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‘Two Nations Warring in the Bosom of a Single State’

From the very beginning of the return of Jews to Palestine, a confrontation between the Jews and the Arabs was inevitable because of the insurmountable differences between the two competing national movements. As Colonel Frederick H. Kisch, a British officer in World War I and chairman of the Palestine Zionist Executive in Jerusalem, recorded in his diary on May 20, 1923, “The pan-Arab movement is at present a danger and will remain so until we succeed in coming to terms with the Arabs and bringing our respective national aspirations into harmony with each other.”

Relations with the Arabs, he thought, would improve and “develop naturally from the bankruptcy of the policy of [Arab] extremists.” When an Arab informant told him that “anti-Zionism had become a sort of religion in the country,” Kisch suggests a counter-propaganda effort including the creation of a first-rate and friendly Arabic paper, increased interaction between the Magrebi Sephardic community and the Arabs, and economic interdependence between Arabs and Jews.


‘To the Arab Race Palestine Is a Mere Corner. To the Jews, It Is the Only Place’

Convinced of the existence of a silent and moderate Arab minority that desired a political accord with the Jews, the Zionist Executive continually tried to find common ground between the two communities. In presenting the Jewish case before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, Moshe Shertok (Sharett), head of the Jewish Agency’s political department, said some Jews assumed that the Jewish return would be realized peacefully, since the Arabs would benefit significantly from the economic development as a result of Jewish investment in Palestine. Many believed in the idea that “to the Arab race Palestine is a mere corner. To the Jews, it is the only place.”

The search for the elusive moderate Arab leaders is not new. In testimony before the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission 34th session in June 1938, Sir John Shuckburgh of the Colonial Office was asked about Arab moderates. He recalled the saying of the late Lord John Morley, British Secretary of State for India, that, in times of unrest, “moderates are always at a discount.” The condition in Palestine, Shuckburgh noted, “was unhappily one in which extremists held the limelight and moderates had little influence.”

Alec S. Kirkbride, district commissioner of the Galilee and Acre, added that there were a number of moderates who were prepared to cooperate with the British, even though they disagreed with the British Mandatory policy. It was “impossible” to estimate their exact number, however, because “they were naturally disinclined to come into the open.”


The Arabs Had a Different View

The Arabs had a different view, notes political scientist Neil Caplan, who provides two examples. On October 18, 1919, Musa Kazim Pasha al-Husaini, the mayor of Jerusalem, explained: “We are opposed to any rights for Jews … I speak not only for myself but also for all my brothers, the Arabs…” Years later, Jamal al-Husaini, a representative of the American High Committee, reiterated this point. It would be, he said, a “gross error to believe that Arab and Jew may come to an understanding if only each of them exchanges his coat of extremism for another of moderation. When the principles underlying two movements clash, it is futile to expect their meeting halfway.”

George Antonius, a major proponent of Arab nationalism, concluded: “But the logic of facts is inexorable. It shows that no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the nation in possession.”


The Impasse Will Continue

The existence of a political will to achieve and sustain peace is the key question, explains political scientist Mark A. Heller and Sari Nusseibeh, a former president of the Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Concessions required are a deterrent for those Israelis who do not want to part with territories won in defensive wars and view Judea and Samaria as part of their patrimony.

Others dismiss the idea of negotiated peace with leaders who speak of conditional acceptance of Israel. Still others believe that negotiations are futile because even conciliatory statements by Arabs mask their hidden agenda of annihilation of the Jewish state, and thus genuine peace is a utopian dream. A two-state settlement is viewed by some as fundamentally unstable and would fail regardless of intentions.

More and more Israelis see sustained peace as a fantasy given the vehement anti-Israel rhetoric espoused by Arab political and religious leaders, the Arab media and educators in Palestinian schools, Heller and Nusseibeh add. Every Jewish civilian killed or injured as a result of a terrorist attack undermines Israel’s feeling of security. It also raises the question as to whether the Palestinian Arabs are addicted to indiscriminate violence and if this enmity is unrelenting and irreconcilable.

The October 7, 2023 massacre and the positive response of the Arabs in Gaza and Judea and Samaria to the brutal atrocities that included murder, rape, beheading, mutilation, and seizing 253 hostages of all ages, should leave no doubt about this question.


When Will Peace Prevail?

When asked at the start of the Arab Revolt (April 19, 1936-August 26,1939) how long it would take before peace would prevail, Moshe Ya’alon, former chief of staff of the IDF, quoted Moshe Beilinson, a journalist for Histadrut’s newspaper, Davar, in a June 1936 article: “Until the most fervent warrior in the enemy camp realizes that there is no means by which to break Israel’s power in its land, because it has necessity and living truth on its side. Until they know that there is no other way but to make peace with Israel. This is the purpose of our struggle.”

Most problems are not generally resolved. They are endured, outlasted, avoided, discarded out of fatigue, and finally replaced by more urgent issues. R.H. Tawney, an economic historian and social critic writes: “It is the tragedy of a world where man must walk by sight that the discovery of the reconciling formula is always left to the future generations, in which passion has cooled into curiosity, and the agonies of peoples have become the exercise of schools. The devil who builds bridges does not span such chasms till much that is precious has vanished down forever.”

Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and on the advisory board of The National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI).

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