History Repeating Itself

The more things change, the more things stay the same. The dynamic in today’s Israeli-Palestinian and U.S. relationship is disturbingly similar to the Zionist-Palestinian-British relationship of the 1920s.

Back then, the Zionists made no secret of their intent to take advantage of the Mandate to prepare the foundation of their future state. And so they brought into Palestine tens of thousands of Jewish settlers, acquired Arab land, built colonies and created the infrastructure of a nascent state within the Mandate.

The Arabs of Palestine, at the same time, had no coherent response to this growing threat. To be sure, they convened congresses and passed resolutions arguing that the Mandate had no legitimacy and the Balfour declaration was without legal foundation. As pressure grew, from the impact of Zionist immigration and land acquisition, the Arabs demonstrated, rioted, and, faced with overwhelming force, were beaten.

For their part, the British who created and allowed this dilemma to develop and fester, acted as arbiters to what they termed "competing claims". At times, they appeared beleaguered by their burden (never acknowledging that it had been largely of their own making). But by their actions and inactions they enabled the Zionist enterprise to succeed.

Today a similar set of dynamics is at work. The Israeli colonial enterprise in the West Bank has continued unabated since the late 1960s. During the 1990s-the years of Oslo-Israeli governments, both Labor and Likud, pursued what could only be described as a massive "land grab". Settler population in the occupied Palestinian lands doubled and settler blocs along the Green Line, in strategic fingers cutting deep into the West Bank, and in a large section of land around Jerusalem, grew massively.

More ominously, while negotiators met, a network of Israeli highways were being built connecting these settlements to Israel proper making clear a strategic plan to maintain control of these burgeoning Jewish-only communities. In the process, Palestinians lost control of more and more land and saw their dream of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza evaporate.

As Palestinians became corralled into several blocs, cut off by settlements and security roads, they demonstrated, rioted and ultimately resorted to horrific acts of violence. In response, Israel acted to further consolidate its hold over these settlements by building a wall and barrier fence that has taken more Palestinian land and disposed more Palestinians of their livelihood and their hopes.

The official Palestinian response to all of this has been to issue appeals for justice. They’ve gone to the United Nations and passed resolutions and now they have gone to the World Court seeking a judgment.

The United States, self-declared inheritor of the British mantle, acts as beleaguered as its predecessor as it proclaims, in frustration, its weary attempt "to balance competing claims".

But the United States, like the British before them, is more enabler than mediator. As the British did in the 1930s, we have blamed and then neutralized the Palestinian leadership and turned a blind eye to the real physical transformation that is taking place on the ground.

The British set another pattern that is being repeated today. When violence erupted in mandatory Palestine they convened commissions, which pledged reform and placed limits on the Zionist effort. However, when faced with domestic political pressure, the British would often recant, allowing renewed immigration and Zionist land acquisition.

For its part, the United States has done the same. One need only recall the unfulfilled recommendations of the Mitchell Report and the Road Map, both of which were tragically issued DOA (Dead on Arrival).

And so, when Administration officials meet with Israeli leaders in the coming days, they will, we are told, approve of Prime Minister Sharon’s Gaza First plan. The Wall will continue to be built despite American and worldwide condemnation, albeit, with minor changes. And, if we listen to what the Sharon government is saying, what will also continue is settlement construction and the consolidation of settlement blocs to house still more Israelis in what will become defacto annexed West Bank land.

Throughout most of this century, there has been no secret to the Zionist/Israeli effort and, therefore, no one should be surprised at the direction of their long-term effort. From the beginning, their acceptance of "a national home" was a mask to disguise the establishment of a state. While settling for a partition in 1948, they refused to accept a border hoping to expand their frontiers to the entirety of the Mandate. The settlement plan of the 1970s, laid out in a public document (the World Zionist Organization’s Drobbles Plan) showed a clear intent to consolidate their hold over the entirety of the West Bank. Similarly the Netanyahu Plan, which was written in coordination with U.S. neo-conservatives, was also issued in a published document (and cited in this column in the summer of 1996). It laid out the Likud’s intention to discredit the Palestinian Authority, and dismantle it, so as to consolidate Israeli control over "Judea and Samaria".

What is troubling, of course, is that in the face of all of this, the United States, neutered by domestic politics, has been unable to exercise effective restraint. And the Palestinian leadership, and that of the broader Arab world of today, appears no more able then their counterparts of two generations ago to provide an effective response or nation-building plan.

And so, while Israelis plan effectively, Arabs react ineffectually and the United States enables. That’s the sad story, still playing out today.