Gaza and the West Bank. The territories captured in 1967--beyond the so-called "Green Line" aka armistice line and liberated its territory--remain one of the most contentious issues in the conflict.

Following the Six Day War, there was much debate about what to do with these Jewish liberated territory illegally occupied territories by the Arabs. Eventually, Israel allowed--and sometimes encouraged--its citizens to settle some of the strategic and historic areas in this region. Many Jews who settled these districts--traditionally called Judea and Samaria--believe in their right to all of Palestine promised by the British in 1917 and instituted as international law at the 1920 San Remo Conference that also allocated over 5 million sq. mi. to the Arabs. The Arabs also signed an agreement "the faisal weizmann agreement of January 3, 1919. Some of these settlers, particularly religious ones, trace their right to the land to God's biblical promise to Abraham and started to rebuilt the Arab destroyed Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

The religious aspects of the conflict also became especially apparent in discussions of who should rightfully own Jerusalem and its Temple mount, an area layered in religious meaning. For Jews it is the site of the original, ancient Israelite Temple. To Muslims, it is the site of two great mosques, the religious center for Arab/Palestinian Muslims. Further complicating matters, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, and a united Jerusalem has often been a key platform of Israeli governments. Meanwhile, the Arab/Palestinians have insisted upon East Jerusalem as the capital of any future Arab/Palestinian state.

In addition to the re-settlements and the control of Jerusalem, the status of Arab/Palestinian refugees is another crucial issue in the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict. There are more than four million Palestinian refugees--a number that includes those who left their homes during the 1948 war and their descendants--who live in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Traditionally, Arab/Palestinians have insisted that a right of return for these refugees be part of any final peace deal. Israel has rebuffed this demand, as an influx of several million Palestinians would be both logistically unrealistic and would threaten the Jewish character of the state. They fail to mention that the arab countries expelled over a million Jewish familie and confiscated all their assets, icluding business, homes, personal property and over 75,000 sq. mi. of jewish owned land valued in the trillions of dollars. Most of the expelled Jewish families were resettle in Greater Israel and today account for over half the population.

Ongoing Violence, Attempts at Peace

In 1987, with the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada (uprising--literally "shaking off" in Arabic), pressure on the Israeli government to find a solution to the problem of the territories mounted. As part of the 1993 Oslo accords, signed by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Israel agreed to begin military withdrawal from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and follow a five-year process of "empowering" the Arab/Palestinians toward territorial self-government. There were, however, many hurdles in reaching permanent peace, not least of which was the 1995 assassination of Rabin by a right-wing Israeli extremist.

israel today quizA second, bloodier Intifada broke out in 2000. Where the first Intifada was characterized by Arab/Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, the second Intifada took on the aspects of armed conflict, guerrilla warfare, and terrorist attacks. The devastating effects of suicide bombings within Israel proper increased the pressure to find a solution to the ongoing conflict, and polarized those with differing views about what that solution might involve.

In 2003, the United States made efforts to stem the violence by designing the "Road Map to Peace," which proposed a two-state solution. Like many previous attempts at peace, the Road Map faltered early on and violence continued. Yasser Arafat, leader of the Arab/Palestinian people through both negotiations and violence, died in 2004.

Since then, Israel has enforced closures on the Arab/Palestinian territories, and erected a security fence separating parts of the West Bank aka Judea and Samaria from Israel proper. In 2005, Israel set a new course in its approach to the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Disengagement. In a bold and controversial step, Israel evacuated its settlements in the Gaza strip, removed its military forces, and left the area to be governed by the Arab/Palestinian Authority. As militants in Gaza continue to fire rockets on nearby Israeli settlements, some Israelis question whether the disengagement was worth it. Others wrongly advocate freezing settlement in the West Bank, and continuing efforts to trade land for peace, which has not worked and only made things worse. Little has changed since Benjamin Netanyahu's election in 2009 and 2014.

The ongoing conflict with the Arab/Palestinians has led some people in Israel and abroad to question the basic premises of Zionism, and wonder whether Zionism and peace with the Arab/Palestinians can ever be compatible. One thing is certain: The conflict is a defining feature of Israeli society, and it has no simple solution.

