November 8, 2009
A new (and old) plan for Mideast peaceBy Gene Schwimmer
One could be forgiven for taking the two men posing together in the photo below, in obvious friendship, on a sunny Arabian day in 1918, to be Arabs, but in fact, only of them is. The regal-looking gentleman, in traditional Arab dress, on the right side of this famous photo, is Emir Faisal ibn Hussein, a/k/a Faisal I, third son of Hussein bin Ali, King of Hejaz, Sharif and Emir of Mecca.
But the man on his right, wearing a Western suit, an Arab kaffiyeh and a bemused smile, is a Jew, and not just any Jew, anonymous and destined to be forgotten by history. He is, in fact, Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization on June 4, 1918, when the photo was taken, but destined, two decades later, to be the first president of a reborn Israel,
The place: Aqaba, a part of Arabia so remote as to be accessible by boat and camel, by which Weizmann had traveled to meet Faisal and the man who arranged the meeting and would act as translator: T.E. Lawrence, the famous "Lawrence of Arabia.
The three came to the meeting with a common interim goal: to defeat the Ottoman Empire. But to the question of what would arise from the ashes of the soon-to-be defeated empire, each man had his unique, though not necessarily incompatible, view. As a military man and a British subject, Lawrence's objectives were straightforward. Faisal had an army. Lawrence wanted that army fighting the Ottomans in alliance with Britain. Post-war, when it came time to divvy up the spoils, Britain intended to install Faisal as ruler of Syria and so deny it to France. Faisal's goal was just as simple, just as direct: an independent Arab state, with himself ruler over it - or as much an actual ruler, as he could delude himself into believing, in a state that would in fact be created by England and on whose good will he would depend. (And a "teaching moment" that would be brought home a few years later, when he defied England and found himself promptly deposed in Syria and reinstalled in Iraq.)
In contrast, Lawrence's (and England's) relationship with Weizmann was more complicated. For one thing, unlike Faisal, Weizmann had no army; there had not been a Jewish army in over two millennia. So why was he even there?
In fact, one British Member of Parliament, Leopold S. Amery, had "pressed for the establishment of a Jewish unit to fight with the Allies" against the Turks, but sadly, Amery's proposal was never implemented and we can only speculate on how different history might have been, and the Middle East might be today, had there been a time when an Arab and a Jewish army had fought together against a common enemy. Instead, Britain hoped simply to garner Jewish support for Britain's policies in the Middle East. The tool for getting that support was to be His Majesty's government embracing, supporting and helping to implement the Zionist dream, as articulated by Lord James Balfour the previous year, in his argument for what would become the Balfour Declaration:
Lord Robert Crew, British acting foreign secretary at the time, declared the strategy just as plainly:
Though not germane to the theme of this article, I cannot let these two statements pass without mentioning how plainly they contradict the falsehood, repeated by President Obama in his Cairo speech, that support for reconstituting the Israelite state rests on sympathy for the Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust. These statements enunciate a completely different purpose, fifteen years before the ascent to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party. Indeed - and ironically, given what was to come - another impetus prodding England toward the Jews was England's knowledge that Germany, too, was moving toward the Jews and Britain's fear that Germany might promulgate her own "Balfour Declaration," first.
Nor was the strategy strictly political. England's then-prime minister, David Lloyd George, believed that a "Jewish colony," under British protection, would ensure British control of the Suez Canal and the vital route to India.
And finally, to the political and the practical, add the moral, for the same Lord Balfour who noted the "propaganda" advantages of supporting Zionism, also stated his "desire to give the Jews their rightful place in the world; a great nation without a home is not right." Indeed, it is fair to characterize both James Balfour and Lloyd George, who shared Balfour's view, as forerunners of today's Christian Zionists. The French, too, had their own proto-Christian Zionist in her Foreign Minister, Jules Carnbon, who said (emphasis mine):
Could Netanyahu have said it better? In any case, at least in the case of Britain and France, the notion that the West supported Israel's rebirth solely out of sympathy for "those poor Jews" and for no other reason is flatly and demonstrably false. And it remains false to this day. Doubters need only imagine what it would cost the U.S. government to build and maintain a CIA station in the Middle East comparable to Israel's Mossad. Add to that the impressive number of technological innovations produced by that tiny country every week, if not every day.
But that's getting off the subject, which is not England's relationship to, and alliance with, the Jews, but the Arabs'. Faisal, like George, Balfour and Carnbon, recognized the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as the Jews' homeland. More important, he recognized and their right to self-determination in that land and said so. In a 1919 letter to Zionist Organization of America President (and future Supreme Court justice) Felix Frankfurter, Faisal wrote(my emphasis):
Note the phrase, "most hearty welcome." Quite a contrast to the current expressed Arab attitude toward the Jewish presence in the Middle East. But for our purpose, it is this sentence, from the same letter, that is key (my emphasis):
Some historians question Faisal's sincerity, but none can question his ability to make the statement - an ability that unfortunately eludes members of the Arab League today. Nor can anyone doubt Faisal's personal affection for Weizmann. The two remained lifelong friends and it was, in fact, at Faisal's playful behest that Weizmann donned the kaffiyeh he wears in the photo. Weizmann, for his part, was just as impressed by Faisal, writing to his wife:
As for Faisal's stated support for Jewish self-determination in the Holy Land, a British officer, observing the two men, was certain that "Faisal really welcomed Jewish cooperation." Weizmann, for his part, harbored no doubt that, as historian Benny Morris writes, "Faisal felt that there was land enough for both Jews and Arabs."
