Commentary Magazine


Framework for the Jewish State:
The New Boundaries of Zionist Aspiration

Mr. Crossman was born in England in 1907. He was graduated from New College, Oxford University, where he later became a fellow and tutor. Mr. Crossman has just returned to England after a short visit in this country. This is the first of a series of articles which will try to chart the post-UNSCOP perspective of Jewish aspirations in Palestine from different points of view.

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When Mr. Bevin made his decision to refer the Palestine issue to UN, the sceptics talked about “the political atmosphere” of the United Nations and prophesied that neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would commit themselves to support a clean-cut decision. The issue would be submerged in intrigue.

Neither the proceedings nor the report of Unscop have confirmed these doubts and suspicions. On the contrary, the Unscop report is an extraordinarily statesmanlike document. The world press has naturally paid most attention to the recommendations of the majority and the minority. But in fact the most impressive part of the report is the analysis of the Palestine problem with which it begins, and which was unanimously approved by the fourteen members of the Committee.

It is worthwhile to compare Unscop with the many previous commissions that have examined the Palestine problem. All of them, with the exception of the Anglo-American Committee, were exclusively British and relied on a secretariat drawn from the Colonial Office. Even our Anglo-American Committee had ‘a secretariat composed of State Department, Foreign Office, and Colonial Office appointees. Unscop, by contrast, had a secretariat composed of a Mexican, a Chinese, and an American Negro released from the State Department. With two exceptions (the delegates from Yugoslavia and from India), the Committee’s members were impartial and objective to the highest degree. It is not unfair to say that both the exclusively British committees and the Anglo-American Committee were bound to look down on the Jewish-Arab problem from the point of view of a great power and to regard both Whitehall and the administration in Jerusalem as judges rather than participants in the dispute. What distinguished Unscop from all its predecessors was its ability to view the problem on a new level and to see the conflict as a triangular conflict between the Jews, the Arabs—and the British.

Unscop had another notable advantage. Englishmen and Americans who study the Middle East are bound consciously or unconsciously to be influenced by the requirements of strategy and commerce. We on the Anglo-American Committee, for instance, had lengthy consultations both with British General Headquarters in Cairo and with the British Commanding Officer in Palestine. The desirability both from the British and from the American point of view of a British base in Palestine could not be absent from our minds in drafting our recommendations. So too, we could not avoid making a distinction between the attitude to be adopted towards representatives of sovereign Arab states and that which was proper in dealing with the Jewish organizations. The Arab representatives could speak with authority and relations with them had to be on the diplomatic plane, whereas our relations with the Jews were those of government representatives with private citizens. It was almost inevitable that an English or an American Committeeman would unconsciously draw the conclusion that whereas the Arab case was that of a group of nations, the Jewish case was a matter of philanthropy. Thus the essential fact that in Palestine two nations were in conflict was obscured both in the public hearings and in private conversations.

In all these points the Unscop Committeemen—none of whom represented a great power directly concerned either with Middle Eastern strategy or Middle Eastern oil—had a tremendous advantage over their predecessors.

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It is worth dwelling at some length on the analysis of the problem agreed to by every Committeeman. Why does this seem to me at least as important as the solutions offered in the concluding pages’?

There has never been much difficulty in propounding “solutions” of the Palestine problem. The real difficulty is to bring home to the politicians who formulate policy the fundamental facts about Jewish and Arab nationalism, so that their discussions are at least based on an agreed body of facts. In a matter so overclouded with propaganda, the politician, as much as the man in the street, clutches at the nearest argument which suits his unconscious prejudices and seeks to justify the vital decisions which expediency dictates. A British foreign secretary, concerned to protect oil interests against a Communist threat, has no difficulty in seeing the reasonableness of the case presented by the Arab League. An American president, caught between the conflicting pressures of the State Department and the political machine in New York State, is easily persuaded by the argument that American soldiers have no place in the Middle East.

Now for the first time a really impartial committee has made an investigation on the spot and, despite strong differences about the conclusions to be drawn, it has reached agreement on the facts upon which any solution must be based. It has provided, therefore, a firm framework upon which in the future the responsible politician will certainly have to build.

