Tuesday, October 28, 2008

12. Writing for a bi-national state

The Jewish Agency Committee on the Arab Question, which had been promised at the Twenty-First Zionist Congress in August 1939, had its first meeting on 16 January 1940. Kaplansky, Magnes, Kalvarisky, Thon, Auster, Assaf, and Rabbi Uziel were appointed as its members. All seven were notorious critics of the way the Jewish Executive handled relations with the Arabs, while the first four were well-known Bi-nationalists.[1] Ben Gurion, in the first meeting of the Committee, made the aim of its formation very clear:
This is not a committee for action, neither is it a committee with the job of going between the Jews and Arabs and to discuss with one of the sides or to start negotiations leading to an agreement. It is also not a committee for criticizing the Executive…But the task which has been given to it is to investigate the question and make proposals…[2]
It seems the Executive was primarily interested in silencing as long as possible those who complained about the policy of the Jewish Agency towards the Arabs, and to put into one committee a good number of ‘troublemakers’. In order to be able to keep the Committee in check as much as possible, the Jewish Agency appointed a Secretary to the Committee who also worked for its Political Department.

The task of the Committee was not very promising. Their basic work was hearing evidence from members of the Jewish community in Palestine, political parties and a number of foreign Zionists. With this evidence they had to prepare a report. Of course, the expected evidence came from the expected quarters. None of the Committee members would change his mind because of new insights, so it would be hard for them to produce a common report.[3]

The Jewish Agency Committee invited the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation to appear at its session on 26 May 1940. On that same day the League, in cooperation with Hashomer Hatzair, set up three Committees, of which the one to deal with political questions under the chairmanship of Bentov would be the most important.[4] Goal of this Committee was to formulate detailed proposals concerning the political and constitutional basis for the regulation of relations between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine and submit those to the Jewish Agency Committee on the Arab Question.[5]

Point of departure for the Bentov Committee were the so-called Kalvarisky Proposals, which were adopted by the League as its political creed. When the League was founded in 1939, these proposals of Kalvarisky as to the future government of Palestine were already being discussed. These were the same proposals he had submitted to the Jewish Delegation at the London Conference, but which to his dismay were not submitted to the British Government by the Delegation.[6] In 1940 the League openly proclaimed its support for these ideas, which were an alternative to the White Paper:
1) The British Mandate will come to an end after ten years.
2) During this period Jewish immigration will be permitted up to the attainment of numerical equality of the Jews and Arabs after ten years.
3) After ten years a Bi-national independent state will be set up, on the basis of parity in government and in the legislative bodies.
4) During a transitory period the government in the country will be run under the supervision of the mandatory power by a council of ministers and by a Legislative Council, which will be set up immediately and in which Jews and Arabs will participate in equal numbers.
5) It will be agreed, that when Palestine reaches independence under these conditions, it will join an Arab confederation as an autonomous unit, when the former is set up.
6) A practical program will be worked out on means of wide economic cooperation between the Jews and the Arabs, of cooperation in the execution of development plans in Palestine, and other Arab countries, and a certain amount of Jewish settlement in the neighboring countries.[7]
The Bentov Committee produced its Report in June 1941. As could be expected, the Report criticized the Zionist leadership for not having done enough to improve Jewish-Arab relations. Also the Bi-nationalist solution was being envisaged, in which a third party beside the Jews and the Arabs, possibly the Mandatory, would arbitrate in case of deadlock. The Report categorically rejected the idea that any final settlement should cut down or restrict artificially the right of the Jews to immigrate to Palestine. The final constitution after the transitory period should guarantee the Jewish right to immigrate up to the full economic absorptive capacity of the country. However, during the transitional period a temporary agreement on immigration, not to become a majority, was to be accepted:
It may be advisable to arrive at a temporary agreement for the transition period, and to stipulate that for a certain period – let us say ten years – the number of Jewish immigrants will not exceed a certain number. This can be justified to some extent on the ground that the Arabs must be afforded the opportunity, before the danger arises that the Jewish population will outnumber them, of discovering how the agreed system of government works in practice.[8]
The Report dealt with two possibilities as to the future form of government, that of Regional Federation and Communal Federation. Above all the authors wanted to preserve the economic and political integrity of the country, and to prevent separation between Jews and Arabs. They hoped that one day relations between the two nations in Palestine would reach a stage where the national differences would have vanished. The two national blocks would then naturally dissolve into groups representing economic or social interests. This would give the government a majority without connection to the principle of parity and the restrictions involved in the proposed constitutional forms.[9]

