The Palestine Problem

10 February 1972

in Articles, Israel in a Historical Perspective, The Other Israel

This chapter is a shortened and edited version of a document submitted for discussion among the the Israeli Socialist Organization membership  in August 1966, and later translated to English as a Matzpen pamphlet, London, July 1968.

*  *  *

Of all the problems bequeathed to the world by European imperialism, Palestine is one of the most intractable. It is a peculiarly emotional issue, not only for those immediately involved, but for the whole world. In the West the burden of guilt left by Hitler’s crimes against the Jews has created a psychological barrier which the injustices suffered by the Palestinian Arabs cannot penetrate. In many Arab countries hatred of the Jews is whipped up to divert the internal struggle against reactionary regimes. Western economic interests in the Middle East and the tendency of both East and West to exploit the situation for ideological or strategic advantage further complicate the problem.

At the center of the emotional miasma surrounding Palestine lie two hard facts – the displaced Arab population which still lives in refugee camps around Israel’s borders, and a new nation of Israel, with a complete class structure of its own.

A realistic solution can be based only on a thorough historical, economic, political and social analysis. This has, however, yet to be made. Here, a brief outline of such an analysis will be drawn. It will necessarily be sketchy and will omit detailed argumentation and much factual evidence, since the substantiating evidence by itself could easily fill several volumes.

The initial success of Zionism can be traced directly to the economic, political and ideological conditions existing in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.

Economic: In the less industrialized countries, like Poland and Russia, new social stresses arising from the rapid development of capitalism and the decay of the Austrian and Russian empires led to the uprooting of the Jews from their traditional occupations. The Jews became the scapegoat in the declining feudal systems to divert the peasants’ hostilities into channels of racial persecution. These processes resulted in a huge wave of Jewish emigration from eastern and central Europe – some five million emigrated to America and other “new countries”; a few thousand went to Palestine. At the same time, in western Europe, where the Jews were mostly merchants and members of the middle classes, the pressures of economic competition made it increasingly difficult for them to integrate into local bourgeois society and forced them to create their own social institutions.

Political: The capitalist development of nineteenth-century Europe brought to the fore two political phenomena: nationalism and colonization of the underdeveloped continents. Zionism arose and took shape under the influence of these two phenomena. It was the nationalist response to the problem created by persecution of the Jews. It proposed to create a national Jewish state by colonizing underdeveloped territory. In both these ways it was a product of its time and should be viewed in that context.

Ideological: These two objective trends were reflected in the consciousness of many East European Jews in a distinctive nationalist ideology. This new ideology was able to incorporate and secularize an element of the traditional religious belief of the Jews – the messianic expectation of the in-gathering of the exiles in Palestine.

The first step in the modern Jewish colonization of Palestine was taken in 1870 when Baron Edmund de Rothschild of France acquired some land near Jaffa and established an agricultural school, Mikveh Israel (Gatherer of Israel). This was followed by the building of some twenty villages, inhabited by about five thousand Jews, mostly from Russia. Up to 1900, the Baron invested about two million pounds in Palestine. The Rothschilds were (and still are) among the world’s leading financiers, with the French and British branches of the family holding influential positions in the economics of these two countries. Baron Edmund combined his sympathies for the East European Jews with his support for the colonial interests of French imperialism. He did not entertain the idea of an independent Jewish state in Palestine (he was no Zionist), but used his financial power in the Ottoman treasury to prepare a new sphere of influence for the French. His Palestine activities had been under way for thirty years when Zionism was born.

Political Zionism was founded in 1897 at a congress held in Basel, Switzerland. It differed significantly from the Rothschild colonization in that it declared its intention of solving the Jewish problem by creating a national Jewish state. However, the Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl, founder and first leader of the Zionist movement, did not consider Palestine the only possible location for such a state. On the contrary, he originally advocated that the Jews colonize Uganda, but the majority rejected his proposal and insisted on following the traditional religious Jewish sentiment toward Palestine.

From the very beginning, the guiding principle of Zionist diplomacy was to affiliate itself with that world power within whose sphere of influence Palestine happened to be. Herzl courted mainly the Turkish Sultan and the German Kaiser. After World War I Zionism was oriented toward British imperialism. After World War II the orientation was switched to the United States, with occasional flirtations with France.

