American Jews Israel Israeli occupation Palestinians

Read it and weep: The Peel Commission Report

Bitter Lemons offers the original summary of the Peel Commission Report from 1937, along with commentary from two Israelis and two Palestinians.

Everything that needs to be said about this conflict has already been said many times, during the last 100 years (including the preceding sentence, of course). Note the authors’ struggle to balance morality with the demands of maintaining a modicum of peace. At the time, the Arab Revolt has been in full swing for a few years. Some of the tactics the Brits used to suppress it were far more violent than anything the Israelis do now, but they essentially schooled Ben-Gurion and his generals on how to respond to guerilla cells. I’ll pull out a telling quote, and then it will be repeated in the full text:

“In these circumstances peace can only be maintained in Palestine under the Mandate by repression. This means the maintenance of security services at so high a cost that the services directed to “the well-being and development” of the population cannot be expanded and may even have to be curtailed. The moral objections to repression are self-evident. Nor need the undesirable reactions of it on opinion outside Palestine be emphasized. Moreover, repression will not solve the problem. It will exacerbate the quarrel. It will not help towards the establishment of a single self-governing Palestine. It is not easy to pursue the dark path of repression without seeing daylight at the end of it.”

With a few terse phrases, the Brits showed that they wanted to free themselves from moral quandaries as well as to address, somehow, the fight between two irreconcilable nationalist movements. In contrast, the mainstream American Jewish establishment ducks the M-word, morality, when discussing the conflict, as do most Israeli politicians. The two-state solution is generally justified by the center and center-left in Israel and among American Jews as a way to preserve the Zionist dream, a majority-Jewish democracy. It is justified by the “demographic” argument. “Israeli security,” of course, is invoked constantly.

But perhaps a lesson can be learned from this brief, laconic, honest British summary of the ethical price of ruling over another people. Just substitute a few words, as in:

Peace can only be maintained in an occupation by repression. This means the maintenance of security services at so high a cost that the services directed to “the well-being and development” of the population cannot be expanded and may even have to be curtailed.The moral objections to the occupation are self-evident….Moreover, repression will not solve the problem. It will exacerbate the quarrel. Nor need the undesirable reactions of it on opinion outside of Israel be emphasized. It is not easy to maintain checkpoints and a security barrier and raids into Gaza without seeing some political daylight at the end of it.

The concluding paragraph is also worth remembering:

“The idea of Partition has doubtless been thought of before as a solution of the problem, but it has probably been discarded as being impracticable. The difficulties are certainly very great, but when they are closely examined they do not seem so insuperable as the difficulties inherent in the continuance of the Mandate or in any other alternative arrangement. Partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does.”
————————————————————
Here is the excerpt:

Chapter XX. – The Force of Circumstances
[Taken from Report of the Palestine Royal Commission: Summary of Report, courtesy of United Nations Information System on the Question of Palestine]

The problem of Palestine is briefly restated.

Under the stress of the World War the British Government made promises to Arabs and Jews in order to obtain their support. On the strength of those promises both parties formed certain expectations.

The application to Palestine of the Mandate System in general and of the specific Mandate in particular implies the belief that the obligations thus undertaken towards the Arabs and the Jews respectively would prove in course of time to be mutually compatible owing to the conciliatory effect on the Palestinian Arabs of the material prosperity which Jewish immigration would bring in Palestine as a whole. That belief has not been justified, and there seems to be no hope of its being justified in the future.

But the British people cannot on that account repudiate their obligations, and, apart from obligations, the existing circumstances in Palestine would still require the most strenuous efforts on the part of the Government which is responsible for the welfare of the country. The existing circumstances are summarized as follows.

An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. There is no common ground between them. Their national aspirations are incompatible. The Arabs desire to revive the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews desire to show what they can achieve when restored to the land in which the Jewish nation was born. Neither of the two national ideals permits of combination in the service of a single State.

The conflict has grown steadily more bitter since 1920 and the process will continue. Conditions inside Palestine especially the systems of education, are strengthening the national sentiment of the two peoples. The bigger and more prosperous they grow the greater will be their political ambitions, and the conflict is aggravated by the uncertainty of the future. Who in the end will govern Palestine?” it is asked. Meanwhile, the external factors will continue to operate with increasing force. On the one hand in less than three years’ time Syria and the Lebanon will attain their national sovereignty, and the claim of the Palestinian Arabs to share in the freedom of all Asiatic Arabia will thus be fortified. On the other hand the hardships and anxieties of the Jews in Europe are not likely to grow less and the appeal to the good faith and humanity of the British people will lose none of its force.

