The Unmaking of the Palestinian Nation

On March 10, I
posted on the humiliation heaped on Vice President Joe Biden by the
Israeli government of far-right Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu
Biden went to Israel intending to help kick off indirect negotiations
between Netanyahu and Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Biden
had no sooner arrived than the Israelis announced that they would build
1600 new households on Palestinian territory that they had unilaterally
annexed to Jerusalem. Since expanding Israeli colonization of
Palestinian land had been the sticking point causing Abbas to refuse to
engage in negotiations, and, indeed, to threaten to resign, this step
was sure to scuttle the very talks Biden had come to inaugurate. And it

The tiff between the U.S. and Israel is less important that the
worrisome growth of tension between Palestinians and Israelis as
the Israelis have claimed more and more sites sacred to the
Palestinians as well
. There is talk of a third Intifada or
Palestinian uprising.

As part of my original posting, I mirrored a map of modern
Palestinian history that has the virtue of showing graphically what has
happened to the Palestinians politically and territorially in the past

Sullivan then mirrored the map from my site
, which set off a lot of
thunder and noise among anti-Palestinian writers like Jeffrey Goldberg
of the Atlantic, but shed very little light.

The map is useful and accurate. It begins by showing the British
Mandate of Palestine as of the mid-1920s. The British conquered the
Ottoman districts that came to be the Mandate during World War I. (The
Ottoman sultan threw in with Austria and Germany against Britain, France
and Russia, mainly out of fear of Russia.)

But because of the rise of the League of Nations and the influence
of President Woodrow Wilson's ideas about self-determination, Britain
and France could not decently simply make their new, previously Ottoman
territories into simple colonies. The League of Nations awarded them
"Mandates." Britain got Palestine, France got Syria (which it made into
Syria and Lebanon), Britain got Iraq.The League of Nations Covenant
spelled out what a Class A
Mandate (i.e. territory that had been Ottoman) was

Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish
Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as
independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the
rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a
Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The
wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the
selection of the Mandatory.

That is, the purpose of the later British Mandate of Palestine, of
the French Mandate of Syria, of the British Mandate of Iraq, was to
'render administrative advice and assistance" to these peoples in
preparation for their becoming independent states, an achievement that
they were recognized as not far from attaining. The Covenant was written
before the actual Mandates were established, but Palestine was a Class A
Mandate and so the language of the Covenant was applicable to it. The
territory that formed the British Mandate of Iraq was the same territory
that became independent Iraq, and the same could have been expected of
the British Mandate of Palestine. (Even class B Mandates like Togo have
become nation-states, but the poor Palestinians are just stateless
prisoners in colonial cantons).

The first map thus shows what the League of Nations imagined would
become the state of Palestine. The economist published an odd assertion
that the Negev Desert was 'empty' and should not have been shown in the
first map. But it wasn't and isn't empty; Palestinian Bedouin live
there, and they and the desert were recognized by the League of Nations
as belonging to the Mandate of Palestine, a state-in-training. The
Mandate of Palestine also had a charge to allow for the establishment of
a 'homeland' in Palestine for Jews (because of the 1917 Balfour
Declaration), but nobody among League of Nations officialdom at that
time imagined it would be a whole and competing territorial state. There
was no prospect of more than a few tens of thousands of Jews settling
in Palestine, as of the mid-1920s. (They are shown in white on the first
map, refuting those who mysteriously complained that the maps
alternated between showing sovereignty and showing population.) As late
as the 1939 British White Paper, British officials imagined that the
Mandate would emerge as an independent Palestinian state within 10

In 1851, there had been 327,000 Palestinians (yes, the word
"Filistin" was current then) and other non-Jews, and only 13,000 Jews.
In 1925, after decades of determined Jewish immigration, there were a
little over 100,000 Jews, and there were 765,000 mostly Palestinian
non-Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. For historical demography
of this area, see Justin
McCarthy's painstaking calculations; it is not true, as sometimes is
claimed, that we cannot know anything about population figures in this
. See also his journal article, reprinted
at this site
. The Palestinian population grew because of rapid
population growth, not in-migration, which was minor. The common
allegation that Jerusalem had a Jewish majority at some point in the
19th century is meaningless. Jerusalem was a small town in 1851, and
many pious or indigent elderly Jews from Eastern Europe and elsewhere
retired there because of charities that would support them. In 1851,
Jews were only about 4 percent of the population of the territory that
became the British Mandate of Palestine some 70 years later. And, there
had been few adherents of Judaism, just a few thousand, from the time
most Jews in Palestine adopted Christianity and Islam in the first
millennium CE all the way until the 20th century. In the British Mandate
of Palestine, the district of Jerusalem was largely Palestinian.

