Friday, May 09, 2008

Karsh on 1948 (long but worth reading)

May 8, 2008

1948, Israel and the Palestinians: The True Story
May 8, 2008
Sixty years after its establishment by an internationally recognized act
of self-determination, Israel remains the only state in the world that is
subjected to a constant outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy
theories and blood libels; whose policies and actions are obsessively
condemned by the international community; and whose right to exist is
constantly debated and challenged not only by its Arab enemies but by
segments of advanced opinion in the West.

During the past decade or so, the actual elimination of the Jewish state
has become a cause clbre among many of these educated Westerners. The
"one-state solution," as it is called, is a euphemistic formula proposing
the replacement of Israel by a state, theoretically comprising the whole
of historic Palestine, in which Jews will be reduced to the status of a
permanent minority. Only this, it is said, can expiate the "original sin"
of Israel's founding, an act built (in the words of one critic) "on the
ruins of Arab Palestine" and achieved through the deliberate and
aggressive dispossession of its native population.

This claim of premeditated dispossession and the consequent creation of
the longstanding Palestinian "refugee problem" forms, indeed, the central
plank in the bill of particulars pressed by Israel's alleged victims and
their Western supporters. It is a charge that has hardly gone undisputed.
As early as the mid-1950s, the eminent American historian J.C. Hurewitz
undertook a systematic refutation, and his findings were abundantly
confirmed by later generations of scholars and writers. Even Benny Morris,
the most influential of Israel's revisionist "new historians," and one who
went out of his way to establish the case for Israel's "original sin,"
grudgingly stipulated that there was no "design" to displace the
Palestinian Arabs.

The recent declassification of millions of documents from the period of
the British Mandate (1920-48) and Israel's early days, documents untapped
by earlier generations of writers and ignored or distorted by the "new
historians," paints a much more definitive picture of the historical
record. These documents reveal that the claim of dispossession is not only
completely unfounded but the inverse of the truth. What follows is based
on fresh research into these documents, which contain many facts and data
hitherto unreported.

* * *

Far from being the hapless objects of a predatory Zionist assault, it was
Palestinian Arab leaders who from the early 1920s onward, and very much
against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless
campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival. This campaign
culminated in the violent attempt to abort the U.N. resolution of Nov. 29,
1947, which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine. Had
these leaders, and their counterparts in the neighboring Arab states,
accepted the U.N. resolution, there would have been no war and no
dislocation in the first place.

The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to
the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority
that would participate on an equal footing "throughout all sectors of the
country's public life." The words are those of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the
founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today's
Likud Party. In a famous 1923 article, Jabotinsky voiced his readiness "to
take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do
anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall
never try to eject anyone."

Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a
constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and
Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood,
including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were
to enjoy the same legal standing, and "in every cabinet where the prime
minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and

If this was the position of the more "militant" faction of the Jewish
national movement, mainstream Zionism not only took for granted the full
equality of the Arab minority in the future Jewish state but went out of
its way to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence. In January 1919, Chaim
Weizmann, then the upcoming leader of the Zionist movement, reached a
peace-and-cooperation agreement with the Hashemite emir Faisal ibn
Hussein, the effective leader of the nascent pan-Arab movement. From then
until the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, Zionist
spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels. These
included Abdullah ibn Hussein, Faisal's elder brother and founder of the
emirate of Transjordan (later the kingdom of Jordan), incumbent and former
prime ministers in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Iraq, senior advisers of
King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud (founder of Saudi Arabia) and Palestinian Arab
elites of all hues.

