Tuesday, October 28, 2008

13. Strengthening of League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation

The Arab Department of Hashomer Hatzair, which was formed in 1940, cooperated with the League in many activities, the Bentov Committee being the most important example of their cooperation.[1] In May 1941 representatives of Hashomer Hatzair and their urban counterpart, the Socialist League, met with the League in Jerusalem for an investigation as to the possibility of them joining the League. Their condition was a revision of the League’s ideology and organization.[2]

In June 1942 both Hashomer Hatzair and the Socialist League formally joined the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation. Poale Zion Smol also decided to join the League.[3] They were willing to do so after the League adopted a new platform based on an agreement with Hashomer Hatzair and the Socialist League. On June 23, 1942, Kalvarisky, Buber, Simon, Hirsch, Senator, Thon, Rabbi Binyamin, Yaari, Khazan, Aharon Cohen, Gavriel Stern[4], Chaim Naaman of MAPAI[5], Litchtinger of the Socialist League and Peterzeil singned this new ‘creed’ of the League[6]:
(A) The League believes that the construction of Palestine as a common homeland for the Jewish people returning to it and the Arab people therein residing must be based on lasting mutual understanding and agreement between the two peoples;
(B) The principle of the return of the Jews to their historic homeland to build their independent national life in it is unequivocal, as are also the rights of the Palestine Arabs to their independent national life, and their ties with other parts of the Arab people;
(C) The League will carry on its work on the basis of its recognition of the right of the Jews to immigrate to and settle in Palestine in accordance with its maximum absorptive capacity to an extent that shall ensure the growth of the Jewish community in Palestine toward a full and independent economic, social, cultural, and political life, in cooperation with the Arab people;
(D) On the basis of the immigration principle as defined in paragraph B, agreed immigration quotas may be set for a number of years, it being understood that the League will oppose any aim to perpetuate the position of the Jewish community as a minority in Palestine;
(E) The League considers the basic principles for Arab-Jewish accord to be:
1. Acceptance of the right of the Jews to return to their historic homeland, there to build their independent national life; acceptance of the rights of Palestine Arabs to their independent national life and of their ties with other sections of the Arab people;
2. The non-denomination of one people by the other, regardless of their respective numerical strength;
3. A Bi-national regime in Palestine;
4. Positive attitude towards the participation of Palestine as an independent Bi-national unit in a federation with neighboring countries, when the necessary conditions for this will have been prepared, and the basic rights and vital interests of the Arab people living in Palestine, will have been secured;
(F) The League shall undertake the following tasks:
1. Campaign within the Jewish community and the Zionist movement for a
policy of rapprochement, cooperation, and accord between Jews and Arabs.
2. Campaign for the formation of a corresponding Ally with in the Arab community on central and local activities without, however, requiring all of them to belong personally to branches of the League.
3. Strive to improve and enhance Arab economic, social, cultural, and political standards.
4. Research.
5. Training people for public work among the Arab population.
(G) The local branches of the League will be centers of activity and influence; the parties and groups composing the League will detail some of their members to work on central and local activities without, however, requiring all of them to belong personally to branches of the League.[7]
Most important difference between this new statement of policy and both the resolution on 1939, stating the aim and activities of the League[8], and the Kalvarisky proposals which were supported by all members of the League in 1940[9] was the stress on the unequivocal right of the Jews to immigrate into Palestine up to the economic absorptive capacity of the country. This is evidently due to influence of Hashomer Hatzair, for which achieving a Jewish majority to solve the Jewish question had always played an important role.[10] Whereas in the beginning of the functioning of the League, promotion of social and cultural reconciliation between the peoples of Palestine was paramount, and Bi-nationalism, though from the beginning the political goal of the League, was not being expressed in the 1939 program, but only in the practical proposals of 1940, in 1942 the League had crystallized a political program for a Bi-national state. Therefore in June 1942, Bi-nationalism became an important element of the program of the League itself.[11]

June 1942 was an important moment for Bi-nationalism in Palestine. Whereas in 1939 for the first time members of all Bi-nationalist parties and groups worked together in the practical project of editing a book, in 1942 these parties and groups all united behind a single political program, even though they differed greatly amongst themselves concerning the details of the policy the envisaged.[12]

