To the Editor:
In most public discussions during recent years, the word “Palestinian” has been applied solely to the inhabitants of the refugee camps, the guerrillas, and the PLO, with its associated organizations. In “The Palestinians and the PLO” [January], Bernard Lewis corrects this prevailing error by describing Palestinians other than the inhabitants of the camps and by noting that there are in fact three, not one or two, claimants to the position of representative of the Palestinians. His summary of the views held by the three claimants provides information where ignorance prevails in the cases of the Jordanian monarchy and of the local leadership, and corrects seriously defective common belief in the case of the PLO. Equally enlightening and perceptive is the treatment of possible solutions to the problem of the Palestinians, the importance of external influences (the great powers, oil, and the Arab states), and the concluding assessment of the current situation. In general, Mr. Lewis’s description of the situation and assessment of the possible consequences seem unexceptionable to me. There are, however, some significant points about which I think it is possible to differ.
Palestinian Arabs engaged in political activity as Palestinians well before 1948, and it is erroneous to say that “the emergence of a distinctive Palestinian entity is . . . a product of the last decades.” The problem of bringing together the disparate Arab territories with their local elites was recognized even by the pre-1914 Arab nationalists. After the imposition of the Mandates in 1920, pan-Arab activities declined everywhere as the local leaderships concentrated on gaining independence from the mandatory powers. When pan-Arab activity revived in the 1930′s, it was soon agreed that each Arab territory must first establish an independent national government before Arab union could be achieved. Throughout the period of the Mandate, the Palestinian Arabs consistently worked for the establishment of a national, i.e., Arab, government in Palestine. The question is related to a theme which has recurred with some frequency in recent years, namely that the Palestinians cannot claim national rights since they are not a nation. The notion is used by Mr. Lewis in his section on the decline of pan-Arabism, where it is stated that the Arabs have become aware that pan-Arabism weakens the Arab case. The argument that the Palestinians, being Arabs, cannot claim to have been displaced from their national territory, has appeared from time to time in English. It has not been discussed very often in Arabic, and I doubt that many Arabs consider it a problem. The universal rule with nationalisms has been that no part of the national territory can be renounced. Arabs are no exception to the rule. The Arab goal remains what it has been since the 1920′s: an independent Arab Palestine as part of the Arab nation.
For most Palestinian and other Arabs there has not been any irreconcilable opposition between Palestinianism and Arabism. I make the point only because in recent discussion proponents of contradictory views have laid stress on the Palestinians as opposed to the Arabs. Greater precision is necessary. Similar exactitude is required in assessing the general connections between the Palestinians and pan-Arabism.
In Mr. Lewis’s treatment, the consequences of the decline of pan-Arabism are obscure. Does the dampening of the Palestinians’ pan-Arab enthusiasm mean that they are now willing to reach agreement with the state of Israel? Mr. Lewis apparently does not think so. Of all the Palestinians, he finds signs of such willingness only among some local leaders in the occupied areas, but he admits that they trim their sails to the PLO wind. Palestinians, within or without the PLO, are not likely to make public renunciation of their claim to the whole of Palestine, and they will surely continue to insist that the liberation of Palestine is the prime goal of pan-Arabism. Does the decline of pan-Arabism mean that the Arab governments are about to abandon the goal of an Arab Palestine? Perhaps no one can say anything more precise than maybe so, maybe not. I doubt that I can attain greater precision or clarity than Mr. Lewis has, but a different statement may be of use.
Since 1938, no Arab capital from Cairo to Baghdad and Riyadh has felt itself able to turn its back on Arab causes, most notably Palestine. They have differed, sometimes bitterly, and each has usually approached every problem with a view to gaining as much as possible at as little cost as possible, but none has disclaimed the problem. Egypt’s entry into pan-Arabism was largely motivated by the Egyptian perception that pan-Arabism was important to the great Egyptian national goal of the time, the termination of the British connection. Nevertheless, after Egypt achieved that goal in 1954, the Egyptian government became even more the pan-Arab hero. In 1949-50, Egyptian officials could speak through the Arabic press concerning the limitations on Egypt’s pan-Arabism and a few eminent politicians could openly argue for Egypt’s break with pan-Arabism, but public discussion ceased in 1950. Today, many Egyptians question the value of pan-Arabism, just as many Arabs consider the liberation of Palestine impossible in the short run and too expensive in the long run, but there has been no public debate, no attempt to make these views policy. Since late 1970 the Egyptian government in private diplomacy has committed itself to peace with Israel and President Sadat has on occasion expressed to American journalists his willingness to sign a peace treaty. In contacts with diplomats and in interviews for American consumption, however, the conclusion of a treaty is carefully tied to such formulas as “the maintenance of Palestinian rights.” In the Arabic media until 1974, there was never a mention of a peace treaty. Instead, the sole stated goals were the recovery of occupied Arab territories and the protection of the rights of the Palestinians. Very recently, in 1974, Egyptian officials have stated in the Arabic press that Egypt is willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but the old conditions have not been removed. The peace will not include diplomatic, commercial, or other relations with Israel, and the emphasis is upon “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”
Obviously, the Egyptian government does not feel that the time has arrived for completely plain speaking to its constituency. That Arabs are in fact considering and discussing a peace settlement is equally obvious. Since 1970, in talks with UN officials and in statements to the foreign media, Egyptian officials have stated that Egypt will sign a peace treaty. Never before 1970 had this happened. The problem is that to the Arabs Egypt explains its activity as being in no way prejudicial to Palestinian rights. The Egyptians are in effect saying to the Arabs, let us recover the occupied territories, which can be achieved now by diplomacy, whereas the liberation of Palestine is not realizable except in thirty or forty years, and the recovery of the occupied territories will not prejudice Palestinian rights. The Egyptians also appear to be saying something else to the Arabs which is also new, namely, that the restoration of Palestinian rights depends upon the Palestinians, that it will be up to the Palestinians, not Egypt, to regain Palestine in the future. It may be for this reason that Egypt has worked since early 1971 to persuade the PLO to accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Egyptians may even be giving the PLO some advice on Palestinian rights, for, although Egypt officially leaves the definition of these rights to the PLO, Egyptian officials have also hinted that “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” are defined in the 1947 partition resolution and in the UN resolutions concerning Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
It may be that some important Palestinians have begun to face the realities as the Egyptians see them. Egyptian policy has been strongly criticized, notably by the PLO, precisely on the ground that it meant acceptance of the existence of Israel and abandonment of Palestine. Thus the question has been debated indirectly. The Arabs know what is involved, even if they will not admit it. One can also argue that the Palestinians, even the PLO, have begun to face the inevitable. First, in January 1971, the PLO approved the policy of recovering the occupied territories by peaceful means. Second, after long opposition to Egyptian suggestions, the PLO at last, in 1974, agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state in a part of Palestine before total liberation is achieved. In taking both steps, the PLO avowed that it was doing so only as a part of the national struggle, yet the PLO has taken steps which it had previously denounced as the renunciation of the national struggle.
The present situation may be as open-ended as the Egyptian formulas. A settlement between Israel and Egypt which creates at least de facto peace between the two along with a Palestinian national government in the occupied territories is easily conceivable. The Palestinian government, however, will be committed to the national struggle. The crucial question is, how will the other Arab states, especially Egypt, behave thereafter? If Egypt leaves the problem to the Palestinians, then one can conceive of a transitional period during which the Palestinian state and Israel will work out a modus Vivendi. But the Palestinian state will be committed to national struggle and the Palestinian government will be under great pressure to pursue the struggle with vigor. Time and again since 1936, armed struggle by Palestinians has exercised decisive influence on the Arab governments, so much so that some of these governments, notably the Saudi and the Egyptian, have been swept into action that they knew was unwise. Over the last four years, there have been increasingly tangible signs of an Arab willingness to accept the existence of Israel, but a straightforward declaration has yet to be made. The chances for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Arabs appear to be better than they have ever been, but all who hope to see such a settlement should be aware that the counter-tendencies are still very strong. No one should think that peace could be easily achieved if only the Arabs would be reasonable or if only Israel would make a few concessions. The difficulties which remain are major, and no simple device, be it a Palestinian state or any other, will provide a certain solution.
C. Ernest Dawn
University of Illinois
To the Editor:
I would like to question Bernard Lewis’s conclusion that “sooner or later a solution must be found which will provide a home for the Palestinian refugees and an outlet for the Palestinian political elite.” There is no must in the political half-fantasy world of the Middle East. If Palestine is an ideological figment turned into gnawing reality by the malevolent manipulation of Arab nationalism, then the process is not necessarily irreversible. There are now ample opportunities and funds to assuage the irredentist furies which feed Palestinian grievances. Every refugee living in a camp could be completely settled and rehoused out of excess oil funds. If that has not happened yet, then this tells us more about the fanaticism of the Arab false hope-mongers than about their credulous victims.
