As a child growing up in the 1990’s one of my favorite shows was “Quantum Leap.” In this show, the intrepid scientist Sam Beckett would be transported back in time to alter the course of history. He would be put inside the body of a character and assume their personality and try to correct a perceived wrong or to help somebody change a certain chain of events. It was a very cool concept and often makes me view historical events in a different light. It provides us the opportunity to analyze other contemporaneous factors and to understand how they interacted with each other. What would Sam Beckett do if he was taken back in time and put in the persona of a famous or powerful leader? How would he change the course of history and what would the consequences of that be?
Of course, this is all pure conjecture and speculation, but in addition to allowing us to consider and analyze events through an alternative perspective, it is also entertaining to consider “sliding doors” moments and how those may have affected the course of history.
In a few weeks time, the 29th of November, it is the 70th anniversary of the historic United Nations vote on the partition plan that was designed to divide British Mandate Palestine into two states, one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Arab leadership famously rejected the plan. Following their rejection of the plan, chaos ensued and the Arabs launched a series of vicious attacks against the Jews which eventually led to a bloody and bitter civil war. In a slight twist on the Quantum Leap model, let’s consider three different possible outcomes if the Arabs had accepted the plan.
A) Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, assumes the mantle of leader of the nascent Palestinian state. Convinced by Western promises of significant financial and political support for his new state, Al-Husseini allows the doctrine of real politick to overrule his staunch ideological objection to a Jewish state within the borders of Mandate Palestine. He has overwhelming backing from the Western powers, who recognize his enormous influence and place him in power.
Al-Husseini is initially skeptical that the Zionists could be trusted to contribute significantly to the newly-formed Economic Union, and that this part of the plan would work efficiently. The Zionists have a very feeble economy and are spending huge sums of money to absorb hundreds of thousands of immigrants into the new State. Husseini worries that he will become responsible for propping up the Economic Union. Slowly, however, financial support begins to trickle in from Western powers to aid the struggling Zionist economy. Husseini Is still not convinced that the Zionists will be able to pay their way.
In the 1950’s though, reparations money from Germany flows into the economy and allows Israel to have a more stable financial situation. This enables it to contribute successfully to the Economic Union. Al- Husseini’s patience is rewarded and the Arabs begin to benefit as well from the improving Israeli economy. The standard of living for both average Palestinians and Israelis improves as their respective economies strengthen.
B) The treaties that were signed as part of the partition plan proved to be remarkably robust. The improving economic situation and increased political stability began to bear fruit. Both sides became accustomed to the reality of living side by side in an Economic Union despite having deep ideological differences and suspicions about the other side’s true intent. In 1953, David Ben Gurion moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker and began to orchestrate a movement to increase Jewish settlement in the Negev Desert. Ben Gurion’s argument was that the Israeli population was growing too fast and too large to be supported by the small land mass that the 1947 partition plan had granted to the Israelis.
Many Israeli politicians believed and were concerned by Ben Gurion’s claims and began to covet the lands granted to the Palestinians, seeing them as a solution to the problem of too-quick population growth. Ben Gurion himself was known to have seen the 1947 Partition Plan as a first step before expanding Israel’s territory.
In 1956, with the eruption of the Suez canal crisis, Ben Gurion worked with the French and British Prime Ministers Guy Mollet and Anthony Eden to solve the crisis. Ben Gurion saw the Suez crisis as a perfect diversion that would keep the Egyptian and other Arab armies occupied while the Israel Defense Forces, led by the renowned General Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan would be able to march into several parts of the Palestinian State and conquer them to become part of Israel.
C) Similar to scenario A, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, assumes the mantle of leader of the nascent Palestinian state. Convinced by Western promises of significant financial and political support for his new state, Al-Husseini allows the doctrine of real politick to overrule his staunch ideological objection to a Jewish state within the borders of Mandate Palestine. He has overwhelming backing from the Western powers who recognize his enormous influence and place him in power.
The ending of this scenario is very different however. Radical elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are desperate to derail the process of surrender of their land. They conceive a plot to assassinate Al-Husseini. While attending a special procession to mark the establishment of Jerusalem as an International City, a bomb explodes underneath the car transporting Al-Husseini, killing him instantly. The Israeli leadership were misled to believe that Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had been the actual target for the bomb and cancelled all treaties with the Arabs. The Muslim Brotherhood’s plot to remove Al-Husseini and to drag Israel into a war against the neighboring Arab nations was successful.
Conclusion: By engaging in this exercise, I tried to consider the following questions: a) what did each side stand to gain from an acceptance of the Partition Plan? and b) what did each side have to lose from an acceptance of the Partition Plan? This is at the core of the discussion.
If they had accepted the plan, the Palestinians would in effect have relinquished their claims to being the sole nation to have a state inside mandate Palestine. They would also be giving up moral and material support from much of the Arab world. However, by accepting the plan, they would have gained significant goodwill and financial support from the Western powers. The Zionists accepted the plan as they were looking to establish a foothold of a State in the region. They gave up vast swathes of land identified as the Jewish heartland but were willing to pay that steep price to have the beginning stages of a State.
Photo Source: http://zion.is/english/timeline_1947.htm