But Faisal and Weizmann shared something else besides friendship: a deep-seated animosity toward, and distrust of, the Palestinian Arabs. In the same letter to his wife, in which Weizmann praised Faisal, he also wrote, "He [Faisal] is contemptuous of the Palestinian Arabs whom he doesn't even regard as Arabs." Weizmann, for his part, described the Palestinian Arabs as "dishonest, uneducated, greedy, and unpatriotic."
This was not racism, but patriotism - or, to be precise, the Palestinian Arabs' lack of it. As the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, explained (my emphasis), "although most of the Arab races fought throughout the war for the Turkish oppressors . . . the Palestinian Arabs [in particular] fought for Turkish rule." Another Middle East myth dispelled. Anti-Semites and Israel-haters who argue over the Palestinian Arab's refusal to accept their own state when they and the Palestinian Jews were offered one in 1947, need to know that a generation earlier, given a similar opportunity, Palestinian Arabs not only declined to fight for independence, but actively fought against it, preferring, instead, to remain under Turkish rule. To anyone who doesn't hate Israel, that Palestinian Arabs, today, seek not to establish their own state, but to destroy another, is indisputable. In this writer's opinion, failing to acknowledge and internalize this obvious truth is a primary impediment in the "peace process."
But that fact, too, strays from the subject, which, again, is Faisal's and the Arabs' (excepting the Palestinian Arabs) relationship with the Jews. We know what Faisal wanted from the British: an independent Arab state. But what could Faisal possibly have wanted from the Jews? If the Jews had, or would have (as MP Amery proposed) an army, then a military alliance would make obvious sense. But the Jews had no army. So what did Faisal want?
The answer can be found in the agreement Faisal and Weitzmann signed subsequent to the Aqaba meeting, on January 3, 1919. The Faizal-Weizmann is nothing more than a simple quid pro quo between the Arabs and the Jews. Article I states both parties' intent that "all their relations and undertakings shall be controlled by the most cordial goodwill and understanding." Articles II and III deal with procedural issues. And in Article IV, we find the first "quid" and the first "quo":
In exchange for the Arabs' "quid," allowing - indeed, encouraging - Jewish immigration into then-Palestine, the Jews' "quo" would be to help the Arabs in "forwarding their economic development."
Article VII expands on the "quo" of Article IV, providing details on how the Jews are to fulfill their promise of economic development to the Arabs:
The point, astonishing as it may seem today, is that there was a time when Arabs welcomed and encouraged the Jews' return to their homeland. And they did so not out of sympathy, not under pressure from the West, but because they saw a benefit - a practical and material benefit to themselves. In his history of Arab-Jewish relations, Righteous Victims: a History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999, historian Benny Morris writes:
The wisdom of Hussein and Faisal's welcoming attitude toward the Jews, as embodied in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, and the tragedy that the Agreement was never implemented, can be seen today. In Judea and Samaria, where the Palestinian Arabs have suspended, if not abandoned, their "resistance," and where the Israeli Army - and Settlers - maintain a presence, the Palestinian economy is growing at a 7% rate. In Gaza, which Israel, both army and settlers, abandoned in 2005 and the "resistance" continues, the economy, in 2008, grew a "whopping" 0.8%.
The conclusion to be drawn from this contrast between Gaza on the one hand, and Judea and Samaria on the other, is obvious. Land for peace, the current approach to Mideast peace, is not working. In 2005, the Arabs in Gaza got land, but Israel did not get peace and Gaza, today, is an economic disaster.
On the other hand, prosperity for peace, the concept expressed in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, made in a time, sadly forgotten, when Arabs viewed Zionism as a benefit, has been, and is, a great success. And improving the Palestinian Arab economy in no way impedes and in fact enhances the prospects for a Palestinian Arab state, if in fact, that is what the Palestinian Arabs want.
Israel should abandon the failed land-for-peace formula and in its place offer a new arrangement, inspired by the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement. In its place, Israel should offer what the erudite and enlightened Faisal sought: economic development. And that part of the international community that cares for the Palestinians (as opposed to hating Israel) should encourage - and if necessary, pressure - the Palestinians to accept.
Land for peace, no.
Prosperity for peace, yes.
[For the history and circumstances of the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, I am indebted to Benny Morris's Righteous Victims: a History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).]
Gene Schwimmer is the author of The Christian State and proprietor of the Web site, Atlas Shrugged Watch.