The historical distortions about Zionism advanced by Karl Sabbagh in his April 10th Guardian letter aren’t at all surprising when you consider that he enthusiastically endorsed and wrote a blurb for Gilad Atzmon’s ‘The Wandering Who?’, a book characterized by the CST as “quite probably the most antisemitic book published in [the UK] in recent years”. (Among Atzmon’s observations about Jewish identity in his book is the claim that Hitler may one day be proven right about the Jews.)
Sabbagh ostensibly sets out to correct a claim about the Sykes-Picot agreement in an article by the Guardian’s Giles Fraser, but quickly pivots to ‘setting the record straight’ on the broader historical record concerning Britain’s “unjust treatment of Palestine”.
His letter begins thusly:
Giles Fraser makes one small but significant error in his piece on the Sykes-Picot agreement (Loose canon, 8 April). He says that the agreement “gave … Palestine to the British”. In fact, Britain and France each wanted Palestine and, as will be revealed in an al-Jazeera documentary on which I am a consultant, to avoid coming to blows Sykes and Picot agreed that it should be put under international administration. This avoided the intolerable situation for each country of seeing its long-term rival control Palestine. However, in 1918, at a meeting in 10 Downing Street with the French prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, Lloyd George asked for – and got – Palestine for the British. The British then, of course, set in motion a process that made the country Jewish, even though its population was 90% Arab.
First, “Palestine” prior to 1948 was not a “country”, but a large territory with a uniquely Jewish historical connection. At no time in history was there an independent Arab state of Palestine. This is why, on July 24, 1922, the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (recognizing this historic connection) laid down the Jewish legal right to “reconstitute their national home” by settling “anywhere in western Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea”.
Also, in light of the Partition Plan of 1947 (accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Arabs), it would of be more accurate if Sabbagh were to say that British control of Palestine “set in motion a process” that offered independent states to both Jews and Arabs.
(It should also be noted that by 1945 Jews represented over 30% of the population.)
It is arguable that this unjust treatment of Palestine, sacred to Muslims as well as Christians and Jews, did more to initiate 100 years of hostility by the Arabs against the west than the creation of Syria, Iraq and Jordan, which, unlike Palestine, did eventually gain their independence.
However, not only did Palestinian Arab leaders reject an independent Palestinian state in 1947, but, following the War of Independence, neither Jordan nor Egypt (which controlled the West Bank and Gaza respectively) created a Palestinian state in these territories.
Indeed, Sabbagh’s real complaint, it appears, isn’t so much that a Palestinian state was denied, but that a Jewish state was realized.
Moreover, Sabbagh’s specific distortions and omissions pale in comparison to the larger lie implicit in his letter that support for Jewish national aspirations in Palestine initiated “100 years of hostility by the Arabs against the West” – representing his attempt to put a an academic veneer on the agitprop advanced by extremists (such as Gilad Atzmon) suggesting that Zionism represents an organic obstacle to peace and progress in the world.