As late as Sept. 15, 1947, two months before the passing of the U.N.
partition resolution, two senior Zionist envoys were still seeking to
convince Abdel Rahman Azzam, the Arab League's secretary-general, that the
Palestine conflict "was uselessly absorbing the best energies of the Arab
League," and that both Arabs and Jews would greatly benefit "from active
policies of cooperation and development." Behind this proposition lay an
age-old Zionist hope: that the material progress resulting from Jewish
settlement of Palestine would ease the path for the local Arab populace to
become permanently reconciled, if not positively well disposed, to the
project of Jewish national self-determination. As David Ben-Gurion, soon
to become Israel's first prime minister, argued in December 1947:

If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, . . . if the state
will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic,
social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust
will accordingly subside and a bridge will be built to a Semitic,
Jewish-Arab alliance.
On the face of it, Ben-Gurion's hope rested on reasonable grounds. An
inflow of Jewish immigrants and capital after World War I had revived
Palestine's hitherto static condition and raised the standard of living of
its Arab inhabitants well above that in the neighboring Arab states. The
expansion of Arab industry and agriculture, especially in the field of
citrus growing, was largely financed by the capital thus obtained, and
Jewish know-how did much to improve Arab cultivation. In the two decades
between the world wars, Arab-owned citrus plantations grew sixfold, as did
vegetable-growing lands, while the number of olive groves quadrupled.

No less remarkable were the advances in social welfare. Perhaps most
significantly, mortality rates in the Muslim population dropped sharply
and life expectancy rose from 37.5 years in 1926-27 to 50 in 1942-44
(compared with 33 in Egypt). The rate of natural increase leapt upward by
a third.

That nothing remotely akin to this was taking place in the neighboring
British-ruled Arab countries, not to mention India, can be explained only
by the decisive Jewish contribution to Mandate Palestine's socioeconomic
well-being. The British authorities acknowledged as much in a 1937 report
by a commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel:

The general beneficent effect of Jewish immigration on Arab welfare is
illustrated by the fact that the increase in the Arab population is most
marked in urban areas affected by Jewish development. A comparison of the
census returns in 1922 and 1931 shows that, six years ago, the increase
percent in Haifa was 86, in Jaffa 62, in Jerusalem 37, while in purely
Arab towns such as Nablus and Hebron it was only 7, and at Gaza there was
a decrease of 2 percent.
Had the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs been left to their own devices,
they would most probably have been content to take advantage of the
opportunities afforded them. This is evidenced by the fact that,
throughout the Mandate era, periods of peaceful coexistence far exceeded
those of violent eruptions, and the latter were the work of only a small
fraction of Palestinian Arabs. Unfortunately for both Arabs and Jews,
however, the hopes and wishes of ordinary people were not taken into
account, as they rarely are in authoritarian communities hostile to the
notions of civil society or liberal democracy. In the modern world,
moreover, it has not been the poor and the oppressed who have led the
great revolutions or carried out the worst deeds of violence, but rather
militant vanguards from among the better educated and more moneyed classes
of society.

So it was with the Palestinians. In the words of the Peel report:

We have found that, though the Arabs have benefited by the development of
the country owing to Jewish immigration, this has had no conciliatory
effect. On the contrary . . . with almost mathematical precision the
betterment of the economic situation in Palestine [has] meant the
deterioration of the political situation.
In Palestine, ordinary Arabs were persecuted and murdered by their alleged
betters for the crime of "selling Palestine" to the Jews. Meanwhile, these
same betters were enriching themselves with impunity. The staunch
pan-Arabist Awni Abdel Hadi, who vowed to fight "until Palestine is either
placed under a free Arab government or becomes a graveyard for all the
Jews in the country," facilitated the transfer of 7,500 acres to the
Zionist movement, and some of his relatives, all respected political and
religious figures, went a step further by selling actual plots of land. So
did numerous members of the Husseini family, the foremost Palestinian Arab
clan during the Mandate period, including Muhammad Tahir, father of Hajj
Amin Husseini, the notorious mufti of Jerusalem.

