Paul R. Pillar
Israel Palestinian Territories, Middle East
The following remarks were originally presented to the Worcester, MA World Affairs Council on September 19, 2017.
President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom the president has entrusted with, among many other things, searching for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, said regarding that task: “We don’t want a history lesson. How does that help us get peace? Let’s not focus on that. We’ve read enough books.”
He’s wrong. Without taking into account the history of this conflict, one will never understand it adequately, much less be able to identify formulas that will furnish the necessary respect for, and meet the minimum needs of, both sides.
One could go way back, but let us instead skip to the point in history when war-exhausted Britain, responsible for administering the mandate of Palestine, was facing increasing violence from the contending communities of, on one hand, Arabs who had lived in Palestine for centuries, and on the other hand, Zionists who had begun to settle there over the previous few decades.
Britain dumped the problem into the lap of the United Nations, where the General Assembly approved in 1947 a partition plan for Palestine that would create two new states, one controlled by Jews and one by Arabs. The resolution approving the plan is the one internationally certified birth certificate of the State of Israel. The population of Palestine at the time was about two-thirds Arab and slightly less than one-third Jewish, with the bulk of the latter representing immigration in the 30 years since the Balfour Declaration. Jews owned less than 7 percent of the land. Under the partition plan, however, the Jewish state would receive 56 percent of Palestine and the Arab state 43 percent, with the remaining one percent being an international zone in Jerusalem. The population of the projected Arab state would be almost entirely Arab, while the Jewish-controlled state would be 45 percent Arab.