Meanwhile, the Government of Palestine, which is at present an unsuitable form for governing educated Arabs and democratic Jews, cannot develop into a system of self-government as it has elsewhere, because there is no such system which could ensure justice both to the Arabs and to the Jews. Government therefore remains unrepresentative and unable to dispel the conflicting grievances of the two dissatisfied and irresponsible communities it governs.

In these circumstances peace can only be maintained in Palestine under the Mandate by repression. This means the maintenance of security services at so high a cost that the services directed to “the well-being and development” of the population cannot be expanded and may even have to be curtailed. The moral objections to repression are self-evident. Nor need the undesirable reactions of it on opinion outside Palestine be emphasized. Moreover, repression will not solve the problem. It will exacerbate the quarrel. It will not help towards the establishment of a single self-governing Palestine. It is not easy to pursue the dark path of repression without seeing daylight at the end of it.

The British people will not flinch from the task of continuing to govern Palestine under the Mandate if they are in honour bound to do so, but they would be justified in asking if there is no other way in which their duty can be done.

Nor would Britain wish to repudiate her obligations. The trouble is that they have proved irreconcilable, and this conflict is the more unfortunate because each of the obligations taken separately accords with British sentiment and British interest. The development of self-government in the Arab world on the one hand is in accordance with British principles, and British public opinion is wholly sympathetic with Arab aspirations towards a new age of unity and prosperity in the Arab world. British interest similarly has always been bound up with the peace of the Middle East and British statesmanship can show an almost unbroken record of friendship with the Arabs. There is a strong British tradition, on the other hand, of friendship with the Jewish people, and it is in the British interest to retain as far as may be the confidence of the Jewish people.

The continuance of the present system means the gradual alienation of two peoples who are traditionally the friends of Britain.

The problem cannot be solved by giving either the Arabs or the Jews all they want. The answer to the question which of them in the end will govern Palestine must be Neither. No fair-minded statesman can think it right either that 400,000 Jews, whose entry into Palestine has been facilitated by he British Government and approved by the League of Nations, should be handed over to Arab rule, or that, if the Jews should become a majority, a million Arabs should be handed over to their rule. But while neither race can fairly rule all Palestine, each race might justly rule part of it.

The idea of Partition has doubtless been thought of before as a solution of the problem, but it has probably been discarded as being impracticable. The difficulties are certainly very great, but when they are closely examined they do not seem so insuperable as the difficulties inherent in the continuance of the Mandate or in any other alternative arrangement. Partition offers a chance of ultimate peace. No other plan does.

24 thoughts on “Read it and weep: The Peel Commission Report

  1. Dan,
    You and Leonard Fein are like Newsweek and Time–both having the same cover in the same week. I suppose on some anniversaries it cannot be avoided.

    I appreciate being able to read this excerpt from the final report of the Peel Commission. It seems that sixty years later if one substitutes the United States for Britain, and speaks of the partition of western Palestine between Israel and the Palestinians, little has really changed. America, which has had good relations with both the Arabs and Israel, has endangered its ties with the former and risks its ties with many of the latter. The logic is still the same and still holds despite the advocates of the one staters and the hovevei Eretz Israel haShlema. The trick is to get both sides not only to accept the logic of partition but to also get them to accept the same set of borders.

  2. The path to success is in identifying needs rather than positions, and exposing those that take positions only rather than negotiating from a self-knowledge.

    I’ve recently been involved in a couple transactions in which one company purchased another.

    The companies were small, and simpler than large corporate buyouts, with the exception that the owners of the companies had the responsibility of every aspect of the transaction rather than being able to delegate (or ignore and letting the successor deal with questions).

    What of the purchased company do we need/want? What should we offer in exchange? Should we try to reduce the offer so as to end up with a “victory” in negotiations, even if that increases the risk that the negotiation will fail?

    Or, should we make the offer sweet, so that it is a no-brainer, and so we have control (rather than chaos) over the actual implementation of the transfer?

    It turned out that we didn’t need all of the company’s assets, but did know another company that was willing to buy what we didn’t need. And, by separating out what we did need explicitly, it so complemented our marketing and production strategy, that we could easily afford to make the deal sweet.

    We offered about 14% more than the deal looked like it was worth on paper, and from the seller’s candid comments after the deal, about 5% more than he was initially going to request.

    We were able to exceed his request, without real compromise to ourselves.

    And, after the transaction, the former owner was more than available to assist in the transition, in identifying key people to retain, and a gamut of real help.

    I’m certain that if we hadn’t been generous, his attitude would have been “Screw them. Thank God I’m out of this mess, those nickel and diming opportunists.”

    But, we wouldn’t have been able to be generous without thorough and candid self-inquiry into what we really needed, as distinct from arbitrary and self-ignorant positions.

    And, by candid, that included what we really needed, real concerns of security in real conditions and plausible new conditions (two market leaders – “big” fish in a really small sea), but also ignoring and candidly what we came to KNOW we didn’t really need anymore in the changed conditions.

  3. The objective conditions now are BETTER than when the Peel commission report was written.

    There are two primary Arab states that have already reconciled with Israel, with no preconditions (but definitely criticisms), and the leadership (though shaky) of Palestine has expressed willingness to.

    Only the fanatic (or those politically dependant on other fanatics), and/or those that have recently experienced Israeli strategic/moral failures (Lebanon), oppose peace with Israel.

  4. Tom,

    As I understand it, the negotiators at Taba as well as Geneva and other unofficial settings (who included, at least on the Palestinian side, some of the people who are on Abu Mazen’s current, official negotiating team), the main problem has not been to “get them to accept the same set of borders.” They were very close to agreement on those borders.

    The yawning gaps were over the status of the Temple Mount and, above all the Palestinian refugees. Some of the same, heated disagreements that played out in the previous thread on this blog between Jonathan,Bill and Richard Witty will continue to haunt negotiators who actually put themselves in a position to address those problems. Both of them involve, as much as anything else, principles and core beliefs, not practical requirements. Both of them require pragmatism, and pragmatism is in short supply.

    Again, I want to float the notion of Dan Fleshler as Secretary of State. I don’t see anyone else out there with a chance to help the parties figure it out 🙂

  5. Rich I’ve been following your interactions over at Phil Weiss’s blog. I used to post over there a lot when I had more time. But I digress. When you read the opinions of the little fuhrers over there. You know, the guys who are really sorry that they missed those good old days with einzatsgruppen Let me ask you this,. gven the history of the middle east how can you advocate Israeli concessions without truly ironclad moves from the Arabs. Compared to the happy go lucky lads at Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and all the rest the ramblings on the Weiss blog are like little pygmies. Yet, I’m really glad that A, Israel exists. And B, that we have the 2nd amendment.

  6. Also, let’s not forget that the Arabs rejected the Peel Commission’s proposed borders and the Zionists accepted them. If the former had accepted them, right now the Jews would be living on a sliver of land on the coastal plain. The revisionist historians have taught us to revise certain myths about Israel’s founding, but some old saws remain true, especially the one about certain people never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

  7. The conditions have changed.

    There is a basis to proceed consciously, cautiously.

    There is no justification for rationalizing continuing the status quo.

    It serves little.

    While, it may provide a relatively safe environment for distinctly Jewish community (thought with internal conflict over what “Jewish community” means), it allows the continued suppression of Palestinians.

    Great Britain had to leave. It could leave because it was not their home, a status which they acknowledged and sought.

    For BOTH Israelis and Palestinians, the land is now home. Neither will leave.

    It is necessary for Israel to use its imagination, intelligence, and even military to be a good neighbor rather than just exist.

    We can’t be Jewish in any real Torah or rational ethical sense if we accept OUR suppressing the Palestinians without THOROUGH exploration of options.

    It doesn’t really matter if they did or continue to do what we would describe as self-defeating actions.

    We are bound by having rational intelligence and a functioning heart to do our best.

  8. Rich, Israel kills Palestinians so has not to be killed BY Palestinians. A major distinction don’t you think. And on another note I think the residents of sderort would have major disagreements with your premise. What would you say to them?

  9. “Rich, Israel kills Palestinians so has not to be killed BY Palestinians.”

    Israel conducts defense so that its civilians are not attacked by Palestinians.

    It would be wonderful if in all cases, Israel’s actions in Gaza, or roadblocks in the West Bank, were entirely defensive in nature. It doesn’t stand the scrutiny of inquiry though.

    And, it doesn’t stand the scrutiny of objectively changed conditions, or of the conditions that Israel can influence without risk.

    Defense NEVER precludes us from the obligation to do our best to create what is possible, rather than what is just rationalizable.

    “Mirrors” exist so that we have the opportunity of self-reflection.

    Have you answered the question, “what do you think could be possible?” and then “what actions could you take to make what is possible actually occur?”

  10. The best defense is a good offense. Look, your trying to be reasonable and rational. And it just doesn’t work with the opposing side. Witness the good little nazi’s that inhabit Phil Weiss’s blog. Not to mention those happy go lucky lads from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The boys in Iran, and a lot of other places. They’ve tried everything in Jerusalem and it hasn’t worked. Concentrate on the internal problems, of which there are no shortage. Make the Arabs pay tenfold for their aggression. And build a good country, a good society. And wait for a change in psychology on their part. It’s the only way.