Between Regional and Communal Federalism the Report preferred the former. Two compact Regions, one Jewish and one Arab, should be created. The capital of the Federation would be Jerusalem, lying outside the jurisdiction of either Region and under the direct control of the Federal Government, which would be founded on the basis of parity. The Negev was also to be a Federal Region, as the development of this area required means that neither of the Regions had on its own.[10]

In order to secure the cohesion of the country and to avoid sectionalist tendencies the Federal Government should be as strong as possible. The Regions would only receive constitutional powers insofar the Arab-Jewish problem needed it. The problem of immigration and land settlement clearly belonged to the Regional Administration, as did matters of education. The Federal Government would have extensive powers in foreign affairs, budget, taxation, defense, foreign trade, customs, public works etcetera, and would endeavor to equalize the income levels and economic development of the Jewish and Arab Region.[11]

In both Regions there should be a single Regional Chamber, which would be formed according to proportional representation. The Federal Parliament would be bi-cameral. The Federal House of Representatives, like the Regional Chamber, would be formed according to proportional representation. Any bill of Federal legislation of this House of Representation should have to pass the State Council, which had the final decision. The State Council would embody the parity-system, with the same number of Jewish and Arab delegates, but reflecting the political shades existing in the communities.[12]

Every four years the President and the Vice-President should be elected in popular country-wide elections. The President should be Chief of the Executive and Head of the Federal State. The vice-President would be Chairman of the State Council. The President should be alternatively Jewish or Arab, the vice-President never being of the same nationality as the President. The Prime Minister would be appointed by and be only responsible to the President. In the Cabinet the number of Jews and Arabs should be about equal.[13]

Amendments to this constitution were not to be easy. The Federal Constitution could only be amended if in each of the Regional Chambers and in the House of Representatives and in the State Council the amendment was accepted with a two-third vote.[14]

The alternative proposal of Communal Federalism did not divide the country in Regions, but in two National Communities. In such a Federal State the Central government would have more powers than in the Regional variant, as the Jewish and Arab National Councils would have no territorial jurisdiction. These National Councils would have jurisdiction over education, culture in general, social welfare and social service, including assistance to schemes for facilitating the absorption of new immigrants into the country. The National Councils would also have the right to impose certain direct taxes over and above state taxes.[15]

As in the Regional Federal proposal, the State Parliament would be bi-cameral. The most important difference would be that the Cabinet of four members, two Jews and two Arabs, would be chosen by a State Assembly, composed of the State Council and both National Councils. Each member of this Cabinet would preside over the Cabinet for a year, as President of the State.[16]

As regards immigration, a Communal Federal State would require an Immigration Board of two Jews and two Arabs. This Board would have to judge if immigration was passing the limit of the economic absorptive capacity of the country, for the absorptive capacity would be the determining factor. If the Immigration Board would internally disagree, the President of the State would be the final authority. Concerning the problems that might arise because of land transfers, an equal construction had to ascertain that a solution might be found.[17]

In its preface the Bentov Report stated that it was not a definite pronouncement of the opinions of the writers, but only a first draft, as many details would be considered again and changed, in the wake of forthcoming criticism. In order to receive comments the Report was printed in July at the office of the Jewish Agency Political Department. On 18 September 1941, the highly confidential draft was presented to the Jewish Agency Committee on the Arab Question, while it was also handed over to various central personalities in the Jewish Community in Palestine and to about 200 people in the United States, with the express intention of not having it published.[18]

Ben Gurion, being in America at that time, received a copy of the Report and was enraged by it. At that time he was working for the broad acceptance of the Biltmore Program, so he considered this Report to be a frontal attack on his maximalist Zionist position. His furious response after having returned to Palestine in the middle of October 1942, led to the suspension of the work of the League’s Committee, as the atmosphere was poisoned and the relations between the parties became very tense. The Report was never completed, nor the final draft finalized.[19]

