Population transfer, Bi-nationalism and Partition

This short essay answers this query:
Explain the following policy proposals and evaluate their relative importance in the history of Zionism in relation to the conflict with the Arabs:
(a) Transfer of population
(b) Bi-nationalism
(c) Partition

The first policy proposal, transfer of population (specifically the Arabs out of Israel, however sometimes coupled with exchanging Jewish groups from Arab countries), has its roots within the Radical Revisionists. Although some scholars have suggested that Jabotinsky himself had some leanings toward or perhaps even fully accepted the idea of voluntary transfer or exchange (all are in agreement that he fully objected to forced evacuation), it is absolutely sure that initially it was only the very fringe groups of Zionism that accepted or advocated population transfer.

This policy has its base in the general ideology of the radical Revisionists whose movement was characterized by authoritarian tendencies and quasi-religious messianic rhetoric that sought to replace the regular Zionist idea of a national home for the Jews with that of malkhut Israel (“the Kingdom of Israel”), an allusion to the establishment of a Jewish imperialism. This, combined with their attempts to regain a regesh ha-adnut or sense of mastery over the land, resulted in their classification of both the British and the Arabs in Palestine as alien occupants in the land that must either accept Jewish majority rule or be forced out.

The LEHI movement under Avraham Stern expounded on this further. They claimed that the right to the land was delineated by might or conquest. As well, they relied on the argument that the Arabs in Palestine constituted only a part of the larger Arab nation. They denied that they had any sort of national character and thus allowed that it would be easy for the Arabs to accept removal to another Arab land. This paved the way for these radicals to actively pursue transfer of the Arab population out of Israel as a reasonable and long-lasting solution since they agreed with Jabotinsky that the Arabs would never fully accept minority status or citizenship under Zionist rule.

In the late 1940s, this proposal figured prominently in their political platforms. It faded slightly directly before the 1948 War, but was revived as the war continued and the movement began to consider Jabotinsky mistaken in believing that a large portion of the Arabs would eventually accept the Jewish state. Following the war, the prominence of the proposal again faded only to be revived again 20 years later after the Six Day War. This time though, population transfer was even more popular as members of the religious Zionist movement joined the remnant of the Radical Revisionists, even expanding the idea to include transfer of Arabs out of the occupied territories.

As a policy, forced population transfer or exchange never occupied a place of extreme importance within Zionism. It was never advocated or accepted by any except the most radical fringes of the Zionist movement. However, this is not to say that it did not have influence within the history of Zionism. It can be shown that its influence and importance have grown, as those who consider it a valid and sustainable solution to the conflict have grown from the small numbers of the LEHI and Radical Revisionists to include members of the religious Zionist movement as well as others who have come to see the conflict in similar zero-sum game terms.

The “compromise for peace” camp initially promoted the second policy proposal, bi-nationalism. In simple terms, the policy encouraged the creation of a single state built on compromise in which both Jews and Arabs would have equal say without regard for numerical superiority. The idea was advocated by many different groups, the first among them being Brit Shalom, which was then followed chronologically by Kema Mizraha, the League for Jewish-Arab Rapprochement and Cooperation, Ha-shomer Ha-tzair, Left Polei Zion and Ihud (or the Union Association). These groups represent the opposite side of the spectrum from the Radical Revisionists, and were also relatively small in numbers.

The ideology and policies of Brit Shalom were largely the product of the thinking of many intellectuals such as Rabbi Benjamin, Yitshak Epstein, Martin Buber, and Arthur Ruppin, among others. It was founded largely because these individuals felt that the Zionist leadership was neglecting an important issue by not cultivating relations with the Arabs. They felt that the success of the Zionist cause was dependent upon Arab good will and cooperation. Buber specifically phrased his thoughts within the framework of freedom, feeling that it was moral reprehensible for one people to oppress or dominate another. He, along with others, thus helped develop the idea that a state governed equally and cooperatively by both Arabs and Jews would both benefit all parties as well as be morally and rationally acceptable.

The other Zionist groups and individuals of the times which supported the bi-national idea did so for similar, albeit different reasons. Judah Magnes, one of the founders of the Ihud, was strongly in favor of a bi-national state (rather than a solely Jewish one) because it would allow for the greatest possible achievement of the right to self-determination for both sides (despite granting neither a full exercise thereof). Ha-shomer Ha-Tzair advocated the policy because it fit well with their socialist goals and advocacy of the common working class.

The bi-national movement never had any significant influence within the history of Zionism. This was largely because it seemed unconcerned with Jewish immigration into the area as it did not see a Jewish majority in the country as one of its preeminent goals and because it recognized that the Arabs in Palestine had an equal right and claim to the land. These ideas clashed with the larger Labor Zionist movement and the Revisionists, despite attempts to make the policy more attractive to them. The policy was also not long lasting, fading from the scene following the British abandonment of the Mandate and the establishment of Israel. This policy was neither able to rouse the interest of large numbers within the Jewish community nor garner a good response from the Arabs.

Partition, a policy proposing the establishment of two nations, one Arab and one Jewish, enjoyed the largest amount of influence and importance of the three. This was largely because the Labor Zionists who constituted the largest and most influential section within both the Jewish Agency and the Zionist Organization accepted it as a viable initial solution to the Jewish problem. The leadership of these institutions (David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann) was much more pragmatic than the leadership of the fringe groupings. Jabotinsky and the Revisionists rejected partition on the grounds that the Jewish claim was for all of Palestine and should not be divided. The Brit Shalom tradition rejected it in favor of the bi-national state. Ben Gurion and Weizmann began to publically embrace partition around the 1937 release of the Peel Commission report that would present Partition as the proposed British policy.

It is important to note that Ben Gurion and Weizmann’s acceptance of partition was not because of any desire to reach a compromised solution with the Arabs. While they accepted it as a viable line of policy for providing all sides with justice and self-determination, they mostly sided with it because it was seen as the fastest way to attain their own self-interest in the establishment of a Jewish homeland.
While this policy was largely divisive among the Zionists initially, it gained much support as time went by and eventually was accepted by both the Jewish Zionist community and the international community.

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