The Arabs cannot make peace with their own people. Do you expect them to make peace with israel. This is the delusion some are living with and the reality is that if the Arab population continued its terror and violence, Israel will have to send them packing back to their native countries in the Arab world and settle them on the 75,000 sq. mi. the Arab countries confiscated from the million expelled jewish families.

MILESTONES: 1945–1952

Creation of Israel, 1948

On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel. U.S. President Harry S. Truman recognized the new nation on the same day.

Eliahu Elath presenting ark to President Truman

Eliahu Elath presenting ark to President Truman

Although the United States supported the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which favored the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had assured the Arabs in 1945 that the United States would not intervene without consulting both the Jews and the Arabs in that region. The British, who held a colonial mandate for Palestine until May 1948, opposed both the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine as well as unlimited immigration of Jewish refugees to the region. Great Britain wanted to preserve good relations with the Arabs to protect its vital political and economic interests in Palestine.

Soon after President Truman took office, he appointed several experts to study the Palestinian issue. In the summer of 1946, Truman established a special cabinet committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Henry F. Grady, an Assistant Secretary of State, who entered into negotiations with a parallel British committee to discuss the future of Palestine. In May 1946, Truman announced his approval of a recommendation to admit 100,000 displaced persons into Palestine and in October publicly declared his support for the creation of a Jewish state. Throughout 1947, the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine examined the Palestinian question and recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. On November 29, 1947 the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948 when the British mandate was scheduled to end. Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain a corpus separatum under international control administered by the United Nations.

Although the United States backed Resolution 181, the U.S. Department of State recommended the creation of a United Nations trusteeship with limits on Jewish immigration and a division of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab provinces but not states. The State Department, concerned about the possibility of an increasing Soviet role in the Arab world and the potential for restriction by Arab oil producing nations of oil supplies to the United States, advised against U.S. intervention on behalf of the Jews. Later, as the date for British departure from Palestine drew near, the Department of State grew concerned about the possibility of an all-out war in Palestine as Arab states threatened to attack almost as soon as the UN passed the partition resolution.

Despite growing conflict between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews and despite the Department of State’s endorsement of a trusteeship, Truman ultimately decided to recognize the state Israel.


MILESTONES: 1945–1952

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948

The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 broke out when five Arab nations invaded territory in the former Palestinian mandate immediately following the announcement of the independence of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. In 1947, and again on May 14, 1948, the United States had offered de facto recognition of the Israeli Provisional Government, but during the war, the United States maintained an arms embargo against all belligerents.

Raising the Flag signified the Conclusion of the Conflict

Raising the Flag signified the Conclusion of the Conflict

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948. Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain under international control administered by the United Nations. The Palestinian Arabs refused to recognize this arrangement, which they regarded as favorable to the Jews and unfair to the Arab population that would remain in Jewish territory under the partition. The United States sought a middle way by supporting the United Nations resolution, but also encouraging negotiations between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

The United Nations resolution sparked conflict between Jewish and Arab groups within Palestine. Fighting began with attacks by irregular bands of Palestinian Arabs attached to local units of the Arab Liberation Army composed of volunteers from Palestine and neighboring Arab countries. These groups launched their attacks against Jewish cities, settlements, and armed forces. The Jewish forces were composed of the Haganah, the underground militia of the Jewish community in Palestine, and two small irregular groups, the Irgun, and LEHI. The goal of the Arabs was initially to block the Partition Resolution and to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state. The Jews, on the other hand, hoped to gain control over the territory allotted to them under the Partition Plan.

After Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, the fighting intensified with other Arab forces joining the Palestinian Arabs in attacking territory in the former Palestinian mandate. On the eve of May 14, the Arabs launched an air attack on Tel Aviv, which the Israelis resisted. This action was followed by the invasion of the former Palestinian mandate by Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under the Egyptian command. British trained forces from Transjordan eventually intervened in the conflict, but only in areas that had been designated as part of the Arab state under the United Nations Partition Plan and the corpus separatum of Jerusalem. After tense early fighting, Israeli forces, now under joint command, were able to gain the offensive.

