by Barry Rubin
The greatest opportunity ever to prevent Israel’s creation and instead make the entire land a Palestinian Arab state took place in 1939, specifically on May 17, 1939, seventy years ago.
What is truly remarkable is that the debate at that time and on that specific day was almost precisely identical to the situation on the day you’re reading this article. If you can understand these events, it is possible to comprehend why the conflict has ended this long with no end in sight.
Let’s set the scene. The British knew that another war was on the horizon with
But the Arabs in
The Egyptian government thought this was a terrible mistake and urged the Palestinian Arabs to make the deal. On May 17, Egyptian Prime Minister Muhammad Mahmoud and Ali Mahir, who would be the next one to hold that job, met the Palestinian Arab delegation to try to talk them into changing their minds.
Mahir told them that they should accept the British plan. The reason the Jews were so much against it, he explained, was that it was so favorable to the Arab side. Most important of all, it was a tremendous opportunity: the best deal the Arabs could obtain. Cooperation with
Getting an independent state, Mahir continued, required training administrators, preparing for defense, and achieving "legitimacy” on the international scene. A transitional period, Mahir suggested might do the same for the Arabs. The best way to win was to advance step by step. It was like a war in which, “One army is vacating some of its front trenches . Would you refrain from jumping into them and occupying them?"
But like a Greek chorus, the Palestinian representatives retorted, "If we accept, the revolution will end."
So Mahir tried again to explain reality to them. "Do you believe,” he asked, “that
Next Mahmoud weighed in with his arguments. If they made a deal right now, he insisted, the Palestine Arabs could have their way but soon there would be a war and they would be in a weaker position.
Again the Palestine Arabs said “no”: "When the revolt started, we had aims in view to attain. We cannot now tell our people, ' Stop the revolution because we got some high posts …."
"You can tell your people," Mahir answered, "that you shall be able to control your country's government; to stop persecution, deportations, and harsh measures” by the British "You could set
There can be no doubt that the 1939 White Paper did go a very long way toward satisfying Arab demands. If they had agreed, taken over much of the government, and worked closely with the British, there never would have been a partition and the Palestine Arabs would almost certainly have won. Instead, their leaders—including Amin al-Husseini—collaborated with the Germans against the British. Nothing constructive was done by them, no real preparation for statehood, no cooperation with the British or the White Paper framework. In 1948, they would make the same mistake and reject getting a state of their own. And many times thereafter.
Today, the Egyptian government is still trying to explain reality to the Palestinians. They are still rejecting anything short of everything. They have largely thrown away the opportunity to build an effective and popular government on the basis of the 1993
Indeed, the philosophical and strategic lines of argument have basically changed not at all since 1939, almost down to the smallest detail.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.