It was the mufti's concern with solidifying his political position that
largely underlay the 1929 carnage in which 133 Jews were massacred and
hundreds more were wounded -- just as it was the struggle for political
preeminence that triggered the most protracted outbreak of Palestinian
Arab violence in 1936-39. This was widely portrayed as a nationalist
revolt against both the ruling British and the Jewish refugees then
streaming into Palestine to escape Nazi persecution. In fact, it was a
massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews or
Englishmen murdered by Arab gangs, that repressed and abused the general
Arab population, and that impelled thousands of Arabs to flee the country
in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus.

Some Palestinian Arabs, in fact, preferred to fight back against their
inciters, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the
Hagana, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others
sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. For despite the paralytic
atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott,
Arab-Jewish coexistence continued on many practical levels even during
such periods of turmoil, and was largely restored after their subsidence.

* * *

Against this backdrop, it is hardly to be wondered at that most
Palestinians wanted nothing to do with the violent attempt 10 years later
by the mufti-led Arab Higher Committee (AHC), the effective "government"
of the Palestinian Arabs, to subvert the 1947 U.N. partition resolution.
With the memories of 1936-39 still fresh in their minds, many opted to
stay out of the fight. In no time, numerous Arab villages (and some urban
areas) were negotiating peace agreements with their Jewish neighbors;
other localities throughout the country acted similarly without the
benefit of a formal agreement.

Nor did ordinary Palestinians shrink from quietly defying their supreme
leadership. In his numerous tours around the region, Abdel Qader Husseini,
district commander of Jerusalem and the mufti's close relative, found the
populace indifferent, if not hostile, to his repeated call to arms. In
Hebron, he failed to recruit a single volunteer for the salaried force he
sought to form in that city; his efforts in the cities of Nablus, Tulkarm,
and Qalqiliya were hardly more successful. Arab villagers, for their part,
proved even less receptive to his demands. In one locale, Beit Safafa,
Abdel Qader suffered the ultimate indignity, being driven out by angry
residents protesting their village's transformation into a hub of
anti-Jewish attacks. Even the few who answered his call did so, by and
large, in order to obtain free weapons for their personal protection and
then return home.

There was an economic aspect to this peaceableness. The outbreak of
hostilities orchestrated by the AHC led to a sharp drop in trade and an
accompanying spike in the cost of basic commodities. Many villages,
dependent for their livelihood on the Jewish or mixed-population cities,
saw no point in supporting the AHC's explicit goal of starving the Jews
into submission. Such was the general lack of appetite for war that in
early February 1948, more than two months after the AHC initiated its
campaign of violence, Ben-Gurion maintained that "the villages, in most
part, have remained on the sidelines."

Ben-Gurion's analysis was echoed by the Iraqi general Ismail Safwat,
commander-in-chief of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA), the volunteer Arab
force that did much of the fighting in Palestine in the months preceding
Israel's proclamation of independence. Safwat lamented that only 800 of
the 5,000 volunteers trained by the ALA had come from Palestine itself,
and that most of these had deserted either before completing their
training or immediately afterward. Fawzi Qawuqji, the local commander of
ALA forces, was no less scathing, having found the Palestinians
"unreliable, excitable, and difficult to control, and in organized warfare
virtually unemployable."

This view summed up most contemporary perceptions during the fateful six
months of fighting after the passing of the partition resolution. Even as
these months saw the all but complete disintegration of Palestinian Arab
society, nowhere was this described as a systematic dispossession of Arabs
by Jews. To the contrary: with the partition resolution widely viewed by
Arab leaders as "Zionist in inspiration, Zionist in principle, Zionist in
substance, and Zionist in most details" (in the words of the Palestinian
academic Walid Khalidi), and with those leaders being brutally candid
about their determination to subvert it by force of arms, there was no
doubt whatsoever as to which side had instigated the bloodletting.

Nor did the Arabs attempt to hide their culpability. As the Jews set out
to lay the groundwork for their nascent state while simultaneously
striving to convince their Arab compatriots that they would be (as
Ben-Gurion put it) "equal citizens, equal in everything without any
exception," Palestinian Arab leaders pledged that "should partition be
implemented, it will be achieved only over the bodies of the Arabs of
Palestine, their sons, and their women." Qawuqji vowed "to drive all Jews
into the sea." Abdel Qader Husseini stated that "the Palestine problem
will only be solved by the sword; all Jews must leave Palestine."

