What Liberman’s remarks about Sykes-Picot mean

Israel’s Foreign Minister exposes Israel’s imperialist ambitions, own ignorance

Our grotesquerie of a foreign minister, Avigdor Liberman, announced during the weekend that Syria is not a partner for peace. This did not draw much attention; we have become inured to Liberman’s provocation, and following Liberman’s appearance in the UN, when he pronounced his party’s platform to be Israel’s policy without being rebuked by PM Netanyahu, he would have to work hard indeed in order to get himself a headline in this category.

But actually, Liberman did provide a headline; it’s just that the Israeli media missed it. As Didi Remez noticed – a blogger, not a certified political analyst – Liberman did not content himself with saying that there’s no point of talking to the Syrians now; he said that the very fact the Golan is a part of Syria is “an error”, derived from “an imperialist treaty between Sykes and Picot, between England and France in 1916, [under which] the Golan Heighrs was transferred [sic] to Syria. It was something arbitrary, and therefore I think the whole of the Golan Heights must stay and must be allowed in [sic] to Israel”. You can listen to a recording (in Hebrew) here; the relevant bit comes at about 1:08 minutes.

Where do we begin? Let’s start with the historical errors.

A. The Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed by three imperialist powers. The third was Czarist Russia. It was the Bolsheviks who exposed it, after taking down the Kerensky government (contrary to myth, the Russian Revolution wasn’t a revolt against the Czar, who was already deposed in February 1917, but against a semi-democratic government), thereby causing much embarrassment to Britain and France. It’s a bit strange that an outspoken supporter of Russian imperialism like Liberman did not point that out.

B. When the Agreement was signed, an agreement between the vultures busily tearing the corpse of the Ottoman Empire while it was still quivering, there was no Syria. The fact that the Agreement made no place for a Syrian state is what brought it in collusion with other British pledges – particularly, that made to Sharif Hussein and his sons – and caused a great conflict in many parts of the Middle East. It would be expected of a foreign minister, particularly one who brags he “speaks Arabic” (i.e., can terrorize Arabs – Liberman doesn’t know Arabic and even his grasp on Hebrew is shaky), to know that Syria was formally created only in 1946. On the other hand, a Homo Sovieticus could not really be blamed for not knowing the history of his neighbors; it wasn’t taught in Russia and the Moldavian emigrant never bothered to study it on his own.

Aside from the historical errors and the poor Hebrew, there are a couple of essential points which need to be made. For starters, hearing a resident of a particularly racist settlement (Hebrew) complaining about “imperialism” is beyond laughable; it’s monstrous.

Secondly, if Liberman finds the Sykes-Picot Agreement to be invalid because of its inherent imperialism, what can he possibly say about documents such as the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo decision? These are two documents which the delusional right likes to return to, in order to skip the annoying problem of the UN’s decision to create Israel – that it created two countries, Arab and Jewish. It turns out (thanks again to Didi) that the foreign ministry also quotes them with approval. Is there a more imperialistic move than granting a region, to which you have no rights, to a third group while blithely ignoring the wishes of the native residents?

Thirdly, and most important, questioning the Middle East borders, as set after the First World War – much influenced by the Sykes-Picot Agreement – means reopening all its borders. Provided that Sykes was deeply involved in setting the borders of Mandatory Palestine, it also means questioning Israel’s borders. Actually, given that the dreadful imperialist Sykes (and he was a dreadful imperialist, also an anti-Semite who supported Zionism because he bought the Zionist bluff which, never explicitly stated but always hinted, claimed to represent “world Jewry”, i.e. the Elders of Zion) was the most important British official to press for the Balfour Declaration, it is also questioning Israel’s existence in itself.

After all, if Syria has any historical meanings, it includes many bits of Mandatory Palestine, not just the Golan Heights. This, by the way, was mentioned by Arabs and Arabists over 90 years ago. A re-opening of the post-WWI borders question – which is precisely what Liberman’s move means; that Israel can consider those agreements something it can change at its will – is a recipe for opening the gates of Hell. After all, Israel, too, is the child of an imperialist conspiracy. There’s no reason it would have any benefit over its neighbors in this regard.

In a government which takes itself seriously, a foreign minister wouldn’t be uttering such nonsense about the documents which, in no small degree, are also its country’s founding documents. He certainly would not have done so without a serious debate by the government. Then again, in a government which takes itself seriously, Liberman would not be holding any office, except perhaps that of the doorman. Netanyahu heard Liberman and kept silent, as usual; once more he preferred to sacrifice Israel’s interest, the shreds of its name as not-entirely-out-of-its-mind country, on the altar of his coalition.