The PLO and its sympathizers never tire of explaining Arab terrorism as a natural consequence of the exasperation and bitterness prevailing in the refugee camps. Listening to them, one might be forgiven for thinking that theirs is a fate unique in the annals of migration. Their claims sound particularly tall when considered from the point of view of British experience. After all, Britain has opened its gates for hundreds of years to the persecuted and the homeless, to the Huguenot refugees, to those who fled the terror of the French Revolution, to the Jewish victims of Russian pogroms, to the Poles who would not live under Communist oppression, to the masses who left Hungary after the 1956 uprising, and recently to tens of thousands of Muslims expelled from Uganda and other “progressive” African countries. They all lost their lands and homes, they all underwent traumatic experiences. Yet, while nursing their hurts, they all endeavored to acclimatize themselves to their new surroundings, and with few exceptions succeeded. There were no vast oil funds to help them grow new roots, nor did they allow their frustrations to find expression in terrorist activities. Like most refugees throughout history, they decided that a safe home was more important than a national home. . . .
Mr. Lewis’s article illustrates the forbidding complexity of the various issues involved. There is a cautionary tale here for the quick-deal merchants. It is useless to bully either Arabs or Israelis into peace talks at Geneva or elsewhere before the time for meaningful negotiations is ripe. The Middle East can do without the explosive consequences of another Versailles-type conference. Moreover, premature parleys that fail are bound to prejudice the chances of what could be achieved when the participants are more likely to agree. . . .
To the Editor:
Although subtitled “A Historical Approach,” Bernard Lewis’s treatment of the Palestine question accepts the definitions and categories of extremist Arab propaganda, designed in the first place to demonstrate that Jewish self-determination makes a solution impossible. It is logical enough, therefore, that for him the problem of Palestinian Arab national identity depends on a successful testing by Israel of the PLO’s “willingness or ability” to abandon the Palestine National Charter of July 1968. No wonder then that his article ends on a strangely inconclusive note: “Palestine is a historical memory, an ideological figment, which may, like others of the same kind, become a political reality, or may slip back into the oblivion from which it was rescued; the issue is not yet clear.”
Does a reading of history really teach us that the issue of Palestinian Arab self-determination in itself is unresolved and depends on Israeli-Arab relations and events on the West Bank of the Jordan? Mr. Lewis says that there are “theoretically . . . three possible types of solution to the Palestine problem.” There could be an independent state based on the West Bank territory, or, second, an autonomous province there within the Jordanian kingdom. The third solution would be “that put forward by the PLO and its apologists—the creation of a secular, democratic republic of Palestine. This might be confined to Western Palestine or part of it, or might include the East Bank too, which would of course involve the liquidation of the Jordanian monarchy.”
Mr. Lewis overlooks a fourth theoretical possibility which would appear to arise logically from this scheme. If the territory west of the Jordan is correctly designated “Western Palestine”—and it is—then the area east of the Jordan, generally called Transjordan, is Eastern Palestine. Palestinian Arab self-determination then does not depend on the disposition of the West Bank. The article hints repeatedly at this fact in connection with the threatening designs that the PLO may harbor for the future of the Hashemite regime if it were installed west of the Jordan river. In a different context within his article Mr. Lewis himself writes: “In a sense, all the inhabitants of the East Bank may be regarded as Palestinians just as all the inhabitants of the West Bank may be regarded as Jordanians. Basically the difference between the two names is ideological and programmatic rather than national or even geographical.” Why should a historical approach be influenced by contemporary ideological and programmatic concepts instead of those of geographical, ethnic, and historical identity? Considering the ideology and program we are dealing with, with definitions designed for political warfare aiming at the destruction of Israel, the question is doubly valid.
A British Foreign Office memorandum, dated December 30, 1919, states: “The British government by their support of Zionism have . . . accepted the natural implication which Zionists give to the declaration of a National Home, i.e., an attempt to make Palestine a state in its natural geographic and historic frontiers and by gradual immigration and special economic facilities to turn this state into a Jewish state.” The frontiers, broadly speaking, were drawn accordingly. Palestine (in Hebrew: Eretz Yisrael) was not then and is not now a figment of ideology and imagination. It has reality as a well-defined historic country, with geographical boundaries firmly impressed upon the consciousness of mankind. After these boundaries gained legal force with the establishment of the League of Nations Mandate, the British government, for reasons of its own, suspended in 1922, with League sanction, the application of the Mandate’s Jewish National Home provisions to “the territories lying between the Jordan and the eastern boundary of Palestine.” (This is the definition of Transjordan in Article 25.) The obstacle-ridden course toward the Jewish state was pursued west of the Jordan, but for the Arabs of Palestine there remained the whole of Palestine on both sides of the Jordan to move in.
Is it not absurd that a measure which in fact secured the Arab character of about 80 per cent of Palestine should be allowed to distort the perception of the Palestinian problem today? The distortion for propaganda purposes of the geographical dimensions of Palestine is a principal weapon in the implacable fight against what the Arabs consider the demographic distortion of Palestine by Jewish immigration. . . .
On the territory of historic and mandated Palestine there has emerged a Palestinian Jewish nation-state called Israel and a Palestinian Arab nation-state called Jordan. In fact, the fourth theoretical possibility neglected by Mr. Lewis happens to correspond to objective reality based on history, geography, demography, and international law. That some sort of justice was done does not mean that justice was generally seen to have been done. This is the real Palestine problem, and nothing could make a more important contribution to its solution than the understanding of its historical development.
Mr. Lewis has made it difficult for himself to interpret the organic relationship of Jordan to the Palestine question by making a basic error regarding the history of the Mandate. In writing that Transjordan was “separated” from the Palestine Mandate in 1921-22, he repeats an all too common misunderstanding, and he compounds it by assuming that Transjordan became a separate state then and that there existed such a thing as a Transjordan Mandate. Mr. Lewis’s book, The Arabs in History, first published in 1950, has been over the years an important source for this piece of crucial misinformation. In view of its import on the present perception of the Palestinian problem, the error should at last be corrected. An outline of the facts of the matter was given by Eugene V. Rostow, in a letter to COMMENTARY [September 1974], which also emphasized their great importance for the peacemaking process today. It was also the subject of comments at the 1971 Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law.
If Transjordan really had been separated from Palestine in 1922, it could conceivably now be thought of as a non-Palestinian Arab “host country,” although not by historians. However, Transjordan was a part of Palestine in every way throughout the lifetime of the League of Nations, until April 1946. The Palestine Mandate placed before the United Nations at San Francisco, when it deliberated the future of the Mandate system, comprised all of historic Palestine east and west of the Jordan river. The partition proposal of the 1937 Royal Commission is one of the political and diplomatic interchanges which show clearly that in London and Geneva—and also in Washington—Transjordan was thought of as part of the Palestine complex, and British policy, of course, conceived Transjordan as the Arab heir to the Mandate, in 1946, in 1948, and even later. It was on the unity of Arab Palestine that King Abdullah in 1950 based the annexation of the West Bank which the Arab Legion had occupied in 1948. Threatened by Nasserism, especially since the 1964 Cairo summit established the PLO as its tool for the purpose of internal subversion in Jordan, King Hussein has favored the “Jordanization” of Eastern Palestine and its inhabitants, all Palestinians. The Palestinian-born ruler of Jordan has thereby weakened his legitimacy.
The sources of history have been muddied by the much publicized map of the Palestine rump-Mandate which the British government submitted to the UN in 1947, nine months after it had released Transjordan from the Mandate, under legally doubtful circumstances. This map, showing only Western Palestine, has helped create a perspective of the partition of Palestine which shows Israel with 80 per cent of Palestine until 1967, and in occupation of 100 per cent since then. In reality, the two-stage partition of Palestine, 1946-48, left the Arabs with about 82.5 per cent of the area of the Palestine Mandate and the Jews with 17.5 per cent. The West Bank, reconquered by Israel in 1967, constitutes 4.5 per cent of Palestine. Fortunately, the prospect of Arab self-determination in Palestine need not concentrate on this speck of land. . . .