The fact that Palestine was already populated by Arabs hardly figured in the early discussions of political Zionism. The philosopher Martin Buber relates in his memoirs:

“When Max Nordau, Herzl’s second in command, first received details on the existence of an Arab population in Palestine, he came shocked to Herzl, exclaiming: ‘I never realized this – we are committing an injustice.’”

These moral shocks (which continuously troubled the humanistic elements among the Zionists) proved to have little effect against nationalism.

When at the beginning of this century Zionist immigrants began to pour into Palestine, the fact that the country was already populated could no longer be ignored. Like every colonizing society, the Zionist settlers had to shape a definite policy toward the indigenous population. Here we come to the specific feature of Zionism which distinguishes it from all other modem colonization movements. The European settlers in other colonies sought to exploit the riches of the country (including the labor potential of the “natives”) and invariably turned the former population into an exploited class in the new colonial society. But Zionism wanted not simply the resources of Palestine (which were not very great in any case) but the country itself for the creation of a new national state which, through immigration, would provide its own classes – including a working class. The Arabs were, therefore, not to be exploited, but totally replaced.

The Rothschild colonization clashed with the Palestine Arabs over one fundamental issue – land ownership. The Baron bought land from the feudal Effendis, sometimes by bribing the Ottoman administration, and drove the fellahin off the land. The expropriated fellahin were men employed as laborers in the Baron’s settlements, following the usual colonial pattern. With Zionist colonization, however, the slogan “Jewish labor” was raised. Aspiring to create a Jewish working class as part of the new nation, it advocated a transition of people from middle-class occupations to manual labor, and it insisted that Jewish employers use Jewish labor only. The Zionists came into conflict not only with the expropriated Arab peasants, but also with the interests of the Baron’s settlers who preferred to use the cheaper Arab labor. This issue was the major source of conflict within the settlers’ community during the first three decades of the century. The primary advocates of the Jewish labor policy were the left-wing elements within Zionism. The bourgeois elements were always tempted to employ the cheaper Arab labor. Had the bourgeois attitude prevailed, Palestine might have developed along much the same lines as Algeria, South Africa or Rhodesia. It was, however, the left wing that prevailed. The funds of the Zionist movement were often used to cover the differences between the cost of Arab labor and the more expensive Jewish labor.

The nascent Zionist society clashed with all the various classes of feudal Arab society. It brought from Europe capital, modern technological know-how and skills. Jewish capital (often backed by Zionist funds) gradually displaced the feudal elements simply by buying up their lands, and Zionist regulations forbade resale of land to Arabs. 1 Possessing such financial and technological advantages, the Zionist capitalist economy blocked the emergence of an Arab capitalist class. Having driven the Arabs off their land, Zionism also prevented them from becoming a proletariat in the Jewish sector of the economy. Their own capitalist development hindered, the Arab peasants (as well as the intelligentsia) found it hard to find any employment at all – except in the British Mandate administration and public services.

The entire economic and social structure of Arab Palestine (which had begun in conditions roughly similar to those in Syria) became totally deformed by Zionist colonization. This socioeconomic deformation was reflected in the political sphere. Since the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the peasantry were denied a normal path of development, they did not produce political parties or highly qualified leaders. Political leadership of the Palestine Arabs inevitably remained in the hands of the landowning class who, although they liquidated themselves as a class by selling their land to the Zionists, nevertheless became enormously wealthy by these transactions. They retained political leadership of the Arabs by covert co-operation with the Zionists and the British. Lest they be branded traitors, however, they assumed in public the most extreme anti-Zionist stands, even declaring the sale of land to Zionists to be treason.

Typical of this class were the El-Husseinis, one of the richest landowning families. Secretly they sold land to the Zionists; Amin el-Husseini was the religious leader of the Palestine Muslims and chairman of the Arab Higher Committee (the official political representatives of the Arabs in Palestine). His cousin, Jasmal el-Husseini, was deputy chairman of that committee and leader of one of the major Arab political parties. Similarly, the leader of another party (Al Istiklal) was Auni Abdul Hadi, another large landowner. In 1928, Abdul Hadi made a secret agreement with the Zionists and saw to it that the customary denunciation of the Balfour Declaration would not be raised in the seventh Arab conference.

Similarly, and with more far-reaching effects, understanding existed between Zionists and the Hashemite kings, who were the main allies of British imperialism in the Middle East. In 1922, in London, King Faisal (the son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca) signed a joint political agreement with Chaim Weizmann, chairman of the Zionist movement. Article 3 of this agreement endorsed the Balfour Declaration. Article 4 states: “All necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration into Palestine on a large scale.” This agreement was the ancestor of the secret agreement between Ben-Gurion and Abdullah (King of Jordan) in 1948, when they divided Palestine between them and virtually arranged the outcome of the war.

Typical of the British Foreign Office attitude was the nomination of Amin el-Husseini as Mufti of Jerusalem (April 1921), and later as President of the Supreme Muslim Council (1922) by Sir Herbert Samuel, the first British High Commissioner in Palestine, a pro-Zionist Jew. The Mufti was to be chosen by a small number of electors who were themselves elected by the small minority of people who had had the right to vote for the Ottoman Parliament. Three other candidates got eighteen, seventeen and twelve votes respectively; Haj Amin received only nine votes. The High Commissioner had the “right” to nominate one of the first three. One of these three candidates was made to resign, putting Haj Amin in third place. He was then chosen. The new Mufti combined religious fanaticism and right-wing nationalism. The majority of Palestine Arabs never took part in this or any other election and never exercised any democratic rights.

The decisive period in the development of the Palestine problem started with the rise of fascism in Europe. This brought into play three significant factors:

(1) Jewish immigration from Europe rose sharply, as can be seen from the following table showing Jewish population in Palestine 2:

Year No. of Jews in Palestine
1922 83,790
1931 174,606
1944 553,600
1945 579,227
1946 608,225

 

The jump between 1922 and 1931 followed the rise of fascism in Poland. The still more significant jump between 1931 and 1944 followed the rise of Hitler.

(2) This new wave of Jewish immigration differed qualitatively from previous and subsequent waves in its class structure. Whereas other waves consisted mainly of petit bourgeois without much capital, this wave brought many small capitalists. The following table gives the numbers of Jewish immigrants officially described as capitalists (i.e., those who proved to possess one thousand pounds or more, in current values)3:

Year No. of capitalist Jewish immigrants
1932 727
1933 3,250
1934 5,124
1935 6,309
1936 2,970
1937 1,275
1938 1,753
1939 2,606
1940 802
1941 314

 

The peak of the capitalist immigration occurred in 1934-35 (after Hitler rose to power), just before the great Arab general strike in Palestine. This proved an important coincidence.

(3) The religious and nationalist leaders of the Palestine Arabs, following The time-honoured maxim “My enemy’s enemies are my allies,” saw in fascist Germany a potentially powerful ally against British imperialism.

Meanwhile, the anti-imperialist struggle throughout the Arab countries reached unprecedented scale. In Syria, a general strike was declared in 1936 against the French and it proved to be on the whole quite effective in bringing Syria nearer political independence. This made a great impression in Palestine and there, too, a long general strike was declared. Conditions in Palestine, however, were very different because of the presence of the Zionist economic infrastructure (which, of course, did not take part in the strike). Moreover, the Zionists exploited the fact that Arab workers in government administration and services (railroads, ports, etc.) were on strike, and that Arab commerce was paralyzed, to secure a grip on these large and important sectors of the economy. As mentioned above, the strike coincided with a great influx of Jewish capital from Europe. Thus, while the Arab sector suffered a blow from which it never recovered, the Zionists secured a new and decisive hold on the whole economy.

British imperialism, which ruled Palestine from 1918 to 1948, employed nationalist and religious provocation, which proved to be effective. It employed Jewish policemen against the Arab population, and vice versa. For the leaders it employed “diplomacy,” including white papers, round-table conferences, and making contradictory promises to both sides while acting as “mediators.”

The first important statement of British policy on Palestine was set out in a private letter from Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Minister in Lloyd George’s Cabinet, to Lord Rothschild. This became known as the Balfour Declaration.

Foreign Office 2nd November, 1917
Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you on behalf of His Majesty’s Government the following declaration of our sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet “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 the Jews in any other country.” I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour

We will not analyze here in detail the wording of this document (which, with extraordinary impudence refers to the Palestine Arabs, who outnumbered the Palestine Jews by about eight to one 4, as “existing non-Jewish communities”). We are more concerned with the motives behind it.

The British Government was engaged at that time in the war against Germany, whose ally in the Middle East was Turkey. The Balfour Declaration was meant to rally Jews all over the world (including those in Germany, America, Austria and Palestine) to Britain’s side in the conflict Moreover, the British were well aware of the aspirations of Arab nationalism, so the Declaration was also intended to supply Zionist hopes with a political foundation to use as a counterweight Similar promises of national independence were given to the Arabs through T.E. Lawrence and Ronald Stores.5  The chief architect of the British policy was Herbert Samuel, who later became High Commissioner for Palestine in the early years of the British Mandate. Himself a Zionist, he cogently argued the case for establishing a Jewish homeland as a bastion of British policy in the Middle East in a memorandum to the Cabinet in March 1915.

Even before these promises were handed out, however, the whole area was divided between British and French imperialism in the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916), which dissected the Ottoman Empire two years before its downfall In 1922, the British Government implemented the Balfour letter by an official white paper, and in order to pacify the Arabs, who were justifiably enraged over the Sykes-Picot and Balfour betrayal, granted “independence” to Trans-Jordan in 1923 and appointed Abdullah as ruler.

In the late 1930s, with the sharpening conflict between England and Germany, contacts between Arab nationalists and the European fascists worried the British. The oil fields, pipelines and the Suez Canal appeared to be in danger. Zionist demands for more independence and increased immigration quotas for European Jews fleeing from persecution were other issues that had to be dealt with. But the Foreign Office, confident that the Nazis would never consider the Zionists political allies, produced another white paper in 1939 aimed at currying favor with the Arabs. It stated:

”His Majesty’s Government now declare unequivocally that it is not part of their policy that Palestine should become a Jewish state … It should be a state in which the two peoples in Palestine, Arabs and Jews, share authority in government in such a way that the essential interests of each are secured …”

This, briefly, was the situation on the eve of World War II.

From World War II to the Present

During the Second World War, new economic and political factors revolutionized the Palestine situation. Before the war, Palestine’s economy (especially the industrial and manufacturing sector) was dominated by the British metropolitan economy. The development of local light industry particularly was hampered by imports of consumer goods from Britain. Partly as a result of this, even in the Jewish community (numbering on the eve of the war about 500,000 out of a total of 1,750,000), noticeable anti-British sentiments were beginning to form.

The war brought about an unprecedented boom in the economy. Palestine became a major base for the British garrison in the Middle East, which had to be housed, clothed, equipped and fed. Supply lines from Britain were disrupted so the British had to rely to a large extent on the local economy, and they encouraged its rapid development In the Arab sector unemployment disappeared as thousands of workers were needed to build camps, roads and airfields. But whereas Arab industry was not ready to benefit fully from the enormous increase in demand, the Jewish sector was already organized along modern lines and had considerable reserves of manpower.

It therefore drew the maximum benefits and entered into a period of great expansion known as “The Prosperity.” Whole industries grew from modest beginnings to formidable size within a period of four to five years. By 1942, there were six thousand Jewish industrial enterprises, employing some fifty-six thousand workers and producing at the rate of twenty million pounds per year. The level of production in 1942 was more than double that of 1939 in the food, textile, metal, machinery and chemical industries – treble in the electrical appliances industry. The Palestine diamond industry (exclusively in Jewish hands) grew at an even more spectacular rate as the European centers were cut off from their raw materials in South Africa: from 1,000 carats (valued at twenty-five thousand pounds) in 1940 to 58,000 carats (valued at two million, six hundred thousand pounds) in 1943 and to 138,000 carats (six million pounds) in 1945.

When the war ended, industrial growth slowed abruptly and imports from Britain again menaced local industry – but the wartime growth had made the Jewish sector of the economy a force to be reckoned with. It did not want to return to the prewar dominance by Britain and by now a much larger section of the Jewish population had a stake in maintaining industrial expansion. This new situation provided the economic impetus for the postwar demands for political independence. Unlike the Arabs, the Jewish community had made no such demands before World War II because it was clear that an independent Palestine would be a state with an Arab majority. The new Jewish dominance of the economy was one of the main factors that brought about a change of policy.

