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Commissions and Compromises

Berel Wein

The Mitchell Commission, to whose formation Israel agreed in the Sharm e-Sheikh cease-fire agreements (remember those?), has submitted its evenhanded report, taking great care to put the blame for the Arab violence on no one, as though it just developed from thin air. Nevertheless, the Israeli government has agreed to the findings of the report and to its recommendations as being the basis of further negotiations between Israel and the Arabs.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, as is his wont, blithely ignores Israel's unilateral ceasefire, and instead flies around the world spreading his poisonous lies. Why doesn't the man ever stay home for an extended period of time? I suppose that his personal wanderlust is none of my business, so I will let that topic rest.

The history of commissions and their findings and recommendations regarding the Land of Israel is not a sanguine one. From the end of World War I until today, there have been numerous international commissions that have attempted to deal with the Land of Israel. They have all failed. The reason for this failure is that all of them have viewed the difficulties as being basically territorial in nature. The solution, therefore, is always a territorial one - partition, separation of the populations, an international presence to guard the artificially created borders, and the promise of economic aid as a bribe to the parties to accept the findings of the commission.

The Peel Commission in 1936 divided the Land of Israel into three parts. A long land corridor from the sea to the center of the country, including the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was to remain under exclusive British dominion. Seventy-five percent of the rest of the country was to comprise the Arab state and the remaining small amount - the northern part of the coast and sections of Upper and Lower Galilee and the Tiberias area - was to be the Jewish state. This proposal amounted to a complete refutation of the Balfour Declaration and the resolution of the League of Nations that granted the area west of the Jordan to the Jewish national homeland.

There was a great debate within the Jewish community as to whether this plan was to be accepted. After all, it was better than nothing, though it left the proposed Jewish state without defensible borders and with the inability to absorb any truly large immigration. There was a considerable discussion among the rabbis of the time, as well as among the then political leaders of the Yishuv, as to the acceptance of the Peel Commission's report.

The Jews, almost evenly divided on the issue, nevertheless eventually agreed to the findings, but the Arabs mounted a new series of riots and never even considered the plan seriously. Thus the Peel Commission's solution died.

The next major commission was appointed after World War II by the United Nations. It was to be the final arbiter of the Arab-Jewish struggle in the Land of Israel. Again, the plan was for territorial partition, with the Jews receiving only a small portion of the land and again having completely indefensible borders. Jerusalem was to be an international city under UN administration.

Once more the debate raged within the Jewish world.

Traumatized by the Holocaust, this time there was much stronger Jewish consensus to accept the United Nations partition plan, though many rabbis and political leaders (including David Ben-Gurion) reiterated that no Jewish leadership had the right to agree to forfeit the Jewish claim of generations past and future to any piece of the Land of Israel.

In any event, the Jews finally agreed to this partition plan and it was adopted by the United Nations. The Arabs responded with violence, terrorism and eventually outright war to destroy the Jewish community in the Land of Israel.

Unfortunately, this has been the typical Arab response to all international commissions and compromise plans proposed ever since. We naively believed that perhaps a change truly occurred with the Oslo Accords. But after almost a decade of territorial and economic concessions by Israel, the Arab response remains the same: violence, terrorism and the threat of war.

Perhaps then, all commissions and reports should be shelved until an Arab leadership arises that is willing to forgo violence and truly attempt to come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Partition, separation, compromise, economic development, foreign aid and investment, all may yet be great ideas. Too bad that they have yet to work regarding Israel.

First printed in the Jerusalem Post Online.



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