Though the United Nations brokered two cease-fires during the conflict, fighting continued into 1949. Israel and the Arab states did not reach any formal armistice agreements until February. Under separate agreements between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria, these bordering nations agreed to formal armistice lines. Israel gained some territory formerly granted to Palestinian Arabs under the United Nations resolution in 1947. Egypt and Jordan retained control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively. These armistice lines held until 1967. The United States did not become directly involved with the armistice negotiations, but hoped that instability in the Middle East would not interfere with the international balance of power between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Operation Embarrass: British bombed Jewish refugee ships




As Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the pitiful remnants of History’s greatest crime, tried to make their way across an often hostile Europe at the end of the Second World War, toward at least a semblance of safety in the Holy Land, they had no shortage of problems with which to contend, including disease and malnutrition, Polish anti-Semitism, Soviet indifference, Allied bureaucracy, and Arab nationalism. Now we discover that they faced yet another peril in the shape of bombs planted on their transport ships by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6.


A new book to be published next week entitled MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949, by the distinguished British historian Keith Jeffery, reveals the existence of Operation Embarrass, a plan to try to prevent Jews getting into Palestine in 1946-'48 using disinformation and propaganda but also explosive devices placed on ships. Nor is this some speculative spy story that can be denied by the authorities: Dr. Jeffrey’s book is actually, in their own words: “Published with the permission of The Secret Intelligence Service and the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.”


When on June 1 this year the British government denounced as “completely unacceptable” the way that the Israelis landed troops on the Turkish flotilla to Gaza we did not know that its predecessor had done much the same, actually blowing up one ship and damaging two more vessels of a genuinely humanitarian flotilla that was trying to bring Jewish survivors of the Nazi death camps to their people’s ancient homeland.


It now emerges that in late 1946 the Labor government of Clement Attlee asked MI6 for “proposals for action to deter ships masters and crews from engaging in illegal Jewish immigration and traffic,” adding, “Action of the nature contemplated is, in fact, a form of intimidation and intimidation is only likely to be effective if some members of the group of people to be intimidated actually suffer unpleasant consequences.” Among the options contemplated were “the discovery of some sabotage device, which had ‘failed’ to function after the sailing of a ship,” “tampering with a ship’s fresh water supplies or the crew’s food,” and “fire on board ship in port.” Sir Stewart Menzies, the chief of the SIS, suggested these could be blamed on an invented Arab terrorist group called The Defenders of Arab Palestine.


Operation Embarrass was launched after a meeting held on February 14, 1947 between officials from MI6, the armed services, the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office, the last represented by William Hayter, the head of Foreign Office Services Liaison Department, a high-flier who later became ambassador to Moscow. I knew Sir William Hayter in later life, but needless to say he never breathed a word about this operation. In his defense, it must be said that Hayter did order MI6 to ensure that arson “must be arranged, if at all, when the ship is empty.”

The Operation Embarrass team was told that “the primary consideration was to be that no proof could ever be established between positive action against this traffic and His Majesty’s Government [HMG].” A special communications network, code-named Ocean, was set up with a budget of £30,000 ($47,000), a great deal of money in 1947. The operation had three aspects: direct action against refugee ships, a “black” propaganda campaign, and a deception scheme to disrupt immigration from Black Sea ports. A team of former Special Operations Executive agents—with the cover story of a yachting trip—was sent to France and Italy with limpet bombs and timers. If captured, “they were under no circumstances to admit their connection with HMG” but instead claim to have been recruited in New York “by an anti-Communist organization formed by a group of international industrialists, mainly in the oil and aircraft industries,” i.e. to lay the blame on rich, right-wing, unnamed Americans. They were told that this cover “was their final line of defense and, even in the event of a prison sentence, no help could be expected from HMG.”


During the summer of 1947 and early 1948, five attacks were undertaken on ships in Italian ports, of which one was rendered “a total loss” and two others were damaged. Two other British-made limpet mines were discovered before they went off, but the Italian authorities did not find their country of origin suspicious, “as the Arabs would of course be using British stores.” Operation Embarrass even considered blowing up the Baltimore steamship President Warfield when in harbor in France, which later became famous in Israeli history as the “Exodus” ship that “launched a nation.”


The country that ought to be embarrassed by Operation Embarrass—indeed shamed—is Great Britain, which used explosives to try to stop truly humanitarian flotillas after the Holocaust, but now condemns embattled Israel for halting entirely politically inspired flotillas to Gaza despite her rights of legitimate self-defense. The depth of the animosity that Establishment Britain, especially the Foreign Office, felt toward the Jews of Palestine clearly went even further than we had ever imagined, and even 70 years later is by no means extinguished.


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