  11. There already is a change in psychology.

    That the PA has renounced terror and agreed to recognize Israel, IS a change.

    That the Arab League has announced that its members will establish diplomatic relations with Israel if the PA forms a mutually acceptable treaty IS a change.

    Don’t rationalize that things are static. Don’t let others convince you that things are static.

    MANY of the factors that are internal Israeli and Jewish problems result from the irrational borders, the acceptance of incremental annexation, and the resulting exagerated required non-productive defense expenditures that Israel (and the US) incur.

    Defense is necessary. A good offense is the best defense ONLY tactically, only in moments.

    Over time it is a measurable drain, a self-defeat in all respects.

    The boys (a generalization itself) at Mondoweiss are lightweights, with too common willingness to demonize, but even their perspective is an unrealistic and unkind minority one, that is rationally rejected widely.

    Bill,
    You err in not investigating further. The same critique that applies to the habitually offensive left, applies to the habitually offensive Zionist.

    Even material that contains some bias, has relevant information in it.

    If your effort is to be a good man, a mensch, then it is NECESSARY to get informed so as to make good decisions, genuinely realistic and benevolent ones.

  12. The PA renouncing terror is a hell of a statement to make. What actual evidence do you base this on. And even if it were true its Hamas that’s in charge in Gaza and would be on the west bank in the vacum that would accompany and IDF withdrawal. The PA is like Chiangs army in 1949. And the Arab league has yet to send an envoy to Jeruslem or invite an Israeli negotiating team there. Again Rich your seeing this through western eyes.

  13. Hamas is isolated in Gaza.

    In the West Bank, with earnest acknowledgement of occupation by Israel, and earnest intention to make peace practically, it is MORE LIKELY to result in a viable governing PA than the incremental annexation.

    You are asserting that things don’t change.

    Either they do or they don’t.

    You can’t judge whether things are different, whether conditions have or can be changed by ONLY measuring whether ice turns to water.

    When ice goes from -5 F to 31.5 F is real. The last step certainly is the biggest, but to presume that “nothing is different” is blind.

    That is NOT realism, that is pessimism.

  14. Please don’t say that the only way to forge a peace is by increased suppression.

    Unnecessary suppression DELAYS any peace.

    Its then up to those with some involvement and knowledge to distinguish between what is necessary and what is unnecessary.

    Ultimately all suppression is unnecessary, but to get there practically will take imaginative and courageous untangling of the Gordian knot.

    That includes unilateral efforts, bi-lateral, and multi-lateral, skillfully navigated.

  15. Bill,

    Soon after the bus bombings of 1996, for a variety of reasons –including US pressure and the pent-up demand for an end to Israeli retaliation from ordinary Palestinians–the PA finally clamped down on Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. For several years, until just before the intifadeh, there was a sharp dimunition of terrorist attacks. I don’t have time to find the stats, but during this period, very few Israelis were killed or wounded by Palestinians, fewer than at any time since 1967 (I think). One of the reasons Hamas hated Muhammed Dahlan so much was that he was in charge of the clampdown in Gaza.

    So there is a precedent here. We may never see that happen again, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that it will, if there is a political horizon for the Palestinian people and light at the end of a diplomatic tunnel.

  16. Dan,
    Do you think objective conditions are the same or different than they were 1 year ago?

    5 years ago?

    20 years ago?

    Or, are things exactly the same.

    Is the ice still -5 F or is it 28 F, or 31.9 F?

  17. Richard,

    They always change. The percentage of people on both sides who believe the other side is capable of delivering peace is about as low as it has been since the early years of the Oslo process. But we do have the Arab League initiative, and a clear and pressing American need to do something about the problem because it is in America’s interests to do so, and some Palestinian moderates Israelis want to believe in but can’t because they have no power. So I would say it is 32 F, and the question of whether it goes into a deep freeze or warms up is still open….I am off to a movie..

  18. 32 degrees. That is right on the cusp.

    Dependant on OUR actions interacting with the unpredictable in the world.

    Bold. Are you up to the responsibility?

  19. If its a real opportunity and important, then we (liberal diaspora and Israelis) would have to step up our commitment, dropping some other things, to make it happen.

  20. Bill,
    The EFFORT to make peace happen.

    We don’t have the right to neglect that, to rationalize it away.

    Opportunities come infrequently.

  21. I don’t know. I am glad I’m not the Defense Minister of Israel, as I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to do about the rockets hitting Sderot. Something, clearly, had to be done. None of the possible solutions seem very promising.

    This will be my last comment on this thread.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.