Sunday, June 14, 2009

A 1931 Zionist Proposal for a Federal State in Palestine

Rather than listen to Bibi's speech about his vision for an emasculated Palestinian quasi-"state" (maybe), I thought that I would tell my readers of a bold plan for a federal state proposed by an important Zionist leader of the Yishuv in 1931. This is dedicated to those of you who think that the Zionists believed that the Balfour Declaration guaranteed the Jews an independent state.

I. General Prologue…It is important to determine just relations between Jews and Arabs that are not dependent upon the relation of a majority and a minority. The regime in the country must in all periods ensure both to Jews and Arabs the possibility of undisturbed development and full national sovereignty, such that in no period will there arise the rule of Arabs over Jews or Jews over Arabs. The regime must also aid rapprochement, agreement, and joint action between the Jewish people and the Arabs in the Land of Israel.


V. The changes during the third period.

When the building of the National Home is complete, the Mandate will expire. A national constitution will be determined in a Founding Assembly that will be called by the High Commissioner and will be approved by the Mandate Government and the League of Nations. In place of the High Commissioner, an Emissary of England will remain in the country as an agent for the League of Nations, whose authority will be that of a General Governour in British dominions. Of the powers of the High Commissioner, the only thing that will remain will be the guardianship over the Holy Places in the country.

The municipal government will be free of all external supervision, and will possess independent authority by virtue of the constitution to be ratified. The autonomous provinces will become cantons that are entirely independent with authority granted by the constitution to be ratified.

The Land of Israel will become a Federal State whose governing bodies will consist of

1. The municipal government in the city and village which will be self-governing.

2. The cantons will constitute autonomous states in the Federal Country of the Land of Israel. Each contiguous settlement of no less than 25,000 people will be able to organize into a free canton. Each canton can arrange its own constitution. […]

3. The National Autonomy will have absolute authority in all matters of education, culture, language, in the framework of the constitution to be approved by the Founding Assembly. Religious matters will be handed over to autonomous religious communities which will be organized as voluntary associations, ratified by law.

4. The Council of the Federal Alliance, which will be composed of two houses:

    a. The House of the Peoples, in which Jews and Arabs will participate in equal numbers.

    b. The House of the Inhabitants, in which the delegates of the cantons will participate in proportion to their respective populations therein.

Every federal law and every change in the federal constitution will be ratified only with the approval of both houses.

[…] Arabic and Hebrew will be completely equal in all their rights throughout the Land of Israel and in all its institutions […] The international status of the State of the Land of Israel will be determined by a reciprocal agreement of the Council of the Federal Alliance from one side, and the Mandate government and the League of Nations on the other.

And who was this Zionist leader, who, four years after the formation of the Brit Shalom of Buber and Simon, proposed his own vision of a binational state?

None other than David Ben Gurion, writing in HaPoel haTza'ir , May 20 1931. The text is from the a Hebrew book published in 2008, entitled "Brit Shalom" and Binationalist Zionism: The Arab Question as a Jewish Question, ed. Adi Gordon (Carmel), pp. 311-12. Ben-Gurion's proposal certainly gave the Palestinian Arabs as much national rights as it did the Jews. In fact, his proposal gave much more rights to the Arabs than did the Adalah Proposal of several years ago.

Which just goes to show how easy it is to offer power-sharing when you have no power yourself; or binationalism, when you are a tiny minority.


Avram said...

Anything to get a state, eh? At least you cannot fault his commitment though I really have issues with DBG on so many levels (as I'm sure you do too, but for different reasons)

Anonymous said...

Lots of things have changed since 1931.

I can think of one BIG THING that changed the world forever.

Happened in Germany.

By the way, do you believe in reincarnation?

It looks like HE'S BACCCK! This time he has dropped his mustache and has these real dark tan thing doing for him.

But beyond such superficial differences in appearance, it is so obvious it is him.

JES said...

What I can't figure about you, Jerry, is that you tend to look at everything out of its historical context. Are you disingenuous or just naive?

In this post, and the next, you simply ignore what was going on in the world at the time, and what went on before and after.

