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A star won’t be born

No matter who wins the 2008 United States elections, West Asia will remain a mess, writes Ramachandra Guha. Read on...

india Updated: Aug 26, 2008 21:56 IST

I have been reading the memoirs of Walter Crocker, the Australian scholar-diplomat who wrote some very fine books, among them a study of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Searching for his views on India and Indians, I found instead some fascinating remarks on Israel and Israelis. When Israel was created, Crocker was working in the United Nations, which was then housed in the village of Lake Success, in Long Island, awaiting a permanent home in Manhattan. <b1>

In those crucial years — 1947 and 1948 — recalled Crocker, “at Lake Success itself, day after day, week after week, month after month, the buses, the public galleries, the lobbies, the eating places, were filled with Zionists, excited, persistent, and not unconfident”.

The American lobbyists for Israel were helped by the fact that the UN had to decide the issue at a time “when some sixty Afro-Asian states had not yet arrived so that their votes, which were not likely to be cast against the Arabs, did not stand in the way of the Zionists; and when the United States itself was confronted by the uncertain Presidential election of 1948 and both parties were, as usual, playing for the important, conceivably the decisive, Jewish vote”.

A key moment in the debate, remembered Crocker, was the US President Harry Truman’s “sudden announcement on 14 May 1948 of de facto recognition of Israel, thereby ignoring almost every factor in the situation except the Jewish vote in the coming Presidential elections — ignoring the Arabs, the UN, international law, and the policy of the US Department of State”.

Writing two decades after the creation of Israel, Crocker saluted the Jews for their intelligence and their aesthetic gifts. “Few achievements have been more remarkable,” he pointed out, “than that a people scattered all over the globe, as minorities, sometimes persecuted, often hated, have persisted in keeping their own religion unchanged while at the same time contributing so much brilliance of mind”. Then he continued: “People clinging for so long, and under such circumstances, to the idea of Israel deserve the Promised Land. Surely it is within the writ of man to arrange for them to have this small stretch of the globe’s surface, even if their own passionate nationalism is to blame for arousing such passionate nationalism in the Palestinian Arab”.

At the same time, said Crocker, “What is disappointing, and what is dangerous for world peace, is that in the last twenty years the Israelis have shown so little generosity as regards the Arab majority whom they drove out — the refugees now amount to about a million and a half — and so little constructiveness for coming to terms with the surrounding Arab states”.

Writing in 1971, this diplomat pointed out that “Israel has a long record of flouting UN resolutions and Security Council condemnations and of presenting the world with faits accomplis such as settling the annexed areas, and now, in the face of the facts in international law and international peace, incorporating into Israel Jerusalem, a city sacred to two other world faiths besides Judaism. Israel claims it wants peace with the Arabs. It has been continually been acting in a way incompatible with peace”.

The other side were not blameless either. Thus “the Arabs, too, have broken the peace, they tried to prevent Jewish access to Jewish holy places in Jerusalem, and they have used the Arab refugees as a political weapon. Refusing to accept the reality that Israel, however created, is here to stay the Arab leaders, few of whom compare with the Israeli leaders in ability or character,… have also been unconstructively negative”.

Apart from the main protagonists, wrote this wise Australian, for the persistence of this conflict “the American political system has most of the blame. Due to the factor of lobbies and to the existence of election-swinging minorities American governments have gone on… deferring to the Jewish vote and piling weapons as well as money on Israel… During every Presidential election, the two candidates, with their eye on the Jewish vote, promise some favour or other to Israel. In 1968 it was fifty Phantom supersonic planes”.

Crocker ended his account with two predictions. First, he wrote that “within a year or two Israel will probably have a thermo-nuclear or other mass-destruction capability and it will then be too late”. Then he pointedly asked: ‘And can Israel, with a substantial population of Arabs within her borders as second-grade citizens as well as the Arab refugees without her borders, avoid becoming another South Africa?’

It was fascinating, as well as depressing, to read Crocker’s narrative against the backdrop of the recent American Presidential campaign. For in 2008, as in 1968 (or, indeed, 1948), Israeli arrogance and Arab intransigence have been compounded by the short-sighted policies of the leaders of the us. Recall that no sooner had he got his nomination that Barack Obama went off to address — and placate — the American Jewish Council.

In the months to come we can be certain that he and his rival John McCain will outdo one another in their promises to Israel, thus strengthening the hardliners in that country, and keeping a lasting solution of the conflict in Palestine beyond reach.

(Ramachandra Guha is a historian and the author of India After Gandhi)