The March of Zion: A Map is Worth Ten Thousand Words

Published December 4th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

By Nigel Thorpe 

Chief of the English Copy Desk 

 

Four long, painful months, and over 300 deaths after the breakdown of the Camp David talks, disillusioned participants are beginning to leak details of what really happened behind the closed doors of the ill-fated summit. 

A recent article in the Haaretz Jerusalem newspaper suggested that the main reason the Palestinians lost the media war was because they failed to publish maps which show clearly that Israeli's summit proposals for the division of the territories, far from being generous, would have prevented the formation of an independent Palestinian state. In the Haaretz article, Amira Hass quotes Faisal Husseini (PLO Executive Committee member and head of the Jerusalem negotiation team) as saying "the Israeli team didn't offer maps. We prepared maps that immediately show the nature of the compromise offered to us there - the compromise that wasn't." 

Husseini and his colleagues "initially intended to present the map booklets to their Israeli colleagues, the American ushers, and the various European observers." They did not do so, Husseini continued, because "the Palestinians honored the mutual commitment made at Camp David not to go the media." Doing the honorable thing, however, cost the Palestinians the media war. The American senators, western media, and world public opinion, Husseini says, are "stuck on the perception of far-reaching Israeli generosity at Camp David and did not understand what the Palestinians were so enraged about.”  

 

To understand the Palestinian rage that has fueled the al Aqsa Intifada for the past two months, it helps to gain a "satellite eye view" of the political dissections that have shaped the geographical boundaries of the troubled Middle East. From a viewpoint two hundred miles above Cairo (24 Degrees N, 30 degrees E.) (Diagram 1), the lands which once formed Greater Syria in the ancient world (Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and present-day Syria) are spread out like a living map. 

 

 

Historic Palestine was bordered by Egypt on the west, the Red Sea in the south, the Arabian Desert and Babylonia on the east, and Assyria (present day Iran and Iraq) in the north, was the cradle of both world civilization and the three great monotheistic religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The area became part of Alexander the Great's empire in 333 BC, and was a province of the Roman Empire from 64 BC until the empire's decline and collapse in the 4th century AD. 

 

Two millenniums on, this landmass was to be carved up in the aftermath of five wars  

(World War I (1914 - 1918), World War II (1939 - 1945), the first Arab-Israeli War (1948 - 1949), the "Six-Day War (1967), and the second Arab-Israeli War (1973)) into a political patchwork quilt which constantly threatens to unravel at the seams. 

 

Map 2 fast forwards the historical clock to July 24, 1922 after World War I when system of mandates replaced the former overseas possessions of Germany and the Ottman Empire. As highlighted by the Website ' www.brijnet' (3 The British Mandate) the territorial divisions which established the system of mandates are the root causes of the bitter Middle East conflicts that were to follow for the next half a century. The San Remo conference of April 1920 had assigned the mandate for Palestine under the League of Nations to Great Britain. The text of the mandate presented to the League of Nations (the United Nation's predecessor) repeated the Balfour Declaration of 1917 almost verbatim citing the historical connections of the Jews with Palestine as the reason for establishing a national home for the Jews in this region.  

"His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” 

 

The Balfour Declaration (1917) 

 

In the light of subsequent events, the words "it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine" have an ironic ring. 

The British promptly divided the British Mandate into two unequal parts. To the west of the Jordan River one quarter of the mandated area was designated as Palestine and the site of a future Jewish state, while the remaining three quarters of the mandate, to the east of the River, became Transjordan. The political dissection of historic Palestine and the march of Zion had begun. 

The Emirate of Transjordan was immediately presented to the desert chieftain Emir Abdullah as a reward for the help he had given to British in their fight against the Germans and the Turks during World War I. Ibn Saud seized the Emir's original kingdom whilst forging the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 

Small-scale emigration of European Jews into Palestine, mostly from Russia, was to continue from 1922, up until the start of the World War II in 1939. In contrast, the area designated as Trans-Jordan in 1922 was closed to Jewish immigration and in 1946 became the independent state of Jordan. 