At the time that this proposal was published, there was relative calm in Palestine, following the riots of 1929, and the British placed minimal restrictions on Jewish immigration. Five years later, the Mufti led a rebellion in which no Jew was safe. I think it was Berl Katznelson who wrote that he had to look for his Browning revolver, because he had forgotten where he had put it. I suggest that you take a look a Anita Shapira's Land and Power (that is if it doesn't bother you that she's a Zionist!)

I can only imagine that this was similar to what Jews who had supported Oslo felt when there were terrorist attacks nearly every day. Do you remember those? Or did you flee for the safety of the US like the namesake of this blog?

Regarding the next post, I suggest that you recall what was happening in Europe in 1937 when you take a look at Walter Lacquer, and see how frantic many Zionists - especially Weizmann - were to save as many Jews as possible.

Mary-Lee said...

Shame on you, Anonymous... pulling out the Hitler card.

Hitler is dead. If you lump every tin horn dictator into the same pile as Hitler, you risk not noticing some significant differences between and among them.

Plenty of people throughout history have hated the Jews. Do we need to pull out the Ferdinand and Isabella card as well? Or do we need to deal with each individual as... an individual!

Jerry Haber said...


I can't figure you out, either. I thought you were a respectful fellow.


Anyway, the point of the post was not to deny any historical context, or to suggest that Ben Gurion can be used as a model today.

So what was the point?

1) Some of the conventional Zionists who read this blog were blah-blahing about how the Balfour Declaration made Jewish statehood inevitable. These are the same folks who believed that the goal of Zionism was from the outset a Jewish state. Anybody who has read even a smidgen of the history of Zionism (even Lacquer's outdated book -- I think I got it for my bar mitzvah) knows that this is ridiculous.

But, JES, as a historian of Zionism -- did you know that Ben Gurion proposed a federalist solution in 1931?

2. As I ended the post, I noted that it was easy for Ben Gurion to be "generous" with dividing a country in which the group he spoke for was a small minority.

3. Of course, saying more intelligent things about the context would take time and research (with all due respect, the "relative calm" argument seems like a non-starter.) That would include lots of factors, such as Ben-Gurion's position in Labor Zionism, rivals, other circumstances, etc.

4. If the Zionists were frantic about saving as many Jews as possible, then why didn't they join with other groups to send refugees to other places besides Palestine. I don't doubt that their intentions were pure. But let's face it, numbers counted for the Zionists, and at other times they opposed solutions which would get Jews to other places. I remind you again of Golda Meir, who, on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, was arguing with Kurt Waldheim about Russian Jews staying in Austria when they should be coming to Israel. Or the attempts by the Israelis to steer Russians to Israel.

Let's face it, when you are playing a demographic game, you need bodies. Israelis say that all the time.

What did Katznelson think? That the natives wouldn't react violently to a group of ideological Jewish settlers from Europe?

Avram said...

"That the natives wouldn't react violently to a group of ideological Jewish settlers from Europe?"


If that is the case, what is the reason for the general calm from 1890 to the early 1920s? Surely, it shouldn't have taken them ~30 years to 'react violently' to these settlers ...

Avram said...

Another point - The ethnic cleansing of Hebron was seemingly 'egged on' by the Mufti, who's views on Jews were vicious - so much so, as we've discussed in the past, that he adulated Hitler and his 'Final Solution' (if he didn't play a major part in 'developing it' as per Nuremberg documents). Do you think the major religious figure of the Muslims of this region developed this hatred towards the Jews because of these 'Zionists'?

JES said...

Of course it's ridiculous to look at the Zionist movement as monolithic - even you, who are "blah-blahing" about Magnes and a binational state are expressing one small facet of the Zionist enterprise (Brit-Shalom, BTW, never had more than a few dozen members).

My point is that it was a lot easier for Ben Gurion to offer a binational state (actually a collection of cantons) during a period of relative calm then it was just five years later. That's a point that appears to have escaped your attention.

As for your assertions about Zionist concern for saving the Jews of Europe, perhaps you could fill us in on precisely which countries were willing to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jews that needed to flee Europe at the time of the Peel Commission?

BTW, Walter Lacquer's book may be old, but that doesn't mean it's outdated. Just as you and I are old, but not outdated!