Sunday, June 26, 2011
In The Conflict Between Israelis And Palestinians
By Walid M. Sadi
Chaim Weizmann was the first president of Israel (1949-52) and one of the three early pillars of the Zionist movement.
He was also the principal architect of Zionism’s foreign policy and champion of its main feature, based on incremental and gradual realisation of its goals. He once said he was willing to accept the establishment of a Jewish state on a territory as small as a tablecloth for a start.
A glimpse at his early perspective on how to deal with the Palestinians may shed light on the current Israeli terms for peace. Weizmann was the one who secured the so-called Balfour Declaration from Britain, in 1917, in favour of the establishment of a homeland for the Jews who were fleeing from Europe, especially the Nazi atrocities in World War II.
That the Balfour Declaration was the blueprint and the roadmap for turning Palestine into a Jewish state is a foregone conclusion, corroborated by the outcome of the evolution of the Palestinian case since the start of the British mandate over Palestine, in 1917, to its end, in 1948.
Weizmann’s early perspective on the Palestinians was that they did not constitute a people in the full sense of the word and therefore were not entitled to the right of self-determination. In fact, he asserted from the beginning that Palestine was a country without a people, as the Jews were a people without a country.
This position was echoed by Israeli prime minister Golda Meir who continued to deny that there was ever a Palestinian people to deal with or negotiate with till well into the 1970s.
Whenever Weizmann referred to the Palestinians, he described them as “the rocks of Judea and an obstacle that had to be cleared on a difficult path”. This dehumanisation of the Palestinian people persisted and assumed various other descriptions, ranging from a primitive, naive, ignorant, savage, demographic problem, to time-ticking bombs, the 5th column, obstacles and people that should be cleared from the country.
The idea of a “transfer” as the solution to the Palestinian “obstacle” emerged during that early era of Zionism, when the movement floated the proposal to have Palestinians “transferred” to neigbouring Arab states.
In a letter to a colleague in 1918, Weizmann described the Palestinians as “the poor fellahs [peasants] who do not worry about politics and are primitive enough to believe what they are told”. As for the future of Palestine, Weizmann said that it should be as Jewish as France is French.
By the end of the 1949 Arab-Israeli war, Weizmann expressed his surprise over the sudden exodus of the Palestinians, calling it a “miracle” made possible by divine intervention. He clearly chose to ignore the role of the early Jewish terrorist groups like the Haganah, and Irgun and Stern who successfully drove away the Palestinians from their towns, villages and cities, making them refugees.
No doubt, these early perspectives underwent major changes when the Palestinians succeeded in convincing the Israelis that they are a people with recognised rights, including the right to self-determination, who must be dealt with on that basis if peace is to reign supreme in the region.
Perhaps this transformation in the Israeli national psyche is the biggest victory the Palestinians were able to gain since the beginning of their conflict with Israel.
Once this evolving perspective gains a deeper foothold among Israelis, the opportunity to reach a durable and just peace between the two sides will be within reach.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 26/06/2011