* * *

They and their fellow Arab abetters did their utmost to make these threats
come true, with every means at their disposal. In addition to regular
forces like the ALA, guerrilla and terror groups wreaked havoc, as much
among noncombatants as among Jewish fighting units. Shooting, sniping,
ambushes, bombings, which in today's world would be condemned as war
crimes, were daily events in the lives of civilians. "Innocent and
harmless people, going about their daily business," wrote the U.S.
consul-general in Jerusalem, Robert Macatee, in December 1947,

are picked off while riding in buses, walking along the streets, and stray
shots even find them while asleep in their beds. A Jewish woman, mother of
five children, was shot in Jerusalem while hanging out clothes on the
roof. The ambulance rushing her to the hospital was machine-gunned, and
finally the mourners following her to the funeral were attacked and one of
them stabbed to death.
As the fighting escalated, Arab civilians suffered as well, and the
occasional atrocity sparked cycles of large-scale violence. Thus, the
December 1947 murder of six Arab workers near the Haifa oil refinery by
the small Jewish underground group IZL was followed by the immediate
slaughter of 39 Jews by their Arab co-workers, just as the killing of some
100 Arabs during the battle for the village of Deir Yasin in April 1948
was "avenged" within days by the killing of 77 Jewish nurses and doctors
en route to the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus.

Yet while the Jewish leadership and media described these gruesome events
for what they were, at times withholding details so as to avoid panic and
keep the door open for Arab-Jewish reconciliation, their Arab counterparts
not only inflated the toll to gigantic proportions but invented numerous
nonexistent atrocities. The fall of Haifa (April 21-22), for example, gave
rise to totally false claims of a large-scale slaughter, which circulated
throughout the Middle East and reached Western capitals. Similarly false
rumors were spread after the fall of Tiberias (April 18), during the
battle for Safed (in early May), and in Jaffa, where in late April the
mayor fabricated a massacre of "hundreds of Arab men and women." Accounts
of Deir Yasin in the Arab media were especially lurid, featuring supposed
hammer-and-sickle tattoos on the arms of IZL fighters and accusations of
havoc and rape.

This scare-mongering was undoubtedly aimed at garnering the widest
possible sympathy for the Palestinian plight and casting the Jews as
brutal predators. But it backfired disastrously by spreading panic within
the disoriented Palestinian society. That, in turn, helps explain why, by
April 1948, after four months of seeming progress, this phase of the Arab
war effort collapsed. (Still in the offing was the second, wider and more
prolonged phase involving the forces of the five Arab nations that invaded
Palestine in mid-May.) For not only had most Palestinians declined to join
the active hostilities, but vast numbers had taken to the road, leaving
their homes either for places elsewhere in the country or fleeing to
neighboring Arab lands.

* * *

Indeed, many had vacated even before the outbreak of hostilities, and
still larger numbers decamped before the war reached their own doorstep.
"Arabs are leaving the country with their families in considerable
numbers, and there is an exodus from the mixed towns to the rural Arab
centers," reported Alan Cunningham, the British high commissioner, in
December 1947, adding a month later that the "panic of [the] middle class
persists and there is a steady exodus of those who can afford to leave the

Echoing these reports, Hagana intelligence sources recounted in
mid-December an "evacuation frenzy that has taken hold of entire Arab
villages." Before the month was over, many Palestinian Arab cities were
bemoaning the severe problems created by the huge influx of villagers and
pleading with the AHC to help find a solution to the predicament. Even the
Syrian and Lebanese governments were alarmed by this early exodus,
demanding that the AHC encourage Palestinian Arabs to stay put and fight.

But no such encouragement was forthcoming, either from the AHC or from
anywhere else. In fact, there was a total lack of national cohesion, let
alone any sense of shared destiny. Cities and towns acted as if they were
self-contained units, attending to their own needs and eschewing the
smallest sacrifice on behalf of other localities. Many "national
committees" (i.e., local leaderships) forbade the export of food and drink
from well-stocked cities to needy outlying towns and villages. Haifa's
Arab merchants refused to alleviate a severe shortage of flour in Jenin,
while Gaza refused to export eggs and poultry to Jerusalem; in Hebron,
armed guards checked all departing cars. At the same time there was
extensive smuggling, especially in the mixed-population cities, with Arab
foodstuffs going to Jewish neighborhoods and vice-versa.

The lack of communal solidarity was similarly evidenced by the abysmal
treatment meted out to the hundreds of thousands of refugees scattered
throughout the country. Not only was there no collective effort to relieve
their plight, or even a wider empathy beyond one's immediate neighborhood,
but many refugees were ill-treated by their temporary hosts and subjected
to ridicule and abuse for their supposed cowardice. In the words of one
Jewish intelligence report: "The refugees are hated wherever they have

Even the ultimate war victims -- the survivors of Deir Yasin -- did not
escape their share of indignities. Finding refuge in the neighboring
village of Silwan, many were soon at loggerheads with the locals, to the
point where on April 14, a mere five days after the tragedy, a Silwan
delegation approached the AHC's Jerusalem office demanding that the
survivors be transferred elsewhere. No help for their relocation was

Some localities flatly refused to accept refugees at all, for fear of
overstraining existing resources. In Acre (Akko), the authorities
prevented Arabs fleeing Haifa from disembarking; in Ramallah, the
predominantly Christian population organized its own militia -- not so
much to fight the Jews as to fend off the new Muslim arrivals. Many
exploited the plight of the refugees unabashedly, especially by fleecing
them for such basic necessities as transportation and accommodation.

Yet still the Palestinians fled their homes, and at an ever growing pace.
By early April some 100,000 had gone, though the Jews were still on the
defensive and in no position to evict them. (On March 23, fully four
months after the outbreak of hostilities, ALA commander-in-chief Safwat
noted with some astonishment that the Jews "have so far not attacked a
single Arab village unless provoked by it.") By the time of Israel's
declaration of independence on May 14, the numbers of Arab refugees had
more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000 to 180,000 Arabs fleeing
urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000 to 160,000 villagers who
left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews.

The exceptions occurred in the heat of battle and were uniformly dictated
by ad hoc military considerations -- reducing civilian casualties, denying
sites to Arab fighters when there were no available Jewish forces to repel
them -- rather than political design. They were, moreover, matched by
efforts to prevent flight and to encourage the return of those who fled.
To cite only one example, in early April a Jewish delegation comprising
top Arab-affairs advisers, local notables and municipal heads with close
contacts with neighboring Arab localities traversed Arab villages in the
coastal plain, then emptying at a staggering pace, in an attempt to
convince their inhabitants to stay put.

* * *

What makes these Jewish efforts all the more impressive is that they took
place at a time when huge numbers of Palestinian Arabs were being actively
driven from their homes by their own leaders and by Arab military forces,
whether out of military considerations or in order to prevent them from
becoming citizens of the prospective Jewish state. In the largest and
best-known example, tens of thousands of Arabs were ordered or bullied
into leaving the city of Haifa on the AHC's instructions, despite
strenuous Jewish efforts to persuade them to stay. Only days earlier,
Tiberias's 6,000-strong Arab community had been similarly forced out by
its own leaders, against local Jewish wishes. In Jaffa, Palestine's
largest Arab city, the municipality organized the transfer of thousands of
residents by land and sea; in Jerusalem, the AHC ordered the transfer of
women and children, and local gang leaders pushed out residents of several

Tens of thousands of rural villagers were likewise forced out by order of
the AHC, local Arab militias, or the ALA. Within weeks of the latter's
arrival in Palestine in January 1948, rumors were circulating of secret
instructions to Arabs in predominantly Jewish areas to vacate their
villages so as to allow their use for military purposes and to reduce the
risk of becoming hostage to the Jews.

By February, this phenomenon had expanded to most parts of the country. It
gained considerable momentum in April and May as ALA and AHC forces
throughout Palestine were being comprehensively routed. On April 18, the
Hagana's intelligence branch in Jerusalem reported a fresh general order
to remove the women and children from all villages bordering Jewish
localities. Twelve days later, its Haifa counterpart reported an ALA
command to evacuate all Arab villages between Tel Aviv and Haifa in
anticipation of a new general offensive. In early May, as fighting
intensified in the eastern Galilee, local Arabs were ordered to transfer
all women and children from the Rosh Pina area, while in the Jerusalem
sub-district, Transjordan's Arab Legion likewise ordered the emptying of
scores of villages.

As for the Palestinian Arab leaders themselves, who had placed their
reluctant constituents on a collision course with Zionism in the 1920s and
1930s and had now dragged them helpless into a mortal conflict, they
hastened to get themselves out of Palestine and to stay out at the most
critical moment. Taking a cue from these higher-ups, local leaders
similarly rushed en masse through the door. High Commissioner Cunningham
summarized what was happening with quintessential British understatement:

You should know that the collapsing Arab morale in Palestine is in some
measure due to the increasing tendency of those who should be leading them
to leave the country. . . . For instance, in Jaffa the mayor went on
four-day leave 12 days ago and has not returned, and half the national
committee has left. In Haifa the Arab members of the municipality left
some time ago; the two leaders of the Arab Liberation Army left actually
during the recent battle. Now the chief Arab magistrate has left. In all
parts of the country the effendi class has been evacuating in large
numbers over a considerable period and the tempo is increasing.
Arif al-Arif, a prominent Arab politician during the Mandate era and the
doyen of Palestinian historians, described the prevailing atmosphere at
the time: "Wherever one went throughout the country one heard the same
refrain: 'Where are the leaders who should show us the way? Where is the
AHC? Why are its members in Egypt at a time when Palestine, their own
country, needs them?' "

* * *

Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, a Palestinian Arab leader during the 1948 war,
would sum up the situation in these words: "The Palestinians had
neighboring Arab states which opened their borders and doors to the
refugees, while the Jews had no alternative but to triumph or to die."

This is true enough of the Jews, but it elides the reason for the
refugees' flight and radically distorts the quality of their reception
elsewhere. If they met with no sympathy from their brethren at home, the
reaction throughout the Arab world was, if anything, harsher still. There
were repeated calls for the forcible return of the refugees, or at the
very least of young men of military age, many of whom had arrived under
the (false) pretense of volunteering for the ALA. As the end of the
Mandate loomed nearer, the Lebanese government refused entry visas to
Palestinian males between 18 and 50 and ordered all "healthy and fit men"
who had already entered the country to register officially or be
considered illegal aliens and face the full weight of the law.

The Syrian government took an even more stringent approach, banning from
its territory all Palestinian males between 16 and 50. In Egypt, a large
number of demonstrators marched to the Arab League's Cairo headquarters
and lodged a petition demanding that "every able-bodied Palestinian
capable of carrying arms should be forbidden to stay abroad." Such was the
extent of Arab resentment toward the Palestinian refugees that the rector
of Cairo's al-Azhar institution of religious learning, probably the
foremost Islamic authority, felt obliged to issue a ruling that made the
sheltering of Palestinian Arab refugees a religious duty.

Contempt for the Palestinians only intensified with time. "Fright has
struck the Palestinian Arabs and they fled their country," commented Radio
Baghdad on the eve of the pan-Arab invasion of the newborn state of Israel
in mid-May. "These are hard words indeed, yet they are true." Lebanon's
minister of the interior (and future president) Camille Chamoun was more
delicate, intoning that "The people of Palestine, in their previous
resistance to imperialists and Zionists, proved they were worthy of
independence," but "at this decisive stage of the fighting they have not
remained so dignified."

