Israel’s most vehemently Zionist media, politicians and analysts- justifying their arguments on the supposed need for a “Greater Israel”- are forcefully clamouring for the extension of Israel’s borders to the detriment of its Arab neighbours, in order to consolidate its defence strategy.
Speculating upon an eventual missile attack by Iran and a possible response by Israel, they are using biblical arguments from the Old Testament to demand the extension of Israel’s landmass to the Sinai Peninsula and parts of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Does this Zionist aim, have any sort of validity that provides us with a historical understanding?
Since ancient times up until 1948 the territory currently occupied by the State of Israel had been ruled by innumerable foreign empires and superpowers.
The borders have never been sttled, nor the name Israel itself. Most of the time, except during the era of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea and of the Crusades, the territory was never a single, independent, political entity but a minor province ruled by various imperial occupying powers.
In the year 638 the Arabs seized Jerusalem and Palestine ceased to be part of the Byzantine Empire.
During the Arab caliphate from 638 until 1099 the majority of the population adopted Arabic as their mother tongue and many Christians converted to Islam. Not even approximately 200 years of Crusader rule nor the rule of the Franks could change this tendency, and the fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the Sultan Saladin marked the beginning of the end of the Crusades in these territories.
From 1517 onwards, following conquest by Saladin the Magnificent up until 1918 Palestine was part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire as just one more constituent province, with Jerusalem as its administrative capital.
Due to the persecution of the Jews in Russia in 1881 and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which reached its peak during the trial of the French Jewish officer Richard Dreyfus, accused of spying for the German army, in 1882 Jews began to emigrate en masse to the Ottoman-ruled Palestinian province.
The Zionist theologian Theodor Herzl began campaigning for the foundation of a state for the Jewish people, an idea that found support among Jews in Eastern Europe. In 1897 the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel, which chose a flag, an anthem and began an international campaign.
In December 1917 the British general Allenby entered Jerusalem, putting an end to four centuries of Turkish dominion. In November of the same year the British government gave a unilateral declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, known to history as the Balfour Declaration.
During 1918 and 1919 contact between the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Arab leader Emir Faisal gave rise to hopes that the national aspirations of both Arabs and Jews could be resolved by cooperation and international law.
On the 10th August 1920 the Treaty of Sevres was signed by Turkey and the Allied powers that had just emerged victorious in the First World War. Article 95 refers explicitly to the terms of the Balfour Declaration on the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In 1920 the San Remo Treaty was signed, in which the League of Nations agreed to hand over the Mandate of Palestine to Britain, in agreement with article 22 of the League of Nations mandate. The territories included in the mandate were the current territories of Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights (the last of which was handed over to France, which at the time administered Syria).
On the 24th July 1922 the Council of the League of Nations ratified the terms of the Balfour Declaration.
Following a two year delay the Mandates were finally established on 23rd September 1923. The draft for the Palestine Mandate referred in its preamble to the Balfour Declaration: “… the Jewish people’s historical connection with Palestine… the creation of a national home” and in article 6: “the administrating power (United Kingdom) has as its obligation the task of facilitation Jewish immigration and settlement whilst insuring that the rights and position of the other inhabitants are not to be harmed.
In the 1920s and 1930s Jewish immigration increased significantly, the purchase of lands from indigenous Palestinian Arabs and confrontations between both sides becoming the norm in the territories.
Britain, unable to control the situation in Palestine, established the Peel Commission in 1937 which proposed the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, with Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth remaining under British jurisdiction.
A third of the territory would be Jewish and the rest Arab, the Arab part becoming part of Jordan. These terms were accepted by the World Zionist Congress and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, but rejected by the Arab Higher Committee in their meeting in Bludan, Syria. Militant Arab separatists increased their attacks in the territories in reaction to attempts to enforce the terms of the Peel commission.
The unstable situation forced Britain to draw up the Woodhead Commission to reconsider the terms of the Peel Commission. The results of this commission were rejected by both Arabs and Jews.
In 1939 Britain published the White Paper which failed to satisfy either side. The Permanent Mandates Commission (they were not linked) ruled that the White Paper did not conform to the interpretation which, according to the governing State and the Council, the Commission had established for the Palestine Mandate and which in practice had established unrestricted Jewish immigration to the detriment of the native Arab Palestinians.
The White Paper marked a U-turn in British policy, its support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine not as fervent as before. Britain attempted to limit Jewish migration, a policy in which maintaining the support of Arab leaders in the region for the looming war with Germany played a decisive role.
In 1942 European Jews began to migrate en masse to Palestine in flight from Nazi genocide. In New York the Baltimore Declaration was agreed, which advocated unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine as well as the establishment of a state, while support for the Jewish cause began to be seen in sections of the US government.
In 1945 US President Truman declared that European Jewish refugees needed to be admitted into Palestine urgently.
This declaration led to the establishment of an Anglo-American Commission which published its findings on the 20th April 1946 calling for an end to restrictions on admission of Jewish refugees and the creation of a bi-national state under United Nations jurisdiction.
The inability of the British to implement the League of Nations mandate led them April 1947 to call for the inclusion of “the Palestinian question” on the Agenda of the UN General Assembly. A Special Committee (UNSCOP) was formed and was entrusted with the task of preparing a report containing proposals for the future of the region.
In 1947 the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (II) which would partition Palestine. The Jewish community accepted this resolution, but not the Arab countries.
In 1949 following continuous and intermittent fighting, the Rhodes Armistice was signed under the auspices of UN mediator Dr Bunche. The Armistice was then signed with Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, while Iraq refused.
The map of the region then took the following form:
The State of Israel, which had been handed 54% of the territory by the Partition Plan for Palestine, gained another 26% which it had won in combat.
The kingdom of Transjordan merged with the West Bank and changed its name in favour of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This move was recognised by Britain and Pakistan, but by none of the Arab governments or by the United Nations. And Gaza remained under Egyptian control as an administered, rather than annexed, territory. (PL)