Israel, slightly larger than Massachusetts, lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Egypt on the west, Syria and Jordan on the east, and Lebanon on the north. Its maritime plain is extremely fertile, but only 17% of the land is arable (Figure 1). The southern Negev region, which comprises almost half the total area, is largely a desert. The Jordan River flows from the north through Lake Hule and Lake Kinneret, finally entering the Dead Sea, 1,349 ft below sea level, the world’s lowest land elevation.
In a time of war, it is far too easy to get caught up in the violence, and forget that the true goal is peace. Hate, death, and pain make it difficult for the belligerent nations to think rationally and come up with a plan to end the violence. This is why a third party is necessary. A third party sees the situation from an outsider’s viewpoint. Therefore, they are able to offer better advice and solutions. This situation is applicable to the current Middle East Crisis. Palestine and Israel cannot come to a peaceful solution without the help of the international community. In order to help the feuding parties, the United States needs to be neutral, fair, and unbiased. The current leaders need to avoid the mistakes made by the historical leaders and nations that led to the escalation of the conflict, like McMahon-Hussein Correspondence did.
The McMahon-Hussein correspondence is essentially “a series of letters exchanged, in 1915, between Feisal Hussein, who was Sherif of Mecca at the time, and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon (Khalidi 1980, 92).” The British were willing to negotiate with the Arabs because they needed military support during the First World War, and the Arabs could provide this support. In this correspondence, the British representative promised to Hussein that if the Arabs revolt against the Turks, the British government would grant them independence.
The main controversy in McMahon-Hussein correspondence and the question of Palestine at large lies in the certain areas, that McMahon claimed “cannot be said to be purely Arab” and should therefore “be excluded from the proposed limits and boundaries, of the Arab state (Khalidi 1980,117).” There is also an opinion that the correspondence at issue has no legal grounds, since it was never concluded in mutual agreement. The Arab community took the British promise seriously, and the events that took place only a couple of years after the series of letters were passed certainly infuriated the Arab population. The question of Palestine after the correspondence was the most heated debate, and largely due to British indecisiveness and inability to keep its promises.
Zionism was the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. It was a movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism.
In the struggle to establish a Zionist state, the some Palestinians were eventually forced to leave their country, beginning a cycle of conflict that characterized Palestine as a state since the beginning of the Zionist movement. The Palestinian Arabs, who felt their very existence was threatened by the Zionist movement, waged official and unofficial wars against the Zionists as a means of liberation. After fleeing Palestine in the first century, the Jewish people sought a return to the Holy Land for centuries due to the strong religious significance of the location.
“However, until the 19th century, Zionism was a small, unorganized movement lacking leadership (Laqueur 1989,50).” The Zionist movement gained more popularity when, in 1917, the British announced the Balfour Declaration, stating “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object (Khalidi 1980, 92).” After gaining control of Palestine a month later, the British decided that negotiations between Chaim Weizmann, the leading proponent of the Zionist movement, and King Faysal of Syria, the foremost Arab leader at the time, were necessary.
The two sides managed to reach an agreement in 1919, declaring that the Jews would work together with Arabs to develop Palestine economically, and, in return Syria would acknowledge the Balfour Declaration and permit Jewish immigration, assuming Palestinian Arab rights were protected and the demands for an independent Greater Syria were met. (Said 1997, 119) In 1920, at the San Remo Conference, Britain was awarded the mandate for Palestine. Throughout the period of Jewish immigration to Palestine, wealthy Zionist organizations purchased land for colonization from absentee Arab landowners.
In 1929, after a yearlong series of claims and counterclaims, violence broke out in two Jewish quarters of Jerusalem and the towns of Hebron and Safad. Eventually the British ended the fighting, but not until 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed. “The British response to the Wailing Wall incidents was glaringly pro-Zionist (Said 1997, 140).” Later that year, the British sent a commission under Sir Walter Shaw to review the incidents. The commission found that most of the problems within Palestine were related to displaced Arabs and a growing Arab fear of further Jewish immigration resulting in Jewish control of Palestine. The commission then recommended that the Britain clearly define its obligations to the Arab community, that Jewish immigration should be controlled directly by Britain, and that Arab tenants should not be evicted following land transfers.
Rather than act upon the commission’s findings, the British responded by sending another commission to Palestine to investigate the matter. The Hope-Simpson Commission investigated the matter in 1930 and made a series of recommendations that were incorporated into a document known as the Passfield White Paper (Laqueur 1989, 83). The White Paper emphasized Britain’s dual responsibilities as a mandatory power and stated Britain’s intention to delineate lands for displaced Arab peasants. The White Paper also declared that Palestine had a limited economic capacity and proposed that restrictions upon Jewish immigration be established. While the Passfield White Paper did address some Arab complaints, the proposal to limit immigration was unacceptable for the Zionists.
In 1931, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald wrote a letter to Weizmann essentially nullifying the White Paper. The Arabs deemed it the Black Letter and cited it as proof that the British were willing to kowtow to the Zionist movement due to the tremendous political clout held by the international Jewish community. The conflict between Arabs and Jews continued, with a large scale Arab strike in 1936 resulting in the death of 1,000 Arabs and 80 Jews and no progress towards a solution. Following the strike, the British sent another commission to Palestine, this time under Lord Peel in 1937.