The reason why these groups and parties united behind a common program at this time were the same reasons why the Biltmore program was adopted in May in the United States. The British policy made immigration into Palestine very difficult, at a moment that the need for Jews to leave Europe was greater than at any time in history. The only way to make Britain change its policy was to come to an agreement with the Arabs. Whereas for the Zionists the Jewish-Arab problems were secondary to the plight of European Jewry and the aim of creating a Jewish state, for Bi-nationalists the fate of the European Jewry did not change their vision of a just settlement in Palestine in Bi-nationalist fashion. Therefore the Program of June 1942 of the League was not only a reaction to the White Paper and the fate of European Jewry, but also against the spirit of the Zionist Biltmore Program with its demand for a Jewish state.[13] The new program of the League and the unity of all Bi-nationalists groups and parties behind this program were an attempt to reverse the Zionist policy of aiming at a Jewish state, as had been developing since 1939.[14]

The new strength of the League gave their activities a certain stimulus. In September the League’s Chairman, Kalvarisky, and the new general secretary, Aharon Cohen, were sent on a trip to Syria and Lebanon.[15] They had contact with public personalities to study the possibilities of implementing the League’s program. Upon returning they reported in the League’s newsletter, the Bulleting to Members, and to the Jewish Agency that
…there is a great distrust of the higher Jewish bodies. The absence of any positive declared policy by Zionist leaders, irresponsible statements by this or that Jewish leader, the attacks in the Jewish press on any attempt to reach accord, the clamor about Jewish military strength, and the political implications of the appeals for mobilization – all these continue to increase this distrust…It is not always possible to refute the charges of these people against Jewish leadership…Deep distrust of official Jewish policy is almost general among all those with whom we spoke. It is doubtful whether efforts to mitigate the distrust and mollify them were completely successful. On the other hand, they listened with great interest to the purposes and development of the movement forming round the League…There is no willingness to discuss a plan that includes a Jewish State, but most of those with whom we spoke were prepared to discuss a solution of the Arab-Jewish problem on the basis of the League’s platform. Its principles for Jewish-Arab accord were found by a number of the most important of these leaders to be ‘a serious, fair, and honest plan, which has a chance, though much work remains to be done to prepare the conditions for its realization’…A number of their prominent leaders with whom we spoke expressed their willingness to influence the Palestinians in favor of our program when they come (as they surely will) to ask their advice.[16]
These talks strengthened the belief of the League’s leaders that struggling for their ideas was not hopeless. Cohen himself says the meetings he had with these Arab leaders were ‘encouraging and positive.’[17] Not very encouraging, however, were the relations with the Jewish Agency. On June 23, 1942, Cohen, as secretary of the League submitted the approved program of the League to Shertok. The League’s leaders hoped to find possibilities of cooperation between the League and the Jewish Agency. Cohen stressed that the League was an influential public body now, with clear objectives and a solid political foundation. This was no over-estimation, as Hashomer Hatzair and Poale Zion Smol together polled 12.4 percent of all votes at the election for the National Council in 1944.[18] A few weeks later the Agency replied that they did not want to support any of the League’s activities, in order not to give any moral encouragement to the League. The League reacted likewise, deciding neither to report to the Agency nor to consult it anymore.[19] Thus they acted against one of their own objectives, to campaign with the Jewish community and the Zionist movement for a policy of rapprochement, cooperation, and accord between Jews and Arabs.[20]

This choice of the Agency, which did support activities of the Revisionists, and the League’s reaction, were an omen of the definite split that was ripening between the official Zionists and the Bi-nationalist movement in Palestine, which would come into the open a few months later, in November 1942.

[1] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, p. 305.
[2] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 229-30.
[3] Ibid., p. 214; Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 301, 305.
[4] Gavriel Stern was in Palestine since 1936, studying at the School of Oriental Studies in the Hebrew University. He contributed articles to various magazines about Arab affairs. He was joint secretary of the League of Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation. He also worked for the monthly Be’ayot. (see below)
[5] Naaman was a lawyer from Haifa. Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 258.
[6] Peterzeil did not agree with point (D)
[7] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 305-6; Hattis, Bi-national Idea, pp. 257-8.
[8] See above.
[9] See above.
[10] Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 161.
[11] Mendes-Flohr, Land of Two Peoples, p. 148.
[12] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 256.
[13] See above, in spite of Hurewitz, Hattis and Aharon Cohen’s opposite opinion.
[14] Hattis, Bi-national Idea, p. 256; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, p. 161.
[15] Aharon Cohen, ‘Fighter for a Jewish-Arab Alliance’, in New Outlook Vol. 20 No. 2 (1977), p. 54.
[16] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 323-4.
[17] Ibid., p. 324.
[18] Udin (ed.), Palestine Year Book 1945-1946 Vol. II, p. 354.
[19] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World, pp. 321-2; Hurewitz, Struggle for Palestine, pp. 161-2.
[20] See above.

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