THE SPINE MAY 11, 2009
I actually like this Pope, not that my likes and dislikes in this matter
count very much. And, as that truly wonderful New York Times
reporter Rachel Donadio tells us from Jerusalem today, Benedict XVI
also wants a homeland for the Palestinians. Actually, the Holy
Father's views on Palestine aren't of great importance, although perhaps
a bit more than those of the Archbishop of Canterbury who has even less
divisions than the Pope (Stalin's cruel metaphor for Vatican power) and
is one of those modern clerical goofies, besides. No, the Pope did
not say a "state," as Donadio aptly points out.
But that's what everyone means, even right-wing Israelis, like Avigdor
Alas, the Vatican's historical credentials in these matters are
foul. All you have to do is read Sergio I. Minerbi,
The Vatican and Zionism, which goes up only to 1925, to
grasp the difficulties that the papacy had with the very idea of the
Jewish people. The history does not get better during or after
World War II. Of course, the foreign policy of the Vicar of Christ
was virulently opposed to the 1947 Partition Plan which would have
established two states in Palestine, a small one (Jewish) and a
large one (Arab). No one thought of the inhabitants of the second
one as Palestinians, by the way. Had the Vatican supported the
partition of Palestine, people would snicker less as the Pope supports a
Palestinian homeland 62 years later, although he has not yet recognized
Nearly sixty-two years ago the Arab states--acting for themselves but
speaking with forked tongues for the Arabs of Palestine--rejected the
Partition Plan that emerged circuitously: 1. from the 1917 Balfour
Declaration and 2. from the League of Nations mandate, intended to
establish the Jewish national home. Oh, you forgot? The Arabs
would get Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq etc; the Jews would get
Palestine. Pretty fair, it seems to me. Actually, the
Zionists were lucky to have had Transjordan cut off in 1921 from
Palestine by the great Christian Zionist Winston Churchill, about whom
Michael Makovsky has written an incandescent piece of scholarship,
Churchill's Promised Land, published as a New Republic
Book by Yale University Press.
The division of Palestine by the United Nations in 1947 emasculated the
Zionist dream cartography. Still, they accepted it. But the
war of five Arab states (the above, plus Egypt), meant utterly to squash
the newly independent State of Israel, actually enlarged its territories
so that it would no longer be discontinuous and utterly tiny. That
is, the Jewish state won land in battle; Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria
and over time allowed their populations to become citizens of the
kingdom; Egypt just appropriated Gaza and made of it a jail, no one in,
no one out.
The Partition Plan would have internationalized the whole city of
Jerusalem. The Zionists were not delighted but they accepted.
The Arabs did not. The fighting also left east Jerusalem and
the Old City in the possession of King Abdullah, the present Abdullah's
great-grandfather. The ancient Jewish Quarter was completely destroyed,
along with ancient Jewish sites, cemeteries (including the one on the
Mount of Olives) and synagogues. Israel retook this territory in
the Six Day War and put it under its sovereignty.
This is the history behind a fascinating Times story, "Parks
Fortify Israel's Claim to Jerusalem," this one by Ethan Bronner and
Isabel Kershner. The article is not only about parks.
It is about history and national destiny. Had the Arabs not
rejected the partition of Palestine and the internationalization of the
Holy City, the last six decades would have been very different: borders,
parks, people. Still, It wouldn't have been a picnic.
And thus it is written.