The Balfour Declaration Did Not Poison Jewish-Arab Relations in the Land of Israel

According to the now-standard version offered by Palestinian leaders and publicists and their supporters, Britain’s 1917 endorsement of the Zionist project was a disaster for the Arabs of Palestine and led to the souring of Jewish-Muslim relations more generally. Efraim Karsh shows that this narrative is a complete distortion: Muslim leaders, including Emir Faisal of Syria and Emir Abdullah of Jordan, lent their support to the Balfour Declaration. Moreover, on August 12, 1918, the grand vizier of the Ottoman empire officially stated the empire’s “sympathies for the establishment of a religious and national Jewish center in Palestine by well-organized immigration and colonization.”

So too, during the Mandate period, most Arabs welcomed Jewish settlement. Karsh writes:

Even the most protracted period of Palestinian Arab violence in 1936-39, with its paralytic atmosphere of terror and a ruthlessly enforced economic boycott, failed to dent Arab-Jewish coexistence on many practical levels, including defense cooperation. Contrary to its common depiction as a nationalist revolt against the ruling British and the growing Jewish presence in the country, this was a massive exercise in violence that saw far more Arabs than Jews murdered by Arab gangs who repressed and abused the general Arab population. And while thousands of Arabs fled the country in a foretaste of the 1947-48 exodus, others preferred to fight back against their oppressors, often in collaboration with the British authorities and the Haganah, the largest Jewish underground defense organization. Still others sought shelter in Jewish neighborhoods. . . .

[Once World War II began], Arab and Jewish citrus growers joined forces in demanding the cancellation of customs duty and the extension of government loans to cultivators for the duration of the war. Large quantities of Arab agricultural produce reappeared in Jewish markets, and . . . both communities enjoyed the unprecedented spending and investment boom attending Palestine’s incorporation into the British war effort. Land sales continued as far as possible with Arabs often acting as intermediaries for Jewish purchases in the zones that had been prohibited [to Jews] by the British authorities in 1939.

Thousands of Jews made the traditional pilgrimage to Rachel’s tomb, near Bethlehem, while Jewish students visited this exclusively Arab town for the Christmas celebrations. . . . Jews rented accommodation in Arab villages and opened restaurants and stores with the villagers’ consent; the Nablus municipality initiated talks with senior Zionist officials on linking the city to the Jewish electricity grid; and former rebel commanders and fighters made their peace with their Jewish neighbors.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Balfour Declaration, History & Ideas, Israel-Arab relations, Mandate Palestine, Muslim-Jewish relations, Ottoman Empire

 

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy