(Arab-Jewish Reconciliation) Counterfactual Counter-history (Feisel-Weizmann Agreement)

fesiel weizmann

I found these documents, which you can read here, at a rightwing website. Their appearance there reads like a sad Zionist fantasy, but there’s something to them. They are letters exchanged between Emir Feisel and Felix Frankfurter, and include the text of the agreement sketched and signed between Feisel and Chaim Weizmann around the time of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Predicated on Arab national independence, the scheme was to delineate a border and peaceful relations between “The Arab State,” presumably the area of Greater Syria, and “Palestine,” presumably a Jewish national home under British rule in Palestine, as per the Balfour Declaration. Today, they have a far-off a and dreamlike character.

The letters hinge upon Arab and Jewish nationalism, colonial politics and liberal values. They are based on the principle of mutual recognition. Feisel was no small fry. The son of Sharif Hussein, the custodian over Mecca before Hussein’s ouster by the house of Saud, Emir was a key player in the campaign by Britain against the Ottomans. As part of their immersion in colonial machinations, the accord itself is premised on fundamentally liberal values such as mutual recognition, mutual understanding, and mutual assistance. In a spirit of welcome and kindness, Fesisel writes that both he and Weizmann “feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together.

That this coincidence would not turn out to be either happy or liberal was to become perfectly clear. The whole thing fell apart when Britain reneged on its promise to Feisel, for whom Arab independence was a sine qua non for the whole deal. But even apart from the historical interest, the documents stand out and retain their value as utopian counter-factuals, while, in the meantime, Jews and Palestinians are stuck in an unsustainable status quo and the state system falls apart in Syria and Iraq. I cannot help but think that any agreement to cease hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians and to integrate Israel into the region would look something like this recognition, or rather the creation of a coincidence people. In the picture, I like the open entrance to the tent.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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