Every four years we hear presidential candidates say that the first thing they would do in the Oval Office is move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet when any of these Zionists of opportunity actually reaches the White House, they stick with the old formula that the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated among the parties.
But when presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich recently said that the Palestinians were “an invented people,” the former speaker of the House broke new ground. Going beyond any official position held by the government of Israel, Gingrich was implying that the Palestinians are not worthy of a country of their own. Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who has thrown up endless obstacles in order to forestall a Palestinian state, is on the record as favoring one.
...Gingrich is right that there has never been a state called Palestine. The term “Palestine” in Ottoman times loosely included what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as a bit of Lebanon. Britain’s “Palestine Mandate” included what is now Jordan, too, until the British drew a line on the Jordan River and called their territory to the east Transjordan — today’s Jordan.
Whereas the 1917 Balfour Declaration, named after Britain’s foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, promised a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities,” no one consulted the Arabs of Palestine. Prime Minister Lloyd George ran it by the Arab leaders who were fighting alongside Britain. But he said he couldn’t get in touch with the Palestinian Arabs, as they were fighting against Britain — presumably as conscripts in the Ottoman Army at that time, or residing in Ottoman controlled territory.
Later, Palestinian Jews who fought in the British Army in World War II had “Palestine” sewn onto their uniforms.
...after Israel took the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 there were Israelis who said that the West Bank never legally belonged to Jordan, having been captured in defiance of the U.N. resolutions on how Palestine should be divided between Arab and Jew. Thus, the occupied territories belonged as much to Israel as to anyone else. I remember Golda Meir telling me that Palestinians were just Palestinian Arabs, not a separate people with rights. And there were others who thought the Palestinian Arabs should wander off to other Arab countries, as Gingrich says. Followers of Ariel Sharon used to say Jordan is Palestine.
But times change, and attitudes, too — although, apparently, not for Newt Gingrich. I have always been impressed how Palestinian nationalism grew up as a mirror image of Israeli nationalism. The Palestinians yearn, as Menachem Begin once wrote about the Jews, to be “a free people ... in our own country.”
The Palestinians have made themselves an historical people, and I believe most Israelis today accept that, and would be happy with a two–state solution if their security could be guaranteed.
Gingrich may qualify as a man for the past. But for the future? Or even the present?