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What do the Palestinians want? Why didnít they establish their own state before 1967?

An Interactive Editorial*

By Hassan A. El-Najjar and F. Lepkin**


F. Lepkin: 

As I am teaching / lecturing in various venues and to diverse Canadian audiences about the origins and evolution of the Arab - Israeli conflict, more and more times, I have been asked how to characterize the Jordanian presence in the West Bank and the Egyptian presence in Gaza from 1948 till mid 1967? .  My questioners frequently assert that during those 19 years there was not a single Israeli soldier, nay, not even a single Jew in the aforementioned territories.  And my questioners want to know why during those 19 years why there was no movement or clamour for a Palestinian state subsuming the Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza'?    Can you offer any advice as to how to explain the non appearance of a Palestinian entity during those years?.   I would also appreciate some advice as to what adjective to put in front of those territories for those 19 years.  Dare I use the term 'occupied' or administered?  Please advise.  As I get out to more and more Canadian audiences of all backgrounds the question of those 19 years and the language to use becomes more and more insistent.

Hassan A.El-Najjar:

The 1947 UN Partition Resolution 181 divided Palestine into two states: Jewish (Israel) and Arab (Palestine). The Arab state of Palestine included three territories: The West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Galilee (partition map). In 1948, the Jewish state was established as planned but the Arab state of Palestine was not allowed to see light. Israel annexed the Galilee by force and evicted most of its Palestinian population, during the 1948 war. They became refugees in Lebanon and Syria, as Israel has never accepted their return to their villages and cities, just like what it did to refugees who were evicted from other areas. The UN General Assembly passed resolution 194 that called on Israel to allow the refugees to return and be compensated for their lost property, which Israel has never complied with. (More historical background).

The Partition resolution also defined the territory of Gaza Strip as starting from Rafah in the south, at the Palestinian-Egyptian border, to Isdood in the north. However, Israel annexed a large part of the strip, during the war, leaving a tiny part of it from Rafah to just north of Gaza city, barely to house the evicted refugees from central and southern Palestine. Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip as a result of its military presence there at the end of the 1948 war. There was a power vacuum in Gaza Strip and Israel did not want to annex it because it would create a demographic problem that would threaten its demographic structure. Egypt did not annex Gaza Strip though. Instead, it appointed an Egyptian ruler, representing the president, to overview the local Palestinian government.

In 1956, Israel participated with the French and British colonial powers in their attack on Egypt to restore control over the Suez Canal after Nasser had nationalized it. Israel occupied the Sinai Peninsula as well as Gaza Strip, where Israeli occupation forces committed several massacres during the seven months of its occupation of the Strip. The firm stance of the United States and the Soviet Union in opposing the "Tripartite Aggression" forced the three aggressors to withdraw from Sinai and Gaza. In March 1957, UN peace-keeping troops replaced the withdrawing Israeli forces but the Palestinian people in Gaza rejected the internationalization of the Strip. Palestinian political parties mobilized people to demonstrate nonstop demanding the return of the Egyptian administration. The UN approved and the Egyptian administration returned to the Strip and continued until 1967, when Israel occupied Gaza again together with the other Arab territories.

The Egyptian administration of Gaza Strip was not ideal. However, Palestinians there were not treated better or worse than the Egyptian people. Whatever Nasser did to the Egyptians he did to Palestinians in Gaza in terms of political participation. Political parties were abolished and were replaced with a one-party system. Palestinian students were allowed to attend Egyptian universities, which opened job markets for them in the oil-producing Arab states. The Egyptian administration of Gaza Strip during these nineteen years was a rule of an Arab and Muslim government to an Arab and Muslim population. It was not a military occupation. Palestinians were not killed, injured, and arrested on daily basis, like what has been happening to them by the Israeli occupiers, since 1967. Their houses were not systematically destroyed and their lands were not confiscated to be used for building settlements, like what has been happening by Israelis since 1967. Egyptians were  not occupiers or invaders of Gaza Strip. They were (and still are) the brotherly Arab neighbors who have not stopped helping the Palestinian people.

