Tuesday, October 28, 2008


From the very beginning of the Zionist movement it was being understood that Arab opposition would be the greatest single obstacle to the creation of a National Home for the Jews in Palestine. Theodor Herzl, in the nineteenth century, already envisaged the problems that would result from immigration into Palestine, and wrote in 1896 in The Jewish State that immigration would only be possible
… till the inevitable moment when the native population feels itself threatened, and forces the Government to stop a further influx of Jews. Immigration is consequently futile unless based on an assured supremacy.[1]
Even though in the nineteenth century the number of Jewish immigrants was not as high as it would be later, already in 1891 a telegram was sent by Arabs in Jerusalem to Istanbul, asking the Grand Vizier to prohibit Jews to immigrate into Palestine and to purchase land.[2] From then on the Palestinian Arabs would continue to express this demand.[3] This demand grew louder and gradually more violent after Great Britain had defeated the Ottomans and taken over the government of Palestine in 1917.

Great Britain became Mandatory of Palestine under the League of Nations, after the San Remo Conference had decided so on April 24, 1920, and after the League of Nations had approved this on July 24, 1922.[4] The native population of Palestine was not asked for its opinion. The Mandate enabled Great Britain to implement its Balfour Declaration of November 1917, in which Arthur James Balfour, the British Prime Minister, wrote to Lord Rothschild that his government had ‘sympathy with the Jewish Zionist aspirations which [had] been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.’ Balfour also wrote:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country’.[5]
Balfour requested Rothschild to let this be known be the Zionist Federation. The Zionist thus gained the ‘assured supremacy’ Herzl considered necessary. The Palestinian Arabs never accepted the British Mandate, neither the Balfour Declaration nor the Zionist idea. The Jews who entered into Palestine were seen as invaders, usurpers and tools of British imperialism. The Zionist movement, recognizing this Arab resistance against building a Jewish national home in Palestine, was divided about the question of how to overcome this obstacle. Three lines of thought dominated the Zionist movement’s discussions about Jewish-Arab relations. The adherents of these lines of thought were Revisionists, Bi-nationalists, and Zionists. This does not imply that the first two groups were not real Zionists, but for the sake of convenience, the majority group that did not adhere to the Revisionist or Bi-nationalist ideas will also be called ‘Zionists’ in this thesis. This means the word Zionist can signify either someone who favored the return of the Jews to Palestine as a National Home, irrespective of the political shape of that National Home, or in the more restricted sense, someone who held certain specific convictions regarding the desired political shape of that National Home and about the Jewish-Arab relationship.[6]

The Zionists, the word now being used in its narrow sense, based their thinking about and their policy towards the Arabs on three assumptions. First, Arab opposition to the Jewish National Home was not based on genuine nationalism, but on the fear of the feudal Arab class to lose privileges and authority over the masses, as new masters entered the country and strongly influenced its social structure. Secondly, opposition would decrease when the Arabs saw the economic and other benefits of the Zionist enterprise. Thirdly, opposition would decrease because Jewish population growth and economic power would force the Arabs to accept the Jewish reality.[7]

The Revisionists rejected the first two assumptions the Zionists adhered to. They recognized the strength of the genuine Palestinian Arab nationalism, and did not believe this could be softened by economic benefits. They did adhere wholeheartedly to the third Zionist idea, however, believing that the only way to make the Arabs accept the Jewish National Home would be by force. They therefore never stopped calling for a Jewish Army, as they believed that only strength would overcome Arab opposition.[8]

The Bi-nationalists, like the Revisionists, rejected the first two Zionist assumptions. They did not accept the Revisionist solution of taking away Arab opposition by means of force, however, and also doubted the Zionist assumption that population growth and economic development would make the Arabs more wiling to accept the Jewish National Home. Fearing that the conflict between the two nationalities would become violent, they wanted to come to an agreement about co-existence with the Arabs instead of forcing them to accept the Jewish presence in Palestine.[9]

The Revisionists were open concerning their final aim. They envisaged a Jewish state in Palestine, based on a Jewish majority attained by mass immigration. They did not hide this, like the Zionists did, because to them any talk about reaching Jewish-Arab agreement was only a waste of time, merely diverting the attention from gaining strength and building a military force. The sword would decide the fate of Palestine.[10] They demanded the Zionist Organization to officially define reaching a majority in Palestine and establishing a Jewish State as its goal. Both Bi-nationalists and Zionists rejected this demand. Therefore Ze‘ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the Revisionist leader, seceded from the Zionist Organization in 1935, organizing an alternative New Zionist Organization.[11]