The end of the Second World War in 1945 brought further political turmoil when, partly in sympathy for the suffering of German Jews during the holocaust, the British and Americans began to implement the provisions of the Balfour Declaration and British Mandate. 

In November, 1947, the UN passed a resolution calling for the partition of Palestine into an area designated for a future state of Israel and Arab areas. As reported by AFP, clashes erupted on Wednesday 29th November as Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza Strip held demonstrations to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of this UN resolution on the partition of Palestine. 

War broke out between Israel and its neighbors when the Jews declared Israel's independence in 1948. In this, and in subsequent wars, Israel acquired territory beyond its original negotiated boundaries. Predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem has been part of Israel since gaining its independence in 1948. 

As detailed by Professor Kenneth Stein in his book 'Making Peace Between Arabs and Israelis: Lessons from Fifty Years of Negotiating Experience', "In 1948 Egypt, along with other Arab countries, went to war in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in the historic region of Palestine. A UN armistice ended the fighting in 1949, with Israel securely established in most of what had been Palestine. Land and property were seized, in the majority of cases without the payment of any compensation to the Palestinian landowners who became, overnight, homeless refugees." The exodus of Palestinians from their former homeland was accelerated by a series of brutal massacres, the details and full extent of which are only just becoming clear.  

The military maxim "divide and conquer" was a long and venerable history and has been used to great effect by Israel against the Palestinians. Following military operations in 1949, Armistice lines were agreed that founded the state of Israel and shrunk Palestinian to two unconnected areas; the Gaza Strip in the southwest which was originally under an Egyptian Mandate, and the former British Mandate territory of the West Bank and Jerusalem, to the northeast. Strict Israeli control of the east-west passage between these two Palestinian remnants caused decades of frustration. Young Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, were for example, unable to attend West Bank colleges in Jerusalem  

When asked about the plight of the displaced Palestinian refuges in 1948, Ben Gurion, the founding father of the State of Israel and its first prime minister after it became independent, commented "The old (Palestinians) will die and the young will forget.” 

Eighteen turbulent years of co-existence between the state of Israel and the stateless Palestinians were to follow the partition of the British Mandate territories. The brief but extremely devastating Six-Day War of 1967 drowned in its wake what was left of historic Palestine when the Israel gained control of the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, previously controlled by Egypt; the Golan Heights, formerly belonging to Syria; and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, formerly administered by Jordan. Later that year, the United Nations (UN) adopted a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from these occupied territories in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's independence and security. 

A six-year period of political stalemate ensued until Egypt and Syria, frustrated by the political impasse, went to war to regain the territories that Israel had occupied since the Six-Day War of 1967. As Stein comments in his book, "Although it brought about no significant changes to territorial boundaries, the 1973 war and its aftermath had far-ranging effects on the participant nations and their relations with world superpowers. Egypt moved steadily away from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which had provided military and economic aid to Egypt since the 1950s, and into a closer relationship with the United States. Syria emerged from the war as the staunchest defender of Arab rights and the closest Middle Eastern ally of the USSR."  

 

As highlighted by both Husseini's article, and Stein's authoritative book, east Jerusalem was by far Israel's greatest strategic prize in the Six-Day War. Husseini emphasized that "the question of Jerusalem is essential for understanding the Palestinian objection to Barak's proposals, not (just) because of its great religious importance, but because of its geographical location and its importance in guaranteeing Palestinian geographic continuity and viability. The Israeli plan is to "establish Jerusalem as an Israeli metropolis dividing and cutting off the Palestinian settlements from each other and halting the natural process of transforming Bethlehem-Jerusalem-Ramallah into a Palestinian metropolis.” 