Jordan happens to be one Arab country that has published an official census, dating from November 1961, to satisfy a demand made by the World Bank. By agreement with the Arab League, all inhabitants of Transjordan of cis-Jordanian origin had to be described as “refugees,” whether they were settled and integrated or not, whether living in Amman or in new villages which had to be described as “camps.” There were, in 1961, 550,000 “refugees” in Transjordan. The number of West Palestinian Arabs in the whole kingdom represented 83 per cent of the total population, while they constituted 66 per cent of the population in Transjordan. Since then, as a result of the government’s economic development policy and of the influx of about 200,000 refugees from the West Bank in 1967, the West Palestinian majority has even increased. There are about one million West Palestinians in Jordan today, representing about three-quarters of the population. King Hussein has made the point that the Jordanian army which fought the PLO in 1970 was about 60 per cent West Palestinian.
In order to maintain the cutting edge of its propaganda against Israel and to play the charade of national homelessness, the PLO can wait as far as Transjordan is concerned. It can afford to show the map of Western Palestine only on its emblem, as a price for the recognition given it at Rabat. The gesture helps to maintain Arab harmony, keeps King Hussein in line, and calms the Saudis who are not eager to have the PLO as their northern neighbor. But this does not change the basic aim of the PLO and its understanding of the Palestine question.
It is significant that the question of a Palestinian Arab national identity apart from Jordan acquired its international impact only after the expulsion of the PLO from Amman, in September 1970. Arafat himself, when still in Jordan, told Oriana Fallaci in the spring of 1970 that the PLO acted in the name of pan-Arabism against Israel, and added: “What you call Transjordan is actually Palestine” (New Republic, November 16, 1974). . . . As recently as the day of his departure from Cairo to New York, the Beirut paper Al Liwa reported a telegram sent by Arafat to a Baghdad student-conference, in which he denounced as fraudulent Hussein’s post-Rabat plan of depriving West Palestinians in Jordan of their Jordanian nationality. He added: “Jordan as well as Palestine is ours. We shall establish our national entity on both territories once they are liberated from Israeli occupation and Jordanian reactionary presence.”. . .
In the summer of 1973, President Bourguiba of Tunisia gave his view of the solution to the Palestinian problem: “With all respect to King Hussein, I suggest that the Emirate of Transjordan was created from whole cloth by Great Britain which for this purpose cut up ancient Palestine. To this desert territory, to the east of the Jordan, it gave the name Transjordan, but there is nothing in history which carries this name, while since Pharaonic times Palestine and Palestinians have existed. . . . I maintain that the issue of Transjordan is an artificial one and that Palestine is the basic problem. . . . King Hussein should submit to the decision of the people, in accordance with the principles of democracy and self-determination . . .” (Le Monde, July 7, 1973). This historical approach allows for Jewish self-determination within historic Palestine. The other Arab approach, which the definitions of PLO propaganda are meant to serve, has been expressed by Dr. Fayez Sayegh: “Israel is, because Palestine is not; and Palestine is not, only because Israel is. The being of Israel is therefore an act of elimination: it is the non-being of Palestine. . . . Wishful thinking aside, between the rights of the people and the claim of Israel there can be no compromise. They are mutually exclusive.” William F. Buckley Jr., who quoted him (New York Post May 23, 1974), thought that “this is a point of some merit, both historically and politically.” The argument of Bourguiba has greater historical and political merit, but it has to be presented and established by historians. Mr. Lewis’s conclusion leaves the argument in place as Dr. Sayegh and other PLO apologists present it, unless the PLO will settle down to a peaceful existence on 4 per cent of Palestine, providing thus “an outlet for the Palestinian political elite.” If there is an Arab people of Palestine—and Zionism created one as surely as it created a Jewish people of Palestine—it deserves better than that.
It is a fact that no Israelis, even those whom Mr. Lewis calls “nationalist and religious fanatics,” claim now that Jewish sovereignty should cover all of Eretz Yisrael-Palestine on both sides of the Jordan. What is required for peace is that the Arab claim to national self-determination should not cover all of Palestine-Eretz Yisrael either. In that case everything else would fall symmetrically into place. In spite of the partition principle and wherever the boundaries between Jewish and Arab sovereignties would be situated, there is no reason why Palestinian Arabs should not live anywhere in Palestine including Israel—as in fact they do—and why Jews should not live anywhere in Eretz Yisrael-Palestine including Transjordan. Even the thought that eventually a Jewish-Arab confederation might evolve in the whole of Eretz Yisrael-Palestine on both sides of the Jordan would conform to the Zionist vision, from Herzl to Weizmann and Jabotinsky. In this connection, Mr. Lewis might have an answer to the question whether, as Ambassador Baroody and other Arabs maintain, the Arabs of Palestine are descendants of the Jews of old, whether they are in truth “Hebrews of the Muslim faith.”
