The Arab-Israel Conflict

I recently finished reading the book Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001 by Benny Morris. It’s a long read (more than 700 pages) with a comprehensive history of the conflict starting in 1881 and ending with the election of Sharon. Benny Morris gives a very balanced and nuanced account of the conflict.

I realized after reading him that both Arabs and Israel have committed atrocities and mistakes at various times. Some people who come off really badly in the book are Amin Al-Husseini (the Nazi supporting Palestinian leader), Arafat, Sharon (especially his actions during the war in Lebanon, where he comes off as undermining Israeli democracy as well) and to some extent Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion’s statements regarding transfer of Arabs out of Palestine (I’ll use Palestine when I refer to the British mandate) and his and some earlier Zionist leaders’ ideas about Greater Israel (encompassing at least all of Palestine) don’t really endear them to me.

It is also clear that both sides missed opportunities for peace. For example, Col. Zaim of Syria asked to meet Ben-Gurion to negotiate a peace settlement in 1949, but Ben-Gurion refused to even meet and kept his cabinet ignorant about the offer. Similarly, peace overtures by King Abdullah of Jordan in 1949 and Sadaat of Egypt in 1971 got nowhere with Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. However, the Palestinian leadership always took a very inflexible stance until the 1990s. This inflexibility meant they missed all opportunities for a state of their own. They could have gotten 80% of Palestine in 1937 (Peel Commission) and 44% in 1947 (UN partition plan), but they never even considered these plans.

In my opinion, the conflict between Jews and Arabs was inevitable. They both wanted the same piece of land. Jewish immigration to the land of Israel was necessary because of their persecution in Europe. And though they had historical ties going back millenia to the land of Israel and there had been a continuous Jewish presence there, the area was largely inhabited by Arabs in the 19th century. According to Benny Morris, in 1881 there were only about 15,000 Jews in a total population of 457,000 (about 3.3%). In 1918, it had changed to 59,000 out of 747,000 (7.9%). By 1931, they constituted 16.6% (175,000) of the population (1,055,000). By 1939, 30.1% of the population was Jewish (460,000 out of 1,530,000). The Peel Commission had suggested the population transfer of about 1,250 Jews and 225,000 Arabs to the Jewish and Arab states respectively in 1937. Similarly, Israel under the UN partition plan would have had a population of 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs (another 100,000 Jews lived in Jerusalam’s international zone.) From these figures, it seems to me that the Jewsih and Arab populations were very mixed and it would have been really difficult to draw borders to separate them. Transfer seems like an obvious solution but the only times peaceful population transfers have occured in recent world history is when the transfer is mutual or when the population being transferred is thoroughly defeated in war. Neither held true for the Palestinian Arabs until the defeat of the Arabs in the 1948 war. Looking at the population figures above, I can understand some of the Arab outrage at Jewish immigration. I don’t understand their use of violence or their rejection of all compromise however. Another striking thing from the pre-1948 period is that the Jewish population did not use violence except in retaliation to Arab attacks. They bought land from Arab landlords who were sometimes leaders pontificating against Jewish settlement.

Looking at the 1948 war, it is clear that the Arab states really were after a land grab rather than helping their Palestinian brothers. For example, Jordan never really attacked any area allocated to Israel in the UN plan. The real losers in 1948 were the Palestinians. They probably didn’t consider themselves a Palestinian nation at the time. Here, I would like to address the point of some critics that there has never been a Palestinian state or Palestinian people. That is true historically, however there were Arabs in Palestine and their sense of belonging to a nation was developed over time (crystallizing in the 1960s), just like any other nation. As an example, one can also say that there never was a Pakistani state or a Pakistani nation until 1947. True enough, but the separate identity of Muslims in India developed over time and led to the creation of Pakistan and hence Pakistani people as well.

I also had the feeling of deja vu while reading this book. Everything happens twice, first by one side then by the other. For example, the demolition of terrorists’ homes was started by the British in the 1936-39 Arab rebellion. The drive-by shooting and bombing of marketplaces originated with the LHI and IZL terrorist groups. And Arabs were the ones worried about the demographics in the 1930s and Israelis are now.

Unlike Aziz Poonawalla, I don’t think a binational state will work. There is too much hatred on both sides. It might have been possible in the 1930s-40s but a lot has happened in the meantime. Again, the example of Pakistan is instructive. Until about mid-1940s, a federation/confederation comprising the whole of India (now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) was likely. But it did not happen and by 1946 most of the Muslim leadership wanted a separate state (which was created in 1947.) Later, in 1970 the Awami League political party won the elections in a unified Pakistan (East Pakistan is now Bangladesh.) It wanted a very loose federation of East and West Pakistan, but the military government did not transfer power to them and cracked down on the Awami League (which was based in East Pakistan.) A civil war ensued and Bangladesh was born. Even though there was widespread frustation in East Pakistan against West Pakistan’s domination, it was the military crackdown that ended all hope of reconciliation or compromise.

At present, I don’t see any solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A Palestinian state is a necessary part of the solution, but the current Palestinian leadership does not have the vision or the will to pursue it and is hell-bent on terrorism. Also, popular opinion in Israel will not be conducive to negotiation and compromise until the terrorist attacks cease or at least become somewhat rare. Violence though has its own life. Once a conflict gets really violent, it is almost impossible to return to a peaceful state. There are too many thugs and criminals who make their living, so to speak, on that violence. The current crop of Israeli and Palestinian leaders look too much to the past. In my pessimistic opinion, they can’t make peace; and it will get worse before it gets better. The next crop of leaders will be more extremist and will thrive on mutual hatred. Hopefully, that’s as low as it will get and it will get better after that. Sometimes when I am optimistic, I think a solution could be found soon. The election of Amram Mitzna as the Israeli Labor party leader has provided some hope. Now, where is his Palestinian counterpart to replace Arafat?

Suicide Bomber or Homicide Bomber

Juan Non-Volokh of the world’s 2nd biggest conspiracy talks about the Orwellian use of the term “homicide bomber” when suicide bomber more clearly expresses their action.


As CalPundit says, nobody in the US likes France. And it’s not just about politics. As a French friend of mine, now settled in the US, jokingly said, “France is a nice place but beware of those French people.” When we were going to France in the summer, everyone we knew told us how rude the French are and that they don’t speak English even when they know the language. That would have been a disaster for us since my French vocabulary is limited to about 10-20 words. We were pleasantly surprised though by the politeness of people in Paris and in the the Loire valley. People made an effort to communicate even if their English was not much better than my French. At the car rental, nobody knew English, but another customer who was French and was laving was considerate enough to translate.

Then there was the incident about a pick-pocket stealing my wife’s wallet at Versailles. Both the tourism office and police were very polite and helpful. What’s more, we got a letter about a month after returning that the wallet was found and we got everything back except for some small amount of cash.