According to the revealing data assembled by Husseini's task force, the Palestinian built-up area (including east Jerusalem) in the year 2000 covers no more than 5 percent of the West Bank, a figure which strikingly confirms the restrictions placed on Palestinian development. In contrast, Israeli construction since 1967 has succeeded in expanding the built-up area of the settlements (again including east Jerusalem) to about 1.8 percent of the West Bank's area. 200,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the land captured by Israel. Husseini emphasized that the main platform of the Palestinian negotiators was "the principle of a return to the borders of June 4, 1967."Again in stark contrast was both Israeli's refusal to return land captured by 1967 and their proposal to annex a further 5 percent or 10 percent of West Bank territory into the State of Israeli. The Camp David Israeli team appeared to not only want to keep the spoils of war, but to add to them by political plunder. 

Another clear difference between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating position, notes Husseini, is that "Israel wants to determine the permanent borders of any future Palestinian state based on the (existing) settlements while we (the Palestinians) say that the fate of the settlements will be determined by the borders. 

The Haaretz article highlights the fact that Israel's "divide and conquer policy" which began during the Six-Day War in 1967 is dividing the occupied Palestinian lands into a number of isolated cantons. Settlements such as the Neve Dekalim development have already divided the Gaza Strip into north and south zones in addition to the A, B and C areas. 

Husseini also explains that "had the Palestinians been willing to accept the Israeli solution for Jerusalem (which includes annexing the Adumim bloc - 120 square kilometers around the Ma'aleh Adumim and the Etzion Jewish settlements, they would have in essence agreed to splitting the Palestinian state into two: north and south, with the passage between them under Israeli control.” 

The Etzion Bloc lies on the strategically important Jerusalem - Beersheba Highway, and serves as the southern gateway to Jerusalem. Both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would then have been divided into north and south cantons.  

The proposed dissection of what was left of Palestine did not stop there since Israel also insisted on controlling two east-west routes (Map 5 - the Trans-Samaria and Tel Aviv-Amman highways currently under construction). These roads would effectively sub-divide the north West Bank into three separate east-west cantons with the links between them always at the mercy of the Israeli army and the settlers. 

The revealing map (Map 5), which the Palestinians did not release to the media after the breakdown of the Camp David summit, clearly shows the proposed Palestine state (with a land mass of less that 20% that of historic Palestine) were to be subdivided into six isolated cantons, two in Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. The urban developments in each of these separate areas would have been essentially dormitory townships in an apartheid-like system in which Palestinians and Arab-Israelis are essentially second-class citizens who work for their Israeli overlords. 

In stark summary, the 'generous' offer tabled by the Israeli's at Camp David proposed that: 

 

1-Less than 22 percent of the land that was originally part of historic Palestine would be returned to the Palestinians. 

 

2-A further 5 to 10 percent of the West Bank would be annexed to Israel for settler development. 

 

3-The small area of Palestinian land which survived permanent annexation, wouldbe carved up by roads and Jewish settlements into six isolated cantons. 

The movement of Palestinian nationals between these cantons would be under the total control of Israel.  

 

4-The dismembered Palestinian State would also lack a capital because Israel maintains its claim on Jerusalem as its eternal undivided capital.  

 

5-Besides their obvious overt political ramifications, the Israelis proposals had crucial religious implications since they suggested that Israel maintain sovereignty and full security control of the al Aqsa Mosque ( Temple Mount)  

At best, the Palestinians would be allowed to act as 'custodians' of the third holiest Muslim shrine under Israeli supervision. As reported in Time Magazine in late October, Barak suggested at the end of the Camp David talks that a synagogue might be built on one corner of the al Aqsa site.  

It is tempting to suggest that an annotated map explaining the Israel 'generous' proposals would have been worth ten thousand media words. Such a map would also have helped to explain the Palestinian fury and feeling of total injustice that has fuelled the al Aqsa Intifada. 

One thing is for certain - the Intifida has certainly dramatically disproved Ben Gurion's 1947 prediction. Through their recorded deeds, the Palestinian martyrs will live on, and the young will never forget the half a century of wars and political dissections that have mutilated the Palestinian heartlands. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

You may also like