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In broad outline, Unscop accepts without qualification the analysis of the meaning of the Mandate and of the validity of the Jewish and the Arab case first given by the Peel Commission. The Arab claim that the Mandate is “illegal” is dismissed, after careful consideration: and here the findings of Peel are strengthened by the further elucidation of the McMahon letters given by the British Government in 1939. On the other hand, Unscop agrees with all previous commissions in holding that the terms of the Mandate, while not excluding the creation of a Jewish state, certainly did not make this obligatory upon the Mandatory. The Jewish commonwealth, as distinct from the National Home, is a reasonable objective of Jewish aspirations but is not something which world Jewry can claim by legal right. Here the report goes on to draw a new conclusion. It argues that the Mandate was clearly based on the assumption that sooner or later Arab hostility would weaken and disappear:

This seems to have been the basic assumption, but it proved to be a false one, since the history of the last twenty-five years has established the fact that not only the creation of a Jewish State but even the continuation of the building of the Jewish National Home by restricted immigration could be implemented only by the use of some considerable force. It cannot be properly contended that the use of force as a means of establishing the National Home was either intended by the Mandate or implied by its provisions. On the contrary, the provisions of the Mandate should preclude any systematic use of force for the purpose of its application. In its preamble, the Mandate states that the Principal Allied Powers agreed to entrust Palestine to a mandatory Power for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The guiding principle of that Article was the well-being of peoples not yet able to stand by themselves.

It has been suggested that the well-being of the indigenous population of Palestine might be ensured by the unfettered development of the Jewish National Home. “Well-being” in a practical sense, however, must be something more than a mere objective conception, and the Arabs, thinking subjectively, have demonstrated by their acts their belief that the conversion of Palestine into a Jewish State against their will would be very much opposed to their conception of what is essential to their well-being. To contend, therefore, that there is an international obligation to the effect that Jewish immigration should continue with a view to establishing a Jewish majority in the whole of Palestine, would mean ignoring the wishes of the Arab population and their views as to their own well-being. This would involve an apparent violation of what was the governing principle of Article 22 of the Covenant.

This interpretation of the Mandate is obviously of the greatest importance. For if the Mandatory cannot be obliged to facilitate Jewish immigration by the use of force against the Arabs, it is obvious that the use of force to prevent Jewish immigration is even further removed from the terms or intentions of the Mandate. On this point Unscop is consistent. Having relieved the British from the responsibility for forcing Jews into Palestine against armed Arab resistance, the report then tersely states:

Since 1939 Jewish immigration into Palestine has been determined in accordance with the White Paper of 1939, and recalls the fact that the findings of the Mandates Commission on the White Paper were:

(a) That the policy set out . . . was not in accordance with the interpretation which, in agreement with the mandatory Power and the Council, the Commission had always placed upon the Palestine Mandate;

(b) That, regarding the possibility of a new interpretation of the Mandate, with which the White Paper would not be at variance, four members “did not feel able to state that the policy of the White Paper was in conformity with the Mandate . . .,” while the other three members of the Commission considered that “existing circumstances would justify the policy of the White Paper, provided that the Council did not oppose it.”

After referring briefly to Arab opposition to the White Paper it continues:

Against the background of an active Jewish war effort and intensified Nazi persecution of the remnants of European Jewry, enforcement of the White Paper provisions stimulated efforts to bring illegal immigrants into Palestine. The action of the Administration in circumventing illegal immigration by the seizure of immigrant ships led to constant and serious friction accompanied by mounting Jewish resistance.

and it concludes this section with the words:

. . . the White Paper expressed the conviction of the Mandatory that, with a defined addition of a specified number of immigrants, the National Home must be regarded as fully established. That policy, modified by the admission for the time being of 1,500 Jewish immigrants per month, still stands. The recommendation of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry for the immediate admission of 100,000 Jews, while in substance accepted in the mandatory Power’s constitutional proposals of 1946-47, was not put into practice. Similarly, no effect has been given to the Anglo-American Committee’s recommendation for the rescinding of the Land Transfer Regulations and providing for “freedom in the sale, lease or use of land irrespective of race, community or creed.”

This objective statement of historical fact indicates clearly enough Unscop’s view of Mr. Bevin’s policy in Palestine. It refutes completely Mr. Attlee’s statement in Parliament that the Labor Government has never stood for the White Paper and is not carrying it out; and shows clearly enough that the British blockade of Palestine against the Jews accords just as little with the Mandate as any attempt to enforce Jewish immigration on the Arabs.

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Where the report diverges most sharply from Mr. Bevin’s attitude is in its assessment of the factors in Palestine of which account must be taken in any future solution. Mr. Bevin has frequently described the conflict between Jew and Arab as “racial” and “religious.” His chief objection to a Jewish state is that its creation implies the existence of a Jewish nation. Mr. Bevin recognizes Arab nationalism as a natural force which must be given political recognition. But for him Jewish nationalism is something perverse and artificial, the creation of Zionist propaganda; and his policy in Palestine has been based on the assumption that this “synthetic” Jewish nationalism could be suppressed by force and the Jews be constrained to accept a solution which denied it political recognition.

Here the Unscop report is clearly against him. It assumes throughout that the Jewish and Arab claims to nationhood and independence are equally real and that both of them involve non-Palestinian forces. Just as the “Arab world” regards Palestine as a test case, and fights not for Palestinian independence, but for Arab unity, so the Jewish world too is involved in the fate of Eretz Yisrael. The Palestinian Jews and Arabs cannot therefore be considered in isolation. What is needed is a solution which reconciles the antagonism between world Jewry and the Arab League and makes possible cooperation between them.

Here again the analysis is just as important as the majority or minority findings. Unscop, like the Anglo-American Committee, came to the conclusion that Palestine cannot be considered as a solution of the Jewish problem in general. (Two members dissented from this view and one expressed no opinion.) Impressed by the Arab birth rate—which in proportion to the Arab population is the highest in the world—and the limited area and resources of the country, the Committee reached the conclusion that, even under the most favorable political conditions, the number of Jewish immigrants must be severely limited. Palestine could not find room even for all of the Jewish displaced persons in Germany and Eastern Europe, far less for the Jewish populations of other countries.

This conclusion, which of course runs counter to certain extreme Zionist aspirations, is the basis not only for the unanimous findings of the Committee but for the majority report. Cooperation between world Jewry and the Arab world in the Middle East is only possible if a strict limit is set to Jewish immigration by the Jews of Palestine themselves, and if world Jewry clearly recognizes that the majority of its members, under any foreseeable conditions, will remain part of the Diaspora. A solution of the Palestine problem must involve a changed attitude to Jewish immigration by the Christian countries of the West, and a contribution by them to the solution of the DP problem. Equally, it depends on the surrender by the Zionist organizations of the cherished principle that every Jew has the right to go to Palestine.

I have myself argued at length for this position. So long as Palestine is regarded as a potential place of refuge for any Jewish community threatened with persecution, there is no possibility of peaceful cooperation with the Arabs. The Jewish commonwealth, to survive and to fulfill its social purpose in the Middle East, must not be regarded either by the Christian or Jewish communities of the West as a “dumping ground” for unwanted Jews, or, to put it more politely, as the solution of the Jewish problem.

World Jewry must return to its original concept of the National Home as an élite community which can create in Eretz Yisrael an élite Jewish civilization, such as can become truly indigenous to the Middle East. The Jewish nation, as distinguished from the Jewish people, must be strictly confined to the Jews of Palestine, though it will remain tied by bonds of consanguinity and religion to the Jews of the Diaspora, as Britain is to her Dominions, or as European countries are to the Americans who once emigrated from them. Once this principle is accepted, it follows that the best contribution which the Western democracies can make to the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth is to relieve the pressure upon it by themselves accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees, and so enable the Agency to return to a policy of selective and restricted immigration into Eretz Yisrael.

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Turning now from the unanimous findings to the differences in Unscop which led to a majority and a minority report, we are at once struck by the relatively small margin which divided the Committee. Everyone agreed that the Mandate was no longer workable and that the interpretation of it on which British policy has been based since 1939 was not in conformity with it. Everyone agreed that the use of force by the Mandatory—either to facilitate or to prevent Jewish immigration—made a mockery of its provisions, which certainly did not foresee the erection of a British “police state” detested by every inhabitant of Palestine. Finally, everyone agreed that though both the Jewish and the Arab nations in Palestine were fully competent to manage their own affairs, independence could only work if Palestine continued to be a single economic unit in the development of which the two peoples cooperated. The point of difference between the majority and the minority rose on how this combination of political independence and economic unity could best be achieved. The minority favored a federal state: the majority, partition and a customs union.