Concerning the West Bank, it was not under Jordanian occupation, as you alluded to. Jordanians did not confiscate Palestinian lands to build settlement on them. Moreover, Palestinians were treated as equal citizens after they had been granted the Jordanian citizenship in 1951. They were not better off or worse off than other Jordanians. Jordanians did not kill, injure, and arrest Palestinians on daily basis, as Israelis have been doing since 1967. Yes, the West Bank was annexed to the East Bank and they together formed the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. However, it was never a military occupation. A military occupation, like the Israeli occupation of Palestine, leads one nation to control, subjugate, oppress, and persecute another nation. This did not happen when Jordan was composed of the West Bank and the East Bank between 1948 and 1967. It has been happening to the Palestinian people by Israelis since 1967. Had Israelis granted Palestinians citizenship and equal rights, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not have developed to its brutal stage that we are seeing now.

But how did Jordan come to control the West Bank? It was similar to the Egyptian control of Gaza Strip. By the end of the 1948 war, Jordanian troops filled the vacuum in the West Bank, which resulted from the absence of any government in Arab Palestine. Abdullah Al-Tal, the commander of Jordanian forces in East Jerusalem during the 1948 war, mentioned in his book (Al-Nakba Wal Bala, 1957) that the Jordanian rule of the West Bank was approved by the Jewish Agency. Golda Meier and Moshe Sharit met with Prince Abdullah of East Jordan in Al-Hummar Palace and agreed on Jordanís rule over the West Bank if Jordan would persuade Iraqi forces to withdraw from Galilee. Thus, there was a deal according to which Israel would annex Galilee and East Jordan would annex the West Bank. However, in 1951, the two Banks of the River Jordan united in what became known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. West Bank Palestinians have not contested the unification or how it happened. However, they have not stopped their struggle for the liberation of their homeland from the Israeli occupiers, which caused several confrontations with the Jordanian government.

What matters from this short historical background is that Palestine was destroyed at the moment Israel was created. That was because Israel annexed the Galilee and separated Gaza from the West Bank, which was not supposed to happen according to the partition resolution. In addition, the brutal Israeli treatment of Palestinians and ruling them without their consent is what makes them occupiers. All this makes the most practical solution to the conflict to be a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. However, the best solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a true democratic state in which the seven million Palestinians enjoy the same citizenship and the same rights enjoyed by the six million Israelis. The issues, concerns, and problems of the two peoples are too intertwined that the two-state solution will be just a stage towards the real solution.

But why couldnít the Palestinians (with help from their Arab brothers and sisters) establish a Palestinian state during the nineteen years of 1948-1967, under question? The answer is that neither Palestinians nor Arabs as a whole have ever enjoyed peace since the establishment of Israel. Israel has launched a major war on Arabs in every decade during the second half of the twentieth century. More important, it was impossible to establish a state that includes the West Bank and Gaza without peace with Israel, which separates them geographically. During the period in question, Israelis launched a major war in 1956 but raided Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza before (Al-Sabha) and after (Al-Samouí). But the most practical answer is that the Palestinian people were turned into refugees after Israel had denied them return to their villages and cities. They were thinking about physical survival during that period. However, Palestinian political parties have never stopped preparing their people for struggle to achieve their national and political rights. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 rejuvenated the Palestinian struggle as it brought Palestinians from the three territories into physical contact with one another. It also convinced Palestinians that they could not depend on Arab governments any longer to achieve their aspirations.

In conclusion, the Palestinian national liberation movement is a reaction to the brutality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is a right that is guaranteed by international law, which allows people under occupation to resist occupiers until they leave the occupied territories. The Palestinian quest for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is the most logical and practical solution to the conflict during this savage stage of Palestinian-Israeli relations. A Palestinian state will be the first step towards peace, not only between Palestinians and Israelis but also towards peace in the region as a whole. It will be a turning point for peace in the world, as it will mark an end to the colonialist/imperialist Zionist invasion of the Middle East. It will turn Israel into a Middle Eastern entity instead of its current status as a spearhead for the Zionist dream of an empire that subjugates Arabs and Muslims living between the Nile and the Euphrates, including the oil-rich parts of Arabia (Read: What does Zionist Israel Want?).


* In interactive editorials, the editor of Al-Jazeerah answers questions and or responds to comments of readers, which are more general than readers' responses to specific articles or issues. It is an effective method of interaction in electronic journalism.

** Dr. Hassan A. El-Najjar is the editor of Al-Jazeerah. Mr. F. Lepkin is a Canadian teacher and lecturer.




Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah's.