In order to appease the Arabs, because a Second World War seemed at the point of starting, in 1939 Britain changed its policy towards the Zionist movement and the Jewish National Home. Until 1939 British policy had essentially been a help to the Zionists, by making immigration and land settlement possible. The MacDonald White Paper, however, meant to end free immigration and land purchase. The mandate did not serve these primary goals of Zionism anymore.
Because Britain changed its policy, the Zionists did likewise. When Britain definitely rejected the idea of a Jewish majority in Palestine, the Zionists did not use the ideas of Bi-nationalism and parity anymore. They had used these ideas mainly as weapons in their negotiations with Britain, to be assured of further immigration. The White Paper meant that Britain was no longer on the Zionists’ side, but on the side of the Arabs. Because even with the help of Britain the Arabs were not prepared to give in to at least some of the Zionists’ demands, after the White Paper and with Britain on their side, the Arabs would never be prepared to accept anything less than the end of Jewish immigration into Palestine and the independence of an Arab Palestine. After 1939, therefore, the Zionists lost all hope of reconciliation with the Arabs. What they also noticed was that the Palestinian Arabs were acquiesced, not after an agreement was reached, but because of the use of military force. Because in the beginning they still hoped Britain might reverse its policy again, the Zionists kept trying to influence Whitehall. For this reason they also began to extend their influence in the United States. Maybe the United States could exert pressure on Britain to change its course. This was very essential, because a refuge was urgently needed for Central European Jewry.
The Bi-nationalists reacted differently to the White Paper. Like the Zionists, most of them did not want immigration to be halted artificially by Britain, but in fact they blamed the Zionists for it. In their opinion the Zionists had not really worked for rapprochement and cooperation between Jews and Arabs. The Arab Revolt was an immediate result of this lack of good relations between Arabs and Jews, which finally led Britain to alter its policy. Immediately after Britain changed its policy, for the first time Bi-nationalists from all parties and groups came together to publish a booklet. Shortly thereafter the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation was founded. The urgency for European Jewry to be able to immigrate into Palestine brought members from all Bi-nationalist groups and parties, beside individuals who did not belong to any (Bi-national) party at all, together. They urged the Zionist movement to work for better relations with the Arabs, as they also did themselves, and to adopt as a final aim a Bi-national state. They thought Bi-nationalism was the most righteous solution to the Arab-Jewish problem, which might be the key to opening Palestine for free Jewish immigration and land purchase.
The development that had started within the Zionist movement after the British policy change was even strengthened in between 1940 and 1942. The fate of European Jewry became even worse than could be imagined in 1939. In spite of this, Britain rigidly implemented the clauses in the White Paper about immigration and land settlement, so the number of Jews entering Palestine was very small. The fate of refugees, coming to Palestine illegally in all sorts of boats, enraged the Jewish community. In spite of all this, the Jews could not but be on the British side, especially during the period that Rommel threatened to conquer Palestine. The Arabs were easily won for Nazism by German propaganda, and especially the advance of Rommel made the Arabs have a positive attitude towards the Third Reich, as Hitler promised freedom from France, Britain, and the Jews to the Arabs in the Middle East.
These events of the first years of the war strengthened the Zionists in their change of ideas. The possibility to come to a negotiated agreement with the Arabs seemed further off than ever before, as the Arabs only waited for the moment the Germans would bring total freedom and deliverance from the Jews. Because Britain really implemented the White Paper, there seemed no other way to be certain of freedom immigration and land settlement than to be in sole control of the country. Many Zionists did not see any other possibility but to demand a Jewish state, as the Revisionists had always asked them to do. The peace that reigned in Palestine, thanks to the strong presence of the British Army, strengthened the belief that the Palestinian Arabs could finally be made to accept the Jewish National Home. They would acquiesce in it when they would be forced to do so. The Zionist also fought for Jewish units to be allowed to fight in the British Army. By serving the Allied Forces they hoped Britain would forget about the White Paper. More important, demanding Jews to be allowed to fight under a Jewish flag meant that Zionists asked for the unofficial recognition as a sovereign nation, which would have been a precedent, valuable for the negotiations at the peace conference after the war. Especially in the United States a campaign was held for a Jewish Brigade under a Jewish flag. The Extraordinary Zionist Conference in the Biltmore Hotel in May 1942 demanded this Jewish Brigade under a Jewish flag. At this Conference, instigated by the Palestine Zionist leadership, it was decided that a Jewish state should be the immediate goal of Zionism. For the first time an official Zionist body officially demanded a Jewish state.
Of course the Bi-nationalists were influenced by the same events as the Zionists. Horrified by the news from Europe and the pro-Nazi attitude of the Arabs, they only saw one way to continue the construction of the National Home, which was the equivalent of immigration and the purchase of land. This only way was to create better relations with the Arabs and to arrive at a political agreement on the Bi-national character of the future independent Palestinian state. Therefore in 1940 the League began to carry out some of its aims concerning social, economic, and cultural rapprochement. Indeed there was some sort of cooperation, but never on the political lever. The few talks for political rapprochement came to nothing, as both Jews and Arabs stuck their demands concerning Jewish immigration and settlement. Hoping to be able to influence the Zionist movement to adopt their Bi-national aims, the Bi-nationalists demanded the forming of the Jewish Agency Inquiry Commission, to search for ways out of the deadlock. The majority of the members of this Commission were famous Bi-nationalists. The League did also set up a Committee to advise the Jewish Agency’s Commission. The League’s Committee presented the first draft of its Report to the Jewish Agency Commission, and sent it to famous Jews in the United States, for receiving their comment. The Report presented an example of what the future Bi-national state that was being envisaged might look like. Ben Gurion was enraged when he found out about this Report, as he was busy at that time to convince the American Zionists that they should demand the setting up of a Jewish state. It became clear now what the future direction of the Zionist Organization was likely to do.