Because the Zionists, unlike the Revisionists, hoped to weaken Palestinian Arab resistance, they did not publicly state their final aim, although there is no doubt that a Jewish majority in a Jewish state in Palestine was what they worked for. They were prepared to negotiate, but always on the basis of the other party accepting free immigration of Jews and full freedom for Jews to acquire land in Palestine. As these were exactly the reasons for Arab resistance, these Zionist-Arab negotiations could never achieve anything.[12]

The Bi-nationalists, unlike the Revisionists and the Zionists, worked for a democratic state of Jews and Arabs, not based on proportional representation but with constitutional organs based on parity and on the idea of mutual non-domination. Both nations would have the same influence, without regard to numerical strength. They hoped to take way Arab fear of being dominated by the Jews, but most of them also wanted immigration and land sales to be absolutely free. Therefore their negotiations with the Arabs had hardly more chance of success than those of the Zionists had.[13]

Until 1948, when the State of Israel was being established, the Revisionists and the Bi-nationalists did not change their opinions as to the desired relations with the Arabs and the final aim of the Zionist movement they were proposing. The Zionists, however, no longer adhered to the assumption that the Arabs would be placated when they saw the economic benefits of a strong Jewish presence in Palestine. They had also come to accept that Palestinian Arab nationalism was genuine.

Between 1939 and 1942 the Zionists adopted the Revisionist premises of the implacability of the two nationalisms and the need to use force to submit the Arabs to acceptance of an ever growing Jewish community in Palestine. The Zionists also openly adopted the idea of a Jewish state as their final aim.[14] As late as 1937, Ben Gurion still dissociated himself publicly from the aims of Revisionism, saying that
… if Palestine were uninhabited we might have asked for a Jewish state, for then it would not harm anyone else. But there are other residents in Palestine, and just as we do not wish to be at the mercy of others, they too have the right not to be at the mercy of the Jews.[15]
In 1942, however, Ben Gurion was instrumental in having the Zionist Organization accept the Biltmore Program, openly demanding the establishment of a Jewish state. Thus the Revisionist ideas of the alternative New Zionist Organization were accepted as the only, official policy of the Zionist Organization. Bi-nationalism was banned from the Zionist Organization’s platform.[16]

The present thesis endeavors to paint a clear picture of the aims and activities of the Bi-nationalists in Palestine between 1939 and 1942. What kind of parties, groups and people held Bi-nationalist convictions? How did they envisage the future of Palestine? What were there aims, and with what activities did they try to implement these aims? How did they try to change the trend amongst Palestinian Jewry to accept Revisionist premises? Why did they fail? These questions will be answered against the background of the situation in the world and of Jewry in particular, of British policy and of the attitude of the Arabs. Much attention will be given, of course, to the change of policies amongst the Zionists between 1939 and 1942, which meant the death blow to the chances of the Bi-nationalists having their ideas implemented in Jewish political life.

[1] Theodor Herzl, The Jewish State (London 1972), p. 29. Herzl first published his booklet in Vienna in 1896.
[2] The Jewish population of Palestine rose from about 24,000 in 1882 to approximately 85,000 in 1914, mainly as a result of immigration. This means that the net immigration was not more than 1,900 Jews annually.
[3] Neville J. Mandel, The Arabs and Zionism before World War I (London 1976), pp. 39-40.
[4] Relevant decisions of the League of Nations (24 July 1922): ‘The British Mandate’, in Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin (eds.), The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict (Harmondsworth 1984), pp. 34-42.
[5] The Balfour Declaration (1917), in Laqueur, Reader, pp. 17-18.
[6] Yehoyada Haim, in his book Abandonment of Illusions: Zionist Political Attitudes Toward Palestinian Arab Nationalism, 1936-1939 (Boulder 1983), speaks about Revisionists, Bi-nationalists and Official Zionists. For reasons of readability, this prefix Official will not be used.
[7] Haim, Abandonment, pp. 3,5.
[8] Ibid., p. 6.
[9] Ibid., pp. 7.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Esco Foundation for Palestine, Palestine, A Study of Jewish, Arab and British Policies, Vol. II (New Haven 1947), p. 802 footnote.
[12] Haim, Abandonment, pp. 7-8.
[13] Ibid., p. 7.
[14] Aharon Cohen, Israel and the Arab World (London 1970) p. 219.
[15] Ibid., p. 291.
[16] This Biltmore Program is published in Laqueur, Reader, pp. 77-9; Sophie A. Udin (ed.), The Palestine Year Book: Review of Events July 1945 to September 25, 1946 Vol. II (New York 1946) pp. 424-5.

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