The Nazi crimes against the Jews also gave Zionists an entirely new international status. After the extermination of six million European Jews, what had been a minority trend among the world’s eighteen million Jews – with the majority either indifferent or hostile – became a major political force even among Jews who had no intention personally of emigrating to Palestine.

The war left large numbers of Jewish refugees in Europe, many of whom, encouraged by the Zionists and denied refuge in the United States, Britain and other capitalist democracies, saw no choice but to emigrate to Palestine. The Palestine Arabs, having no wish to become a minority in their own country, pressed the British Government to stop Jewish emigration. The Zionists thereupon began to organize clandestine emigration on a large scale. The British tried to prevent this not only because of Arab pressure, but also because they were worried by the increasing desire for independence among the Palestine Jews. World opinion, especially in Europe and the United States, was still reeling with the shock of discovering the enormity of the Nazi war crimes and sympathized with the refugees. The resulting political atmosphere was hostile both to the British Government and to Arab nationalism. Today the persistence of this atmosphere is one of Zionism’s major assets.

After the war, with the decline of British influence, a strong Zionist lobby was set up in Washington, and pro-American elements in world Zionism began to gain supremacy over the pro-British faction. The combined effect of these economic and political factors precipitated the clash between the Zionists and the British Government. The war had transformed the Jewish community in Palestine into a nation with its own economy, army, political organizations, language and ideology. Its economic interests had become incompatible with colonial rule. And Zionist reorientation toward the United States, combined with growing American interests in the Middle East, hastened the inevitable collision with Britain.

In this new situation, the Zionists demanded political independence. The right wing demanded immediate independence for the whole of Palestine under Jewish minority rule; the centrists favored partition between Arabs and Jews; the left-wing Zionists (among them parts of the present-day Mapam Party) wanted to postpone independence until, through increased emigration, the Jews became a majority.

In essence there were three parties directly involved in the Palestine problem: the British imperialists, the Jewish minority (about six hundred thousand) and the Arab majority (about one million). Each of these had its own demands which conflicted with the other two. But – owing mainly to the deformation of Arab society by the process of Jewish colonization – the Palestine Arabs did not in fact constitute a major political force during 1945-47. The struggle was waged mainly between the  Zionists and the British.

During these years a series of conflicts, accompanied by armed violence, occurred between the Jewish community and the British administration. The Palestine Arabs, although they still outnumbered the Jews by about two to one, remained relatively passive – a complete reversal of the situation during the twenties and thirties when the Arab struggle for independence had a mass base.

In 1947, Britain, facing the disintegration of the empire, referred the Palestine problem to the United Nations, expecting disagreement in the UN to lead to a renewal of the mandate, which would give a new lease on life to the precarious British authority in the area. On November 27, 1947, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recommending the partition of Palestine into two independent but economically linked states. This solution, a victory for Zionism, was strongly opposed by the Arabs (who, of course, demanded an undivided, independent Arab Palestine) and by British imperialist interests which struggled to retain their influence.

Both the United States and the USSR supported the resolution for partition; the United States because it considered it a convenient way of gaining a foothold in the Middle East; the USSR because it considered it the most practical way to gain a foothold in the Middle East. The Russians probably underestimated the strength of the links between Zionism and American imperialism. As for the Foreign Office, it was worried not only because the creation of a Zionist state meant losing Britain’s influence to the United States, but also because establishing an independent Arab state in Palestine could have repercussions throughout the Arab world.

After the UN partition resolution, the British decided to employ the regular armies of Trans-Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Iraq in open warfare against the Zionist state, which (according to the UN resolution) was to come into existence on May 15, 1948. The political and military plans for this invasion were drawn up by General I.C. Clayton (one of the major British colonial agents in the Middle East) in a meeting of the Arab chiefs of staff held at Bludan, Syria, early that year.

The 1948 war became a military conflict between the Zionists and the Arab armies. These armies were not, however, playing an independent role, but serving British interests through the puppet regimes of Farouk, Abdullah and Nuri Sa’id. The conduct of the war exposed the utter corruption of these regimes and hastened their downfall.

The fate of Palestine was decided not only on the battlefield, but also in secret talks between Zionist leaders and Abdullah which started immediately after the adoption of the partition resolution and went on until 1950. In these talks the two “friendly enemies,” although ostensibly at war with each other, agreed to divide between themselves the territory which the UN resolution had allotted to the Palestine Arabs, as well as Jerusalem which, according to the resolution, was to become a separate unit under United Nations administration. The armistice agreement coincided, more or less, with the results of the political negotiations between the Zionist leaders and Abdullah.

