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Friday, October 15, 2010

Jewish flexibility and Arab intransigence, 1947

Moshe Sharett (Shertok), the head of the Jewish Agency, spoke to the Special Committee on Palestine on July 17, 1947. He described an anecdote that he felt was illustrative of the difference between how Arabs and Jews think of co-existence.

The problem of mutual adjustment in this country is an extremely difficult one. Its solution entails a sense of realities, a capacity to accept facts. And it is essential in the interest of peace, in the long run, that certain facts should be very firmly fixed and that any idea that they can be disregarded or changed by threats, or by force, should be disregarded. I will illustrate by an example what I am trying to convey to you. I will take the case of the Municipality of Jerusalem.

There is a Jewish majority in the City of Jerusalem. Yet there has always been an Arab mayor at the head of the Jerusalem Municipal Council. As time passed this became anomalous. The city kept growing, so did its population, and its services developed. The Jews came to play a very important part in the administration of the city's affairs, and they felt that it was to their detriment, and they also presumed to think that it was to the detriment of the city as a whole, that they should be denied their fair share of the city's Government. They felt that they should all have a chance of being at the head of the Municipal Council.

Now, this problem engaged the attention of the Government and of both Arabs and Jews for a long time. Eventually the Government reached a certain decision and announced that decision officially. They worked out a scheme for the rotation of the Jerusalem mayoralty — a triple rotation — a Moslem mayor, a Christian mayor, and a Jewish mayor should serve in turn. The idea was not quite palatable to the Jews. It was particularly unpalatable because if you appoint as a Christian mayor a Christian Arab, then it means that the proportion is established of one Jew to two Arabs and the Jews are then in a way, in terms of time, if not in terms of space, relegated to the position or a minority. But the Jews realized, at least they tried to realize, the wider aspect of problem, the unique character of the city of Jerusalem, the associations which it carried, and they decided to acquiesce and accept that proposal. They informed the Government accordingly. Though they were and are a majority and felt entitled to having the post of the mayor permanently, in view of the past tradition, in view of the present associations, they declared themselves willing to cooperate in the implementation of that scheme. ...Mind you, that was not in the process of preliminary soundings or informal negotiations; that was after the Government had definitely committed itself by announcing officially that that was their decision.

The Arabs refused to cooperate. They rejected the scheme. They insisted on the office of Mayor remaining their exclusive possession — the exclusive possession of the Moslem community for all future.

The result was that the Government backed out — the Government retreated from the scheme — they dropped it. In retreating from the scheme they blamed their failure on both parties in equal measure. Un-qualified rejection and complete acceptance with certain additional desiderata, were represented by them in an official announcement as ranking equal — as if both parties refused to cooperate. They proceeded to disband the Municipal Council.

The Jewish councillors were ready to carry on. A Jewish gentleman was at the time acting Mayor and had been acting Mayor for years. There was no complaint whatsoever on the merits of the way he conducted municipal affairs. Yet, all the municipal councillors, including the Jewish councilors, were sent packing and a direct British rule was instituted in the City Hall of Jerusalem. For two years now Jerusalem has not enjoyed elementary municipal self-government. Municipal affairs are being ruled by appointed British officials.

Now what does it mean?

It means a premium on intransigence — a definite discouragement to face realities and to develop a spirit of accommodation to those realities. It is a victory for boycotting tactics. We all felt that the Arabs took that uncompromising attitude only because they knew that by so doing they would wreck the scheme — that they would force the Government to retreat. If they had the conviction that the Government would stick to its decision and that what they would then be facing would be that the conduct of municipal affairs would be exclusively in the hands of the Jews, and they would be left completely out, they would think twice before deciding on the attitude which they adopted. They would give in, and it would not mean in any sense sacrificing any legitimate rights. Although the Jews are a majority, the composition of the Council is fifty-fifty, between Jews and Arabs, .and they would have had their share of rotation of office of mayoralty. It would not mean any unwarranted concession — any undue concession on their part.

Well, to us that was a lesson. We are setting it as, an example not to follow.
Do these mindsets sound familiar? The Jews were willing to accept a compromise that was overwhelmingly skewed towards the Arabs, and the Arabs rejected it completely - because it would mean that the Jews gained something.

By any sensible measure, one would think that 2/3 Arab control of Jerusalem's mayoralty is better than zero. Yet the Arabs preferred that Jerusalem be under the full control of the British than two-thirds control by Arabs - because of that one third that would be Jewish!

This was not a logical decision. This is hate-based politics, where hurting your enemy is more important than helping your own people. 

The question that needs to be answered is - has this attitude changed? Have Arab leaders matured to the point that they care more about helping their own than hurting their enemy?

Look at how the Palestinian Arab leadership are unwilling to lobby for equal rights of their people in Arab lands, instead wanting to use them as seething cauldrons of hate to pressure Israel for an eventual and illusory "right of return". Think about that: every Arab leader would prefer that millions of Palestinian Arabs remain stateless, and hundreds of thousands remain in "refugee" camps, rather than help them, because of the minute possibility that their very misery hurts the Jewish state.

The entire political philosophy of Palestinian Arabs is based on hatred of the other. In fact,  their entire concept of "peoplehood" is defined in opposition to the other. After all, what are "Palestinians" if not "non-Jews whose ancestors lived in Palestine in the 1940s"? As long as their entire existence and history is defined in terms of countering Jewish political gains and not in terms of their own independent existence, there is zero chance for real, permanent compromise, and zero chance for real peace.