Sol Stern is the author of “A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred,” a new book that is part of Encounter Books’ Broadside collection.
Stern is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Magazine and the New Republic.
Stern recently talked to The Daily Caller about his new book, President Obama’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
Why did you write the book?
I was amazed by the extent to which the Palestinians’ false historical narrative about their dispossession by the Zionist movement had become widely accepted by many in the media. And I wanted to give people who are instinctively pro-Israel for all the right political reasons, but not familiar with all of the historical details of the Israel-Palestine conflict, a short and easily accessible primer on the main points of contention in the controversy.
How was Jewish immigration to geographic Palestine, beginning at the end of the 19th century, beneficial to the Arabs living there?
Well, in the book I write about the enormous benefit to the local Arabs of the waves of immigration by Eastern European and German Jews in the 1920s and 1930s. The highly educated immigrants came to the country with capital, technical skills and entrepreneurship — all of which benefited the economy and both Jews and Arabs. During this period living standards, health conditions and education for the Palestinian Arabs grew rapidly. By 1937 the Palestinians were the most prosperous Arab community in the region. Unfortunately the violent Arab revolt against the British mandatory authority lasted for two years and left the Arab sector devastated.
In 1937, the Jews of Palestine accepted a British partition proposal of Palestine that would have given them just 20 percent of the land. What happened with that deal?
The Palestinian leadership rejected the Peel Commission’s partition proposal out of hand, just as it has rejected every proposal to divide the land since then.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad always likes to claim that the Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust of the Jews and therefore shouldn’t suffer because of it. Putting aside the false suggestion that Israel’s legitimacy is tied to the Holocaust, that claim isn’t exactly true, is it? Explain who Haj Amin Al-Husseini was and his involvement in Hitler’s Holocaust.
Haj Amin Al-Husseini was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1922 by Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner for the Palestine Mandate. Later Husseini became president of the Supreme Muslim Council and then in the 1930s he was elected Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee which directed the revolt against the British. When the revolt failed, Al-Husseini escaped to Iraq, where he participated in the pro-Axis revolt against the British. When that revolt was put down, he fled to Italy and then made his way to Berlin. The Nazis welcomed him as a hero and an ally in the struggle against the Jews. After the war Husseini escaped to Egypt. In 1947, in partnership with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Husseini directed the local Palestinian contingents in the war against the Yishuv, the organized Jewish community under the mandate.
What were Al-Husseini’s plans for the Middle East if the Nazis were victorious in World War II?
Al-Husseini was the first non-German to whom Hitler divulged his plans for the Final Solution. The mufti then enthusiastically recruited Bosnian Muslims for the Wehrmacht and the SS. Hitler also promised that if the Germans conquered Palestine the mufti would be sent back to his homeland to help in the extermination of the Jews of Palestine. Units of Einsatsgruppen, the mobile killing units that had murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews in the Ukraine and Russia, were attached to Rommel’s forces in Egypt. If Rommel had won at El-Alamein Husseini would no doubt have been given the honor of leading the Palestinian version of the Final Solution.
What is the Nakba myth and why it is, as you write, “a lethal political cocktail.”
Nakba is the Arabic word for a “great catastrophe.” Every year at the same time as Israelis celebrate their independence, the Palestinians now commemorate their Nakba, by which they mean their expulsion from their homeland in Palestine. It is a myth because it is based on outrageous lies about the causes and consequences of the 1948 war. As I show in my broadside, it was the Palestinian leadership that rejected the UN partition plan, while the Zionists accepted it, and it was the Palestinians under the leadership of Al-Husseini (he was re-elected as Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee in Gaza in 1948) that decided to launch a war of extermination against the Jews. The Nakba myth is destructive and lethal, because instead of negotiations with Israel over the consequences of the 1967 war (which is difficult enough), the Palestinians are looking to resolve their grievances over the outcome of the 1948 war, which can never be resolved.
Was Yasser Arafat ever interested in a peace deal?
Clearly not. In 2000 at Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak (with President Clinton’s encouragement) offered Arafat an independent state on most of the territory the Palestinians had before the 1967 war. It was more than either Jordan or Egypt ever offered the Palestinians when those two Arab countries controlled the West Bank and Gaza between 1948-1967. Arafat rejected the deal, went home and launched the Second Intifada — a three year wave of suicide bombings against Israeli schools, pizza parlors and wedding halls.
We have learned in more detail from Condoleezza Rice’s new book about the stunningly good deal Israel offered the Palestinians in 2008 that Mahmoud Abbas rejected. Explain what exactly he rejected and if that rejection suggests that he is incapable of accepting any imaginable peace deal.
On September 16, 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas an even better deal than the one that Arafat rejected at Camp David. In his residence in Jerusalem, Olmert showed Abbas a map designating all the land swaps that Israel was prepared to make so that the Palestinians could have the equivalent of almost 100 percent of the territory on the West Bank and Gaza they had before the 1967 war. In addition, Olmert offered to divide Jerusalem and allow the Palestinians to have their capital in the Eastern part of the city. Abbas said he would come back the next day to continue discussions about the map. But he never did come back. That was the last time Olmert saw Abbas. Abbas could not continue with the discussions because he now would have had to give up the Palestinian “Right of Return” (to Israel) of the refugees from the 1948 war. This he cannot do, because it would also mean conceding that the Nakba was a lie and that Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have been lying to the residents of the refugee camps for the past sixty years about their imminent “return” to their former homes in Israel.
Some have complained that Benjamin Netanyahu is the obstacle to peace negotiations. Do you agree?
Absolutely not. As my answer to your last question shows, it was Abbas who walked out on the best deal the Palestinians have ever been offered, a deal that would have brought them independence by now. The historical record shows that the Palestinians are less interested in achieving their own independence than in taking away Israel’s independence.
What do you think of President Obama’s handling of the U.S.–Israel relationship?
He has fumbled it badly, starting with his demand in 2009 that the Israeli government cease all building in the West Bank settlements for ten months — even those settlements which the Americans already agreed will remain under Israeli control under any peace deal. Still, Netanyahu complied, but the Palestinians wouldn’t negotiate. Obama’s demands on Israel would be somewhat understandable if he showed some balance by demanding the Palestinians drop the Right of Return. Until that happens there will be no progress in the negotiations. It’s the Right of Return that’s the biggest obstacle to any hope for peace, not Netanyahu who has already said he is willing to accept Palestinian independence and a two-state solution.
What is the future of the peace process in the Middle East?
Pretty grim, as long as the Palestinians prefer to talk about their Nakba and the Right of Return of the refugees from the 1948 war.