The definite split in the Zionist movement would take place during and after the summer of 1942. As the future Zionist policy seemed to be spelled out ever more clearly, as laid down in the Biltmore Program, the Bi-nationalists were aware of the urgent need to unite all their strength in the League. In June Hashomer Hatzair, the Socialist League, and Poale Zion Smol, three Marxist parties, became members of the League as parties, after some discussions about the changes of the Program of the League. The Bi-nationalist character was specified even more clearly. Also a strengthening of the League was the forming of Ichud, a group of Bi-nationalist, Liberal-minded intellectuals. They had been members of the League personally, but now worked together as a group, which became members of the League in October. The highest point of Bi-nationalist unity and strength had been reached. On the other hand, the relations with the Zionists had never been as bad as then. Because in June the Jewish Agency decided not to cooperate with the League at all, the League also broke off its relations with the Agency. In August the Majority Report of the Jewish Agency Commission presented its Bi-nationalism proposal. This Report,
however, was not being discussed by the Zionists.
For the Zionists Bi-nationalism was an abomination by now, now to be discussed anymore. The fact that Rommel did not succeed and that his army was crushed at al-Alamein in November meant that the Zionists had more freedom to openly take a fully anti-British stand. In the same month finally, after all the sad news that had been coming, the Jewish Agency ‘officially believed’ the stories of the Holocaust. Never in their history were the Jews more in need of a National Home. For most Zionists gradualism and waiting for the Arabs to consent were unthinkable by now. The Bi-national idea was therefore being rejected definitely, when in November the Inner General Council, representing the World Zionist Organization, adopted as its immediate and final aim the founding of a Jewish state. Especially Ichud, having many supporters in the United States, was strongly attacked, as it might distract American support and money for the Zionist Organization’s strife for this Jewish state.
Why did Bi-nationalism lose is struggle and were the ideas of Revisionism in November 1942 being adopted as the official Zionist viewpoint? Revisionism understood the irreconcilable nature of Palestinian Arab nationalism. No agreement can be found when the highest aim of two parties is the absolute rejection of the other party’s highest aim. The Palestinian Arabs wanted a Jewish immigration and land purchase to stop immediately. The Jews wanted full freedom for immigration and settlement. The Bi-nationalists were too optimistic, believing that these two ideologies might be harmonized. The Marxist Bi-nationalists underestimated the strength of nationalism in the Jewish and Arab working class. The Bi-nationalists who were connected with Ichud were hopelessly wrong in believing that Arab nationalism could be changed by the Liberal, Humanistic ideals, which flourished in Judaism.
It is too simple, however, to answer the question to the failure of Bi-nationalism by saying that the Revisionists better understood the irreconcilable nature of the two nationalisms. On a deeper level the choice was not between two opinions about Arab nationalism and Zionism. Of course the Bi-nationalists wanted such an agreement. They did not want to force the Arabs to accept the Zionist enterprise, whereas the Revisionists were prepared to do so. This does not mean Revisionism had no eye for the rights of the Arabs. Just like the Bi-nationalists, most Revisionists were of the opinion that both nations had the same rights in Palestine. For Revisionism this was the reason they did not believe in reconciliation to be possible. For Bi-nationalists this was the reason why they did not want to force the Palestinian Arabs into submission. Should it be concluded, then, that Revisionism was an immoral and Bi-nationalism a moral movement, or that the real difference between the Revisionists and Bi-nationalists was the difference between war-mongers and doves? Did the Zionists adopt Revisionist ideas and methods because they had less high ethical standards? Those who reject Zionism would like to finish with this conclusion. To understand why Zionist adopted the Revisionist and not the Bi-nationalist position, it is necessary to go once more to a deeper level of understanding.
The difference between Bi-nationalism and Revisionism was not that one of them had high moral standards and the other not, and the reason why the Zionist movement in between 1939 and 1942 came to adopt the Revisionist ideas was not because Zionism had become or had always been an immoral movement. The ultimate difference between the Revisionist and the Bi-nationalist attitude towards the Jewish-Arab problem lay in how they related this to the European Jewish problem. Bi-nationalists were horrified, as much as Revisionists, by the plight of European Jewry, and wanted Palestine to be a refuge for the homeless Jews. Unlike Revisionism, however, they did not subdue their idea of justice concerning the Jewish-Arab problem in Palestine, to the moral aim of creating a ‘home for the homeless.’ Because of the horrible situation of European Jewry, however, the majority of Palestinian Jews chose for finding a solution of the problems of European Jews as quick as possible, even at the cost of finding a just settlement of the Jewish-Arab controversy in Palestine. The factor of time made them subdue the search for a just settlement in Palestine to the salvation of European Jewry.
Bi-nationalists now had to struggle against the official policy of the Zionist Organization from the outside instead of struggling for one idea on par with the other ideas within the Zionist Organization. The split between Zionism and Bi-nationalism, which had begun in 1939, had completely ripened in November 1942, when the Zionist Organization’s Executive expressed its policy of aiming at a Jewish state.