Fourteen fundamental facts about Israel and Palestine.
It's time to look back on 14 fundamental geographical, historical, and diplomatic facts from the last century relating to the Middle East. These basic facts and figures were stressed in recent statements to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and its subcommission, to the surprise of representatives of both states and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).1) After World War I Great Britain accepted the 1922 Mandate for Palestine, and then — with League of Nations approval — used its article 25 to create two distinct entities within the Mandate-designated area.
2) The territory lying between the Jordan River and the eastern desert boundary "of that part of Palestine which was known as Trans-Jordan" (nearly 78 percent) thus became the Emirate of Transjordan. This new entity was put under the rule of Emir Abdullah, the eldest son of the Sharif of Mecca, as a recompense for his support in the war against the Turks, and of Ibn Saud's seizure of Arabia (Faisal, Abdullah's brother, later received the even vaster Mandate area of Iraq).
3) Turning a blind eye to article 15, Great Britain also decided that no Jews could reside or buy land in the newly created Emirate. This policy was ratified — after the emirate became a kingdom — by Jordan's law no. 6, sect. 3, on April 3, 1954, and reactivated in law no. 7, sect. 2, on April 1, 1963. It states that any person may become a citizen of Jordan unless he is a Jew. King Hussein made peace with Israel in 1994, but the Judenrein legislation remains valid today.
4) The remaining area west of the Jordan River (comprising about 22 percent of the original Mandate) was then officially designated "Palestine" by Great Britain. As stated in the 1937 Royal Commission Report, "the primary purpose of the Mandate, as expressed in its preamble and its articles, is to promote the establishment of the Jewish National Home." This was now greatly restricted.
5) U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181 (November 29, 1947) authorized a Partition Plan in this area: for an Arab and a Jewish state — and for a corpus separatum for Jerusalem. The plan was rejected by both the Arab League and the Arab-Palestinian leadership. Aided and abetted by the neighboring Arab countries, local armed Arab Palestinian forces immediately began attacking Jews, who counterattacked. On May 15, 1948, the armies of five Arab League states joined these militias in the invasion of Israel, but their armies failed in their goal of eradicating the fledgling state.
6) The armistice boundaries (1949-1967) left Israel with roughly 16.5 percent, or 8,000 sq. miles, of the original 1922 Mandate area (about 48,000 sq. miles), while about five percent — less Gaza, which was occupied by the Egyptians — was conquered and occupied in 1948 by British General Glubb Pasha, the commander of Abdullah's Arab Legion. The historic regions of "Judea and Samaria" — their official names as indicated on all British mandate maps until 1948 — were annexed and became the "West Bank" of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1950. All the Jews were expelled from the area and from the Old City of Jerusalem; their synagogues, and even tombstones on the Mount of Olives, were destroyed.
7) Until King Hussein attacked Israel on June 6, 1967, Jordan's recognized de facto boundaries covered 83 percent of Palestine (78 percent east of the Jordan river, and five percent to the west). Following its military defeat in the Six Day War, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan lost the "West Bank," which it had illegally annexed 19 years earlier, retaining the huge "Transjordan" portion (78 percent) of the original League of Nations territory.
8) Of Jordan's current population of five million, about two-thirds (over three million) consider themselves "Arab Palestinians." They are the descendants either of the original Arab Palestinian inhabitants of the Trans-Jordan region, or of roughly 550,000 Arab refugees from west Palestine who lost their homes after the Arab League armies failed to eradicate Israel first in 1948, and again in 1967. Nearly two million Jordanian Bedouin citizens and others do not identify themselves as Palestinians.
9) After the 1967 disaster, an Arab League Summit Conference held in Khartoum that November reacted negatively to U.N. Security Council Resolution 247: "No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no concessions on the questions of Palestinian national rights." This was also the determined position of the PLO. Apart from Egypt's 1981 peace treaty with Israel, there was little change, for the next two decades, in this refusal to negotiate according to U.N. Resolution 242.
10) In those "West Bank and Gaza" areas, designated by the Oslo Accords of 1994 to be placed under the administration of the Palestinian Authority (covering about 5.5 percent of the "Greater Palestine" area on both sides of the Jordan), there is now a population of over 3,200,000, of whom about 35,000 are Christians, but none are Jews.
11) The population of the Jewish state — a state envisaged in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and confirmed by the U.N.'s 1947 decision — is now roughly 6,500,000, of whom roughly 20 percent are Arabs (120,000 Christians), Druze, and Bedouin citizens of Israel. Of the more than five million Jewish citizens, about one-half are those Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and their descendants, who fled or left their ancient homeland when massacres, arrests, and ostracism made life impossible (a further 300,000 emigrated to Europe and the Americas, where they number over a million).
12) Today, a tiny, vulnerable Jewish remnant — scarcely 5,000 persons — remains in all the Arab world, less than half of one percent from the near million who were there in 1948 (this does not include the 50,000 in Turkey and Iran, left of about 200,000 in 1945). These are the forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab lands, from countries that will soon be totally judenrein just as Jordan has been since 1922.
13) The 22 Arab League countries cover a global surface of over six million square miles, over ten percent of the land surface on earth. Israel, by contrast, covers barely 8,000 sq. miles.
14) Security Council Resolution 242 has now become the panacea for Arab states, yet their interpretation of its key operative paragraph does not correspond to the English original, which version alone is binding. In March 2002, a Saudi "peace plan" was approved by the Arab League in Beirut, but behind it lurks the former 1981 "Fahd Plan" — with a facelift — that would leave Israel with impossible borders. After the Iraqi menace has been resolved one way or another, what is needed for the "Middle East peace process" is a concerted effort to support the Mitchell plan, which could one day lead to true peace and reconciliation for the whole region. But the Palestinian Authority will only become a genuine partner with Israel, alongside Jordan and Egypt, if there is a radical break with the past, and a new spirit of mutual acceptance prevails between the Arab world and Israel — with individual and collective security and dignity for all. This will only be feasible if democratic institutions and a respect for human rights and the rule of law become the norm, as they now are not. And it will only be feasible if the Arab world recognizes the inalienable legitimacy of Israel's existence in a part of its historical land.David G. Littman is a historian. Since 1986, he has been active on human-rights issues at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. His recent statements on this subject were made as a representative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, a nongovernmental organization.
©2002 - National Review