Paul S. Riebenfeld
Institute for Mediterranean Affairs
New York City
To the Editor:
It is both astonishing and lamentable that Bernard Lewis, in his otherwise excellent and erudite article, did not discuss the origin of the Palestinians.
When organized Jewish resettlement of Eretz Yisrael began in the 19th century, the land was largely derelict and depopulated. Reliable census data for the Ottoman period are impossible to come by, but certain facts are indisputable. By 1914, the Jewish population exceeded 100,000 and the revitalization of the country generated an in-migration of Arabs from other areas, principally Syria and Egypt.
It is also well established that while Britain was specifically obligated by the terms of the Mandate to facilitate Jewish immigration and settlement so as to “secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home,” it was precisely Jewish immigration that was always restricted, not Arab immigration.
The (British) Peel Commission Report in 1937 frankly admitted that Arabs from neighboring countries were free to enter “without special formality.” With immigration from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, and other areas totally unrestricted, it was ascertained by the Peel Commission that the Arab population had doubled within fourteen years to a total of about 800,000 as compared with approximately 400,000 Jews. Arab immigration for the single year 1933 amounted to 64,000. . . .
Teaneck, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Bernard Lewis, a highly respected authority on the Middle East, has presented an incisive study dealing with the historical background and possible solutions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a most timely and dispassionate discussion of the Palestinians and the PLO, a subject of vital concern not only to Middle East specialists but to the general public.
The Palestinian issue is complex with no easy solutions. As the author rightly points out, the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a purely local one. Despite the UN General Assembly’s Third World complexion, and the great-power rivalry in the area, in the long run an equitable solution of this conflict will require the good offices of the UN and the great powers.
To the Editor:
Bernard Lewis’s “The Palestinians and the PLO” is to be welcomed for its successful attempt to remove many of the myths which surround the plight of that unfortunate people. It should also be received with appreciation for the way in which it seeks to dispel much of the current euphoria concerning possible solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The belief seems to be growing that if an Arab Palestinian state were to be created in those parts of Mandatory Palestine evacuated by Israel then the dispute would be well on the way to solution. This view is false. On the one hand there is the question, to which Mr. Lewis alludes, of who shall rule in that new state. Is it to be the PLO and its followers, whose views even as to the form of possible government, not to mention the policies to be pursued, would be radically different from those espoused by the Palestinians who have remained on the West Bank? Mr. Lewis reports the objection of the latter to being represented “by gangsters in Beirut.” The terrorism of the PLO would certainly not stop short of endeavoring to remove the traditional Arab political notables of the West Bank if a new state were to be created. The West Bankers could claim that “we stayed under Israeli domination while you ran away,” but the PLO would doubtless reply with the accusation of collaboration and the imagery of Vichy France.
Even apart from these political considerations, there are the very serious problems concerned with the ownership of land on the West Bank. The refugees who would wish to return from the camps would presumably, and understandably, demand a territorial stake in their new country. From whom would this land be taken? Inevitably from its current Palestinian owners, some of whom could undoubtedly prove ownership dating back beyond 1974. The PLO’s answer might be that of establishing a collective agricultural system, but if this policy were put into practice the cycle of dispossession and bitterness would begin once again.
Fond hopes alone cannot remove the many obstacles to peace in the Middle East, and those who espouse such hopes cannot have seen—or have not understood—the importance of recent and saddening events. . . . Sadat is certainly under internal pressure: when I was in Egypt in December and early January a common cry of the rioters in Cairo was “Hero of the crossing, where is our breakfast?” (The phrase is much more sonorous in Arabic.) To seek escape from pressing domestic problems by strengthening one’s voice against an enemy is a traditional, though shortsighted, form of political defense.
A further discouraging sign is the recent tendency of certain Arab spokesmen to refer to what they call the “enrichment” of the two United Nations Security Council Resolutions (242 and 338) by other, much more sweeping, General Assembly Resolutions. This widening of demands is unlikely to reduce Israeli suspicions of the ultimate nature of Arab aims. On the other hand, the Israeli announcement that the nuclear option is within their reach has fostered Arab fears and may well have hardened hearts.