While the Bentov Committee of the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation prepared for its Report for the Jewish Agency Committee on the Arab Question, this latter Committee proceeded with its own work. That was not easy, however, as the opinions of the members were diverse. At their very first meeting in January 1940 Magnes had predicted that
…after much work this Committee will bring before the Executive a majority opinion and a minority opinion, and the Executive will be able to say: here, even people who have the general will, they too have not found the way, and this conclusion will be a wrong conclusion – that because these people did not find a way there is now way.[20]
Kalvarisky kept believing ‘that there are intelligent Arabs who recognize the fact of the Jewish people in Palestine and recognize the great yearning of the Jewish people to Palestine, and that they recognize the fact that there is such a factor in international politics known as the Jewish question.’[21] Magnes was not an optimistic as Kalvarisky, as he did not believe the Arabs were ready to reach an agreement, but he preferred this optimism of Kalvarisky over the negative, pessimistic attitude of Assaf.[22]

Michael Assaf, one of the MAPAI experts on Arab affairs and editor of the Arabic edition of the Histadrut paper had seriously criticized the booklet At The Parting Of Our Ways, as in his opinion it was unjust to blame only the Zionist policy for the bad relations with the Arabs.[23] Although Assaf himself was very critical on the Zionist Agency’s policy, he particularly disagreed with Kalvarisky, who only blamed the Zionists, without having and eye for the developing Arab nationalism ‘in all its cruel nudity’. After a meeting in November 1941 Assaf said:
I think that the position of Kalvarisky, Kaplansky and Magnes does not suit the existing aims of the Jewish people, the Arab people nor that of the democratic world. I hope that I shall not be insulting anyone if I shall say that these ideas which are full of liberalism, socialism and morality are very general, and I consider them to be ideas the time of which is gone. These are Ideas of the last century and the beginning of the present century, but not of our own time…Dr. Magnes writes and speaks a lot about [minority position] and that gives the impression that he has no doubt or hesitation that we can remain here a minority and develop a cultural center…How can we demand of the Arabs to do better than the Poles and others with regard to minorities? …In my opinion the Arab nation is no more idealistic and moral than other nations, but is less civilized than other nations in whose midst the Jews live and are persecuted…[Thon] and other friends such as you, speak on the one hand of rapprochement with the Arabs but on the other hand there is within you a sort of contempt in the sub-conscience…I think this has been one of Kalvarisky’s mistakes all the years. Deep down in your heart you think that you can twist the Arabs…I say, that whoever thinks that on the basis of successful negotiations, even by excellent treatment, one can change the course of the Arab movement, I say, that in his sub-conscience he has contempt for its power.[24]
Finally things went as Magnes had foretold in 1940. In August 1942 the Majority Report was submitted to the Jewish Agency Executive, signed by Kaplansky, Magnes, Kalvarisky, and Thon, advocating a Bi-national Federal State. This Report was already written in December 1941 by Kaplansky, but through the opposition of the Committee members who disagreed with Bi-nationalism, the Report was held up. When the report was finally submitted in August 1942 it was pigeonholed and not presented to the Zionist Executive, which was asked to confirm the Biltmore Program instead.[25]

In its Report the Jewish Agency Committee expressed its opinion with without an agreement the Arabs the friction and restraint on the Zionist path would multiply and its speed of fulfillment would fall. But even if such an agreement could not be reached, the Zionist endeavor should continue. A Jewish-Arab agreement should be reached on an agreed stage of development in a given period, a transition period, not on the final aims of the two national movements. The positive circles among the Arabs, who are willing to seek the satisfaction of the Arab national demands in agreement with Britain and the Jews, not with the Axis, should be strengthened by preparing a plan of cooperation and agreement, such as the Committee proposed.[26]

Such a plan should aim for Bi-nationalism paritative Federalism, with a future State that is neither Jewish nor Arab. Agreement should be reached on the size of immigration for a number of years, until numerical parity is achieved, with guarantees for the continuation of immigration at the end of this period. Also on land purchases an agreement should be reached. Palestine would have to join a Middle East Federation, as an independent nation. This means the Mandatory Government should be abolished, while a treaty with Britain should guarantee the Jewish Arab agreement and the new political regime created by it.[27] Although some of the Committee members thought it too early to make a definite sketch of the future Constitutional frame of the Jewish-Arab paritative government, they considered it useful
…to show on the basis of a worked out example, how the abstract motto of paritative partnership may be turned into constitutional and administrative reality, into a system of government and legislative institutions. Therefore we are adding such a plan which was worked out by the Chairman of the Committee.[28]
These Kaplansky Proposals evidently show the influence of the Bentov Report, which was handed over to Kaplansky three months before he wrote his proposals. The final constitution should be a Bi-national paritative Federation, with a Federal Council consisting of representatives of the Arab and the Jewish Region in equal numbers. Beside that, a House of Representatives should be chosen through direct elections by all citizens of the country. Beside the Federal Authorities there should be two democratically elected National Councils, being responsible for internal national affairs as immigration and land settlement. This Federal State should become an independent member of a political and economic Union of Palestine, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon.[29]

