Artificially cobbled together cities and nation states usually fail to maintain historical cohesion. Forced reconciliatory attempts result in temporary, unstable arrangements which do more harm than good in the long run. Poland’s “Free City of Danzig” and Czechoslovakia’s “Sudetenland” are two examples which Obama and the United Nations would do well to remember as they draw up artificial boundaries for Jerusalem and Palestine. Hopefully they will avoid copying the League of Nations-style weaknesses which in the past so encouraged aggressors and radicalized their supporters.
One result of WWI was that in 1920, the League of Nations declared the port of Danzig to be a “Free City” – free from the control of either Germany or Poland — and placed it under the League’s protection. The Free City included roughly about two hundred smaller Polish towns and villages and guarded the mouth of the Vistula River, Poland’s only waterway access to the Baltic Sea. Danzig’s inner city population was mostly German; but the farther out from the center one traveled the more Polish the population became. This forced mixing of ethnic groups, languages and religions often caused national tensions within Danzig to escalate from time to time.
Coincident with Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1938, Danzig’s German population took advantage of the situation and declared that The Free City of Danzig had become part of Germany. In 1945, Soviet military forces overran Poland, defeated the German occupying armies and forced them to withdraw. The German name “Danzig” was then discarded and the Polish name “Gdansk” was adopted.
For several hundred years the Sudetenland, which consisted of the western crescent of Czechoslovakia, was part of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire – at least until 1866. After WWI, however, the 1918 Treaty of Versailles mandated that the Sudetenland become part of Czechoslovakia.
The Sudetenland’s German population strenuously objected. They demanded the right of self-determination, declared themselves to be German and petitioned the League of Nations to let them unite with their German brothers and sisters. The League felt it knew better, though, and so forced Sudetenland’s Germans to become part of Czechoslovakia and to speak a language they knew not. As a result, the Sudetenland was never able to form itself into a single historic region on which to build a future, independent of Czechoslovakia.
Years passed and discontent festered. Finally, in a meeting in Munich in September, 1938, Great Britain and France ceded the ten thousand square miles of western Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland, to Nazi Germany. The excuse was that this was not just another territorial power grab by Hitler, but that Hitler was only trying to protect the German population of the Sudetenland.
In return for this “favor,” Hitler promised not to make any further territorial claims on Europe. This was just about as believable as Iran’s claims that its nuclear development program is only for peaceful purposes. A month later the German Army marched in and took de facto possession of the Sudetenland. The League of Nations did nothing but talk, just as Obama and the UN are doing now.
Ignoring the benefit of hindsight, Obama and the UN are trying to come up with some seemingly great original solution for Jerusalem and Palestine. But history warns us that forcing religious and ethnic mixings never end up amicable and fair with all parties equally satisfied.
In fact, the situation that Jerusalem finds itself in today is much like the situation that Danzig faced just prior to WWII; the Palestinian situation of today eerily resembles the conditions that prevailed in pre-WWII Sudetenland. Just as the League failed to recognize that Danzig’s and Sudetenland’s situations were irreconcilable, Obama and the UN seem unable to see that the Jerusalem and Palestine situations of today may be equally irreconcilable. Instead, they are trying to blackmail Israel into giving up the West Bank and into making Jerusalem a kind of “Free City” under U.N. sponsorship and protection.
This artificially created and forcibly imposed solution did not work with Danzig and the Sudetenland prior to WWII, and it won’t work with Jerusalem and Palestine today. Synthetically created cities and nation states inevitably end up disasters. The Obama Administration needs to rethink what they are about in trying to manufacture and manipulate into existence a “Free City of Jerusalem” from Israel’s diverse populations of Arabs, Druze, Christians, Muslims and Jews. Unfortunately, it seems that Obama and the U.N. are determined to repeat histories’ past failures.
Throughout history, artificially created cities and nation states have failed to coalesce into cohesive historical entities. The Free City of Danzig and Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland are perfect examples worthy of careful consideration and conscientious study.
Unfortunately, by their inept and shortsighted handling of today’s Jerusalem and Palestinian problems, it seems that Obama and the UN are determined to repeat histories’ past failures.