The difference here is fundamental. The federal state, though it has been dismissed by the Arab Higher Committee and by the Arab League, would be an Arab solution, since the federal government, elected by an Arab majority, would have the power to prevent further immigration. So too, partition is a Jewish solution, because it permits in a part of Palestine immigration limited only by the absorptive capacity of the country.

In the last analysis, there is only one issue in Palestine, immigration. This is the sole test applied equally by Jew and Arab to any solution, and by this test the majority came out in favor of the Jews, and the minority—an Iranian, an Indian, and a Yugoslav-backed the Arab side. That the minority report was dismissed by the Arab League is here irrelevant. The Arabs have consistently maintained opposition to the Balfour Declaration as such and were therefore bound formally to oppose the minority report even though it offered them 90 per cent of their case. In private negotiation, they would adopt a very different attitude.

But the Arab intransigeance has had one important result. It leaves the majority report as the only practicable solution with any international backing. The report was signed by every member of the Committee with any pretense to impartiality, including the Swedish, Dutch, and Canadian representatives, whose countries had no reason for feeling bias either way. Thus the case for a Jewish commonwealth in part of Palestine, first propounded ten years ago by the Peel Commission, has now been given the most authoritative backing. Partition must now be admitted to be the method of ending the Mandate with the least injustice to either party and with the best chance of creating the basis for Jewish-Arab cooperation.

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The actual scheme of partition propounded is in the main workmanlike and sensible, and a great deal less difficult to carry out than that of the Peel Commission. It rightly aims at the objective, not of separating Jew and Arab—that is physically impossible and economically undesirable—but of enabling them ultimately to work together. Recognizing the futility of all paper schemes for a bi-national constitution so long as the issue of immigration is unresolved, it bases itself on the twin principles of political separation and economic integration. The two states will enjoy full sovereignty but they will be bound by a customs union.

The frontiers of the Jewish state are rightly drawn to exclude the wholely Arab mountains of the center but to include the Negev in the South. It is curious, however, that, whereas Western Galilee is excluded from the Jewish state, the purely Arab towns of Beersheba and Jaffa are not. For the scheme to work satisfactorily, Jaffa should be made a free port and Beersheba be given to the Arabs in exchange for part at least of the seaboard north of Acre and of the Galileean mountains. Such rectifications would not be difficult to make, once the plan were accepted in principle.

The real weakness of the majority report, as has become clear enough in the debates of the UN Assembly, was that it completely overlooked the problem of enforcement. It merely recommends that Britain should retain her responsibilities for two years. During this period she shall:

  1. Carry on the administration of the territory of Palestine under the auspices of the United Nations and on such conditions and under such supervision as may be agreed upon between the United Kingdom and the United Nations, and if so desired, with the assistance of one or more Members of the United Nations;
  2. Take such preparatory steps as may be necessary for the execution of the scheme recommended;
  3. Carry out the following measures:
    1. Admit into the borders of the proposed Jewish State 150,000 Jewish immigrants at a uniform monthly rate, 30,000 of whom are to be admitted on humanitarian grounds. Should the transitional period continue for more than two years, Jewish immigration shall be allowed at the rate of 60,000 per year. The responsibility for the selection and care of Jewish immigrants and for the organizing of Jewish immigration during the transitional period shall be placed in the Jewish Agency.
    2. The restrictions introduced by land regulations issued by the Palestinian Administration under the authority of the Palestine (Amendment) Order-in-Council of 25 May 1939 shall not apply to the transfer of land within the borders of the proposed Jewish State.

This recommendation was so evasive that it seemed likely to threaten the rest of the plan. It was surely obvious enough that the British government, having once referred the matter to UN, was unlikely to accept the responsibility of enforcing the decision alone. The Committee itself, in its analysis, gave ample grounds for its view that neither the enforcement of the White Paper nor the imposition of partition could be achieved except against armed resistance. The Jews would use military force against a continuance of the blockade and the Arabs against its discontinuance. Since this was so, the most vital task of Unscop was to recommend the precise ways and means by which the UN would exert its authority during the transition period. Instead of doing so, the Committee merely handed the problem back to Mr. Bevin, with the vague suggestion that he might ask other powers to help him in carrying out a policy with which he is in violent disagreement. His riposte was obvious enough, and Mr. Creech-Jones delivered it with considerable effect. The resulting deadlock was inevitable.