For the transition period, Kaplansky had some other suggestions: ‘I propose that during the first ten years of the agreements, until numerical parity is achieved between the two nationalities in the country there will only be one house to the Legislative Institution, the Federal Council. The House of Representatives will be set up only after this stage of the agreement period.’[30]

During this transition period the Federation would not be on a regional basis, but on a national basis. The Regions will be formed after numerical parity has been reached, as the only way to be assured of continued Jewish immigration. During these ten years the general direction of land purchases would be such to create continuous blocs of Jewish owned land, in order to pave the way towards the administrative partition into Regions as far as possible single-national in their population composition.[31]

Besides Jerusalem also Nazareth and Bethlehem had to become Federal Cities, while the Negev became a Federal Area. A treaty should be concluded with Britain to give it the right to safeguard the Holy Places and to use the country as a military base. In return Britain should guarantee the Jewish-Arab agreement, as the Middle-East Federation should also do.[32]

Neither the Report of the League’s Committee nor the Kalvarisky Proposals were written in a political vacuum. Most ideas had been published before. During the thirties there had been some Jewish, British, and even Arab proposals as to partitioning the country in two or more Federated Regions or Cantons. Two examples will be sufficient. At the end of 1929, for instance, when Ben Gurion was very disappointed about the way Britain handled the riots of that year, and he feared that Britain might desert the Jews and their National Home, Ben Gurion wrote a proposal for a future constitution, hoping to appease all parties, as the Jewish community was too weak to fight both the Arabs and Britain.[33] Palestine had to become a Federal State, composed of Jewish and Arab Cantons with exclusive authority in matters of education, culture, religion, and language.[34] A bi-cameral Federal Council should be formed, the Chamber of Nations being based on numerical parity of the two nationalities, while in the Chamber of Citizens cantonal representatives should be elected in proportion to their population.[35]

During the early thirties Ahmed al-Khalidi, principal of the Government Arab School, proposed to set up a Jewish and an Arab Canton. Each Canton would have its autonomously governing Council, and over the two Cantons there would be a Supreme Executive. Disputes between the Cantons would be decided by the League of Nations. The British would act as the liaisons between the Cantons. Some sort of internationalization would be necessary for Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, Safed, Hebron, and Haifa. This proposal was published in the Arabic Newspaper Filastin and Magnes received a letter of Ahmed al-Khalidi in 1934 with these proposals. The fact that there were even Arabs who agreed with the idea of cantonization will have greatly encouraged both Committees to come forward with their proposals for a Jewish and an Arab Region in a Federal State.[36]

[1] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 237.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., pp. 237-8.
[4] Ibid., p. 228; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 301, 307.
[5] Elkana Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism: An Interpretation of Zionism, 1941-1947’, in Studies in Zionism 4 (Tel Aviv, 1981), p. 276.
[6] See above; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 227.
[7] Ibid., 227-8.
[8] Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, pp. 279-80.
[9] Ibid., 280.
[10] Ibid., pp. 280-1; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 232.
[11] Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 281; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 232.
[12] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 232-4.
[13] Ibid., p. 234.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid., p. 235.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid., p. 236; Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 282.
[18] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p.307; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 236-7, 255; Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 284.
[19] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p.308; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 237; Margalit, ‘Bi-nationalism’, p. 277.
[20] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 238.
[21] Ibid., p. 239.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., p.219; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 262.
[24] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 240.
[25] Ibid., p. 241; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 297.
[26] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 242.
[27] Ibid., p. 243.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid., pp. 244-6.
[30] Ibid., p. 244.
[31] Ibid., pp. 244-6.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid. pp. 94-5.
[34] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 260.
[35] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 94.
[36] Ibid., pp. 123-5.

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