A new division of Palestine was thus set up: 20,000 square kilometers were allotted to Israel, instead of the 14,000 square kilometers allotted to it in the UN resolution, and the remaining territory (except the Gaza Strip) was annexed by Abdullah – who changed the name of his kingdom from Trans-Jordan to simply Jordan. This new division established the new spheres of influence among the Western powers: The area occupied by the Zionist state was lost to British imperialism and came under United States influence, while the area annexed by Abdullah represented the remnants of British influence. The new division received formal confirmation in the Tripartite (United States, Britain and France) Declaration of May 1950.

The most immediate victims of the whole Zionist colonization process that culminated in the establishment of the state of Israel were the Palestine Arabs, who were almost wholly uninvolved in the 1948 fighting. Most of them became homeless refugees; the fate of those who remained in the area held by Israel was hardly better. They have lived ever since under arbitrary rule and are subject to constant and severe repression. The land remaining in Arab hands is still gradually but systematically expropriated, often by administrative subterfuge, to make way for Zionist development. The Arabs are second-class citizens in their own country.

In the early 1950s, the anti-imperialist struggle intensified throughout the Arab world. In the Arab East this intensification was, in part, a direct result of the Palestine war. Britain, already too weak to defend its old positions, had to accept the fact that the United States was fast becoming the dominant power in this part, as well as in other areas, of the world. Throughout the 1950s, Britain and the United States combined their interests in an attempt to create a military alliance of Middle Eastern countries as a link in the chain of anti-Soviet alliances stretching from Scandinavia to Korea, and to strengthen Western domination in the Middle East

This policy encountered great difficulties because the Arab masses were aware of its imperialist character and opposed it violently. On the government level, the consistent refusal of Egypt and Syria to participate in such pacts undermined the entire policy. The Israeli Government, on the other hand, was always willing to participate actively in any such scheme, not only because of the traditional links between Zionism and imperialism, but also (and more specifically) because Israel’s adherence to the status quo forced it to identify its own national interests – indeed, its very existence – with the imperialist presence.

The Israeli position was fully understood and utilized by the West. Whenever the governments of Egypt, Syria or Jordan attacked the Anglo-American schemes, they were threatened with armed raids by Israeli forces. Jordan in particular was raided during the period when the El Nabulsi government was pursuing anti-Western policies. Usually, after such a raid, the Arab governments involved would ask the West for arms. The reply was invariably: “Join the Baghdad Pact [against the Soviet Union] and you will get arms.”

This policy finally collapsed when, after the big Israeli raid on Gaza on April 28, 1955, Nasser refused to submit to Western pressure and turned to Czechoslovakia for arms, thus breaking the Western arms monopoly in the area and considerably weakening Western influence. From that time on, the Soviet Union emerged as a protagonist in the Middle Eastern scene. This development, followed by the nationalization of the Suez Canal, drove Britain and France to undertake desperate measures. Employing a prearranged Israeli invasion as a pretext, they launched a direct military attack on Egypt in. order to regain possession of the Canal and to overthrow Nasser’s neutralist and anti-imperialist United Arab Republic, The fate of this undisguised aggression is well known.

The failure of the Suez invasion meant that Israel was unable to force the Arab world to accept the status quo. The Palestine situation thus entered a period of stalemate.

Present Attitudes and Possible Solutions

In the years after the 1956 Suez crisis, the maintenance of the status quo became the principal object of Israeli foreign policy. Zionist propaganda, aimed at consolidating the existing situation, preached peace while the Arabs, anxious to change the situation, were placed in the difficult position of having to explain the injustice of the status quo. This gave the Zionists a tremendous advantage in Western public opinion: They appeared to be the peace seekers, the Arabs, the aggressors.

The development of military power has continued to be an important element of Israeli foreign policy. Knowing that eventually the balance of conventional forces would be against them, they began to develop nuclear weapons. The possession of these weapons, it was hoped, would make it impossible for the Arabs to upset the status quo. The introduction in recent years of large amounts of Soviet weaponry into the Arab Middle East has, however, placed the situation in an entirely new light Should nuclear weapons be added to the Arab arsenal, or should the great powers force Israel to give up possession of its nuclear weapons, the Zionists hope to be able to extract an East-West guarantee, in return for the ensuing détente, to maintain the status quo.

In the long run, Zionist policies cannot succeed. Even if it does manage to remain in the newly acquired territories, Israel will remain a besieged fortress, economically unviable and dependent on outside aid to balance a constant deficit in the balance of payments. Its own natural resources are meager, and its markets extremely limited. It cannot compete with the advanced economies of the European countries, and Arab markets are closed to it. It is only the worldwide fund-raising activities of Zionist organizations such as the Jewish Agency, and the grants from the United States Government and the reparations paid by Germany that keep the standard of living in Israel at an artificially high level. If Israel’s carefully cultivated image in the West – of a democratic, refugee-sheltering, peace-loving country – were seriously damaged, the economic consequences could be very serious. The inevitable decline of imperialist influence, coupled with the progressive unification of the Arab world, will make Israel’s position even more precarious.

Arab attitudes can be broadly divided into two types: those of the feudal regimes and those of the bourgeois nationalist parties. Superficially similar, the attitudes of the two groups are very differently motivated and take form in very different actions. Any apparent unity among Arab groups is ephemeral.

The feudal regimes, like Zionism, were always natural allies of Western imperialism. Both waged a struggle against rising bourgeois nationalism, and these regimes tended to consider Zionism the lesser of two evils. Today, as in the past, they share common political interests with the Zionists, as both depend for their existence on imperialist influence.

The feudal regimes cannot uphold publicly any policy that appears to link them to Zionist interests in an Arab world where the masses are becoming increasingly anti-imperialist and anxious for their independence. To cover up, therefore, they put out a steady stream of anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist propaganda.

Publicly, the feudal regimes have often advocated the annihilation of Israel; privately, they co-operate with it. In some cases (Jordan in particular), they depend on Israel for their own existence. Whenever the Palestinian Arabs in Jordan threaten the regime of King Hussein (grandson of Abdullah), the Israeli Army moves to the armistice lines, ready to intervene if Hussein is overthrown. The rebellious masses are immediately “pacified” on the grounds that only Hussein’s army can defend them from the aggressive Israelis. Although Hussein’s throne has rocked violently more than once, it has withstood all attacks thanks to the intervention of Israel – which would regard the overthrow of Hussein as an attack upon the status quo. A new regime in Jordan might refuse to recognize the Abdullah-Ben-Gurion pact of 1948 and the Tripartite Declaration of 1950.

Thus, while on the surface the feudal regimes appear to be the most extreme enemies of Zionism, they ore as concerned as Israel to consolidate and perpetuate the imperialist presence in the area. Zionism and Arab feudalism are, as always, “friendly enemies.”

The bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties throughout the Arab world tried at one time to approach the Palestine problem by means of the United Nations resolutions. Nasser was the first to undertake this approach – at the Bandung Conference of 1955 – and it was unanimously adopted. It meant essentially two things: that Israel should repatriate the Arab refugees according to a 1949 UN resolution, and that Israel should give up the territory annexed as a result of the secret pact with Abdullah. This would reduce the area of Israel but would not affect its Zionist character.

In fact, this program, which represented a considerable concession to Zionism, would not have provided a stable solution to the Palestine problem. Nasser, in fact, dropped the program after the Suez war. However, since Nasser’s approach to the problem of Arab unity was basically a bourgeois one, relegating class contradictions within Arab society to second place, he was led to seek an understanding with the reactionary regime in Jordan. But this regime is no more opposed to the UN partition resolution than the Zionists are, because Jordan also annexed part of Palestine.

  1. A detailed account of the whole process of land purchase and peasant expulsion is given by the pioneer Zionist Moshe Goldbert in his autobiography, And the Fund Still Stands (Ve-ha-keren Odena Kayemet), Tel Aviv: 1965.
  2. N. Eisenstadt, Israeli Society, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.
  3. Ibid.
  4. For Ben-Gurion’s figure of the number of Arabs in Palestine, see Ma’ariv, Mar. 19, 1971.
  5. A detailed account of the promises of these British officials is given in George Antonious, The Arab Awakening, New York; Capricorn, 1965.

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