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The solemn and unequivocal statement that Britain would give up the Mandate came as a surprise to many Americans. It has been far too readily assumed that “strategic interests”—never clearly defined—would compel Britain to retain Palestine as a military base, under any circumstances.

This view was partly based on “wish-fulfillment.” There are obvious reasons why the State Department would wish to see Britain responsible for Palestine and to avoid any direct American interference in this troubled area. As Bartley Crum has shown clearly enough in his Behind the Silken Curtain, the State Department and the present American military command are vitally concerned to safeguard American oil interests by remaining on good terms with the Arab states. Middle Eastern oil—a useful auxiliary in peacetime—would become absolutely vital to the United States in the event of war with Russia. At the very least steps must be taken to prevent it falling into Russian hands. On the other hand, it would be extremely risky for any American administration to participate openly in the appeasement of the Arab League on the Palestine issue. Obviously, therefore, it was the course of prudence to stay on the sidelines and to leave this task to Mr. Bevin.

This course, however, was made impossible by Mr. Creech-Jones’ second statement at Lake Success. The British economic crisis had so weakened the country that the Foreign Secretary was unable, however much he may have wished to do so, to sustain his Middle Eastern policy. Having failed to break Jewish resistance to the White Paper by force, he was determined either to bring America into the Middle East or to get out of Palestine. The British tactic in UN was to “put the heat” on the Americans. This was only possible if Mr. Creech-Jones really meant what he said when he spoke of evacuation. There had to be a real threat of imminent withdrawal, if America was to be persuaded to intervene.

It has always been a matter of dispute whether or not Palestine is an essential part of any British or Anglo-American Middle Eastern security system. In the short run it would have been convenient no doubt to move the British garrison in Egypt northwards to Gaza, whence it could still control Suez. But the Suez Canal is no longer the focus of Middle Eastern strategy: what matters now are the oilfields and it is at least doubtful whether Palestine is of much use for their protection in a war against the USSR. In peacetime, troops are not needed to guard the pipeline and in wartime it is the Persian Gulf which is the vital area. It may well be that, in evacuating Palestine, Britain is pursuing a far-sighted strategic policy. That at least is Winston Churchill’s view.

Viewed in the perspective of Palestinian politics, a British evacuation was always preferable, for all parties, to the maintenance of the status quo. Unscop, like the Anglo-American and the Peel Commissions, had unanimously come to the conclusion that the British police state could not be permitted to continue. But how should it be wound up? There were only two alternatives—a de jure and a de facto partition. The majority recommendation was for a partition with the full backing of UN. The minority report, which proposed federation, would have led to a de facto partition, when the central government reached its inevitable deadlock. So too a British evacuation without a UN plan would lead to a de facto division of the country, in which the frontiers of the Jewish state would be drawn not by a UN boundary commission but by the Haganah.

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The issue at Lake Success, as I write, is at least sharp and clear. Either UN enforces partition or Britain withdraws and leaves Arab and Jew to fight it out.

This means that the decision will be made not in the Foreign Office but in the State Department. The United States can insure the necessary two-thirds majority in the Assembly, if she uses her influence in Latin and Central America. The United States can persuade two of her “satellites” to be prepared to send contingents to an international police force for Palestine, and so persuade Russia to instruct two members of the Eastern bloc to follow suit. The United States, through her oil interests, can exert influence on King Ibn Saud, to prevent a jehad (holy war). If Mr. Marshall and Mr. Truman really want to see the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine, now is their chance. They can transform Palestine into a Middle Eastern Switzerland, envied by all, but intact because each great power is content to abstain from interfering if others agree to do the same.

As I write, the future is still uncertain. Much will depend on what happens in the detailed discussion of the partition plan. Efforts will certainly be made to whittle down the Jewish state to the frontiers and status of the Morrison-Grady plan. There will be defeatists who deny the possibility of creating an international police force at short notice, and of persuading the smaller powers to accept responsibility. But all these doubts will be swept aside, if the United States is willing to take the Russians at their word and to accept the challenge of Mr. Creech-Jones. Britain has stepped down; it is America’s turn to take the lead.

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