Martin van Creveld: for Israel, today is just like 1948

Summary: Martin van Creveld sketches out three futures for Israel. The best path requires more wisdom than seen in the region during the past generation. The others are ugly and violent. It is a bleak vision by one of the most perceptive and knowledgeable observers of Israel. Tomorrow’s post gives another and bleaker prediction.

Flag of Israel and Dome of the Rock - dreamstime_114703967
ID 114703967 © Eran Yardeni | Dreamstime.

Just as in 1948.

By Martin van Creveld. From his website, 14 February 2019.
Posted with his generous permission.

Some years ago I spent some days at Churchill College, Cambridge. One morning, having a few hours to spare, I went to the great man’s archive which is housed there. Among other things, I was shown a small part of a collection of letters which Churchill, as Secretary of the Colonies, received in connection of his visit to Palestine in the winter of 1921. Some of the letters were written by local Jews, others by Arabs.  One that has stuck in my memory, written in good English by an Arab resident, argued that there would never be peace in the Holy Land until and unless the Balfour Declaration – with its promise of establishing a Jewish National Home in the country – were cancelled.

A century has passed. Some of the smallest and weakest trees in the forest have been reaching for the sky, some of the largest and mightiest have been cut down or else fell of their own accord. Amidst all this turmoil, attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there have been by the hundred. Nevertheless it persists and has lost none of its underlying hatred and bitterness. Just as the letter predicted.  With President Trump promising to publish his “peace plan” in the near future, today it pleases me to reflect on some of the outcomes to which it may still lead.

Click to enlarge.

(a)  Separation.

This is the solution much of the world, as well as I personally, would prefer. The idea of solving the conflict by establishing two states, one Jewish, the other Palestinian, has been in the air at least since the British came up with it, as the map shows, back in 1920-21. {Click to enlarge it.|

In 1947 the idea of applying it to the territory west of the Jordan was adopted by the United Nations which voted in its favor, thereby enabling the State of Israel to be established. In 1994, twenty-seven years after the 1967 Six Days’ War in which Israel occupied the Palestinian-inhabited part of the country, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Agreements which seemed to represent a small step in that direction.

Since then, however, no further progress has been made. The main obstacles are, first, the fate of the Jewish settlements in West Jordan, as it is sometimes known. Second, control over East Jerusalem, which each side claims for itself. And third, the Palestinian Right of Return. It is as a Palestinian diplomat once told me to my face. We have our rights; why should we give them up?

(b) A single State with a Palestinian majority.

This is the Zionist-Israeli nightmare. The very purpose of setting up the State of Israel was to make sure that Jews would never again have to live in a country where they are a minority and, as such, exposed to discrimination and persecution of every kind. Yet already today, counting Israel’s own Arab citizens, about as many Palestinians as Jews live in the land west of the Jordan. In every way that matters, all of them come under the same government – i.e., that of Israel in Jerusalem.

Had it not been for Israel, Abu Mazen’s (aka Mahmoud Abbas) Palestinian Authority, such as it is, would have been toppled by its own people in a very short time. In this sense the single Palestinian State, reaching from the Mediterranean in the west to the Jordan River in the ease, already exists or will do so quite soon. As in the former unlamented South Africa, all that is needed is a change of government. And of the flag, of course.

Flag of Palestine

(c)  A single Jewish State.

In view of the demographics, which are working against it, clearly such a state could only come about as a result of war. And clearly the most likely cause of such a war would be a double one. A desperate Israeli attempt to avert a single Palestinian State on one hand; and an opportunity provided by the collapse of the Hashemite regime in Jordan on the other. A collapse followed by the kind of chaos that will enable organizations similar to Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS to use it as a base for terrorism against Israel, dragging the latter into an unwinnable war like the American one in Afghanistan and spreading west across the Jordan River. Here the fact that a great many – no one knows, just how many – citizens of Jordan are themselves Palestinian or of Palestinian origin could play a critical role.

Both many Israeli Arabs and many right-wing Israelis see the problem the way the French saw that of Alsace Lorraine in 1871-1914. To quote Prime Minister Léon Gambetta (1881-82): “Never speak of it, always keep it in mind.” And just as the conflict over Alsace-Lorraine played a large role in turning what started as a relatively minor conflict in the Balkans into World War I, so the collapse of the Jordanian State, the outbreak of terrorism from across the Jordan, and an Israeli attempt to throw at least a considerable number of the Palestinians currently under its rule across the river is almost certain to lead to a much larger war in the Middle East.

Just as in 1948, let me add.

Tomorrow see my follow-up to van Creveld’s post: “The Fate of Israel.”


Martin van Creveld

About the Author

Martin van Creveld is Professor Emeritus of History at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and one of the world’s most renowned experts on military history and strategy. See his Wikipedia entry.

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has written 24 books about almost every significant aspect of war. See links to his articles at The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

OF more general interest are his books about western culture: Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, The Privileged Sex, and Pussycats: Why the Rest Keeps Beating the West.

To better understand our future, see his magnum opus – the dense but mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – describes the political order unfolding before our eyes.

His latest book is Hitler in Hell, a mind-blowing memoir “by” one of the most remarkable men of 20th century.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Israel, and especially these…

  1. Israel becomes its enemy.
  2. Israel learned from its patron the art of righteous theft and killing.
  3. Martin van Creveld: A history of the turmoil in the Holy Land (you can’t understand the action without it).
  4. A senior Israeli leader discusses a final solution for Palestine.
  5. Martin van Creveld warns that “The Fourth Reich is Rising” – in Israel.
  6. Stratfor looks at the strange Saudi – Israel alliance.

Books by Martin van Creveld about Israel

The Land of Blood and Honey: The Rise of Modern Israel (2010).

The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force (1998).

Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (2005).

The Land of Blood and Honey
Available at Amazon.
The Sword And The Olive: A Critical History Of The Israeli Defense Force
Available at Amazon.


4 thoughts on “Martin van Creveld: for Israel, today is just like 1948”

  1. Hi Larry,

    The Soho Forum is hosting a debate related to this topic tomorrow. The resolution is: To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel must first achieve defeat of the Palestinian movement. Arguing for is Elan Journo with whom I am unfamiliar, but arguing against is Danny Sjursen who I’ve read with interest in places like The American Conservative and TomDispatch. I don’t recall ever reading his position on Israeli-Palestinian conflict.



    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Wow. Do they follow this with “To resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel must first achieve defeat of the Palestinian movement”?

      Perhaps the worst contribution of America to the world in the 21st century is Bush Jr. overturning the post-WWII order – built by the allies at fantastic cost in money and blood – and returning the world to “might makes right.”

      Damn them all to Hell.

      I too have read Danny Sjursen. He’s a great guy. I hope he wins.

      Thank you for flagging this!

  2. Not that long ago some saw the West Bank as a candidate for incorporation into Israel (olive branch, plebiscite and all). The standard of living there had been OK and the level of “Movements” had been manageable. (From that view Gaza would have to wait though.)
    I could imagine feasibility of several scenarios; however, lately, this seems to be more remote prospect as the ruling coalitions set several “traps” against it.

    I don’t know what could possibly sooth the generations of mutual hatred — “(a) Separation” seems only a temporary solution.

    I recall, my father worked on refurbishment of WWII weapons to be sold to Israel in 1948…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: