When in November 1917 the Balfour declaration proclaimed by the then British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour in which he suggested a Jewish state in Palestine, the demographic landscape of Palestine which was at that time part of the Ottoman Empire heavily tilted in favour of Arab Muslims who accounted for around 90 percent of the population. Whereas, Jews were hardly 8.1 percent of the total population of what it was called as Palestine. Today, Israel, which is composed of what used to be Palestine has Jewish majority including in the holy city of Jerusalem.
What is the process of Israelisation of Palestine and how it began? Why the local Palestinian population and Arab countries failed to save Palestine from the Jewish expansion and Israeli occupation? Can the process of Israelisation of Palestine be reversed?
The hue and cry which is being raised against President Trump’s decision to shift American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem needs to be critically judged and analysed instead of getting emotional. In 1995 the US Congress decided that Jerusalem be recognised as the capital of Israel but it took 22 years for America to shift its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. United States already has its consulate in Jerusalem and it is just a matter of upgrading into as an embassy. Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital several years ago but all the embassies are located in Tel Aviv and the U.S is the first country to shift its embassy to Jerusalem.
Israelisation of Palestine is the outcome of four major realities. First, in 1947 the UN approved partition plan of Palestine which recommended a Jewish and a Palestinian state in what was Palestine and under the British control mandated by the League of Nations following the disintegration of Ottoman Empire. In 1948 Israel emerged as a new state sanctioned by the United Nations prompting outbreak of the first Arab-Israeli war which Arabs lost. With the formation of a Jewish state, Israel located in the heart of Palestine, included all of its areas except West Bank and Gaza. West Jerusalem came under the control of Israel whereas; West Bank and East Jerusalem were controlled by Jordan. Gaza was under the control of Egypt. The migration of hundreds and thousands of Palestinians from Israel since 1948 and the influx of Jews from different parts of the world changed the demographic complexion of Palestine, later called as Israel. Second, the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war caused humiliating defeat of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel occupied Sinai desert, Gaza strip, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Golan heights. With the Israeli conquest of Gaza and West Bank, the whole of Palestine which existed at the Balfour declaration came under the control of Israel.
The process of Israelisation of Palestine was unleashed after the Balfour declaration. It got an impetus following the creation of Israel in 1948 and then the massive defeat of Arab countries at the hands of Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war
Israel’s religious and ideological attachment with the West Bank particularly Jerusalem led to the Jewish settlements despite the UN Security Council and General Assembly’s resolutions terming such settlements as illegal. The PLO-Israeli accord of September 1993, which pledged autonomy to the Palestinian areas of West Bank and Gaza pending the final settlement failed to prevent the Israelisation of West Bank. Likewise Intifada-I of 1987 and Intifada-II of 2000 also failed to exert any pressure on the Jewish state to honour its commitments which it made in the peace accord of September 1993. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is termed as the most hawkish leader of Israel who got an opportunity to deepen Jewish settlements in the West Bank under various American administrations particularly under Donald Trump. The two state solution which was also envisaged in the UN partition plan of Palestine failed to materialise because Israel reneged from its commitment which it made in the Israeli-PLO accord of September 1993 and mediated by the US President Bill Clinton for a final settlement of the Palestinian issue by 1999.
Third, Arab states are also responsible for the Israelisation of Palestine because of their lukewarm support rendered for the Palestinian cause. No Arab country, particularly the so-called frontline states like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon seriously tried to help out Palestinians by providing military support. In 2014 when Gaza was attacked by Israel and hundreds of Palestinians were killed by the Israeli air, sea and ground forces, there existed apathy on the part of Arab states. Back to back events like the civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990), the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) and the Iraqi attack over Kuwait in August 1990 benefited Israel because of division within the Arab world.
The marginalisation of the Palestinian cause deepened when Egypt and Jordan signed separate peace treaties with Israel and failed to exert pressure on the United States when Israel reneged on the Oslo peace accord which it signed with the PLO in September 1993. The history of Arab apathy and indifference towards the Palestinian struggle for a separate homeland is quite long and even now, it seems despite the announcement made by the US President Donald Trump to shift American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Arab countries in view of their own divisiveness and armed conflicts going on in Syria and Yemen will be unable to effectively challenge the U.S decision. Fourth, Israelisation of Palestine also got an impetus because of disunity within the rank and file of Palestinians particularly as a result of the infighting between Hamas and PLO.
The recent agreement between PLO and Hamas for peace is vulnerable from age old conflict between the two rival Palestinian groups. Therefore, when the Palestinian and Arab house is divided, Israel exploited the opportunity by expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank and sustaining the siege of Gaza. Since 2006, infighting between PLO and Hamas over the control of Gaza only benefited Israel and caused enormous damage to the Palestinian struggle for a separate homeland.
Now seven decades after the creation of Israel the Palestinian community is either under the tutelage of Israel or is scattered in the form of diaspora in different parts of the world. The erosion of Palestinian movement led to the Israelisation of Palestine to the extent that PLO which in its charter had called for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent state of Palestine in place of Israel is now demanding a Palestinian state only in West Bank and Gaza. Even that demand is now unacceptable to Israel. Now Israel controls the resources, land and people what used to be Palestine in 1917.
Israelisation of Palestine is a classic example of colonisation of land by taking advantage of local conditions. Is it not true that Palestinian infighting and large scale violence in vast parts of the Arab world following the so-called Arab spring of 2011 were exploited by Israel and the United States in order to further perpetuate the Jewish occupation of West Bank including Jerusalem?
In a nutshell, the process of Israelisation of Palestine was unleashed after the Balfour declaration and got an impetus following the creation of Israeli in 1948 and the massive defeat of Arab countries at the hands of Israel during June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. To reverse such a process would require the resolution of conflicts in the Arab world and the unity among Palestinians. Otherwise, there is no likelihood of Israel following a back foot approach and relinquishing its illegal control over the Arab occupied territories. In that case, the world will have to live with the Israelisation of Palestine.
The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, December 15th 2017.