Categorized | Lurie_J_Zel, Middle East

100 years after Sykes- Picot pact, Mideast still in chaos

By J. Zel Lurie

J. Zel Lurie

J. Zel Lurie

DELRAY BEACH, Florida — Israel, at the moment, is suffering a crisis, a sharp division between the people, the majority of whom are Sephardic or Oriental, and the right wing government, which is mostly Ashkenazic.

The country is in turmoil over the execution of a wounded would-be terrorist, lying helpless on the ground, who was executed by a soldier shooting him in the head.  This was photographed surreptitiously by a B’Tselem volunteer and broadcast that night.

Leading members of the government were shocked.  Ashkenazic commentators recalled the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, signed in 1948.

Moshe Ya’alon, Minister of Defense, who has been deemed a right wing spokesman in the past, was particularly vicious in his denunciation of the soldier.  The soldier was indicted for manslaughter. Is Moshe Ya’alon recommending any changes in his instructions to the IDF?

Will the army slogan, “when you are forced to shoot, shoot to kill” be modified?  Keep your eye on the daily papers for possible replies to my questions.

Meanwhile, the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement on May 16, should not be forgotten.  Here is what I wrote on March 3 before I was hospitalized with pneumonia from which I am now recuperating:

In November 1915, when British, French, and German troops were stuck in  the middle of years of trench warfare, a British diplomat named Mark  Sykes, got together with a French diplomat named Francois Picot to map  out the future of the Ottoman Empire after it was destroyed in the war.

The result of their talks was a secret document, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed on May 16, 1916.

I was reminded of this 100th anniversary by Dr. Luis Fleishman, an adjunct professor at FAU, at a recent debate on the viability of the
two-state solution of the Mideast conflict.  The debate was organized by Peter Weisz of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach.  The other participants in the debate were Alan Elsner, Special Advisor to the President of J Street in Washington, and Professor Sam Edelman, executive director of the newly created Academic Council for Israel, who participated, by phone, from Miami.

Professor Fleishman mentioned the Sykes-Picot 100th anniversary, but  left it hanging.  Basically the secret agreement divided the Ottoman Empire between the French and the British, with the British getting Palestine, Iraq, Persia (Iran), and the southern desert.  The French were satisfied with Syria and Lebanon.  The Russian Emperor was brought in as a minor partner by offering Russia Istanbul, which gave the Russian Navy in the Black Sea access to the Mediterranean.

The Russian Bolsheviks exploded this secret agreement in November, 1917, by publishing it, in full, in Izvestia, the party newspaper.

The British and French diplomats ignored a proposa; made by T E Lawrence, of “Lawrence of Arabia” fame, who drew a map that separated age old enemies Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.

The provisions of the Sykes-Picot Agreement governed the Middle East  until the tribal and deep religious differences, triggered by the
United States’ invasion of Iraq, resulted in a new entity, the brutal  caliphate of Iraq and Syria.  Russia has moved into the remnants of
Syria surrounding Damascus.  The Kurds are finally approaching  statehood.  Lebanon, which was supposed to be a Christian nation, has been taken over by Hezbollah, a Shiite majority.

What has happened to Palestine?  It has been partitioned twice.  The  first time in 1924, when the Kingdom of Jordan was lopped off; the
second time in 1947 when Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Sea, was partitioned by the United Nations to two states, one Arab and one Jewish.  The British left in May 1948, and the Jewish State was created  under fire.   The Arab State has yet to be born.

The fact is that Palestine, consisting of Jordan, Israel, the West  Bank, and Gaza, is the only part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement which can
still be identified.

The Jewish State of Israel is a thriving entity, strong and getting stronger, despite pin pricks of Arab terrorism which scare the
population.  No one has bothered to compare terrorist casualties to the number of deaths on the roads in the same period.

The Jewish State, with its massive desalination plants, is one of the few countries in the world that has overcome natural droughts.

The Jewish State will soon be independent in natural gas when the pipeline from large fields of natural gas off the coast is completed.

The Jewish State is moving from strength to strength in successful technology startups.

The Jewish State is 20% Arabs, who hold major posts in the Supreme Court and the business world.

The right wing Israel government has appropriated funds to build a modern Arab city in the Galilee.

Bilingual primary schools, with equal number of Jewish and Arab students, pioneered by the school in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which
I funded a quarter century ago, are growing fast.  There is now one in every major city.

Israel remains the only reliable ally of the United States in the Middle East.

The Israel Army, aided by substantial gifts from the Pentagon, will never be embarrassed by a threat from any of its neighbors, including
Iran, which cannot resume its path to nuclear ability for 10 or 15 years.

The settlements in the West Bank remain the biggest problem for a two- state solution.  Professor Fleishman recommended keeping the status quo, which, as President Obama said long ago, is “not sustainable.”  The international community wants to see a Palestine State alongside Israel, with full security for both sides, in place in a few years. Country after country has recognized the Palestine State in advance of its formation.

Professor Edelman brought up an old right wing sore:  “why didn’t Israel make peace with the Palestinians between 1948 and 1967 when there were no Jewish settlements?”  Jordan was in charge, and they had their problems with the insipient Palestine Nationalists who protested Jordanian rule.  I am old enough to remember the New York Times publishing an article which said, “the streets of the old City of Jerusalem ran with blood,” when a protest demonstration clashed with Jordanian soldiers.  In 1963, I crossed into Israel from Jordanian East Jerusalem, through the Mandelbaum Gate.

Professor Edelman spoke of the situation today.  He said that there are more violations of human rights in areas under Palestinian control than in Area C of the West Bank, under Israeli control.  Alan Elsner gave the J Street answer, which is that we judge ourselves by our own high standards.

In my opinion, the violations of human rights in Palestinian controlled territories are caused by Palestinian and Israeli security agents, who have been fully cooperating in recent years chasing Hamas members.

All in all, the debate on the viability of a two-state solution was a  ”wonderful afternoon”.  That is a quotation from my neighbor.
Lurie, a centenarian, is a freelance writer based in Delray Beach, Florida.  He may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

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