No wonder, then, that so few among the Palestinian refugees themselves
blamed their collapse and dispersal on the Jews. During a fact-finding
mission to Gaza in June 1949, Sir John Troutbeck, head of the British
Middle East office in Cairo and no friend to Israel or the Jews, was
surprised to discover that while the refugees

express no bitterness against the Jews (or for that matter against the
Americans or ourselves) they speak with the utmost bitterness of the
Egyptians and other Arab states. "We know who our enemies are," they will
say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare,
persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes. . . . I even heard it
said that many of the refugees would give a welcome to the Israelis if
they were to come in and take the district over.
* * *

Sixty years after their dispersion, the refugees of 1948 and their
descendants remain in the squalid camps where they have been kept by their
fellow Arabs for decades, nourished on hate and false hope. Meanwhile,
their erstwhile leaders have squandered successive opportunities for

It is indeed the tragedy of the Palestinians that the two leaders who
determined their national development during the 20th century -- Hajj Amin
Husseini and Yasser Arafat, the latter of whom dominated Palestinian
politics since the mid-1960s to his death in November 2004 -- were
megalomaniacal extremists blinded by anti-Jewish hatred and profoundly
obsessed with violence. Had the mufti chosen to lead his people to peace
and reconciliation with their Jewish neighbors, as he had promised the
British officials who appointed him to his high rank in the early 1920s,
the Palestinians would have had their independent state over a substantial
part of Mandate Palestine by 1948, and would have been spared the
traumatic experience of dispersion and exile. Had Arafat set the PLO from
the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it
into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a
Palestinian state could have been established in the late 1960s or the
early 1970s, in 1979 as a corollary to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty,
by May 1999 as part of the Oslo process, or at the very latest with the
Camp David summit of July 2000.

Instead, Arafat transformed the territories placed under his control in
the 1990s into an effective terror state from where he launched an all-out
war (the "al-Aqsa intifada") shortly after being offered an independent
Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and 92% of the West Bank, with East
Jerusalem as its capital. In the process, he subjected the Palestinian
population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to a repressive and corrupt
regime in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships and plunged their
standard of living to unprecedented depths.

What makes this state of affairs all the more galling is that, far from
being unfortunate aberrations, Hajj Amin and Arafat were quintessential
representatives of the cynical and self-seeking leaders produced by the
Arab political system. Just as the Palestinian leadership during the
Mandate had no qualms about inciting its constituents against Zionism and
the Jews, while lining its own pockets from the fruits of Jewish
entrepreneurship, so PLO officials used the billions of dollars donated by
the Arab oil states and, during the Oslo era, by the international
community to finance their luxurious style of life while ordinary
Palestinians scrambled for a livelihood.

And so it goes. Six decades after the mufti and his henchmen condemned
their people to statelessness by rejecting the U.N. partition resolution,
their reckless decisions are being reenacted by the latest generation of
Palestinian leaders. This applies not only to Hamas, which in January 2006
replaced the PLO at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, but also to the
supposedly moderate Palestinian leadership -- from President Mahmoud Abbas
to Ahmad Qureia (negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords) to Saeb Erekat to
prime minister Salam Fayad -- which refuses to recognize Israel's very
existence as a Jewish state and insists on the full implementation of the
"right of return."

And so it goes as well with Western anti-Zionists who in the name of
justice (no less) call today not for a new and fundamentally different
Arab leadership but for the dismantlement of the Jewish state. Only when
these dispositions change can Palestinian Arabs realistically look forward
to putting their self-inflicted "catastrophe" behind them.

Mr. Karsh is head of Mediterranean Studies at King's College, University
of London, and the author most recently of "Islamic Imperialism: A
History" (Yale). This article appears in the May issue of Commentary2.

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