The problems therefore are many, and nothing is gained by pretending that the path to are will be either smooth or short. “Justice” remarked Leonardo da Vinci, “requires power, insight, and will.” The simultaneous existence of these three attributes is something that still has to be sought both in Israel and in the Arab states.
R. M. Burrell.
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London
To the Editor:
In discussing the resolutions of the Palestine National Council adopted in Cairo, June 9, 1974, Bernard Lewis compares Le Monde’s version and that given in the Arabic press with Henry Tanner’s report to the New York Times on the same event. . . . For so important a meeting, I do wish that Henry Tanner had . . . taken the effort to investigate his story instead of accepting a ready-made handout just for the Anglo-American press. Had he done so, perhaps James Reston and the rest of the New York Times editorial staff would refrain from lecturing Israel on its intransigence vis-à-vis the PLO. But then again, they would probably find another excuse.
Of late, I have noted that the “liberal” press and its spokesmen, in their intense ardor for a Middle East settlement, have taken on the same coloring as the isolationist America-Firsters of another generation, seeking any excuse, however feeble and false, to justify their new position with self-serving reporting. It doesn’t take too much imagination to visualize Israel as the Czechoslovakia of the 1970′s—a sacrifice for “peace in our time”—and, as in 1939, that sacrifice will have been in vain.
To the Editor:
I think Bernard Lewis’s “The Palestinians and the PLO” is an absolutely superb piece which combines erudition with a humane and realistic perspective on all sides in the bitter conflict. As a political scientist, I am particularly impressed with Mr. Lewis’s clear assessment of the nature of states as human organizations and of political loyalties in the Middle East, or indeed anywhere. His assessment of the possibilities for the future is at once warmly compassionate and coldly realistic—a model of political analysis. . . .
Dankwart A. Rustow
Graduate School and University Center of CUNY
New York City
Bernard Lewis writes:
My difference with C. Ernest Dawn seems to be largely semantic. I have observed that the word “nation” in American usage has become a near synonym of state and even country. In European, and still more in Middle Eastern usage, the nation is something different from either the state or the country, and is much more subjective. A nation may inhabit a country and find expression in a state, but the three are not identical. When the British Mandate was set up after World War I, Palestine became a country and was endowed with a state. As Mr. Dawn points out, the Palestinian Arabs, like those of other Arab countries under Mandate, recognized the need to conduct their political activities Within this framework. This does hot, however, mean that they have accepted the idea of a distinctive Palestinian nationhood in the Eastern Hemisphere sense of that term. There can be no disagreement with Mr. Dawn’s concluding remarks.
Lionel Bloch uses the word “home” in a specific political sense of which the most famous example occurs in the Balfour Declaration. This is one possible meaning of the word, but by no means the only one. My point was that no solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict can be permanent which does not involve the removal of the Arab refugees from their camps and their settlement in normal conditions. This is surely a proposition that no one would dispute. There are various ways in which this might be done, but it was not within the scope of my article to consider them. A “national home” of the type discussed by Mr. Bloch is one of the options. There are also, as Mr. Bloch remarks, others.
Paul S. Riebenfeld is at some pains to establish two historical propositions: that Western Palestine and Transjordan were always under one Mandate, and that they were never really separated. The first of these is evidently true, and I have never sought to deny it, either in this article or elsewhere. The second is untenable. From 1922, Transjordan was under a separate form of government and subject to different regulations, notably in regard to Jewish immigration. Incidentally, Syria and Lebanon were also under a single Mandate. Mr. Riebenfeld’s purpose appears to be to argue for a settlement whereby the Arabs would content themselves with the East Bank, to be called Palestine, and leave the West Bank to the Jews. Mr. Riebenfeld is no doubt right in saying this is a theoretical possibility. It seems to me, however, so theoretical as hardly to merit serious discussion.
David Krakow is right in saying that there was a considerable Arab immigration to Palestine from neighboring countries during the Mandatory period. There have indeed been some recent studies on the subject. I do not, however, think that this is very relevant to the immediate issue. The problems of an Arab born and brought up in Palestine and now living in a refugee camp in Lebanon or Transjordan are not greatly different, whether his ancestors had lived in Palestine for generations or his father arrived from Hawran fifty years ago.
Finally, I can only thank the other correspondents for their kind words and for their helpful contributions to the debate.