Writes David Singer:
'An article recently written by a retired Commodore of the Royal Saudi Navy – Abdulateef Al-Mulhim - titled “What if Arabs had recognized the State of Israel in 1948?” – has been acknowledged by many as a brave initiative by a prominent Arab to step outside the almost monolithic Arab viewpoint that has consistently refused to recognize Israel in the 73 years since its establishment in 1948.
There have been some significant cracks in the Arab wall of rejectionism since 1948 – Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 and the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993.
But none has been sufficient to end the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine that has raged since about 1880.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the Commodore’s article was published by Arab News – Saudi Arabia’s first English-language newspaper founded in 1975. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group.
Commodore Al-Mulhim however only tells half the story by commencing his narrative in 1948 – rather than 1919. No understanding of the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine is possible without including those 29 turbulent years.
By 1948 both Jews and Arabs had become firmly entrenched in their political views over the previous 29 years. Both had by then endured much death and suffering following a series of riots, massacres, Commissions and Inquiries that abruptly ended the high hopes and expectations that had followed Turkey’s defeat in the First World War.
Britain’s failure to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine between 1919-1947 had led to Britain declaring its intention to hand over its League of Nations approved Mandate to a nascent United Nations – whose 1947 plan for partition into an Arab state and a Jewish State was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs.
By then it was too late to prevent the 1948 War that was to follow Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the immediate invasion of Palestine by six Arab armies intent on eradicating the existence of the Jewish State – creating problems and hatreds that have remained unresolved ever since.
It had all seemed so different and so promising in 1919.
At the Peace Conference in Versailles an Agreement signed on 3 January 1919 had contained the following preamble :
“His Royal Highness the Emir Feisal, representing and acting on behalf of the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz, and Dr. Chaim Weizmann, representing and acting on behalf of the Zionist Organization. mindful of the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people, and realising that the surest means of working out the consummation of their national aspirations is through the closest possible collaboration in the development of the Arab State and Palestine, and being desirous further of confirming the good understanding which exists between them … "
The San Remo Conference held between the Principal Allied Powers – Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan – had resolved on 25 April 1920:
“to entrust, by application of the provisions of Article 22 [of the Covenant of the League of Nations], the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory, to be selected by the said Powers. The Mandatory will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 8, 1917, by the British Government, and adopted by the other Allied Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non- Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”The terms of the Treaty of Sevres agreed on 10 August 1920 by the Principal Allied Powers and the Allied Powers – Armenia, Belgium, Greece, the Hedjaz, Poland, Portugal Roumania, the Serb-Croat-Slovene State and Czecho-Slovakia – unanimously endorsed the San Remo Conference Resolution – paving the way for the creation of separate Mandates for each of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, and Mesopotamia with the unanimous agreement of all 51 member States of the League of Nations.
The proposed territorial carve up between Jews and Arabs had involved allocating the Arabs 99.999% of the liberated Ottoman territory – whilst the Jews were to receive the right to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in just 0.001% of such land in accordance with the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
The Arabs regrettably were to have none of this perceived meddling in their part of the world.
Britain’s attempt to placate Arab objections by belatedly denying the Jews the right to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in Transjordan – some 78% of the small sliver of land originally to be made available to them – did not help achieve a breakthrough.
The Arabs did not accept – and never have accepted – the disposition of any part of the Ottoman captured territory to the Jews. If they had the Middle East would have been a different place today.
Understanding the history of Palestine between 1919 -1948 is therefore critically important and very relevant in 2011 because it highlights that
■Israel’s establishment in 1948 as the Jewish State had its legal basis in the events that began in and took place during 1919-1947 as part of an internationally endorsed policy of granting self-determination for both Jews and Arabs in the liberated territories of the Ottoman Empire
■The conflict in former Palestine still remains one between “Jews” and “Arabs” – not “Israelis” and “Palestinians”Telling only half the story – and ignoring the other half – has become a recipe for misunderstanding and confusion and a real impediment to ending the current conflict.'