The rise of the Nazis in the 1930s impelled massive Jewish
emigration to Palestine, so by 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews there
amid over a million Palestinians.

The second map shows the United Nations partition plan of 1947,
which awarded Jews (who only then owned about 6 percent of Palestinian
land) a substantial state alongside a much reduced Palestine. Although
apologists for the Zionist movement say that the Zionists accepted this
partition plan and the Arabs rejected it, that is not entirely true.
Zionist leader David Ben Gurion noted in his diary when Israel was
established that when the U.S. had been formed, no document set out its
territorial extent, implying that the same was true of Israel. We know
that Ben Gurion was an Israeli expansionist who fully intended to annex
more land to Israel, and by 1956 he attempted to add the Sinai and would
have liked southern Lebanon. So the Zionist "acceptance" of the UN
partition plan did not mean very much beyond a happiness that their
initial starting point was much better than their actual land ownership
had given them any right to expect.

The third map shows the status quo after the Israeli-Palestinian
civil war of 1947-1948. It is not true that the entire Arab League
attacked the Jewish community in Palestine or later Israel on behalf of
the Palestinians. As Avi
Shlaim has shown
, Jordan had made an understanding with the Zionist
leadership that it would grab the West Bank, and its troops did not
mount a campaign in the territory awarded to Israel by the UN. Egypt
grabbed Gaza and then tried to grab the Negev Desert, with a few
thousand badly trained and equipped troops, but was defeated by the
nascent Israeli army. Few other Arab states sent any significant number
of troops. The total number of troops on the Arab side actually on the
ground was about equal to those of the Zionist forces, and the Zionists
had more esprit de corps and better weaponry.

The final map shows the situation today, which springs from the
Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967 and then the
decision of the Israelis to colonize the West Bank intensively (a
process that is illegal in the law of war concerning occupied

There is nothing inaccurate about the maps at all, historically.
Goldberg maintained that the Palestinians' "original sin" was rejecting
the 1947 UN partition plan. But since Ben Gurion and other expansionists
went on to grab more territory later in history, it is not clear that
the Palestinians could have avoided being occupied even if they had
given away willingly so much of their country in 1947. The first
original sin was the contradictory and feckless pledge by the British to
sponsor Jewish immigration into their Mandate in Palestine, which they
wickedly and fantastically promised would never inconvenience the
Palestinians in any way. It was the same kind of original sin as the
French policy of sponsoring a million colons in French Algeria, or the
French attempt to create a Christian-dominated Lebanon where the
Christians would be privileged by French policy. The second original sin
was the refusal of the United States to allow Jews to immigrate in the
1930s and early 1940s, which forced them to go to Palestine to escape
the monstrous, mass-murdering Nazis.

The map attracted so much ire and controversy not because it is
inaccurate but because it clearly shows what has been done to the
Palestinians, which the League of Nations had recognized as not far from
achieving statehood in its Covenant. Their statehood and their
territory has been taken from them, and they have been left stateless,
without citizenship and therefore without basic civil and human rights.
The map makes it easy to see this process. The map had to be stigmatized
and made taboo. But even if that marginalization of an image could be
accomplished, the squalid reality of Palestinian statelessness would
remain, and the children of Gaza would still be being malnourished by
the deliberate Israeli policy of blockading civilians. The map just
points to a powerful reality; banishing the map does not change that

Goldberg, according to Spencer
Ackerman, says that he will stop replying to Andrew Sullivan
, for
which Ackerman is grateful, since, he implies, Goldberg is a
propagandistic hack who loves to promote wars on flimsy pretenses. Matthew
Yglesias also has some fun at Goldberg's expense

People like Goldberg never tell us what they expect to happen to
the Palestinians in the near and medium future. They don't seem to
understand that the status quo is untenable. They are like militant
ostriches, hiding their heads in the sand while lashing out with their
hind talons at anyone who stares clear-eyed at the problem,
characterizing us as bigots. As if that old calumny has any purchase for
anyone who knows something serious about the actual views of Israeli
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
more bigoted persons than whom would be difficult to find. Indeed, some
of Israel's current problems with Brazil come out of Lieberman's visit
there last summer; I was in Rio then and remember the distaste with
which the multi-cultural, multi-racial Brazilians viewed Lieberman, whom
some openly called a racist.